Catherine Rénier

PARIS — Raising the bar for an industry hard-pressed to devise new ways to cozy up to consumers, Jaeger-LeCoultre is offering an eight-year warranty for its timepieces, part of a new digital service platform.

“The average in the industry is, you know, three, five years…maximum. So, we’re going really a step forward in warranty extension and changing, I think, dramatically the relationship, after the purchase of the watch, with your piece,” said the luxury label’s chief executive officer Catherine Rénier.

The move fits a broader offer of tailored services from the house in the digital realm, including tutorials on watch maintenance, she explained, in an interview on the second-floor salon of the Place Vendôme boutique, which displays bejeweled versions of the Reverso model as well as an array of Polaris watches, a line the house is currently emphasizing.

“The second aspect of our new program is the services we will also develop in terms of content and personalization for our clients,” she said.

Lagging other industries in embracing digital means for selling merchandise and communicating with consumers, the watch sector has jumped into the game wholeheartedly, making up for lost time as it targets a wider range of clients and bulks up on storytelling through online channels.

Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of a collection of watch and jewelry brands belonging to Compagnie Richemont, which also include Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Vacheron Constantin. The group has been revisiting its digital strategy — realizing its brand-by-brand approach was falling short, it quickly changed tack last year with the purchase of Yoox Net-a-porter Group. It also forged a partnership with Alibaba, shoring up YNAP’s digital firepower in China.

HSBC, in a recent research note, said that while the company has drawn criticism from investors for lacking transparency on the YNAP acquisition, the group will likely emerge with one of the best platforms in the industry in the next two years, thanks to the combination of YNAP and Alibaba. 

Richemont has also been investing heavily in new stores for its star label, Cartier, including Bond Street in London, Hudson Yards in New York and on the Place Vendôme in Paris, adding a degree of warmth to the upscale boutiques, with bars, a foosball table and spaces for concerts — all part of a groupwide drive to forge closer ties with consumers.

Through the new Jaeger-LeCoultre program, dubbed “Care,” clients buying a watch can extend their warranty and see films about the making of the timepiece, its maintenance and how to set some of the features, whether it is automatic or mechanical or has a strap or a metal bracelet, explained Rénier. It is available in 12 languages and integrated into the WeChat platform for customers using that system.

The idea is to show a more proactive form of engagement with consumers.

“Rather than you suddenly realizing, unfortunately too late, that your watch may not — after five years — be as water-resistant as before, we will advise you to come, do a functional check quickly in our store, checking on water resistancy, on magnetism, on precision,” said Rénier.

Jaeger-LeCoultre restoration workshop.  Courtesy

If the checkup doesn’t turn up perfect results, she continued, the store will follow up with a “complete service, free of charge.”

Moving beyond the practical side of owning a watch, the 187-year-old label plans to forge deeper ties with clients by showing them films of how their watches are made. 

“With a fully integrated manufacture, the content we can deliver is very authentic; we tape it in with the actual teams and products — it’s really under one roof and under our roof,” said Rénier, referring to the watchmaker’s Switzerland-based manufacturing site in the Joux Valley, which, as she likes to remind people, boasts 180 types of craftsmanship skills.

Consumers are interested in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ peek of the watchmaking process, she said, noting the company has observed an increasing interest in visits to the manufacturing site. 

“Unfortunately, not all our clients can come and visit the Vallée de Joux so somehow they’ll get a little sense or feeling of how it’s made through these videos and this content,” she said, adding that the experience of the visit is a “really human experience,” of meeting people who make the watches. 

“It’s not a dry and behind-the-glass experience,” she asserted.

A year into her position, Rénier belongs to a new generation of watch chief executives appointed in the past couple years to guide historic houses into the future, as they face challenges from connected devices and a preference by younger consumers for experiences over owning objects. A longtime Van Cleef & Arpels executive, she managed the jeweler’s operations in the fast-growing Asia region for the past decade. 

The new program has been a year in the making and involves financial commitments, she said.

“It’s an investment,” she explained citing the need to train people to conduct technical checkups for the watches.

The program is a game changer for the house, Rénier predicted.

“We’re at the beginning…it’s already giving a lot of dynamism to the way we look at our relationship with our clients.” 

It’s about tailoring services and products, she added.

“The modernity of the relationship is essential and what people want is personalization — so here we give not a generic service but something that is meaningful to them; they want proximity obviously, you know, a sense of belonging and this is also direct access with the maison without being intrusive.”