280 years of Jaquet Droz: Christian Lattman interview

by Jola Chudy

Watch industry doyen Christian Lattmann has lent his leadership talents to illustrious brands throughout a career spanning three decades, but it is at Swatch Group that he has cemented a lifelong talent for bringing out the best in a brand. His role must certainly be all the more enjoyable thanks to the fact that one of the pillars of Jaquet Droz (aside from exquisite metiers d’art and the highest of high watchmaking, of course) is the art of mechanical astonishment – inspiring a childlike sense of amazement through its creations.

JD_CHRISTIAN_LATTMANN_2Jaquet Droz Ceo, Christian Lattmann.

This year is a special one for Jaquet Droz as it marks 280 years of the brand delivering ‘wow!’ moments thanks to an assortment of stunning inventions. An array of new novelties has been secretly in the planning especially for the anniversary. Flapping parrots on wristwatches and machines that can sign all your cheques for you while you sit back and relax – is there anything that the horological brainboxes at Jaquet Droz won’t come up with to make you gasp with delight?

“For us, 280 years is an opportunity to talk a little bit about the past but also the future,” says Lattmann with a smile. “And with the opening of the new store in The Dubai Mall, we have a lot of things to say!” With an array of novelties and limited-edition automatons to show off its rich heritage, the brand is celebrating the opening of its boutique that occupies a prime position in the world’s biggest mall. It looks set to introduce Jaquet Droz to a new generation of haute horlogerie aficionados.

Jaquet Droz Grande Heure Minute watches. Each is housed in a 43 mm steel case and powered by a high precision self-winding movement, the Jaquet Droz 1169.Si calibre.

You’ve been with the brand since 2016 as CEO; what changes have you implemented?
I have been with Jaquet Droz since 2009 and was already Executive Vice President at the company, but working at Montres Breguet at the same time. So I’ve worked on the Jaquet Droz strategy with Mr Hayek for longer than two years and it hasn’t really changed since I became CEO, but I have gone into more detail regarding our excellence and perfection, which is needed as the brand grows so fast. The big change has been to bring down the walls between departments. I think there was some separation between marketing, products, and sales. I worked on improving our synergy and getting people talking, which means I always keep my door open, too. When you are with your team more, the communication is better and that ultimately reflects in our products. This year at Basel people said, ‘You have one of the best collections ever!’

The Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater

What are some of the stand-out pieces of this year’s collection produced for the anniversary year?
Every time we create a novelty, it’s a new chapter in our story, which is focused on the future. The Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Tribute is inspired by pocket watches and it was produced this year in yellow gold, the first time the brand has done so. There are just 88 produced, the piece inspired by the early designs of Pierre Jaquet-Droz. It features the hours and minutes counter at 12 o’clock, with indexes alternating between Roman and Arabic numeral. At 6 o’clock, the large seconds counter sweeps around a slightly larger circle, breathing life into the signature Jaquet Droz figure “8”. The dial is in Grand Feu enamel, a centuries-old technique that is difficult to achieve a perfectly uniform ivory tone. The Grande Seconde Skelet-One is a new interpretation of this family; it’s the first time it has been interpreted in ‘total transparency’. What is now important is to keep delivering fast. Every year after the fairs, we deliver very fast, simply because our customers today don’t want to wait.

The new Jaquet Droz Boutique in The Dubai Mall.

This year saw novelties by Jaquet Droz including the Grande Seconde and Lady 8 Petite. Alongside the incredible inventions such as the Signing Machine and Parrot Repeater Pocket Watch, the 280th year is looking like a vintage one for the brand…
It’s part of our code to be contemporary and classical at the same time. The Grande Seconde is becoming an iconic model and it certainly isn’t easy to develop a new complication each year. We have to keep our direction and retain that Jaquet Droz identity without disrupting the design. It’s also a question of relating the design to the complication… it’s not easy!

How important are the automaton watches and automaton creations such as the Signing Machine to Jaquet Droz?
It is very important to have these limited and unique pieces, as it is an incredible part of our patrimony. As much as watches are part of the story so are automatons, and they represent the know-how and expertise of Jaquet Droz. The Parrot Repeater, for example, is a one-off piece that has been hand-engraved, enameled and decorated by our artists. There is an animation of two parrots, a hatching egg and a waterfall. Meanwhile the signing machine, which was four years in development, continues the tradition of ‘mechanical astonishment’ with two patents; 585 parts operate within a very complex mechanism that allows programming of a signature. The machine is unlocked via a four-digit code chosen by the user. Unique pieces such as the Signing Machine travel the world bringing that ‘wow!’ moment, a childlike sense of wonder to those who view them. For us, that’s integral to Jaquet Droz.

Lens Position: 1335The Signing Machine automaton can sign a pre-programmed signature. It is unlocked via a four-digit combination.

Is the brand focusing more on artistic or technical elements?
Both. But it’s really always about emotion and style. If you choose a watch or even if you are choosing a person, it’s about beauty outside and inside. The mechanics are of course equally important and everything is hand-assembled. What we try to do is to focus on beauty which sounds simple to say, but we try to be different and to create that ‘wow’ moment. The art of astonishment is at the heart of what we do and you see that perfectly expressed in people’s reactions to our automatons where everyone says ‘wow’ and is silenced. There is something very pure about that. All adults have been children… and only a few remember it. I think that’s why we make things such as the Signing Machine.
The people who wear Jaquet Droz have style, they trust themselves and their style. They love art. When we bring our artists to the boutique, sometimes people are still surprised that the painting is actually done by hand! This human touch is what gives emotion to the product.

Metiers d’Arts such as hand painting have always been a pillar at Jaquet Droz.

Jaquet Droz movements are manufactured by Blancpain; what is the dynamic between the brands under Marc Hayek, who is President of Blancpain, Jaquet Droz and Breguet?
Each brand carries its own unique message, and there is no ‘cannibalisation’ between them. You can easily recognise each brand’s codes and that is thanks to the design and creative teams. We discuss our requirements for movements with the Blancpain team and of course they share with us what is possible; it’s a very natural discussion. They are creative and have fantastic know-how. What we do doesn’t copy Blancpain, because they have their own style. It’s not about competition; our competitors are outside Swatch Group.

What’s the culture like at Jaquet Droz?
If I could say one word, I would say ‘entrepreneurship’ at each level. We think outside the box. Mr Hayek Sr. always said if he had listened to others he would not have made the Swatch watch because everyone was saying the Swiss industry was dead. We don’t approach watchmaking like others do and within Swatch Group that ‘Hayek’ culture is very strong and upheld by the Hayek family. We try to be creative, to always think outside the box and to see things differently. And, of course, to be very fast!




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