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Jaeger-LeCoultre: the idea of understated elegance

In a region that’s as culturally diverse as Asia, what does understated elegance truly mean? Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Iñigo Ohlsson talks about his experiences.

I stare at the glittering diamonds on my wrist, two lines of sparkling stars surrounding a white dial. This watch—the design, the engineering—I can’t say I’ve ever worn anything like it. 

Carefully, the attendant puts her gloved hands on my wrist to remove it.

“Would you like to try something else?” she says as she gestures towards the tray sitting on the table nearby. 

“The Polaris,” I say excitedly. 

She picks up the watch, with its blue rubber strap and stainless steel case, and puts it on my wrist. It’s a men’s watch, and it makes my wrist seem tiny. The weight feels good, sure of itself, but not at all imposing. 

It makes perfect sense, I understand now, that Jaeger Le-Coultre prides itself on understated elegance .

The Polaris Date, with its hand-laquered blue dial.

These watches have been brought here by Iñigo Ohlsson, who became Jaeger Le-Coultre’s Managing Director for South-East Asia & Oceania in 2019. And here, in Manila, he took the time to explain exactly what ‘understated elegance’ means. 

I find the term illustrated appropriately when Iñigo describes the brand thus: “We’re a group of men and women that are working together under the spirit of collective innovation in order to develop the finest timepieces ever created.” 

But what does that mean for the region? After all, what might be considered understated in, say, Bangkok, might be something completely different in Manila. “One of my priorities has been to travel the region, meet with people, and understand the different perceptions for the brand in every market, the different needs of our consumers. It’s great to have this opportunity to be here,” he tells me. 

The watches he’s brought with him, he says, “represent the highlight of our collection in 2019,” and they just happened to be the two watches I tried on: the limited edition Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date, and the Dazzling Rendez-Vous Night & Day.

“Polaris was originally created in 1968,” Iñigo  says, “and last year we decided to create a new Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris collection, with a lot of the features of the 1968 [model]. This year, we wanted to pay tribute to the Polaris II, which was launched in 1970.”

To say that the Polaris Date is gorgeous would be an injustice. The official description is as follows “the Polaris Date features a new hand-lacquered, blue double-gradient dial with sun-rayed, grained and opaline finish, unique to this special model. The central disc and main dial now each incorporate a shimmering, color-change effect: from deep turquoise to a brilliant shade of royal blue. The blue rubber Clous de Paris strap—also unique to the model—is color-matched to the inner bezel, which, like the original Memovox Polaris and Polaris II, rotates for added functionality.” Only 800 pieces have been made.

I lament the fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre does not create delicate ladies’ versions of their various collections. Rather, they create quite different collections for men and women, and the Dazzling Rendez-Vous Night & Day is one such watch for the ladies. “This is probably my personal favorite in the ladies’ collection,” Iñigo says. 

The Dazzling Rendez-Vous Night & Day uses a gem setting technique that has been perfected by Jaeger-LeCoultre for over a hundred years.

“Combining gold, mother-of-pearl and diamonds with uncompromising attention to detail… With an automatic movement nestled in a generous case (36 mm), this timeless model is sure to charm any sophisticated woman with a taste for jewellery watches made for nights out on the town.” 

“With this watch,” Iñigo shares, “we pay tribute to the art of precision in the world of watchmaking. Most people think about technical precision. But there’s also an aesthetic precision that is very important. This time, we wanted to play with the aesthetic precision and the gem setting precision in order to create this timepiece. What we did with the gem setting is add a new layer of diamonds on the bezel…This is a technique that Jaeger-LeCoultre has been perfecting for over 100 years.” 

Briefly, he explained the process: “First of all, selecting one by one, the diamonds in order to make sure they have the correct characteristics, and then setting them on the four prongs on the bezel, giving this impression of each piece being suspended in the air and allowing for very interesting and elegant reflection of light on all the facets of the diamond.”

Understated elegance, without a doubt. But this all goes back to my initial curiosity: how does this work in such a diverse region as Asia? Iñigo tells me, “This is the main attraction, for me personally, of working in this region. There’s so many different markets. With each of them, very different levels of taste, maturity, knowledge, interest. So, this is not a uniform market, that might be interesting for me as a place to work. Every single day is different, every market is different. So yes, if you’re asking me to compare between the Philippines and Indonesia, between Singapore and Malaysia, and even more when we’re talking about Australia. So that’s what for me is interesting, that there’s so many differences.”

And it seems difficult for him to conceal his excitement over his work: “If we talk about the Philippines as a market, I think there’s a lot of interest. The Filipino collector, or watch aficionado, is more and more into understanding matchmaking, understanding complications. In the Philippines, the preference is for more complications, especially among the ladies. There’s more and more ladies that are part of the watchmaking community, and they are more and more looking for complications in watches and jewelry. That’s why the combination between the technical complexity and the aesthetic is very important.”

We chat a bit more, and I ask him about his favorite one. Unsurprisingly, he picks up a Reverso Tribute piece. He explains, “I think that the word that best describes the Reverso watch is ‘elegant.’ Sometimes, we associate ‘elegant’ with fashion, with people dressing in a nice suit. For me, the Reverso, it’s not about that. There are people who, no matter what they’re wearing, they are elegant. I’ve seen people wearing jeans and a leather jacket and a Reverso. And it works extremely well, because they have that inner elegance.”

And I think that’s something we can all hope to have in the future, an inner elegance to match a Reverso. Or a Polaris.