You came to watchmaking through engineering. What led you to follow this career path?
At school, I was drawn to different topics; I am quite creative but I also had an aptitude for maths and chemistry. So, for university I considered both medicine and law, as well as psychology. However, I finally decided to do an accelerated two-year course studying mathematics, chemistry and physics, which was seven days a week. After the two-year course, you were eligible for a range of engineering schools.
Originally, I went to ITECH in Lyon, France and studied chemistry. In the first year the modules were quite general, and during this time I discovered a textiles and leather course, which really appealed to me. There was an option to study leather and its use in the luxury industry, so I chose this direction and enrolled on the course. Shortly before graduation, I had to do an internship for six months and, seizing the opportunity, I decided to do it outside of France. I went to Germany to work within the research and development team of an automotive supplier, and I was responsible for exploring new ways of integrating leather within cars.
That sounds fascinating.
It was really exciting and I stayed there for two years. I loved the work itself – the research and development part – but I was not passionate about cars. A friend in Switzerland had told me about her job at Swatch Group, so when a position came up in the Quality Management team, I applied. I was thrilled to get the job and ultimately stayed there for three years until 2007; we were responsible for making sure that materials used for the watches were of equal quality from Swatch to Breguet. It was a great opportunity to learn about the watch industry and, gradually, I saw that my interests lay in the product management side of the business.
And that’s when you moved to Omega?
Thanks to my previous role, I had a very good relationship with the people at Omega and they offered me the job of Junior Product Manager. I was mostly in charge of the technical development of products, from the brief to the realisation. I worked with a plethora of different suppliers who taught me so much, and I loved being part of a team that worked with such passion.
After three years at Omega, an opportunity arose at Audemars Piguet. It’s funny, during my time at Swatch Group, I sometimes went to Vallée de Joux to visit Breguet. I am a real city girl and my first time there, I said to my colleague: “I could never work here. It is beautiful but even for the best job in the world I could not!”
However, when I received an offer from AP, a brand that really inspired me, I could not turn it down! So, I took the job and moved from Bienne to Lausanne, in January 2011. When I drove to Le Brassus, I almost wanted to cry – it was always dark and snowing. I thought: “Why did I do this?” But it was the best decision, as I loved working at Audemars Piguet, it was a great experience. As Product Manager, I oversaw the technical development but also product strategy, so I developed a 360-degree understanding of the product development process – I worked on the launch of the women’s Millenary for example. That was great training for my role at Fabergé.
As a woman in what is still a predominantly man’s world, have you had any related problems to overcome?
I would say that women sometimes have to prove themselves more than men do. We can’t afford to miss a beat in meetings, because if you do you could quickly lose people’s confidence. Early on I thought I might have to change my personality to become more like a man, but I can’t change and I don’t want to. Now I think that makes me strong.
What made you leave Audemars Piguet to go to Fabergé which, at the time, was not known for incredible watches?
I was not looking for a new job in particular, but I thought: “What will I be doing in five years?” I liked the idea of taking my experience from established brands to the independents. I love the notion of entrepreneurial companies taking on new challenges with everyone getting involved, even with tasks that are not within my job description.
Out of the blue, I was contacted by a recruiter from London, who asked me if I was looking for a new challenge. I said: “No, not particularly. But it depends on what the challenge is.” When I was told it was Fabergé, I thought of eggs not watches, like most people at the time. But I decided to learn more about the brand – I believe it’s always worth finding out what opportunities a challenge has to offer.
I went to the Fabergé boutique in Geneva and met with the CEO, Sean Gilbertson. I had no expectations but was blown away by his passion. He explained that he wanted the watches to be developed internally and how we could do it. On the one hand it was quite scary, but on the other it was exactly the type of challenge I was looking for. I didn’t want to pass this up and then regret it – I don’t think the opportunity arises many times in your life for you start a new project, like this, from scratch.
What was the brief that Fabergé gave you?
It was November 2013 and I was asked to create something for Basel 2014, to which I laughed and said March 2015 was more realistic. Their response was: “OK, but in 18 months we must have new, complete collections of watches.”
So, then I had to be pragmatic and rational. I needed to build a rapport with the Fabergé team, particularly the internal jewellery designers because they knew the brand inside and out. The second step, which had to be very quick, was to source the external master craftsmen. Time was tight and there wasn’t the luxury of being able to redo things, it had to be right from the start.
We made a list of our dream team for each watch collection and then asked them if they would work with us. I knew a lot of the people from my time at AP, which helped to open doors, but then we had to deliver and really sell the Fabergé vision.
And this is how you persuaded Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and Agenhor to join forces with you?
I had never worked with Jean-Marc before, but of course I had heard of him. I knew of his work with Van Cleef & Arpels’ Poetic Complications – he is the master of surprise, which is also an important strand of Fabergé’s DNA. I started emailing Jean-Marc, but his team insisted he did not have time. I fervently persisted and was ultimately offered one hour of Jean-Marc’s time. It’s funny to look back now because I know Jean-Marc as one of the loveliest men around, but the beginning of that first meeting was quite daunting, like a job interview.
I explained to Jean-Marc what we wanted to do at Fabergé, which was to create the most beautiful timepieces with the highest level of watchmaking and integrated movements, working with the best people in the industry and highlighting the master craftsmen involved. At this point, the tone of the meeting started to change and we talked for maybe two hours. Jean-Marc said that I was mad to think that in 18 months we could develop something special. I told him that I knew he could do it and he said: “Oh, my God. People are crazy.”
By the end of the meeting we had decided on the Lady Compliquée collection. Fabergé wanted to develop a timepiece in keeping with Peter Carl Fabergé’s signature element of surprise, so Jean-Marc gave me a technical drawing that he had done and said Fabergé’s vision sounded like a “fan” idea he had been considering. I brought the plans back to London and, with the help of the jewellery team, we created the peacock. It was a perfect mechanical retrograde movement with a dial drawing inspiration from the Fabergé Peacock Egg of 1908. The reaction at Baselworld was incredible. We were all so worried, because even when you’re so proud of your new product, you can never be sure how it will be received by the public.
Your relationship with Jean-Marc has flourished. How did you persuade him to let you have the AgenGraph movement used in your Visionnaire chronograph – the combination of 40 years of work for him?
After the Peacock, we were already thinking about a new calibre. Fabergé is renowned for the surprise at the heart of the egg, so we wanted to work with the centre of the watch – a construction we were already working on for the Lady Levity and Visionnaire DTZ. At one of our meetings, Jean-Marc decided to show us this incredible chronograph movement. We were so excited and asked if we could present it in 2016. His answer was: “No, no, no, 2016 is too early!”
We knew that we wanted something strong for 2017 because it was the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, which brought an abrupt end to the original House of Fabergé. For us, a revolutionary chronograph movement, positioned within the centre of the watch, which offered unpreceded accuracy and precision, was the perfect calibre to continue the trajectory of Fabergé’s watch development. We needed this chronograph!
How do you see the Fabergé watch collection now?
We have come so far in just four years. We are a small team and very flexible and that’s why we could move forward so quickly. We have developed four new dedicated movements in three years: Lady Compliquée 6901, Dalliance 6911, Visionnaire DTZ 6924, Visionnaire Chronograph 6361, and we have established five new timepiece collections in total. We can’t develop a new movement every year, so I think it is time to let people explore the intricacies of Fabergé’s timepiece collections. Over the next few months we will really focus on educating the public on the journey of Fabergé’s timepiece development.
Is there still enough of a challenge to keep you at Fabergé?
At Fabergé, every day brings a new challenge. We have created a watch department and opened a timepiece workshop in Geneva, which is really exciting. Of course, we will continue to work with external work-masters, as this was an essential element of Peter Carl’s ethos. He worked with the best artisans from around the world, an approach that Fabergé continues to adopt today to maintain the superlative craftsmanship and innovation, for which the house is renowned.
Fabergé will also continue to surprise and delight. With only three years of timepiece development under our belt, the interest in the brand shows that we are heading in the right direction – winning two GPHG awards consecutively was a highly rewarding stamp of approval from the industry and I am excited to see what happens next!