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International Women’s Day - Women in watchmaking

International Women’s Day Women in watchmaking

Watchmaking is often thought of as a man’s world. But these days, we’re seeing an increasing number of women, some in leadership positions.

A few years ago it was extremely rare to see a woman CEO heading up a watch company, and still fewer women founders. But over the last three or four years, in addition to those who have inherited family companies, we’ve seen women take the reins of several watch manufactures. Here’s an overview of women in the watch industry.

Heiresses

She bears one of the most illustrious names in Swiss watchmaking. Jasmine Audemars is the great-granddaughter of Jules-Louis Audemars, who in 1875, with his friend Edward Auguste Piguet, co-founded Audemars Piguet. She is a prime example of a watch heiress, representing the fourth generation of the Le Brassus company’s founding family. Her role is particularly significant, given that Audemars Piguet is the last watch manufacture still in the hands of its founders. Although she was born into watchmaking, in 1968 Jasmine Audemars chose a different professional path. Her brilliant career in journalism took her to the position of editor-in-chief of the Journal de Genève. However, in the early 1990s her father, Jacques-Louis Audemars, asked her to come and manage the manufacture. And thus began Jasmine Audemars’ second professional incarnation. As chair of the Audemars Piguet board of directors since 1992 (and also chair of the Audemars Piguet Foundation Board, which helps to preserve woodlands all over the world), her role is mainly to define the group’s strategy, with the support of employees who understand, protect and develop the Audemars Piguet DNA.

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Jasmine Audemars © Audemars Piguet

Nayla Hayek is also a member of an illustrious Swiss watchmaking family, although one that’s very different from Audemars Piguet. She is the daughter of Nicolas Hayek, hailed as the saviour of the Swiss watch industry, and founder of the Swatch Group, and the elder sister of Nick Hayek. She and her brother run the Swatch Group – Nayla as chair of the executive board, and Nick as chair of the group’s board of directors, and executive board member. A keen horsewoman and owner of a stable of thoroughbreds, Nayla Hayek is also President and CEO of Harry Winston, which joined the Swatch Group in 2013.

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Nayla Hayek © Harry Winston

The Swiss watch industry also has another pair of siblings at the reins of a prestigious brand. When the German goldsmith and watchmaker Karl Scheufele bought Chopard ( which had been founded in the 1880s) in 1963, he saved it from oblivion and developed it into an international jewellery and watch powerhouse. His children Karl Friedrich and Caroline are its co-presidents today; the former is head of men’s watchmaking, and the latter head of women’s collections, the jewellery division and High Jewellery. Caroline Scheufele is a trained jeweller with a passion for precious gems, and she is drawn to creation. At the age of sixteen she designed the Happy Diamond Clown, and twenty years ago created the women’s Happy Sport collection – a bold combination of steel and diamonds. Caroline is also the driving force between the partnership between Chopard and the Cannes Film Festival, which resulted in a Palme d’Or redesigned by Chopard, and the Green Carpet ethical jewellery collection made with sustainably sourced gold and gemstones.

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Caroline Scheufele © Chopard

On 7 November 1962, Danielle Montandon (née Eberhard) and her husband André died in a traffic accident. The Eberhard & Co. family firm, founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1887, struggled to recover. A few years later, the company was bought by Palmiro Monti, an investor and one of the watchmaker's distributors in Italy. Today it's his daughter, Barbara Monti, who steers the fortunes of Eberhard & Co., and her family is the majority shareholder. Recently, she was able to fulfil one of her oldest wishes, to restore Eberhard & Co.'s historic headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds, which she remembers from her childhood, and relocate the company there.

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Barbara Monti © Eberhard & Co.

Co-founder 

There are very few haute horlogerie brands that bear a woman’s name, and even fewer (perhaps only one…) that can boast a woman as co-founder. Frédérique Constant combines the first names of the great-grandparents of its founders, married couple Aletta and Peter Stas. Their story embodies the slogan of their company – Live your passion. She worked in real estate and he worked for an electrical goods company in the Netherlands when their shared passion for watches led them to give up everything to create luxury timepieces at reasonable prices. After designing the first watches on a computer, and seeking out suppliers in Switzerland to set up Frédérique Constant in 1988, Aletta Stas is now head of logistics and production. She shares design and strategy roles with her husband, and both are executive board members.

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Aletta Stas © Frédérique Constant

CEOs

In November 2013, Aurélie Picaud was working as product manager for Audemars Piguet when Fabergé asked her to come and develop their watch division from scratch. On the basis of Fabergé’s distinctive identity – proportion, combinations of materials, colours, jewellery, the element of surprise, technique, collaboration with master craftsmen – she laid down the foundations of the new collection, convinced Jean-Marc Wiederrecht to work with Fabergé, and put together a team. Since then, Fabergé has produced the Lady Compliquée Peacock, the Visionnaire DTZ and Chronograph, the Flirt and others, and the company was awarded two prizes by the GPGH with its first two entries. 

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Aurélie Picaud © Fabergé

In March 2017 Chabi Nouri replaced Philippe Leopold-Metzger as Piaget’s CEO, after being head of marketing and communication for three years. As one of the first women to manage a jewellery company, the young forty-something economics graduate brought her experience from working at Cartier to redevelop Piaget’s jewellery division, placing the emphasis on the Altiplano, Possession and Gala ranges, and putting in place a worldwide development strategy.

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Chabi Nouri © Piaget

On 1 May 2018 another Richemont brand, Jaeger-LeCoultre, appointed a woman CEO. Catherine Rénier knows the territory, having previously worked for Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

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Catherine Rénier © Jaeger-LeCoultre

Away from the big groups, Emile Chouriet has also placed its Geneva site in the hands of a woman, Melinda Alessi (see our interview), following the retirement of founder Jean Depéry.

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Melinda Alessi © Emile Chouriet

And at the end of last year, Céline Assimon replaced John Leitao as CEO of de Grisogono.

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Céline Assimon © de Grisogono

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Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry,...

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Maison Chopard epitomises the alliance between watchmaking and jewellery. It has always known how to meet the expectations of its day, relying on four essential values: expertise, tradition,...

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Keen to develop technical timepieces with a refined and distinctive aesthetic appearance, in less than twenty years de Grisogono has successfully carved out a niche in the world of watchmaking. Its...

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Since 1887, Eberhard & Co. has been synonymous with passion, innovation and attention to detail and design. These values have defined the Maison ever since it was founded.

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The firm is committed to maintaining and passing on the values of Emile Chouriet – an integral part of its DNA. Elegance has always been associated with the heritage of the Geneva watchmaker’s...

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Fabergé delights in producing the unexpected for its timepieces, much like the famous Imperial Easter Eggs for which the house is famous.

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Frédérique Constant has made a successful business out of offering affordable luxury, experiencing growth rates well above the industry average. The owners have a clear mission to make fine...

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Ever since the brand was established in 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been enchanting lovers of beautiful objects. Its craftsmen and craftswomen, the guardians of the inventive spirit of company...

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One hundred and forty years’ worth of uninterrupted history have allowed Piaget to forge its unique jewellery and watchmaking expertise. The Brand is a genuine Fine Watchmaking manufacture that...

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