Best watchmaker in the world
ALTHOUGH THE WORLDS of science and engineering are undoubtedly changing, a female master watchmaker is still as rare as seeing a tiger in the wild. It is, therefore, refreshing that the 2012 winner of the Best Watchmaker Prize at Switzerland's grandest industry award ceremony, the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève, was Cartier's head of movement creation, Carole Forestier-Kasapi.
Ms. Forestier-Kasapi was born to the profession. Her mother, father and brother are all watchmakers, and she was dismantling and reassembling clocks by the age of six or seven. "I had a burning desire to know how things worked, " she says. "And there is only one way to truly find out."
After her initial six years' training at the Ecole d'Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Switzerland, Ms. Forestier-Kasapi began her career in the engineering department of Conseilray SA, designing and building movements for brands without in-house capabilities. This was followed by four years at the renowned Renaud & Papi before really stepping into the spotlight in 1997 when she won the Breguet Competition—staged to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Breguet's birth—with her design for a Karrusel tourbillon. Soon after, she was hired by Ulysse Nardin, and her award-wining movement design was absorbed into its legendary Freak.
Speaking candidly she admits that being a lone woman in a man's world hasn't always been easy. "It is a very masculine and conservative world—no matter what the marketing machines try to tell you, " she says. "As a young woman leaving school without experience, it was extremely tough. Now it is no longer an issue as I have proved what I can do."
And indeed she has. For the past 15 years, Ms. Forestier-Kasapi has been in the Movement Development Department at Cartier International where she has risen to the position of head of movement creation. Cartier was once dismissed by many as a jewelry-watch manufacturer, but the expansion of its fine-watch department under Ms. Forestier-Kasapi's direction has been rapid. Nine years ago, no one was creating movements within the company, with calibers being bought in to be cased. Ms. Forestier-Kasapi was instrumental in establishing what is known at Cartier as "the studio, " a workshop designed to control development from within—through prototypes to serial production via decoration—with groups of engineers specializing in different areas such as simulation and virtual movements.
"We introduced the first fine watches with in-house movements in 2008, and today we have 29 in-house movements as well as two basic calibers: the 1904PSMC and the 1904CHMC chronograph—and two ID concept watches that challenge traditional watchmaking ideas, " says Ms. Forestier-Kasapi. "Today, in the movements department we have 32 people. We are very serious about pushing the boundaries of mechanical watches."
Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the 2013 Fine Watchmaking collection—unveiled at that year's Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). "The main point we wanted to get over was the technical know-how of the brand, " says Ms. Forestier-Kasapi. Cartier was well-represented in the Rotonde de Cartier Mystery watches (priced from £40, 800)—the Mysterious Double Tourbillon being the creator's favorite of the year's pieces.
The brand's original Mystery Clocks, with a piece of rock crystal at their center and with hands that appear to float in midair, are today both rare and much-coveted. The technology behind them is an inherent part of Cartier's history and one that Ms. Forestier-Kasapi felt she had to translate into a watch. "It was a mission, a duty and now that we have mastered the technology, the pieces will be produced for years to come and will appear in different cases in the future."
This year, the mission of the 102 novelties and five new movements launched in Geneva was to showcase Cartier's innovative mechanics and distinct style. Again, there were reinterpretations of legendary pieces such as the Rotonde de Cartier Day and Night watch with retrograde moon phase (£31, 200 in palladium; £29, 100 in pink gold) based on the 1913 Comet Clock, which recently took center stage at the 2013/14 exhibition "Cartier: Style and History" at the Grand Palais in Paris.
The star of the 2014 collection, however, is the 100-piece limited-edition Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire watch (£153, 000), which has earned the nickname "the amphitheater of time, " due to the unique design of the perpetual calendar. Concentric 3-D discs surround a central tourbillon with the day indicated on the first ring, the month on the second and the date on the third. Narrow windows move along the discs, highlighting the appropriate words and numbers. A hand on the back of the watch indicates a leap year.
When it comes to what is next for Cartier, Ms. Forestier-Kasapi is coy. "I do know what is coming as I am currently working on pieces for 2019, " she says. "But why spoil the surprise?
"Working so far ahead of release, we have no trends to follow and no limitations in how far we can go. Some of our ideas are truly revolutionary and the most important quality I can have is confidence, confidence in my own ability to translate ideas into reality. I have to be convinced that I am right."
IT'S ABOUT TIME
Female watchmakers at the level of Carole Forestier-Kasapi are few, but there are signs the industry is slowly shifting. Here are three women making a name for themselves
Paul Francis Madden, principal of Miami's Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking School, thinks its time for women to shine. He is proud to have taught three watchmakers at Patek Philippe in NYC, one Audemars Piquet technical adviser in the NYC boutique, and a watchmaker for Harry Winston on 5th Avenue—all women. "It is true that female watchmakers are quite rare in the prestige end. However, I feel that this has been changing and will continue to do so, " he says.—Tracey Llewellyn.
(Co-owner, Struthers London; based in Birmingham, U.K.)
Since starting at the Birmingham School of Jewellery in 2003, 28-year-old Rebecca Struthers has qualified as a jeweler, silversmith, watchmaker and diamond grader. She also holds an M.A. in history of art and design.
Today, Ms. Struthers and her husband, Craig, a fellow watchmaker, run two businesses from Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter—one specializing in repairing and restoring vintage and antique watches, the other (Struthers London) designing and making new timepieces. And Ms. Struthers's reputation is growing. Already the recipient of several accolades, last year she was, jointly with her husband, awarded the British Lonmin LNMIY 12.38 % Design Innovation Award in the emerging designers category for their new "Stella" pendant watch design, which has also received a 2014 award from the Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council.
(Watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin; based in London, U.K.)
After training at the Lycée Edgar Faure watchmaking school in Morteau, France, 32-year-old Selynn Blanchet worked with some of the world's finest brands. She has been with Vacheron Constantin for more than five years, and is watchmaker-in-residence at its Old Bond Street boutique. Watchmaking was the perfect career choice for Ms. Blanchet, inspired by a natural curiosity and love of mechanics. She says that, as dexterity is key to the assembling of minuscule components, the ability to shut off from your surroundings is a necessary part of the job. (She recommends noise-cancelling headphones and radio plays to stay focused.) Vacheron Constantin is naturally proud of its star watchmaker. U.K. Brand Director Celine Larose says: "We know how rare a talent like Selynn is. Once you reach complications, it is very much a man's world, and being so young only adds to the pressure."