LA CHAUX-DE-FONDS, Switzerland — No one expected in 2020 that Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who has dozens of horology patents on her résumé, would leave a 15-year career at Cartier to become the movement director at TAG Heuer.
“I wanted to have a new and different adventure,” she said during an interview in a meeting room at the TAG Heuer headquarters as the sun hit the corrugated silvery surface of the building, on the outskirts of this Swiss watchmaking hub. “And TAG Heuer has a great tradition of innovation,” she noted, referring to collections like Carrera, Monaco and Aquaracer.
High-end watchmaking is a long-range enterprise, with years of planning going into any introduction. So now, after three years, the industry is seeing her influences at the brand, such as leading the team that is developing the solar energy movement for the Aquaracer and the flyback chronograph movement she for the Monza, both introduced in January.
But Ms. Forestier-Kasapi, 54, said she never innovated for innovation’s sake: “You should innovate to tackle a problem, bring a solution for watchmaking. It should give sense — technical sense, or open new doors for design.”
Innovative watchmaking has always been one of her passions. As a teenager in Paris, while her school friends were covering their bedroom walls with Michael Jackson posters, she pinned up a portrait of the Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, who invented the tourbillon in 1801. And at the dinner table, the main topic was watchmaking. “My father, my mother, my brother — they are all in watchmaking, restoring clocks in Paris,” she said.
In 1986, she moved to La Chaux-de-Fonds to attend the Centre Interrégional de Formation des Montagnes neuchâteloises, the watchmaking school better known as CIFOM, completing four years of study for a diploma and two more years on horological conception, similar to a master’s program.
Immediately after finishing her studies, she began working for a watch engineering office, where her first job was to develop the Elite caliber, a compact automatic movement that Zenith has used in that collection since she completed it in 1994.
But she said she didn’t enjoy producing plans that were just handed to a client, and that she wanted to be involved in the manufacturing and to see the clients. “For me, the best satisfaction is if I can meet the client and present the watch, and see some sparkling things inside his eyes when he first sees the watch,” she said. “I don’t need more than that. Then I get the feeling that it is possible to transmit emotions within an object.”
In 1994, she joined the creative haute-horlogerie studio and factory Renaud & Papi, where she spent six and a half years in close collaboration with her colleagues to create complications like tourbillons for various clients, including Franck Müller.
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“Carole has a high energy and a scientific mind,” said Giulio Papi, co-founder of Renaud & Papi, which now is part of Audemars Piguet. “Her style is often classical contemporary and, technically speaking, it is interesting, and well made, in terms of mechanical laws and physical laws. When you understand mechanical and physical laws — for instance shock impact, angle of pressure, friction and gravity — you can create what you want in the style you want.”
Her next move was in 2000 to Richemont, where she began working for a mix of the brands owned by the Swiss luxury group, and from 2005 to 2020 she was responsible for movement creation at Cartier, one of those brands.
On her LinkedIn page, Ms. Forestier-Kasapi has listed 16 patents of which she was a co-creator during her Richemont years. “But there is much more,” she said. “Honestly, I never counted.”
According to patbase.com, a database used by watch industry professionals, there are 27 patents listing her as a co-inventor. François Régis-Richard, a patent attorney based in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, who has worked within the watch industry for 23 years, said, “To my knowledge, Carole is the most prolific lady ever when it comes to filing patents in watchmaking.”
Ms. Forestier-Kasapi said she was particularly pleased with two of the patented innovations, both filed in 2010.
The first was for skeletonizing — removing the dial and eliminating any unnecessary pieces of a movement, and by doing so, creating the Roman numerals that the wearer will use to tell time. This exercise in contemporary skeletonizing, first applied to a Cartier Santos model, eliminated borders between design and the technical aspects of watchmaking. “I bring an idea with a sketch, and the designer will work around this to magnify the idea.” she said. “For me, it is really teamwork.”
The second was for the Cartier Mysterieuse tourbillon; the wearer can see a moving tourbillon but no wheels connecting it to the rest of the movement (she used disks of translucent sapphire crystal). “I like the idea to propose something that you don’t understand how it works, something with a magic effect,” she said.
Ms. Forestier-Kasapi said that at TAG Heuer, an LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton brand, she enjoyed the opportunity of working with mechanical movements as well as quartz movements, like the solar-powered one in the Aquaracer Solargraph, introduced in January during LVMH Watch Days.
“The solar energy harvesting in the movement is very interesting, and even though electronic movements are different from mechanical movements, they are similar when it comes to working with moving wheels,” she said, noting that some of the things she learned might be applied to mechanical watches in the future.
Then there was the 2023 Monza Flyback Chronograph with a carbon case, a technical development of a collection introduced in 1976. “For many clients the point of view is that this is the same as regular chronograph,” she said, “but to move from regular to flyback, you have to radically rebuild all the functions.”
Although most of her time is spent at TAG Heuer, she occasionally teaches in the métiers d’arts courses at La Chaux-de-Fonds École d’Arts Appliqués. “When I was in watchmaking school in the 1980s, I was alone, I was the only woman,” she said, but now women make up roughly half of the student body at the La Chaux-de-Fonds school.
“But there are still only men in the research and development area in watchmaking,” she said. “It is a very conservative industry — clearly. When all these women are in the market, of course the industry will have to move, they will be forced to adapt and employ them.”
Ms. Forestier-Kasapi said she was convinced that more women in research and development would change the industry for the better. “The sensibility is different, the eyes are different,” she said. “That’s why I speak about richness. We don’t see the same things at first, and that goes for everything.”
She also teaches an annual master class in which 11- to 14-year-old girls work together to build a simple clock. It is organized by Élargis tes Horizons Genève (in English, Expanding Your Horizons Geneva), a nonprofit organization that hopes to inspire young girls to choose technical and scientific professions.
Ms. Forestier-Kasapi said she liked to share ideas with contemporary watchmakers, such as Maximilian Büsser, founder of MB&F. “His Time Machines are very different,” she said, “and he is opening new doors in watchmaking.”
When Ms. Forestier-Kasapi’s comments were repeated to Mr. Büsser, he said he was honored to be mentioned, adding that he found her productivity “absolutely mind-blowing.”
“Carole brings a level of creativity and innovation and things never done — in an industry that keeps recycling all the ideas,” he said. “She is not in that, she doesn’t repackage goods. And one thing that I really admire and respect is that she basically created her own path.”
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