HERITAGE Timekeepers: Carole Forestier Kasapi, TAG Heuer Movements Director

Winner of the Prix Gaïa 2021

8 min

In this series of interviews, we are meeting people for whom time really is of the essence. Our guests are real-life examples of how critical a millisecond can be. And it doesn’t hurt that they have some truly fascinating things to say on the subject… from entrepreneurs to some of the world’s best athletes, via time-walking wonders of all stripes (many of whom might as well be part-time philosophers), to discover how the best of the best keep, bend, or travel through time as we know it.

For this new edition of  Timekeepers, we met someone who works the most closely to the mechanics of time and instills a tremendous amount of creativity into all complications: Carole Forestier Kasapi, TAG Heuer Movements Director. She tells us about her extraordinary career path, love of teamwork and desire to invent the watchmaking of tomorrow.

What does the role of Movements Director entail?

I’m in charge of establishing TAG Heuer’s strategy for movements. In concrete terms, that means I ensure our catalog is consistent. I make sure it’s aligned with the global development plan. And then of course, I’m also actively involved in the development of mechanisms. 

Let’s start at the beginning, you grew up within a family of watchmakers, didn’t you? 

It’s true that I was immersed in the world of watchmaking from an early age. I spent a lot of time at my family’s workshop after school. You know what it’s like, you start by taking apart an old alarm clock mechanism to understand how it works and then you open up a book or two… I was always quite curious and I quickly found myself completely fascinated by it. When I was a teenager, all of my friends at school were fans of Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, I was a fan of the master watchmakers like Breguet, Lépine, etc.

It seems things have come full circle then, as you won the Prix Breguet in 1997, followed by the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève in 2012 and the Prix Gaïa in 2021. So did you just follow directly in your family’s footsteps?

Yes and no. I received my diploma in watchmaking, like my father, mother and brother, which was the first training I followed. But what really interested me was design and creation. So I branched out to follow my own path and chose to study development.

Do you think it’s essential to start at such a young age to become a good watchmaker? 

No, I don’t think so. Don’t they say that age is just a number when it comes to talent? There are lots of brilliant people today who haven’t necessarily been immersed in watchmaking since their childhood. On the other hand, the fact that I’ve been surrounded by this world has given me a very strong cultural link with the skills and expertise of watchmaking, which has helped me a lot!

What is a typical day like for you now? 

In theory, my day is structured around meetings to ensure projects are moving forward and that everyone is moving in the same direction. I work closely with the design and development teams, the people in charge of products and our collaborators in the Research Institute. To convince and unite others, you need to talk and take the time to explain how and why. I need to be able to share! I love meetings where we can reflect together as a team. These are moments of true intellectual freedom. And then there is also a teambuilding element that is so strong, which makes it really fun. Success is based entirely on the harmony of a team.

Are there times when you find yourself alone in front of a blank piece of paper?

Of course, because ideas can come at any time. I always have a notepad in my bag but I prefer to work on paper. I need to make little sketches all the time or write things down. I tell myself that I need to find out about this or that type of technology. It’s about intellectual curiosity that has to be put down on paper at some point, because you can’t remember everything.

How many projects do you work on at once? 

There are always several projects underway at once. For the simple reason that developing a movement takes time! From a blank page to final approval, it takes between three to five years. It depends on the complexity as well as the established priorities.

Do you ever find it takes too long?

I find time goes slowly when I have an idea and I’d like it to be made into a prototype straight away to bring it to life! To see if the idea is right, if it’s necessary to explore another path or if we need to investigate further. I mostly feel impatient at times.

How do you synchronize you and your teams’ time?

It’s not easy! Especially within a task force composed of different contributors. I know how I work and I can come up with ideas very quickly. It remains essential, however, to give everyone time for expression, reflection and creativity. After that, once you’ve opened the floodgates, you have to sort through it all and land on your feet. We all tend to cling on to our own ideas, it’s only natural as humans. But you have to learn to let go of some of them. It’s always difficult to say to someone “your idea was good, but we’re not going to pursue it”, while still also keeping them motivated.

You said that your motto was “nothing is set in stone, everything can be questioned”. Can you really always challenge everything?

I think this motto is relevant for all fields and everyone who creates. It’s only when we decide that nothing is immovable that doors can be opened. If I assume that there’s nothing left to invent in watchmaking, I won’t be able to have an interesting creative mindset. Your state of mind and mental attitude are really important to encourage creation and new ideas, as well as to bounce ideas off each other. For me, it’s essential.

What does your development process look like?

Actually, it’s about imagining different displays and mechanisms to propose new solutions. The aim is to respond to the concerns of watchmaking today and help it evolve. From an initial idea, we carry out what we call a pre-study, in other words a feasibility study, before moving on to the design phase.

What are the improvement areas that motivate you?

What’s important is bringing meaning to the customer. We’re not going to innovate just for the sake of it. Innovation and creativity need to work for the final customer. What are they looking for? More reliability, more precision, less maintenance on the watches, more autonomy, more power reserve, etc. We need to improve the watchmaking of tomorrow! I think that’s something that should guide every watchmaker. At TAG Heuer, the concepts of innovation and avant-garde are extremely strong, which is an opportunity for us.

When do you know you are satisfied with a movement? 

When the final customers are happy. My team and I are at the very beginning of the chain, starting from scratch in the creative process. So when we have the chance to exchange with those who wear our watches, it’s always an incredibly enriching experience. Nothing beats direct customer feedback. On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to tell them the story behind the creation, the history of the project, etc. These are truly magical moments.

You’re known as the queen of complications. Do you think a watch complication is really complicated? Or do you also see simplicity in it? 

A watch complication is complicated because it has many components. It has additional mechanisms that a simple watch doesn’t have. The different functions are often quite traditional in themselves, there are rotating elements, springs, levers, etc. The real complexity comes from the accumulation of mechanisms, which not only add up, but also make the complexity exponential! And yet, for the customer, all this must remain extremely accessible and easy to read.

When you work on a new movement, do you travel in time?

I think of it like writing a book. The TAG Heuer book already has lots of pages and is a very rich story. I’m in charge of writing the next page. So of course I need to know about the previous pages to ensure consistency. There is a whole DNA to embrace… and at the same time to develop and propel into the future! Consistency is what makes transmission possible and it’s important to keep this in mind when creating.

What past creations inspire you at TAG Heuer?

All of them! There are no limits, no element in the past should be ignored. This heritage is a great source of pride, but it also needs to evolve: that’s where the challenge is.

How do you feed your curiosity?

By looking elsewhere: there are many fields other than watchmaking that are also interesting. That doesn’t mean stealing good ideas. But seeing the application of something in another field, it gives you a boost and is always very inspiring.

Your work is highly confidential. Is that difficult for you?

It’s simply a matter of habit. Until the watches are presented to the public, everything is confidential. As long as you adhere to that, there’s no problem. At home, our family discussions are often centered around watchmaking, but we never speak about what’s in development. Not saying anything until launch day is just part of the job.

If you were a TAG Heuer watch, which one would you be? And why?

The next one! It’s the creation ahead that keeps us going, helps push our limits and progress. But until then, I really like the TAG Heuer Carrera 39 mm models with glass box.

Do you have any predictions for the next few years?

There are so many things to do at TAG Heuer! I’m thrilled to work in a company with such a strong entrepreneurial mindset. Everyone is able to offer suggestions, and you can’t put a price on that. I’m certain that we’re going to experience some great years ahead.