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Watch Designer Jacqueline Dimier is an Expert on Time

Reflecting on her career as a professional watch designer, Jacqueline Dimier is unsure whether to attribute her success to chance or to being in the right place at the right time. Today, one might jump to conflate “right place, right time” with the concept of chance: wouldn’t Dimier’s upbringing in the watch capital of the world – Geneva, Switzerland – have everything to do with her horological success? But perhaps chance was essential to the fact that she, a woman in the 1960s, was able to forge a path in an overwhelmingly male dominated industry. Ms. Dimier still resides in Geneva and at 83, her experience has led her to firmly believe that “each instant, used as action or nonchalance, has its own value.” Take this perspective of time from a woman who has literally built a vocation around it: no moment, no matter how insignificant it seems, should be considered wasted.

Portrait of Jacqueline Dimier

In a 2019 profile in The New York Times, Dimier recalls feeling “insufficiently challenged” by a jewelry design role she took on after studying decorative arts in her early twenties. This hunger for more led her to watches, proposing designs to Rolex, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. In 1968, she accepted a full-time job as a designer at Rolex, where she developed the Cellini and worked on some jewelry watches, learning all about technique along the way. After seven years at Rolex, she joined Audemars Piguet as head of design, where she worked on a project that would cement her into watchmaking history: creating the ladies version of the notorious Royal Oak. The same whose 40th anniversary was re-imagined and commemorated by Carolina Bucci in 2016 with a Frosted Gold design.

While she was still at Rolex, the Royal Oak, designed by the visionary Gèrald Genta, debuted in 1972 to an awestruck crowd at Baselworld. “No one could talk about anything else,” Dimier said. “We were all in admiration, no matter what brand we worked for … Its modernity had turned everything upside down and left us all gasping for air.” Imagine, then, Dimier’s excitement to work on the feminized re-design of this groundbreaking timepiece. Imagine, too, the pressure she must have felt to live up to a precedent set by Mr. Genta himself. I am personally shaking with anxiety upon thought of this challenge set before her back in the ‘70s; but when asked about her feelings around the Royal Oak as it turns 50 this year, she responded rather casually: “I feel a few years older and envy the Royal Oak which, on the other hand, doesn’t look 50 years old.”

In Carolina Bucci's workshop, the Florentine Finish being demonstrated to Jacqueline Dimier and Jasmine Audemars, October 2016

In the workshop — Carolina Bucci's signature Florentine Finish being demonstrated to Jacqueline Dimier and Jasmine Audemars, October 2016

Dimier looks back on her near 25-year career at Audemars Piguet with a sense of gratitude for the respect and freedom she was granted to do her job properly. Even in her downtime today, she recognizes the importance of owning one’s time to simply enjoy life: “To me, entertainment connotes freedom.” That one is able to do anything – for work or for fun – is not to be taken for granted. “My body no longer responds to expectations and its rhythm betrays me,” she explains of the inevitable limitations that come with natural age, “but I enjoy the happy and festive moments of meeting with family and friends.” Indeed, Dimier finds solace in a sort of simplicity that cannot be dismissed as unproductive. Despite a less constrained schedule, however, she still keeps the time: “I wear a slightly smaller Royal Oak model than the original women’s version from 1976. This watch has been faithfully sitting on my wrist for more than 25 years now.”

As tempting as it is to keep digging into her boundary-breaking career, Dimier herself prefers forward motion. “This thirst for what comes next motivates me everyday, and I am rarely backward-looking.” Driven by the future, she nevertheless remains deeply present: “I enjoy every single moment I have,” relishing in the beauty of the everyday. “I try to translate this into drawings, paintings, texts and stone sculptures. I am always curious to learn, to know.”

One of Jacqueline Dimier's drawings

She laments the fact that her health no longer allows her for long, energizing walks through the forest, but – ever resourceful – she has traded this for meditation by the water, which “with its horizontality, has always been able to calm everything down.” The movement of water, with its serene, reliable rhythm, is not unlike the ticking of a clock – and thus you begin to understand Dimier’s rich experience of the world around her.

"It is important to know how to receive, create and give back."