There are countless people who associate Hermès with leather bags and equine accoutrements, but the French maison has, since 1978, delved into the horology world. Jean-Louis Dumas, the fifth-generation descendant of founder Thierry Hermès, took over the small family business that year and turned it into the international luxury company we know today. It was also he who decided to create a proper watch division within the house, establishing La Montre Hermès in Bienne, Switzerland. By the 1980s and ’90s, Hermès became known for its feminine watches, with simple steel and quartz pieces featuring highly recognisable shapes. The first watch – the Arceau – was created by Henri d’Origny, a designer at Hermès since 1958, who wanted to move away from the confines of classicism and so fitted the watch with asymmetrical lugs in a shape inspired by stirrups.
In 1991, d’Origny designed the Cape Cod. “At that time, it was the UFO in the universe of feminine watches in the Swiss industry,” explains Laurent Dordet, the head of Hermès’ watch division. “Elsewhere, women’s watches were very standardised; they were men’s watches reduced to women’s sizes. When we came out with the Cape Cod, it was the first square watch within a rectangle, which was based on the iconic anchor chain motif cut into two.
We also invented the double-tour strap. Now everyone is copying it.”Hermès has been a long-time exhibitor at Baselworld, but this year made the pivotal decision to exhibit at SIHH. To mark this significant milestone, the brand revealed updates to the Arceau and Cape Cod – two of the core collections that Dordet believes can be attributed to La Montre Hermès’ success today. “The success of Hermès was feminine first, and it was feminine because of style, because of the craziness, because of motifs,” he says. “You would say the Cape Cod and the Arceau were more game-changing at the time they came out.”
The new Arceau Casaque comes in a playful array of colours including yellow, red, green and blue. The Cavale motif on the dial is set against hoofprint-like lines and is crafted using champlevé, lacquer and transfer techniques. The new Cape Cod versions come in more subdued colours. One features a rhodium-plated dial, polished to create a mirror-like effect, and is available in a large model and a small model, and on a single or the double-tour Milanese mesh bracelet. The second version comes with the anchor chain motif applied to the dial, and is available with a blue lacquered dial and Malta blue grained strap, or a black gold-treated dial and a calfskin strap.Even though the Slim d’Hermès was created following La Montre Hermès’ vertical integration (following its acquisition of a 25 per cent stake in the Vaucher manufacture in Fleurier in 2006) and even if Hermès was awarded a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève calendar watch prize in 2015 with its Slim d’Hermès QP, Dordet doesn’t believe the Slim is the watch that has solidified the brand’s place in the watch world. “No, Slim isn’t attributed to that,” he says. “Slim is really the line that is going to help us take off on the men’s line, but it is a very recent development – only seven years ago.”
In fact, given the choice, Dordet would rather bet on the Carré H, which has been given a new update this year. The Carré H was introduced in 2010, a square timepiece created by Marc Berthier. This year’s version has been enlarged by a few millimetres and comes with different finishes – polished and microbead-blasted – that gives the watch a wonderfully balanced play on the light. The typography used is also exclusive, making use of the zero in front of the single digits to bring a new aesthetic to the watch. Available in two versions, the steel-cased timepiece comes with a dark grey or black dial and a yellow or red second hand, respectively. Inside, the watch is powered by the self-winding Hermès Manufacture H1912 movement.
“Journalists told me about the 10 metres effect,” explains Dordet. “The Slim is very nice. I love it. But from 10 metres, you can’t tell it’s an Hermès watch because the details are in the typography and it’s very subtle. It’s more of a selfish experience. You know you have an Hermès watch, but nobody else knows it. But the Carré H, even from far away, you know it’s an Hermès watch. It’s a 2010 re-edition and it’s a square; a square, for Hermès, is emblematic.”
Hermès was born as a fashion brand and is keen to highlight its design-focused DNA. “Our fashion background is not just an advantage, it’s a condition to survive,” says Dordet. “We are not racing for the latest masculine complications. At Hermès, it’s either a classic complication that we twist in our own way, or we invent our own – for example, the Suspended Time.”
The Arceau Le Temps Suspendu watch was released by the brand in 2011; it came with a pusher on the left that stops the hands on the dial. The movement continues to run and keep track of time, and when you press the pusher again, the time returns to normal. “We did that because the story was to reflect the way we see time,” explains Dordet. “The ultimate luxury for us is to take time for yourself – to have time, to stop time. It’s not really something that is expressed throughout the rest of the industry. They have their battlefields and we have our own. It’s better not to be on the same one.”