Hermès is certainly best known for its leather goods, but it has also been increasingly focusing on its watchmaking efforts. The maison started down this road in 1975 by establishing La Montre Hermès in Biel, Switzerland. The watches bore distinctive case designs such as the equestrian inspired Arceau and the anchor chain inspired Cape Cod, which have the brands’ icons. Higher horological aspirations were indicated when, in 2006, Hermès acquired 25% of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, a movement manufacturer and supplier to brands such as Parmigiani Fleurier and Richard Mille.
Since then, Hermès has slowly but steadily introduced quite a number of interesting complications, with Vaucher providing support to the brand’s horological development, from automatic time-only movements to providing movement bases for complications such as the calibre H1915 in the Dressage L’Heure Masquée, a GMT watch with hidden hour and second time zone.
Hermès has also sought to collaborate with other movement specialists as well. For instance, the Temps Suspendu watch presented in 2011 has an intriguing function whereby the time can be, quite literally, suspended; the hands are then positioned almost vertically, clearly showing that it is not indicating any specific time. The key feature is that the time will resume properly when required, and the will jump back to show the correct time. In a similar vein, we saw the Slim L’Heure Impatiente in 2017, a different take on a mechanical alarm; rather than set a time when you want the watch to chime, you set a countdown of up to twelve hours. One hour prior, another countdown indicator will start, with a single chime being heard at the end. Both were developed with the esteemed Jean-Marc Wiedderrecht, the founder of Agenhor, who has a well-known expertise in retrograde movements, adding the required modules on top of a Vaucher base movement. Another interesting collaboration was the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune in 2019, this time working with another specialist, Chronode, with new interpretation on the moon phase; instead of the traditional way of the moon rotating in a subdial, it’s the time and the date that are placed on subdials and that rotate around the dial with the moon phases taking up the entire dial.
These creations from Hermès have set it apart from traditional watchmaking companies and other fashion brands who wish to gain recognition from the horological market. The maison has focused less on the practical aspect of these complications, and more on a tangential storytelling approach, showing initiative and the courage to push towards more whimsical aspects of horology.
The path to high complications
In retrospect, it’s clear that Hermès has a progressive plan in introducing complications, with ambitions that extend into more traditional aspects of haute horology. Creating a tourbillon has often been the fundamental step into fine watchmaking for any watchmaker, for its delicate nature being testament to the skill of the artisan in its construction and finishing. In 2010, Hermès launched the Cape Cod Tourbillon, equipped with the Vaucher calibre H8930VMF. It would be followed in 2013 by the Arceau Lift, the maison’s first flying tourbillon, equipped with the calibre H1923, collaborating this time with La Joux-Perret. The open-worked dial shows the main barrel at 12 and tourbillon cage at 6, both decorated with pierced double “H” that represents the joint marriage of Hermès and Hollande families, a motif that is found at Hermès’ flagship boutique in Paris at 24, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
The Arceau Lift also launched a number of special editions with Hermès playing its magic by creating beautiful dials with delightful modern themes. Leaving the beautiful flying tourbillon visible on the lower part of the dial, the upper half of the dial is covered by a glass or enamel plate that is tied closely with the brand identity, for instance mimicking black alligator scales on a glass dial using the Millefiori technique, a glasswork technique which can be traced back to Ancient Rome, or seeking inspiration from the brand’s iconic equestrian themed silk scarves and crafting enamel dials with the same motifs, often working with master enamelist Anita Porchet. Each of the dials required weeks to complete and contained traditional crafts with knowledge passed down through generations and representing the uniqueness that only hand-crafts can achieve.
In 2020, with the launch of the Arceau Lift Tourbillon Répétition Minutes, Hermès again impressed the watch world by marrying two complex mechanisms, the tourbillon and the minute repeater. Although the model was limited to two pieces only, one each made in pink gold and white gold case respectively, the movement calibre H1924 was conceptualised and executed by the late Pierre-Laurent Favre, founder of Manufacture Haute Complications, and has since also been applied to another unique creation, the Arceau Pocket Aaaaargh!
Syncing with the whimsical style seen elsewhere at Hermès, the tyrannosaurus illustration on the pocket watch hunter case is formed with inlaid leather pieces with a three dimensional enamel eye. The leather mosaic and marquetry techniques are refreshing yet tied with the brand’s playful DNA. The green leather crafts well portray the skin of the T-Rex and the brown perfect round cuts represent the scales, providing layers of texture to the decoration. The union of high-complication movement with modern métiers d’art for mischievous motifs is indeed refreshing and redefines expectations for a high end horological creation.
Hermès has also ensured that the traditional aspects of watchmaking finishing are executed to the highest standards. With the calibre H1924, details such as finishing on the plates, the black polished hammer, evenly bevelled edges of parts are combined with some personalisation such as the silhouettes of T-Rex, on Aaaaargh!, adding a surprising and mischievous touch.
The success of any timepiece lies on many factors including the movement, the dial and case design as well the little details that bring smiles to a watch lovers’ face. Hermès has certainly achieved success in bringing an inspired approach to watchmaking and presenting it to the maison’s numerous admirers, being consistently playful yet elegant. In addition, with the dedication that is shown on watch-making and well-planned strategies for new complications, Hermès is also grasping hardened watch collectors’ hearts and inspiring them to look to the maison for their next fine watchmaking acquisitions.