Anchoring the corner of fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and quiet Rue Boissy d’Anglas, and a block away from Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Garden, sits Hermès’ hulking Paris emporium and headquarters. The impressive flagship houses not only the gorgeous Hermès boutique and offices, but also a new Émile Hermès Museum, which features a collection of antiquities that embody the heart of the brand’s beginnings. The grandson of founder Thierry, Émile was mostly responsible for the brand’s expansion beyond saddlery and for establishing a foothold beyond France. While the museum isn’t open to the public, a handful of journalists (myself included) were treated to a walk through the space, which reminded me of a very well-kept attic of a very wealthy grandfather — or so I would imagine if I had a very wealthy grandfather. It was a treasure trove of historical curiosities (e.g. the first walking stick Émile ever acquired, intricate travel cases with gold finishings, equestrian saddles, bits and stirrups, et cetera) that contributed and shaped the heritage of La Montre Hermès and were preserved as meticulously as one would expect from the brand. Also on display was the first “wristwatch” Hermès ever constructed, which dates to 1912. In actuality, it was a pocket watch with a clever leather attachment that allowed it to be worn on the wrist, and its inclusion in the museum presentation was a nice segue for another first for the brand.
A milestone and important step for every watchmaker is the introduction of an in-house caliber. It’s a step that propels a brand into a new horological realm and exemplifies its watchmaking expertise. And so, a full month and a half before it was to be revealed at BaselWorld, we were also treated to a sneak peek of Hermès’ newest collection. But this wasn’t just any collection — this was a milestone collection, as it marked the culmination of five years of research and development on Hermès’ very own caliber, an apex that grants the brand entry into horological inner circles.
“DURING THE LAST FEW YEARS, WE MADE ALL THESE TECHNICAL IMPROVEMENTS TO MAKE A VERY RELIABLE, HIGH-QUALITY CALIBER, WHICH IS WHY IT TOOK, IN TOTAL, FIVE YEARS” — LUC PERRAMOND, LA MONTRE HERMÈS CEO
La Montre Hermès has been partnering with Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier to develop and manufacture mechanical movements since 2003, but Hermès strengthened this relationship in 2006 when it secured a 25-percent stake in the company (the rest is owned by the Sandoz Family Foundation). After the acquisition, they worked on creating a caliber exclusively for Hermès, but it took half a decade for the movement, the caliber H1837, whose name references the year the house was founded, to come to fruition. The mechanical self-winding movement is 26mm in diameter, 3.7mm thick (0.2mm thicker than the original version to increase reliability), has a double barrel, a balance frequency of 4Hz (28,800vph) and a 50-hour power reserve. According to CEO Luc Perramond, “The first prototype we felt was not up to the standards of the house. So during the last few years, we made all these technical improvements to make it a very reliable, high-quality caliber, which is why it took, in total, five years.” However, its introduction does coincide nicely with the brand’s 175th anniversary this year — more a serendipitous occurrence than a planned commemoration.
The H1837 found its first home in the restyled Dressage collection, which consists of 10 new timepieces this year. Conceived in 2003 by house designer Henri d’Origny, the man behind many of Hermès’ successful collections such as the Cape Cod and Arceau, the Dressage underwent a few incarnations before being finalized. A slightly larger case diameter — just 1.5mm bigger, to be exact — and modifications such as a wider strap, a new guilloché dial and openworked dauphine hands, a larger aperture diameter, plus a new curved caseback profile and crown, modernized the original prototype. While the hour markers were changed to sandblasted appliques, the original Arabic numerals for the “9”, “12” and “3” were retained. The development team carefully reworked the initial product in order to keep its DNA, while contemporizing the design to make it more masculine, refined and all-around elegant than its predecessor. However, the attachment between the casing and the wristband, an Hermès signature, remained unchanged. The “stirrup strap shackle” (the English translation that unfortunately butchers the French term for the attachment) harkens back to the brand’s equestrian roots and is distinct from other watchmakers.
There are two different versions of the new Dressage on offer: one with a large central seconds hand (for a more classical and traditional touch) and date window at six o’clock, and one with a small seconds at six o’clock. Out of the 10 timepieces, there are eight variations in stainless steel and two in 18K rose gold. The stainless-steel pieces (four for each movement) have either a black or opaline silver dial and strap choices of steel, matte black or Havana alligator leather, which are produced entirely in the house’s Swiss workshop. The rose-gold timepieces are available only in the small-seconds version, one with an opaline silver dial and a Havana alligator strap, and the other with a matte graphite dial and graphite alligator strap. The latter is a limited-edition piece to celebrate the anniversary that will feature a special engraving and will be limited to, as you might guess, just 175 pieces.
“The [H1837 caliber] will be the beginning of a family of manufactured movements that we will develop to emphasize more and more the dimension of manufacture of Hermès watches,” said Perramond. However, while Hermès may extend this caliber to other lines already on the market and introduce adaptations and complications to the base movement — there was mention of a possible moonphase, power reserve or annual calendar down the line — don’t expect mass proliferation from a brand that holds to its slow-and-steady pace within the industry. It has no plans to go completely in-house, which preserves its relationship with the Swatch Group, which supplies many of its mechanical movements, and also keeps its entry price accessible. According to Perramond, the H1837 caliber’s introduction was “more a value strategy than a volume strategy”. Either way, the Dressage will be a strong addition to any connoisseur’s collection.