Earlier at SIHH this year, Hermès gave us the second generation of the Carré H: a larger, more colorful rendition of the maison’s four-sided timepiece, initially introduced in 2010.
The thing to remember is that creating a quadrilateral watch holds an inherent challenge. There already exist several legends in the horological realm that are identified by this form, which have captivated minds and wrists for well over a century now.
How then does anyone go about stepping into such a daunting task? Not only to create a four-sided timepiece, but one that stands the test of time to even encourage a maison — the likes of Hermès — to give the watch a second generation.
To best understand this and the creative intentions behind the Carré H, Revolution had the pleasure of speaking with its designer, renowned architect, Marc Berthier, who explained his purpose behind the Hermès Carré H when it first came to be, its renewed identity and his hopes to further the maison’s square creation in generations to come.
The following is a transcript from that conversation.
When the Carré H first launched in 2010, the words that best described that watch, are your own — that this was a “genuine architect’s watch”. Could you expound on that thought a little?
It is an architecturally designed watch playing with pure geometry and visual harmony. It is the expression of equilibrium, minimalism, and the play on geometry. Geometry represents the foundations of my work, mainly pure shapes and subsequently, thanks to molding technologies, certain shapes that are more complex to interpret. The ancient Greeks glorified pure geometry and the great French architect Le Corbusier – born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland – evoked “the joy of geometry” in both his speeches and his writings.
When Jean-Louis Dumas first approached you to design a timepiece for Hermès, what would you say your process was, in order to come up with the initial idea and design? How did your background as an architect and designer aid in this and how did the same prove to be a challenge?
It occurred one afternoon in 1996 when Jean-Louis Dumas and I were discussing what a Hermès men’s watch might look like. We evoked a watch for explorers, for heroes, for brave men and keen travellers, and then a sports watch – although not in terms of the most improbable excesses of the genre. We presented a number of models to Pierre-Alexis Dumas and it was in 2010 that the first Carré H was created. Together with Philippe Delhotal, we managed to breathe life into this project that was in fact his first development at Hermès.
My training as an architect has led me to work with circles within squares throughout my professional life. The first Carré H was an expression of pure geometry with the perfection of the square. The new Carré H embodies a new geometrical approach: the option of a circle nested in a square.
In terms of design, the 2010 Carré H was very complex. But as a matter of its presence, the timepiece was one that oozed sobriety. Can you tell us how you managed to create this striking paradox?
The Carré H is an extremely contemporary design. I designed it before today’s nomadic objects such as cellphones and laptops, which used to have sharp-sided shells and cases and now feature softened angles. It is a classic and chic masculine Hermès exuding elegance, minimalist, exclusive… and particularly light at a time when sturdier watches were actual on the market at that time.
There are some very staple and iconic four-sided watches in the horological realm. How aware were you of these watches while designing the Carré H and how did you manage to identify your own space for the design, regardless of what was already out there?
I was not creating a watch but an object that embodies the Hermès values, thanks to the expression of the geometry composing shapes and looking for harmony in purity and perfection in details. Consequently, I was not in the position to be influenced by the rest of the business.
In 2018, we’re treated with the second generation of the Carré H. What would you say was your principal guiding thought, in reimagining the watch we saw this year?
We were looking for a sportier variation by reinterpreting the dial and playing with references to measuring instruments (compass, pendulum, etc.). It is still very much an architecturally designed watch playing with pure geometry and visual harmony. We have mainly preserved its expression of equilibrium, minimalism, and the play on geometry – as well as comfort on the wrist that was a must. The silhouette is identical and embodies the same Maison, the same style signature, the same designer.
Tell us a little about the decision for the 2mm larger case size.
The case is indeed slightly larger than the first version, an upsizing naturally entailed by nesting the circle inside the square.
What about the decision to opt for steel over the microbead blasted titanium?
The decision was to go for a non-limited edition, so we chose a steel case as opposed to the original one in titanium. This new version is widely pleasing and targets a broader clientele. With the new version, we might address the less traditional Hermès man and reaching a more diverse range of clients encompassing both connoisseurs with a taste for horological development, as well as those who are not necessarily technical aficionados but instead prefer to focus on the perfection of the object itself. This model epitomizes the authentic identity of the Hermès men’s watch.
Some major changes to the dial, too: a circle inside the square, instead of the prior, square-in-square, a very dynamic stepped dial now. Applied Arabic numerals instead of the batons; new stylized hands for the hour and minutes, but most notably the new look of the central seconds hand, which breaks the monochrome of the Carré H with a very definite bit of color. Can you run through some of these design decisions and how they sit in with the totality you had in mind for the 2018 Carré H?
Although the model is immediately recognizable due to its origins and its DNA, it nonetheless features a number of new characteristics.
We fashioned the dial differently, with a roof-style guilloché pattern based on a mathematical calculation so as to ensure optimal light reflections and reverberation. That enabled us to play with shadow zones and overexposure. The facets are worked so as to reflect the light and there is never just one reflection. The hands are also angles-shaped to enhance reflections and depth effects, as are the deliberately chosen indications, with applied numerals generating identical reflections and optical effects. We created specific axes for the four main hours so as to instil visual rhythm.
The seconds hand has been transformed into a pendulum that sets the cadence and imparts a pleasing sense of motion.
To embed the circle in the square while maintaining the overall harmony and balance of the model, we slightly resized the case while maintaining its rounded angles which have made it a key feature in the overall aesthetic equilibrium. The glass is cylindrical, thereby ensuring excellent comfort on the wrist just as the original one did.
We worked on the self-evident nature of the design, without jeopardizing the simplicity and excellence of the model, by adding certain details. This is a case of supreme sophistication and which is an evidence in the intention and in the result.
The new version of the Carré H has more references to watchmaking than the first, since the idea was to create a more distinctive, resolutely different interpretation. The first Carré H is a classic and chic masculine Hermès exuding elegance, while the second is more dynamic with heightened energy and seductive appeal.
With this chapter of the Carré H written and done, what are your hopes and vision for the timepiece for its next chapter?