Anticipation stirs the imagination like nothing else. We consider the situation that we will have sometime in the future as distinctly better than what we have now purely because we want what we do not have. Consequently, in that liminal space between having and not having, we experience the full spectrum of emotional pleasure, buoyed by the mental drama we can enjoy right now.

And emotional pleasure, in essence, is what the brand‑new 2017 Slim d’Hermès L’heure Impatiente is all about. In line with the other seminal watches from the brand that ply their appeal in the whimsical arena of complicated watchmaking, this new watch adds yet another dimension to the brand’s unique philosophy of time.

There is no doubt that, in the realm of the emotional complication, Hermès has proven to be the undisputed master. Witness what the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, the brand’s first attempt into this unique world, did to watchmaking when it was first introduced. Instantly, all notions of what a complication was about were thrown out the window. Instead of a complication existing to add some measure of precision to the watch, as in the case of a chronograph to measure elapsed time, a tourbillon to improve precision of the balance wheel to negate the effects of gravity, or a perpetual calendar to know the exact date of the year regardless of whether it was a leap year or not, this amazing watch instead, sought to render its basic function, to tell the time, moot.

How did it do this? A little pusher on the side of the case when depressed would instantly cause the hands to jump to an unreadable time. Why such a weird complication in this watch? Simple. Time is as much possessive of utilitarian qualities as it does of emotion. In our minds, we suspend time, or the act of caring for it, when we want to daydream or just be present in the moment of our choosing.

Hermes

Hermès carried on this idea with a second iteration of time’s unique qualities by introducing the Dressage L’heure Masquée. Here was a watch that hid its hour hand under the minute hand, until a pusher was depressed and held in. At that point, the hour hand would jump out to its correct position to reveal the time, jumping back to its hiding place the moment one’s finger was taken off the pusher. One could say that this was the opposite of what the Le Temps Suspendu was all about, for the Dressage L’heure Masquée reduces our regard of time to the minutes of an hour, until such time when we choose to reveal time in full.

As the creative director of La Montre Hermès, Philippe Delhotal, explained, “The Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, Dressage L’heure Masquée and Slim d’Hermès L’heure Impatiente stem from a desire to give a specific horological expression to a time that is experiential, existential, subjective and emotional. Rather than measuring, ordering and seeking to control time, the maison dares to introduce another [concept of] time, designed to arouse emotions, open up interludes and create spaces for spontaneity and recreation.”

Dressage L’heure Masquée

The third act of this amazing trio comes to the foreground this year, adding a new dimension to the possibilities of how we can experience the emotional nature of time. This time, housed in the Slim d’Hermès case introduced in 2015, the L’heure Impatiente, or “Impatient Hour”, contains a unique complication that celebrates the fragile yet enjoyable process of anticipation. In this watch, it is the future rather than the present that is its complication’s focus. For while it is true that immense pleasure can be gotten by being in the present (as in Arceau Le Temps Suspendu), or by forgetting it (Dressage L’heure Masquée), it is the moments of the future we think about that causes us to feel a complex mix of pain and pleasure, when we long for the next moment that will come to surprise.

The Slim d’Hermès L’heure Impatiente also marks the first time ever that Hermès has introduced a watch that chimes. However, it chimes not in the way that a minute repeater does, but in a way that is in service to an idea.

How does it work? Looking at the watch, one sees two crowns on the right and a pusher on the left at nine o’clock. Further, a subdial at four o’clock reads off the current time in miniature, while a retrograde display and hand reside to its left, marked off with minutes to an hour and a curious musical note with an oblique slanting line through it.

As one depresses the pusher, the chiming function is armed, simultaneously moving the retrograde display to point to 60. And then one uses the crown at four o’clock to set the time for that the moment in the future when a significant event will happen. As time carries on, what happens next is when the adventure begins. One hour before the appointed moment, the retrograde hand starts counting down, moving towards zero, until the moment when the magic happens: A single sweet chime strikes, telling the wearer that the adventure will now begin.

Arceau Le Temps Suspendu

The Wizard of Agenhor

Like the Le Temps Suspendu (but unlike the L’heure Masquée — that was developed by Vaucher), Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Geneva-based Agenhor SA was the man called in to make the idea of the L’heure Impatiente come to life. As an expert of complications like the perpetual calendar, it was the first time that he would enter a new world of hammers and gongs, and of sound.

As Wiederrecht explained, the five-year period to develop the watch was not without its challenges. There were numerous problems to solve, all while making sure that the complication would, in Agenhor style, be robust enough to resist errors of operation, and be simple enough to engage without too much explanation.

Starting from the design of the dial to the position of the crowns and pusher on the case, which were provided by Hermès, he then had to find a way to fit all the internal mechanisms of the chiming function — a task not made easy because Hermès had chosen the Slim d’Hermès case to house this complication.

Hermes

As the thinnest and most elegant case in the Hermès collection, there were tough natural constraints over what could be done. And for this, the first order of business was to use the Manufacture Hermès H1912 movement, measuring a relatively small 23.9mm in diameter and 3.7mm in height. The advantage of this decision was so as to allow more space around the movement for the gong and hammer (visible from the caseback) as well as space for the air within the case to resonate properly.

Further, given that there would only be one chime from this complication, it had to be relatively long in duration, so that the owner would be able hear the sound with the watch on the wrist.

Thankfully, there was no need to seek external consultation on achieving the requirements for the quality of the sound and for its functional characteristics. This was done with the help of watchmaker Sébastien Gallay who as a musician and audio engineer, was able to build a soundproof installation, so that the watch could be tested properly. Held within a 25dB limit internally, this soundproof box allowed manipulation of the pushers by hand, and brought a much-needed scientific rigor to bear on the testing process, allowing various prototypes of gongs in different shapes to be tried out in order achieve the best sound. Finally, a one-and-a-half to two-second duration of the chime was achieved.

Sébastien Gallay

Another challenge that had to be overcome were the energy requirements that had to not only ensure good timekeeping of the watch, but also to gather enough power to strike the gong. With the constraint of a single barrel in the watch, the energy for the chime had to only come from the movement, a fact that necessitated a number of technical considerations. First, a long coiled spring, one that was as long as feasibly possible, was to be connected to the hammer that would be armed during the hour before the strike. This required taking a maximum of 30 degrees of amplitude from the movement, just enough power to ensure reliable operation of both the watch and the chiming mechanism. Then, the hammer had to be big enough and very heavy, up to 4mm high within the constraints of the case, in order to strike the gong once, but very hard.

With the pusher on the left side of the case, and the main chiming works near the six o’clock position, the component of the movement that would engage the function was also made very long, in order to reach the cam responsible for setting the “anticipated time”. The orientation of the cam would, as one sets the future time, change below the movement, with a 1/12 sector of a complete single rotation (1 out of 12 hours) being the active portion that would arm the hammer during the retrograding hour.

Interestingly, as you can see from the pictures of the movement, there was, in true Hermès style, an opportunity to add a little whimsical detail. Here the cam is shaped like a shark, with the shark’s fin being the portion that interacts with the feet of the adjacent component shaped like Pegasus. Here it is the feet of Pegasus sliding over the shark’s fin that activates the arming process of the retrograde hour, with the striking hammer being activated at the point when the feet slide past and down the back of the fin.

Pegasus

A Whimsical Trio

Starting with the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, a watch of which I am a tremendous fan, this triple ensemble of watches has shown the world an entirely new possibility of watchmaking — while showcasing technical flair, it augmented an entirely new conception of watchmaking.

Indeed, what Hermès has expressed in this group of watches, which now boasts the Slim d’Hermès L’heure Impatiente as its latest member, is the possibility of exploring the intangible concept of time within the tangible reality of a watch. And I cannot wait for what they will come up with next.

Bravo, Hermès!