Hermès is one of the brands that stays true to its roots. Founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès in Paris, France, the brand made it’s name as a prominent manufacture of equestrian equipment for the rich and royal. Even today, when visiting their website, the saddle configurator will be prominently displayed. Although still a very important part of their brand identity, Hermès diversified under the reign of Adolphe and Émile-Maurice Hermès, grandsons of founder Thierry. The brothers where able to obtain a two-year European patent for the recently invented zipper and that let to the introduction, in 1918, of the first golf-jacket with a zipper made for the Prince of Wales. This marked the beginning of Hermès as a couture brand. Most famous is Hermès perhaps for it’s bags, an logical expansion of the business, which were introduced in 1922. In 1935 they introduced the Sac à dépêches, which is thanks to Grace Kelly now known as the Kelly bag. It’s fame might only be overshadowed by the Birkin bag, also by Hermès, and named after actress Jane Burkin for who the bag was allegedly designed for. Those who don’t think horses, Haute Couture or exclusive leather bags when they hear the name Hermès, must known the brand for another icon; the silk scarves introduced in 1937. Their colorful classical elegance have tempted style-icons like Jacky Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor, who have a hard time competing with the opening scene from “Basic Instinct” where Sharon Stone uses the famous scarf for bondage.
But what about watches? For Hermès watches haven’t been a recent add-on to their accessory collection, but a serious part of their brand DNA. Already in the 1910’s the brand featured pocket watches that could be worn in on a leather strap around the wrist when one was about to mount a horse, as where ingenious belt watches that served the same purpose yet in a different fashion. More prominently noticeable were Hermès activities in this field when in the 1930’s they joined forces with Universal Geneve and not only became their most prominent dealer in Europe but also developed a collection of watches bearing the Hermès name. Although this cooperation was later abandoned, Hermès remained very active in the world of watches.
Key element of all Hermès watches is a sense of subtle luxury, perhaps best represented by the Arceau, which was introduced in 1978, you see that the asymmetrical lugs resemble a stirrup, yet it is the combination with the slanted Arabic numerals that give the watch an innocent kind of charm. The Arceau was designed by Henri d’Origny, Hermès famed Artistic Director, and is of course fitted with a Barenia leather strap. Although available as a time-only, full calendar and chronograph, this was also the case selected for the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, a unique complicated where its owner with the press of a button could “suspend” time. The hour and minute had would than meet each other at twelve o’clock and the date hand would disappear completely, until another press of the button actives them again and they jump to the than current time and date. Although the watch still breathes subtle elegance, its movement in extremely complicated, which consists out of 254 parts and features two synchronized column wheels that support the 360-degree retrograde mechanism for the hands.
Complicated is also the Arceau Lift Flying Tourbillon which was introduced at the end of last year. This watch is inspired on the design of an elevator present in Hermès Flagship store at 24 Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, almost around the corner of Place Vendôme, in the center of Paris. This location in the center of the Hermès universe since 1867, when Charles-Émile Hermès, son of the founder, relocated the company there. Looking at the decorations of the tourbillon and the mainspring barrel it is indeed quite easy to image one in a grande Parisian-elevator. The movement is developed in cooperation with La Joux-Perret, and boasts a three dimensional display, where the tourbillon, mainspring barrel and center bridge jump out of a background with Hermès subtle herringbone motive. The watch is limited to 176 pieces, referring to another tradition amongst Hermès; from their more complicated, limited edition watches they make a watch for each year the company exists.
A different way of complications is presented by Hermès with the Arceau Marqueterie de Paille. This watch boasts a dial inspired by the work of French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, who happened to be cousin of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. In 1924 he made unique furniture for Hermès. Although his designs where minimalistic, the materials used by Frank where lavish and exclusive. One of the things he was known for was the use of straw marquetry, which Hermès decided to incorporate in the dial of the Arceau. For this they used rare Rye straw that is grown by only a single farm in the whole of France. Hand picked and hand colored it is left to dry out in the open, where the elements ensure that each of the straws is getting his own character. Each of the straws are split open and manually worked so that they have a flat side. Although they are coordinated to color, subtle differences are kept in place to highlight the motif. The straws are applied on the dial in a technique which is similar to the one used in antique book binding.
The watch is powered by caliber H1928, the Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier that is made especially for Hermès. Besides the 25% ownership in Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, they acquired case manufacturer Joseph Erard at the end of 2013 and already bought Natéber SA, a manufacture of high end dials, in 2012. These acquisitions clearly indicate that Hermès is strengthen its watch production and is working towards vertical integration. Not a strange move, especially when taking into consideration that Hermès is, despite listed on the stock market, a family business that doesn’t belong to any of the large luxury groups.
Hermès really embraces craftsmanship with the Arceau Volutes Pocket Watch which they introduced at Baselworld 2013. This pocket watch is also powered by caliber H1928 and feautures a Grand Fue enameled dial. Normally this would be the highlight of the watch, yet not when the back is adorned with a technique called Ramolayage. This technique combines gold marquetry with engraving. Two thin plates, one in white gold and one in red gold, are cut, joined and welded together to create an intertwined design which resembles one made in 1972 by Henri d’Origny for a Hermès scarf. Sense of depth is created by engraving the metal at the right angle. 150 hours of dedicated work is needed by an expert craftsman to create this motive. Although the pocket watch is a piece unique, it does shows Hermès dedication to craftsmanship and a the embodiment of watches within the Hermès-DNA. With their current acquisitions in the watchmaking world and the fact that they are still an independent force in the luxury industry holds a great promise for the near future. With nearly a century of experience in the watchmaking industry Hermès seems to be sitting firmer on the saddle more then ever!
Eclectic taste in Haute Horlogerie, passion for diamond set watches, loves the classics