Hermès marries traditional artisanal skill with watchmaking craftsmanship in its leather marquetry timepieces.
Hermès has been known for making leather goods with exemplary artisanal know-how ever since it supplied bridles and harnesses to European nobility in the 19th century. Through the years, the brand has held true to its equestrian roots, proudly displaying its emblematic horse-drawn carriage in the company logo. Yet, Hermès is no stranger to the watch business — its watchmaking arm, La Montre Hermès, was set up in 1978. However, it was only in the last decade that Hermès has taken great strides in high watchmaking, producing top-of-the-line mechanical watches that combine high technicity with unique, whimsical creativity. Recently, Hermès once again showcased its craft mastery by merging its twin expertise of leather marquetry and watchmaking to create elegant timepieces for its Arceau and Slim d’Hermès collections.
Crafted in two versions, in shades of Hermès reds or blues, the new Arceau Cavales bears leather marquetry on the dial. The horse motif, taken from Hermès’ Samarcande chess set, dictates the dial in a contrasting colour-blocking visual.
As a matter of practice, Hermès goes through numerous types of leather, each of which is specific to a bag collection and christened with different names unique to Hermès. From Barenia to Togo, each name pertains to the style and type of leather. The ideal leather for the dial of the Arceau Cavales would require more flexibility to be cut up, shaped and dyed according to the varying shades of color on the design. Thus, the brand has utilised a fine-grained calf leather called Swift — this soft leather was only reintroduced in 2005, having been discontinued in 1999 under the different name of Gulliver. Its smooth exterior allows light to bounce off the brand’s signature hues of red and blue. Each piece, at 0.5mm thin, is inlaid with an adhesive and strategically constructed to ensure that no two pieces of the same colour are juxtaposed against the other.
The added details of curvature are reinforced in the asymmetrical Arceau lugs, giving the watch a playful look. Underneath it all is the self-winding H1837 calibre, which debuted in the Dressage watch in 2012. Limited to six pieces for each version, the Arceau Cavales with leather marquetry marks not only a notable first for the French maison, but also the first time that this time-honored artisanal technique has ever been used on a dial.
In the latest Les Zèbres de Tanzanie piece, the maison combined enameling and leather marquetry, as slivers of coloured leather blend in with the glossy enamel zebra.
The imagery is an artwork by French nature artist Yves-Marie de Malleray, who designed the motif for Hermès in 2010. Using the champlevé technique, the zebra comes to life in a white enamel base that is thereafter hand-polished and finished with dark blue stripes. The leather marquetry is then arranged around the zebra to depict the animal in its natural habitat, camouflaged in the African savannah.
The slim 39.5mm white-gold case frames the artwork, and houses the 2.6mm-thin self-winding H1950 calibre. The intricacy of leather marquetry limits these watches to just 12 pieces.
Hermès Arceau Cavales
Self-winding calibre H1837; hours and minutes; 50-hour power reserve
41mm white gold; water resistant to 30m
Hermès red calfskin; Indigo blue calf
Hermès Slim D’hermès Les Zèbres De Tanzanie
Self-winding calibre H1950; hours and minutes; 42-hour power reserve
39.5mm white gold; water resistant to 30m
Graphite alligator leather