During an exclusive presentation in Neuchâtel before the SIHH, we got an avant-premiere of Hermès’s new women’s collection — the Galop d’Hermès — with Ini Archibong, the designer behind the watch.
What was your reaction when Hermès called you up and said “We would like you to design a watch”?
Well, it didn’t happen exactly like that. I didn’t realise that conversations between Nicolas Le Moigne (Director for Masters of Luxury and Craftsmanship at ECAL) and Philippe (Philippe Delhotal, Director of Creation and Development at Hermès) had been taking place. I approached Nicolas when I graduated, saying that I was going to continue my journey being an independent designer, but just in case, if things were to get tough financially and I needed to find a job, then I would be very interested if any of the watch brands were hiring. I was interested to know if any of the brands were looking for an intern in their design team where I could learn more about designing watches. What he came back to me with was that Hermès had come by and he had a contact there and he could put us in touch. So, we were put in touch and we emailed and then decided to meet for coffee. At that point it hadn’t even crossed my mind that there could be an opportunity to design a watch for Hermès, I just wanted to learn more about what they did and have an opportunity to visit the actual manufacture. So, we had a conversation and we agreed that I would come back and see the manufacture and then after we finished, as an aside, Philippe was like, “if you happen to think of any watch ideas then feel free to show me.”
Where did you start?
Obviously knowing Hermès as a brand, I immediately had ideas when the brief came, but it wasn’t until I got much deeper in understanding the heritage, and how Hermès presents itself, that I was able to create this watch. The trip to the Hermès Conservatoire was the catalyst moment for me, and really helped me refine the things that I thought I knew about the house. If you really look at the watch, you start to see the equestrian influences. There are little elements that point to the heritage of Hermès being first and foremost the maker of the harnesses connected to horses and carriages. One of the main things was continuing the line of the muscles of the horse, not only to make it more comfortable for the horse, but also to improve functionality, which is something that I think people forget about a house like Hermès, and most luxury brands for that matter, that the craft and the attention to detail isn’t just about the beauty. The beauty comes out of the functional considerations that are put into it.
What was the biggest challenge in this project coming from furniture and lighting design?
The scale aspect of it wasn’t really a challenge for me because I approach everything exactly the same way. Once I have a conceptual foundation and I know what the parameters are, that’s when I get down to very small details. One thing that is very special about this scale is the way light works on the surfaces. When I am designing something, even at this scale, which is quite small, you can see very clearly what is reflected in the surfaces and so there is a division in your mind between the object and what you are seeing reflected off of it, so controlling the surfaces to give the proper feeling of what we want to have from the watch becomes very important. When you learn about architecture, for example, you learn that it isn’t about the walls, it is about controlling how the light comes into the space; when you have an object on your wrist, it is really about controlling how the light bounces off of it and how that makes you feel, so I guess that leads into some of the design considerations. If you look at the watch, you will notice that there are no edges, but there are boundaries, and the boundaries are created by the interplay of the light off of the surfaces. Designing that way, for me, was the only way to be contemporary with the same sort of thinking as the original craftsman, designers and engineers from Hermès.
Another thing that was a major consideration was the way the case shape sits on your wrist and how that makes you feel. When you have a square-shaped case it is very grounding. It is confidence building in a way because you feel settled. With a round case you feel more fluid, like anything is possible. The idea was to create a watch that represented feminine energy in 2018 which is in motion.
Can you tell us more about this idea of women in motion?
It was at the beginning of the project. I just scoured the internet for pictures of fashionable women and I focused on metropolitan areas, so I had a folder for Zurich, Milan and Tokyo, and I was really just trying to see all these different styles and all these different approaches to femininity around the world. What I was looking for was some kind of commonality in all these fashionable women. I focused on street-captured photography and one thing that I noticed was that the women were always in motion, they were never static like in the ads, where they are posed and still.
What was the brief like?
It was like, “We are looking for an iconic women’s watch.” It was very straightforward.
So, when creating an icon, I came up with the equation that Hermès DNA + iconic silhouette + considered details would create an iconic watch. And one of the things that I did to show my thinking was that I took different watches and traced the silhouette and I presented them to Philippe in a black dial version and he knew each one. All you needed to see was the silhouette. So, in learning to develop this kind of sensitivity I knew that the first thing I needed to do was have an iconic silhouette before anything else, because if it was just a round or square watch it would be a lot harder for it to break through and stand out and be recognisable from a distance. That’s what I think makes it iconic, although of course we will have to wait and see if it works!
Why did you decide to place the crown at the bottom of the case?
From the beginning, there was no way that I was going to allow there to be a crown on the side. It would have completely destroyed everything, so the only other option would be at the bottom or on the back of the case.
You have talked a lot about the Hermès DNA, but what is your DNA in this project?
One of the signs of a really good relationship is that you don’t necessarily lose yourself in that relationship and this is an example of that. There’s really nothing about this watch that wouldn’t be exactly the same if Hermès weren’t my client for the watch. Like I was saying about us fitting well together, all of the lines, the curves, all of this, if you look at the rest of the things that I create, they follow the same feeling — the lack of edges, the attention to the silhouette, and also just conceptually, the fact that my goal as a designer is to use my skills to help people curate their experiences through the objects that I create. So, it is always about experience and that’s what attracted me to the luxury industry and even more so to Hermès in the sense that no matter what the object is, no matter how useless someone may find it to be, there is an experiential quality to every single object that far outweighs its use value. So, the bond is that both myself and Hermès set out to create experiences that create memories, which at the end of the day are the things that shape our experiences as human beings, so my DNA is present throughout this. The concept came out of finding where our DNAs overlapped and then continuing in that direction.
How has this project helped you develop?
I am a different designer now than when we first met. Not only has my line become more refined, and not in a way that it has become more of a Hermès line, but in a way that studying a brand that is so similar to me has refined my hand. But also, in terms of watchmaking and the considerations that go into watchmaking, I have grown.