People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective point of view it’s more like a big ball of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff,” said David Tennant’s Doctor in an episode of Doctor Who. While this may seem an odd and oddly geeky reference, when it comes to watchmaking, most brands think of timepieces in a rather functional manner, adding aesthetics to the dial only when it doesn’t affect the legibility of a timepiece. With Hermès’s watchmaking, the beauty of a watch comes first. It’s an ethos that the brand has embraced with its earliest watches.
This year, however, the brand’s exceptional creations have welcomed both the new and old, with stunning crafts that range from leather marquetry in the Arceau Cavales; to wood marquetry in the Slim d’Hermès Pégase Paysage; to micromosaic hand-coloured tesserae in the Arceau Grand Fonds. These are old crafts, many of which only exist in maisons such as Hermès, which has taken pains to preserve, protect and record the methods employed in the creation of ancient crafts and shrink them down to 30-odd millimetre diameter dials for some easy wrist admiration.
But it’s not just the goodly, old-school crafts that the brand has explored. Hermès has a habit of injecting technology where you least expect or realise, and the result is always a brilliant mix of creativity and elegance. The latest comes in two timepieces, both of which are heavy on new technology and as ever, just stunning to behold.
In a Hoop
The word ‘Arceau’ means hoop, and like all of Hermès’s products, is whimsical and whimsically named. Developed by Henri d’Origny in 1978, it’s a watch that is an icon of the brand, inspired by the equestrian stirrup and with integrated wire lugs that recall the development of the wristwatch in its earliest form. The Arceau has long been the platform for Hermès’s exceptional pieces, and the Arceau Skeleton is an excellent model that reveals the heart of the watch with a thoroughly skeletonised movement and rotor, set around a plate with 12 cut-outs that both resemble equestrian hardware as well as the rims of a vintage car.
The latest reference from this model comes in a smoky sapphire crystal that protects the watch and black nickel-plated treatment on the movement in a variety of treatments that give it an incredible shading effect which is stunning to admire on the dial. The shading of the sapphire crystal is done on the back of the crystal, giving it a fumé-style display that shows off the watch movement and darkens it to match with the hour display ring in black. The numerals and minute track in rhodium plating are transferred on the external face, to deliver even greater visual depth to the watch. The movement displays modern textures and treatments, with satin-brushing, microblasting and mirror polishing, all accomplished on black nickel plated components which gives it both a sleek modern design while maintaining the beauty of the movement construction visible to all.
A second model that’s emerged this last quarter of the year is the Arceau Cheval Fusion, which adopts a new technique of enamelling work — enamelling on sapphire crystal. The deep blue dial is enamelled on a sapphire crystal, and galvanic growth, which is an electroforming technique which is also somewhat like 3D printing, adding layer upon layer of material to the watch dial until it forms the complete picture. First, a stencil is applied by hand on the sapphire crystal which marks out which parts of the dial need to be metallised. It takes hours of work to accomplish this by one single artisan, after which the dial is placed in multiple galvanic baths that forms the material to a depth of around 0.1mm.
In this case, the Cheval Fusion has a horse on the dial that is decidedly steampunk-ish, in a polished and contemporary style that is just sublime. Stare at the dial and you can almost make out the curious parts by which this creature is constituted — a smiley face here, a gear wheel there. And like many of the rare Arceau pieces, it’s based off a scarf motif designed by Dimitri Rybaltchenko in 2014. Simply fantastic.
Hermès Arceau Squelette
Self-winding calibre; hours and minutes; 4Hz; skeletonised with Hermès signature oscillating weight; 42-hour power reserve
40mm stainless steel case; water resistant to 30m; gradient-shaded sapphire crystal dial
Matte black Havana alligator leather strap with steel folding clasp
Hermès Arceau Cheval Fusion
Self-winding calibre H1837; hours, minutes and seconds; 50-hour power reserve
White gold case; enamelled dial on sapphire crystal with galvanic growth motif; water resistant to 30m
Matte abyss blue alligator leather strap