Watches + Jewellery

Hermès: The Powerhouse

The evolution of Hermès from saddle-maker to luxury watch powerhouse is a masterclass in style

Laura Mccreddie-Doak | 14.10.2019

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Slim d'Hermes watch, £5,625

It wouldn’t have been too long ago that the mere notion of Hermès being talked about as a leading luxury watchmaker would have been met with a quizzical expression.

Sure, the Parisian house, originally founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès as a harness workshop, made fashion watches – and very high-quality ones at that. But they were more usually defined by the House’s sartorial codes and equine history – such as its double-tour Cape Cod or the stirrup-inspired Arceau – rather than a desire to challenge the likes of Rolex or Patek Philippe. Or so the story tends to go.

What that narrative tends to gloss over, however, is the fact that Hermès actually started making watches back in 1928, though a more romantic take on its history would suggest even earlier. According to a story told by Guillaume De Seynes, sixth-generation family member and executive vice-president of Hermès International, the first Hermès wrist watch was made for his grandmother back in 1912 when her father fashioned her a strap to stop her pocket watch from constantly falling out of her pocket.

It can be argued, then, that the interest in luxury watches was always there, if not the capacity to produce them. It wasn’t until 1978 that Hermès started to take watchmaking seriously, establishing La Montre Hermès in Biel.

Initially, the watches it produced were all quartz (the brand still offers a mix of quartz and automatic today). But as tastes changed, Hermès realised that in order for its watches to be taken seriously it needed to kick things up a gear.

In 2003, Hermès launched its Dressage watch. Designed by Henri d’Origny, who had created everything from scarves to plates for the brand, it’s case was inspired by the stirrup strap shackle of a saddle. It also contained an automatic movement.

Classic Hermès: it may not be conventional, but luxury it most certainly is.

NAVY MODEL COMING SOON

The Dressage was the start of a new phase in Hermès’s watchmaking history. Its first in-house movement followed in 2008. Called the calibre H1, it was created for its Clipper H1 watch and exclusive to Hermès.

When, in 2015, the recently appointed CEO of La Montre Hermès, Laurent Dordet, unveiled the Slim d’Hermès the brand shifted up a gear again. The first watch to have been produced by Hermès’s newly vertically integrated watchmaking business, the influence of Philippe Delhotal – who has been creative director at Hermès since 2009 and who previously worked with the creative team at Patek Philippe – was immediately apparent. Furthermore, it was powered by the brand’s new extra-slim H1950 movement.

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Since then, Hermès hasn’t just ploughed on with basic in-house movements, it has created playfully subversive watches such as 2011’s Le Temps Suspendu. This collaboration with master complex-movement maker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht has a button that allows the wearer to disengage the hands from the movement, so suspending time. The movement continues to operate in the interim, with the wearer able to reconnect the hands when the need for timekeeping asserts itself.

Or there’s the Hermès Dressage L’Heure Masquée, in which the hour hand is concealed by the minute hand and revealed only when a pusher is pressed. The brand has even taken the rather unusual step of collaborating with Apple, allowing the tech giant to install its font on an Apple Watch dial and endowing wearers with true luxury kudos via a selection of Hermès’s famed leather straps.

This year, it even called in some outside help in the form of Californian furniture and lighting designer Ini Archibong to create an entirely new collection. Called Galop, its stirrup-shaped case features graduating numerals, creating an impression of space. Classic Hermès – it may not be conventional, but it most certainly is luxury.


Which Hermès watch should I buy?

The head says go with a classic such as a Cape Cod or Nantucket, but the unisex stylings of the Slim d’Hermes rules the heart. It has a brand-new typeface created exclusively for Hermès by Parisian graphic designer Philippe Apeloig to create a new typography especially. It’s wonderfully slim on the wrist thanks to a movement it took four years to develop and it exudes modernist nonchalance. It’s horological perfection in a 39.5mm form.

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