Intriguing changes lie ahead

Over the past few years, Hermès has been quietly gathering strength as a fine watchmaker, bringing within its fold manufacturers of movements, dials and cases. It’s all done without huge fanfare, but with the clear intention of consolidating Hermès’ growing reputation as a serious watchmaker.

La Montre Hermès has, besides its stake in movement maker Vaucher Manufacture, acquired a dial supplier and a majority interest in a case supplier. This integration should make it unnecessary to outsource these elements and thus give the brand a greater degree of control.

A 2011 triumph for Hermès was the concept of suspended time, created exclusively for Hermès by independent watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht. At the BaselWorld 2013 international watch show, Hermès showed the first version of the Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu for ladies. At 38mm, it is smaller than the original, but with the same intriguing feature. At the press of a button, the hour and minute hands stop so that – for the wearer, at least – time stands still. When the button is pressed again, normal operations are resumed at the correct time. The 360-degree retrograde hour and minute mechanism, an addition to Calibre H1912, allows running time and suspended time to be co-ordinated by two synchronised column wheels.

“I started work on Le Temps Suspendu four years ago,” Wiederrecht says. “The important watches today are the ones that tell stories and incorporate craftsmanship into the story.”

Wiederrecht predicts a strong future for the watch arm of the French fashion house. “This is a very elegant brand, very different from a conglomerate. They make wonderful things, so making a watch for Hermès is very important for me. Hermès is coming into its own now in the watch sector and will grow very fast. Their watches are now like their leather goods, with quality that is uncompromised.”

He is working with Hermès on the next big thing. “We are doing very, very interesting things. It will happen in two to three years.”

 Arceau Petite Lune in black
“Innovative complications, like Le Temps Suspendu, is the way Hermès wants to go,” says international marketing director Marcus Stadelmann. “Hermès is a brand of artisans, and Jean- Marc is an artisan – he works with his hands. This is the essence of Hermès, and we translate that essence into objects – and this particular object is a watch.”

Le Temps Suspendu ladies’ version was not the only appearance at BaselWorld 2013 of the Arceau line, which dates back to 1978. Hermès Arceau Chrono Bridon has all the recognisable Arceau features, such as slanted Arabic numerals, but with a new bradoon bridlestyle strap that reflects an equestrian feel. Another departure for Arceau in its 35th year is Petite Lune – a 38mm model with a blue disc on which a silver moon and stars display the moon phases, supplemented by a pointer indicating the days of the lunar cycle, all set against a dial of white or black mother-of-pearl. Again, there is an equestrian reference. The popular Dressage models were presented with a new movement, and a number of limited editions, such as the Arceau H Cube with its stunning straw marquetry dial, and oneoff novelties. The unique pieces included Pendulette 8 Jours in white gold with black lacquer markers; Arceau Pocket Voilier, a triumph of gold and enamelling; and Arceau Pocket Volutes, with its gold marquetry cover, representing 150 hours of hand engraving.

In its fairly lengthy history as a retailer of watches, Hermès initially produced them as collaborative efforts and retailed them as fashion accessories. All that has changed dramatically. Hermès is firmly in charge of its own destiny in terms of design and manufacture, and its watches are far more than accessories. “Today, appreciation of our watches is the same as for the rest of our products – our customers respect the singularity, quality and craftsmanship,” Stadelmann says. “Our watch business has been growing faster than the other product categories. They are definitely growth contributors.”

Serious watch buyers care greatly about singularity, quality and craftsmanship. This chimes with the Hermès philosophy, which is not so much about the brand, but rather about the product in relation to the client. “The product reflects the personality of our client,” Stadelmann says.

He says that at BaselWorld, where the big brands vie for attention with flashy booths, the Hermès pavilion designed by Japanese architect and Pritkzer Prize winner Toyo Ito carried no logos inside. “If it can still be recognised as Hermès, we have succeeded.”

The firm’s principles will remain the same in Asia, where it aims to build a strong brand awareness, especially in China. In its distribution, Stadelmann says “Hermès is much more advanced in Asia, particularly in China and Southeast Asia, than in other geographies”. In Hong Kong, he says, “we have Hermès stores and multibrand stores selling our watches”.

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