Hermès has been crafting leather goods since 1837, and quite surprisingly began its watch business as far back as 1928 when their watches would be defined by the House’s fashion codes.
In 1978, Hermès started to take watchmaking seriously with the establishment of La Montre Hermès in Biel, Switzerland. It began by producing Quartz watches closely inspired by the icons of the fashion house. Today Hermès Horloger is becoming a key player in the watch industry. It has moved away from light, fashion style watches to use mechanical complications and push the boundaries of watchmaking as it combines technicality with the creative universe of the brand. This year the brand returns with new designs that will further push the boundaries and carve out a new story for the Parisian house when it comes to watchmaking. To find out more about the latest novelties we met with Laurent Dordet CEO of Hermès Horloger.
What can you tell us about this year’s novelties?
In the jewellery segment, we have relaunched the Kelly watch. This watch was named after the Hermès Kelly bag which was invented in the 1930s. At that point however it was not called the Kelly bag, it became iconic when Grace Kelly adopted it in the 1950s. In 1956 she was captured by photographers with her Hermès bag placed in front of her to hide her pregnancy and that’s where the name “Kelly Bag” came from. The clasp of the Kelly bag has been used throughout many Hermès products over the years, and it entered our watch collections in 1975, three years before Hermès watches were being created in Switzerland, so it’s our oldest existing collection. Up until now, we haven’t changed the design of this watch for 47 years. It began as an entry price, fashion accessory watch and that is how it has remained. We have now decided to upgrade it to have more of a jewellery piece. We have reduced the size of the clasp, made it waterproof and consistent with modern standards, changed the bracelet to be in gold and steel and it comes with another object that allows you to wear it on your neck. So, when you buy the watch, you also get a leather link that becomes a necklace and it’s very versatile and modern.
In your opinion what makes an iconic design stay relevant for today’s customer?
It really depends on the icon! Our main quest for decades when it comes to our watches has been to have legitimacy and credibility as a watchmaker. Hermès is well known as a bag-maker, but as a watchmaker, we have frequently been opposed to us being a fashion brand, so we used to be less credible as a watchmaker. So, now, we have achieved the legitimacy of Hermès as a watchmaker. One of our challenges was to reinterpret the Cape Cod which is an icon for us. In 2016 when we relaunched this watch, we knew we had a great
watch, but we wanted to relaunch it in a “watchmaking way”. So, we introduced technical dials, technical cases etc. so that we could match the watchmaking know-how of other Maisons. We were able to redesign an icon and make it on one side a nice jewel, and on the other, have a great mechanical complication that would stand its ground amongst watchmakers. For Kelly, which is also an icon, we will not have a mechanical movement so it will be simply a jewel. With all our icons we can play with the size, shape, the identity. I think every line has its own playground and flexibility to explore. Cape Cod is more casual and versatile, Kelly is more of a jewel.
And what other novelties would you like to talk to us about today?
The main novelty we are presenting at Watches and Wonders in terms of complication is the Arceau Le temps voyageur or “travelling time” watch. This is a watch for travellers. We started working on this watch three years ago. The brief was simple. First of all, we wanted a simple, practical, functional watch for people that travel from one time zone to another. The second part of the brief was to make people dream and invite them to discover the imaginary world of Hermès. So our Artistic Director, Philippe Delhotal imagined this special design with a GMT function but with an aesthetic of universal time. The red point on the watch indicates where you are in the world, and you can see the time according to that location. If you travel and you want to change the time to somewhere that is two time zones away, for example, you press the button at 9 o’clock twice and it changes the time zone. And your home time will always stay there at 12 o’clock. There are 24 time zones indicated around 24 key cities including some locations that are special to Hermès including the address of our store in Paris. It’s a module that has two satellites that were plugged into the centre of the piece and are hidden, so it’s a floating satellite. The dial has a beautiful engraving that represents the imaginary world of Hermès. It was one of the most difficult dials we have ever created, made from four pieces to create the depth. This piece will launch in November. There will also be an additional colour of this watch when it launches.
What is in the pipeline for Hermès for the rest of this year?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced our highest growth ever at Hermès Horloger. In fact, we more than doubled in two years! There are several reasons for this, especially in the Middle East and America which are the two fastest-growing markets in the world. I think we are in the phase of taking off with our watches, not only for ladies but also for men and for all styles, not just jewellery watches. We used to be well-known for jewel-like ladies watches but now we are also recognized for creating complicated mechanical watches with high-end complications. So this is the main focus which is reinforced by our recent launches which have been super successful so far.
What is a message that you would send to our readers in the Middle East?
More and more we are getting feedback that the young generation is looking for something special when buying a high-end watch. Just being Swiss-made and centuries-old is no longer enough. They want something more, and I think that the creativity of Hermès is an asset for us moving forward. Whereas five years ago someone may have not purchased an Hermès watch because we are a fashion brand, is now a situation where we are seen not only as a fashion brand but as a creative brand that is technically credible and on top of that, brings something more because we are not only Swiss made and centuries-old – we bring the French creativity and the personality of Hermès. We are not above anyone else, of course, we are small players, but we are different. Some like us, some dislike us, but we are different and that’s important.