Laurent Dordet, CEO of La Montre Hermès Discusses the House’s Watchmaking Business

Lindsay Judge   |   02 - 07 - 2020

Hermès has a watchmaking history that dates back over 100 years when its first watch straps were created.

 

In 1978 the House opened its watch production facilities in Switzerland. Hermès watches embody the true values of the French Maison; its desire to create beautiful, long-lasting objects. Hermès has truly embraced the world of Horology and carves out a unique niche for itself, producing elegant and stylish watches that require a high level of craftsmanship and embody the exclusiveness of the brand. The Hermès touch and personality can be seen through each of its watch creations, making them instantly recognisable.

 

Laurent Dordet took over as CEO of La Montre Hermès in 2015. As is often the case with Hermès he had already been part of the family for many years. He first joined the group’s finance department in 1995 and has since held many roles before taking on the position he holds today. So it’s true to say he understand the Hermès universe. But watchmaking is a whole different ball game. Dordet is now challenged with the task of continuing the strengths of Hermès’ watchmaking business and taking it to new heights in challenging times for the industry. We discover more.

 

Arceau L’heure de la lune

 

What can you tell us about the watch business of Hermès today and the latest novelties?

In 2019, the watch Hermès business recorded a solid sales performance reflecting the creativity of the collections and the network’s selectivity. The new women’s watch Galop d’Hermès was well received and Hermès watches were rewarded for the fourth time in November at the Grand Prix de L’Horlogerie de Genève. Hermès watches have recorded a 3-year significant growth until 2019, thanks to strong creativity both in feminine and masculine watches and also repositioning of our distribution network. These are still strong assets in 2020, that will enable us to maximise our sales during this crisis and be prepared for next year.

 

So far, this year, we have presented three new men’s watches: Arceau L’heure de la lune with new dials, Slim d’Hermès GMT in rose gold and Arceau Skeleton. For women, we propose a new bold creation on our iconic Cape Cod and on Nantucket and in the métier d’art, Arceau pays tribute to exceptional craftmanship.

 

Our highlight, Arceau L’heure de la lune is a very good expression of the singular interpretation running counter to industry trends. We presented it last year in a limited edition and we had the great pleasure of being awarded by the GPHG. We come back this year with new versions on a lunar, Martian or Black Sahara meteorite dial. It’s a useful function with a graphic and mysterious side. This new complication evokes a sense of dreams and emotions. The face of the watch is daily transformed. Its read-off is playful, with counters gravitating around the moons and topsy-turvy moons because Hermès loves to dream with its head upside down. We also present on Arceau a new skeleton version, subtly revealing the mechanism and paying tribute to the equestrian line which was introduced in 1978 when Hermès established watchmaking in Switzerland.

 

Slim d’Hermès GMT

 

Another men’s launch is the Slim d’Hermès GMT. Slim d’Hermès was first launched in 2015. It is an elegant Hermès object that appeals to customers looking for a singular timepiece with strong Hermès DNA and high quality in terms of movement and finishing. A first GMT version with a palladium case was presented in 2018 in a limited edition. This traditional complication was interpreted differently, playing with the distinctive numerals on the GMT dial, losing one’s bearings. It was a great success. This year, we present a rose gold version in blue tones highlighting elegance and classicism but also contemporaneity that speaks to the essentials of the brand.

 

CAPE COD Martelée

 

This year, we also pay tribute to Cape Cod, an icon born out of a rebellion in 1991 and Nantucket. That of Henri d’Origny, a longstanding creative partner of the Maison, who was asked by Hermès to design a square watch. But this free spirit saw things differently and preferred to respond in an almost irreverent manner with a watch representing a ‘square inside a rectangle’. For almost 30 years, the Cape Cod has been an icon: the anchor chain motif cut in two to insert the square case. Its design reflects rigorous discipline combined with a boldly impertinent attitude. Its natural penchant is to lend itself with great aplomb to the ebb and flow of the times. Its success was further amplified by Martin Margiela’s novel idea for his very first Hermès runway show in 1998: adding a double-wrap strap that would later be known simply as the “Double Tour”. Sales rocketed and the Cape Cod watch became an icon, almost a style in its own right. Everything was possible; both men and women felt an immediate sense of kinship, doubtless driven by a sense of style and liberty. The Hermès singular interpretation of time running counter to industry trends is supported by watch models through their singular functions, but also by models with distinctive and non- formalistic designs, imbued with creativity and boldness, such as Cape Cod, Galop d’Hermès, Kelly and Médor.

 

This year, Cape Cod introduces again a bold and innovative new creation, with a matt hammered finish borrowed from the world of jewellery, adorning the steel case, as well as the gradient lacquered dial ranging from black to anthracite. On its side, Nantucket is playing with diamonds setting to propose a jewellery watch to Hermès clients.

 

ARCEAU Cheval Cosmique

 

Last but not least, Arceau Cheval cosmique is one example of some very interesting and original exceptional timepieces that involve special skills. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to meet talented craftswomen and craftsmen to express the creativity of the house. It is always a big challenge for them to work on a smaller scale but they appreciate this new field of expression. It was through well- known craftsmanship’s such as enamel or engraving or through technics which are for the first time or rarely applied on a small scale such as crystal, leather, straw marquetry and more recently wood marquetry. This year, Arceau Cheval cosmique is a new expression of this creativity with two different versions paying tribute to the art of engraving.

 

Moving forward, what do you expect from the second half of the year and will you be changing any of the strategies of the brand in light of the current situation?

Our strategy remains overall consistent. We are of course adapting to the situation by ensuring that our launches convey the right messages and are understood in a world which has become mainly digital over the last few months. We are also supporting the retail in markets that have re-opened or are about to re-open. Hermès is a House of creations and we work on presenting new products to our clients. The second semester will be rich, especially for our female customers, highlighting creativity and singularity in our objects.

 

What is the biggest challenge you face today with Hermès’ watch business?

The main trend today which does not change for us despite the situation is all about this: being singular and bold to offer client authenticity and perfection. Within an R&D-driven approach, the industry is engaged in a perpetual quest for innovation, precision and numerous functions serving to better master time.

 

Hermès watchmaking offers a different interpretation of time: a time full of fanciful touches and which goes well beyond style; a companionable, lasting, mischievous and recreational time. A time that provides an opportunity to tell a story and to stir emotions. The Maison does not seek to replicate what already exists but to be audacious and follow its intuition by creating objects that do not only indicate the time but tell stories in order to build a relationship with it.

 

Wearing a Hermès watch is about appreciating a style that is rigorous but free of any formalism. It is about asserting oneself as a man or woman free of temporal constraints, relaxed and occasionally whimsical. It is about making light of time rather than seeking to dominate it. It is an invitation to experience a singular relationship with time, a time with which one plays, yet without ever hoping to control it. This singular interpretation running counter to industry trends is supported by our watch models and their singular functions, distinctive and non-formalistic designs, imbued with creativity and boldness.

 

Consequently, our biggest challenge is to continue developing our awareness as a unique watchmaker, combining the finest watchmaking skills with unique creations and the ambition to seduce more and more customers that want, not only a qualitative Swiss-made timepiece but also a piece of the Hermès universe.

 

 

How do you balance history and tradition with innovation at Hermès?

Innovation is the result of a constantly renewed creative gesture. It accompanies the momentum and spontaneity of creation while remaining true to the past. At Hermès, innovation is the perpetual motion of the house’s spirit. For designers and artisans, materials, craftsmanship and attention to detail are merely the tools required to bring innovation to the forefront. In watches, we have a wide choice of possibilities in terms of materials, shapes and settings that can be used on timepieces. We like exploring the different facets of a model through different metals, stones or finishing as we did this year with the Arceau L’heure de la lune and the Cape Cod martelée.

 

What can you tell us about e-commerce at Hermès and where is its position within the company currently?

Hermès broke new ground by opening its first e-commerce website in the United States in 2001. It was then rolled out to the saddler’s various other markets. The new hermes.com website was launched in Canada in June 2017, then in the United States in October 2017. The website, available in French, English, Spanish and German, is now live in 18 European countries. Conceived like all Hermès stores, drawing on their ambience, window displays, products, services and narratives, the hermes.com website combines e-commerce and content at a single address. Hermes.com is an attitude that combines creativity, authenticity and singularity with the fluidity of an e-commerce website. As for the watches, I strongly believe the global customer experience mostly starts with a digital one: that’s why we invest a lot into it.

 

NANTUCKET Jeté de Chaîne d’Ancre

 

What would you like to achieve with Hermès watches going forward?

In recent years, we have seen growing interest from Hermès customers, and watch collectors, thanks to launches featuring singular designs and unconventional interpretations of traditional watchmaking. In 2015, for example, with Slim d’Hermès; born from a stylistic exercise around the purity of design, and expressing a move towards essentials with a minimalist style; in 2018 with Carré H, a square-shaped watch designed by Marc Berthier featuring a contemporary aesthetic; with Arceau, which suspended time through a unique complication in 2011; began playing with moon phases in 2019 (“Heure de la lune” complication); or which quite simply, with the privilege of its sobriety and elegance, has since 1978 been expressing the audacity of its designer Henri d’Origny.

 

Hermès Watchmaker conveys a different approach to time, an approach free of any formalism and unmistakably recreational and this is the message we convey in our communication.

 

Where does the Middle East fit into the strategy of Hermès Horloger and how important is this market to the Maison?

The Hermès watch business in the Middle East has been growing very fast for a few years in response to a demand for high-end watches and beautiful objects. We are very enthusiastic to see a growth in consumers’ interest for our watches which is proof that the expression of the Hermès time pleases them, through objects imbued with Hermès values, whether equipped with exceptional technical watchmaking elements or expressing singular creativity unrestrained by conventions. Hermès is about elegance, creativity, quality and craftsmanship which is something that appeals to our clients in the Middle East.

 

ARCEAU Squelette

 

What can you tell us about Hermès Horloger and sustainability?

First and foremost, the values of a craftsmanship’s mindset are deeply rooted in-house and forge our business model as a group, but also as a métier. A sense of responsibility. Never compromising on the quality of know-how and materials. A profound respect for nature, which gives beautiful materials for our products. A profound respect for the skilled men and women who make them. The respect for the time needed to make these beautiful objects.

 

These values form the platform for the actions of the House in matters of sustainable development by appropriating the notions of individual and group responsibility, authenticity in the search for excellence, or acceptance of the long-term approach as a factor influencing performance.

 

What is the professional motto that your living by during this time of crisis?

As part of a resilient group, we are extremely lucky in this period: we can focus on preparing ourselves for the rebound days. I think the best players in the watch industry have all reasons (craftsmanship, quality, innovation, authenticity etc.) to believe they will be able to recover quite soon. Hermès is first and foremost a House of design with extraordinary creative wealth. We are guided above all by a concern to do things well while respecting the iconic Hermès design codes.

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