Hermès Horloger: Who Still Doubts That Hermès Is A Luxury Watchmaker?
Hermès, one of the most emblematic independent French luxury Maisons, has been making watches for over 40 years. True to her credo, she takes her time and fully masters every process internally so that the brand can assert its excellence. With watchmaking, Hermès proves, once more, how effective her approach is.
One does not self-declare themselves a watchmaker. You must become one. Through sheer will and hard work. By slowly learning every skill that determines an original manufacture. By assimilating the artful traditional craftsmanship that defines this unique art. By adding your personal touch, creativity distinguishes the unique style of a Maison. For those who did not yet know, Hermès is a tried and true watchmaker. From mind to keen wrists, we journey through the creation of the new Arceau Little Moon.
Creativity and optimized production
As always with Hermès, it all starts with an idea, a concept. The watchmaking department is no exception. Every watch design is developed by Philippe Delhotal, Creative Director at the manufacture for the past ten years, and history shows – excellence starts at the very beginning. Creating, in close collaboration with the Technical Department, robust, reliable, and repairable watches optimizes production as much as After Sales, thus further asserting the legitimacy of the brand.
We find ourselves at the Ateliers of Hermès Horloger in Le Noirmont, where the Technical Department has iterated a new version of the Arceau, the original model introduced by Henri d’Origny in 1978. Both the conception and production take place in the new building, opened in 2016. This new location brings together the skills of two companies bought respectively in 2012 and 2013: Natéber SA for dials and Joseph Erard SA for cases.
Hermès Horloger has successfully simplified the whole production process. The goal was to reduce the production time of a case from six to eight months to 8 to 12 days! Through the development of their production tools, which very few manufactures possess internally. Laurent Dordet, CEO of Hermès Horloger, summarized, “Being able to manufacture everything ourself offers a flexibility that is a real competitive advantage in terms of reactivity. We can adapt our production to real demand and not overflow our distribution with stock”.
To obtain an Arceau case, there are over 40 processes required, each necessitating oven baking. Processes like milling, surface preparation, polishing, and assembly are all done on-premise. Likewise, for the dials, from the initial cutting to final assembly, it all takes place in Le Noirmont. Machine-milling, polishing, treatments, electrodepositing, varnishing, printing transfer, applications mounting – Hermès has mastered all of its know-how.
Then comes the calibers produced by Vaucher Manufacture, a company in which Hermès holds a 25% stake since 2006. They have created three movements for Hermès so far, including the H1837 and its Dubois Dépraz moon phase module which powers this new Arceau Little Moon.
In-house watchmakers work on the final assembly of the dial, meticulously placing the small moon’s mischievous face inspired from a famous silk Hermès scarf. A characteristic Hermès touch. The final casing and the last quality controls are performed in the manufacture from Biel, where the Leather Atelier is also located. A very efficient process for an optimum result. As Laurent Dordet, imbued with the Hermès culture, explains, “Striving for excellence is an earnest and authentic approach for the Maison. Integrating savoir-faire is a permanent concern at Hermès, in every single trade. We are dedicated to asserting our legitimacy through the quality of our products. But it takes time to get our message across”.
Collectors often forget that a watch band is inherently part of the final quality of a timepiece. In this field, Hermès mastery is second to none. Following the production of the famous Hermès leather strap is an eye-opener. The secular know-how of the saddle maker can be felt at every step of the production. Various operations follow each other with the precision of a ballet. Artisans cut, trim, fold, and scratch. A real meeting between saddle master and watchmaker, where craftsmanship intertwines. The full-grain leather is worked, cut, refined, doubled, tripled. Details are made at a tenth of the millimeter thanks to expert hands.
Elisabeth describes her every gesture with precision. She has 20 years of experience in the saddling and leather craft and has been in the Wristband Atelier for five years. The delicacy of her operations certainly impress. But it is her contagious passion that strikes most. She is joyful as a kid. This is the other great strength of the Maison: this capacity to transmit the joy of excellence. The next steps at "the table" are crucial. The sowing is done by hand to enable the crossing of threads from above and below.
One marvels at the illustrious "saddle stitch" with its double sowing on the last three knots of the wristband to guarantee maximum strength. No less than 50 steps are involved in reaching Hermès quality. More than an hour and a half of manual work for the Arceau’s wristband that we are following. The craftsmen (women, actually) sew, beat, scrub, tint, sand, and start again. She smooths with a straightener at 200°C to "blend" in the various leather thicknesses. She scrubs again and polishes. Only the eye and the hand judge if the work is good enough. Pure craftsmanship! The last stitch – "saddle" of course – is made "blind" to hold the previous loop. A work of art. The same precision, the same know-how as watchmaking.
“It is a Hermès strap!” does not have the same meaning anymore once you realize the amount of manual work involved in its creation, the difficulty of the craft and the attention to detail it requires. Exactly like it is for all the stages of watchmaking. Being a watchmaker is a privilege. Hermes’ new Arceau Little Moon and her blue alligator strap is proof of it. The iconic asymmetrical shape is there once more, with its glittery dial and joyful moon. In its stainless-steel case, it comes with a diamond set bezel at CHF 12’800 or no diamonds for CHF 7’000.
It seems that with time, the phrase “It is a Hermès watch” is slowly revealing its full signification, synonymous of creativity, excellence and watchmaking tradition. Vertical integration is not a goal in itself, but, as Hermès Horloger’s CEO underlines, “It is a guarantee for independence and freedom. It enables us to keep our original "rebel" spirit and combine creativity, imagination, and emotions, which are at the very heart of all of Hermès creations."
Fine watchmaking lovers and collectors – both men and women – looking for excellent timekeepers know it by now: Hermès is a watchmaker!
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)