Hands-On With The Slim d’Hermès “Zèbres de Tanzanie”
Hermès embodies the excellence of artisanal craftsmanship. The great strength of this iconic luxury house is its ability to mix them in order to enhance them - showcasing in doing so its unique creativity and playfulness. Hands-on Hermès's magic.
On a gorgeous October afternoon, we had the pleasure to visit the Atelier du Cuir of Hermès Horloger in Brügg. A full-scale horse statue in wood welcomes us in the sun-bathed patio as an homage to the illustrious equestrian past of the house. We are guided into the atelier where the sweet scent of leather caresses our nostrils. We step into the heart of the Hermès universe.
The leather craftsmen are hard at work on their easels. They cut, they sow, they polish. The atmosphere is academic and joyful. Modern machines rub shoulders with ancient tools. But it is the gestures that strike. Like a ballet, the swiftness and skill of the hands are impressive. Like poetry of signs. We approach the workbench where a master leather-craftsman operates on the more technical pieces. She is working on a dial of the Slim d'Hermès "Zèbres de Tanzanie." We learn that she has studied in the leather bags ateliers of Pantin (near Paris) for five years before joining the watch bracelet family five years ago. She has just received the grey gold base where the “Les Zèbres de Tanzanie” motif, designed by animal artist Yves-Marie de Malleray in 2010, shines with the radiance of Grand Feu enamel. We clearly see the champlevé technique which frames the delicate work of the striped coat made with an ultra-thin brush after multiple operations of firing and drying. This is where artisanal craftsmanships add on and complete themselves.
She goes to work. The clip picks a leather tessera up - sometimes measuring less than 1 mm - and collects a minute quantity of glue. An agile finger wipes the excess amount in a caress. A precise gesture then sets the lamella in place perfectly to start giving life to the design. One immediately grasps the difficulty, the precision and the patience of the art of leather marquetry. The similarity with watchmaking is blatant. We are in the realm of miniature excellence. You see the same calmness, and you witness the same precision, you feel the same passion. As for great horological complications, handbag or saddle confection by Hermès, only one master leather craftsman is assigned to the marquetry of a dial.
We leave the master to her craft and approach a finished model - after more than 26 hours of enameling and marquetry - in order to finally admire it.
At the heart of craftsmanship
The lightness and delicacy of the timepiece hit first. The finesse of the Slim d'Hermès highlights every detail of the dial. The contrast of textures is striking. The brilliant translucent polish of enamel plays with the grained surface of the leather. You would think that leather has a matte finish, but in fact, it has its own light reflections which reinforce the enamel's shine. The colorful leather stripes echo the zebra's coat. You are transported into the African savannah. The gracious equine animal hides amidst leather stripes like in his natural habitat. His natural distinction is amplified by the precise work of the leather lamellae. You find yourself playing with the light, trying to find the angle which suits the creation best. And endless game as each new angle of vision reveals a further detail. One moment, the champlevé delimitation sparkles and reveals the aura of the zebra. The next, the grained leather takes over, and the animal disappears in the texture.
Details are revealed as the sight runs over this exceptional timepiece. Everything evokes elegance and finesse. The gentle curve of the large bezel, the soft lines of the extra-flat case, the right-angled lugs, all emphasize the lightness which enables to concentrate on the miniature masterpiece of the dial. You could almost forget it is a watch. But the slender baton-type hours and minutes hands sweeping across this work of art remind us it is a timekeeper. The manufacture caliber H1950 with its micro-rotor powers this limited series of 12 pieces which comes in three white gold variations. The beauty of the movement can be admired through the sapphire back revealing the characteristic finishing and decorations of the house: exclusive ‘sprinkling of Hs,' circular graining of the plate, hand-chamfered bridges. The Hermès leather bracelet and its famous saddle stitches provide the final touch to this perfect marriage of craftsmanship which leaves us enchanted.
This is the magic of entwined excellences. This is Hermès Magic.