The History of Hermès Paris

La Montre Hermès: Time in movement

The link between Hermès and watchmaking goes back over a century and has been expressed over the decades in countless different ingenious, elegant and unique ways. 

1912 marked the start of this longstanding history. A photo in the company archives shows Emile Hermès’ four daughters including Jacqueline, who is wearing on her wrist a pocket-watch for which her father had a special strap made by the in-house saddle-making and leather craftsmen.

IN 1928the historical Hermès store at 24, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris opened up to the field of watchmaking by offering the first timepieces bearing the Hermès signature, equipped at the time with mechanisms from the greatest Swiss watch brands.
 
50 YEARS LATER, IN 1978the company set up the watchmaking division of La Montre Hermès in Bienne (Brügg), at the very heart of the Swiss watch industry. Since them, it has developed its collections while progressively integrating horological skills.
 
SINCE 2003 with the launch of the Dressage watch equipped with a movement from the Manufacture Vaucher, La Montre Hermès has been actively involved in developing and producing its own movements.
 
IN 2006it set up a workshop specially dedicated to the making of leather straps. The quest for excellence is the driving principle behind the Maison Hermès, particularly in the field of watchmaking where it has been consistently surrounding itself over the past century with the finest artisans. Particularly close partnerships have been created and strengthened in recent years. To secure and ensure the longevity of its supply of essential components, La Montre Hermès has acquired a financial stake in Vaucher Manufacture in Fleurier (movements), as well as buying up Natéber SA in La Chaux-de-Fonds (dials) and Joseph Erard SA in Le Noirmont (cases).
 
Vaucher Manufacture, Fleurier: Movements from every angle
 
The movement is the heart of a watch:a complex miniature ‘engine’ composed of several hundred components machined and finished according to extremely demanding quality criteria. Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier (VMF) is one of the rare Swiss watch manufacturers capable of mastering the conception, the development and the production of these ‘engines’. The vertically integrated VMF firm masters 95% of its components including the balance-spring, thereby delivering 100% ‘Swiss made’ movements.
 
Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier was set up in 2003 in Fleurier, in the Canton of Neuchatel. It is heir to a longstanding watchmaking history that began in the 19th century. Since 2009, it has enjoyed an all-new industrial infrastructure housed in a modern 6,700 sq.m. building enabling this full-fledged Manufacture to produce the entire movement under one roof. These modern and functional facilities enable it to make up to 35,000 units per year covering five categories: self- winding, hand-wound, ultra-thin, with a large power reserve or with horological complication(s), such as chronographs, perpetual calendars and moon phases. The company has around 200 employees mastering 20 or so watchmaking and micromechanical engineering professions. Organised in such as way as to meet the most varied demands, the firm has divided its production into two different industrial/artisan-style flows. The former handles production of so-called base movements, while the latter deals with personalised products that require a different development for each client.
 
For La Montre Hermès, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier has developed three different-sized movements: H1837, H1912, and the ultra-thin H1950 notably equipping the Slim d’Hermès collection.
 
Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier is majority owned by the Sandoz Family Foundation. In 2006, La Montre Hermès took over 25% of its share capital.
 
Natéber, La Chaux-de-Fonds: The dial, the expression of a watch's soul
 
If the movement is the heart and soul of the watch, the dial can be said to express this inner nature, as Natéber has been ably demonstrating since 1972.
 
From the raw material to the finished part, no less than 60 different operations are involved in the process of making a “simple” dial. In the workshop of a dial-making craftsman, industrial logic is not the primary consideration: each new model requires new technical solutions putting in place – an approach that demands a blend of versatility and adaptability from the staff members involved.
A dial-maker is a ‘Jack of all trades’; a kind of alchemist who must know the properties and secrets of a broad range of materials including brass, gold, aluminium, carbon fibre, mother- of-pearl and sometimes also enamel, wood and precious stones.
 
The making of a dial begins in the mechanical workshop, which develops the necessary tools, the swages and the specific supports. Each part travels a long journey from the first to the last stage, not to mention various to-and-fro steps along with different testing procedures.
 
It visits at least seven other workshops: assembly, polishing, finishing, galvanic plating, varnishing, transferring as well as a last one that has no particular name at Natéber. It is indeed in this “nameless workshop” that various artisans set the diamonds, prepare the mother-of-pearl, facet certain parts and perform a number of small manual operations that cannot be done elsewhere, but that will make all the difference to the finished product.
 
Natéber currently employs over 60 staff. In April 2012, La Montre Hermès acquired the firm’s entire share capital.
 
Joseph Erard SA, Le Noirmont: The case design meets technology
 
This essential part of a watch exterior must be robust and shock- resistant, since its role is to shelter and protect the movement, as well as expressing the aesthetic design of the watch. Joseph Erard, a family business based in Le Noirmont, has been making watch cases since 1880.
 
In 2009, the company moved into a modern and spacious 2,000 square-meter premises that currently houses a 80-strong staff and a fleet of machinery in the vanguard of technology. This recent construction has been entirely designed in accordance with the demands of sustainable development.
 
Making a case is first and foremost the art of working with noble metals: steel, gold and titanium, and even such rare materials as tantalum and palladium. Then comes the work of the engineers, who transform ideas into production plans. It also calls for a mastery of this production that may involve different routes – meaning machining or stamping/ swaging depending on the object. The latter path is for example taken by the case of the Cape Cod, which features a distinctive curve and rounded shapes that imply several different passages beneath the merciless hammer of a huge swaging press. These operations are interspersed with regular firings in the kiln so as to let down or slacken the material.
 
Finally, the various parts of the case thus produced need to be finished before being ready to house the watch movement. This involves a number of treatments including drilling, welding or cementing, cleaning and polishing, along with final quality control and water-resistance tests.
 
The longstanding partnership between La Montre Hermès and Joseph Erard SA led in November 2013 to the acquisition by the former of the latter’s entire share capital.