Luxury house Hermès is known today as a brand that creates wonderfully whimsical complications with an unexpected, oftentimes playful, approach to the art of timekeeping. revolution speaks to the man responsible for this creative direction, Philippe Delhotal, to find out what further surprises he has in store. By Adi Soon.
How do you view the Hermès brand and its achievements in terms of watchmaking?
We used to be seen as a maison that just made accessories. Today, we are definitely perceived to be very serious in our watchmaking.
Our progress has come about quickly because Hermès became a manufacture with the part ownership of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier in 2006. From that time on, we’ve integrated our competences — the manufacture of watch dials, Vaucher movements and our main specialty, in comparison with other watch brands, leather. We’re the only ones to manufacture wristwatch bands completely in-house.
We have gained in credibility from all these factors so that, today, people see us as not just an accessories company, and because of the work we have done, we have also received a few important watchmaking awards. That being said, we still need years and years of work to be as famous as a brand like Patek Philippe, for example, in terms of watchmaking.
Three versions of the 38mm Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu; the 43mm Le Temps Suspendu, like the original 2011 edition, comes with date indication.
Is it your goal to reach that level?
If I compare both our brands today, I think that as brands, we are equal. But it is important for us that people come to Hermès in the future to buy a watch — not just as something on the way to buy an Hermès bag, but to buy a watch itself — like you would if you went to Vacheron Constantin. It’s a normal thing that you go to Hermès to buy a nice bag, belt or clothes, but not a watch, especially for men. But we are gaining more credibility [as a watchmaker] in recent times, and that is very good.
Do you feel that your efforts have been well-received by the men that you are targeting?
So far the comments have been very positive, and the best indication of that was when the original Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu was named Best Men’s Watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in 2011. It was the best award that we could receive because we could not imagine that we would be in the same competition as some of the most prestigious watchmaking brands like Vacheron Constantin. It is a good sign that the GPHG acknowledged Hermès and, for us, it was a good indication of the progress that we made. One thing I’ve noticed is that artistic spirit is the true signature of the maison. I used to work in other watch brands, but when I arrived at Hermès, I found it to be a very different company because the environment encourages collaboration between people who have different talents and jobs, and this allows the brand to access the kind of creative powers that the other “pure” watchmaking brands do not have.
Millefiori dial pattern being assembled; Hermès Arceau Millefiori watch.
It’s like the millefiori dials in your watches, where you took the ancient art of crystal-glass making at the Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis, and transformed it to be used in watchmaking.
Exactly. That’s a good example. Also, in our work with leather, which is our métier, we have integrated it into our watchmaking not just as straps but on dials as well, like in the Hermès Arceau Cavales, which showcases leather marquetry. These watches all have nice stories behind them, and the stories legitimize the watches. Today, a woman is going to buy a watch because it looks nice. A man is different — he has much less possibility of wearing jewelry on him, and he is more attached to the brand and what the brand means to him. If you go to the Breitling store, for example, it’s to buy a sports watch; if you go to Patek Philippe, it’s for high-end watchmaking. The relationship with watches is very different between men and women.
Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente; specially designed by Agenhor, the complication of L’Heure Impatiente enables the watch to chime a reminder to its wearer.
So, in the past few years, what was the one Hermès watch that you felt changed people’s mindsets about the brand in watchmaking?
There’s no doubt about it — the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu. Why? Because it was the watch that made everyone realize that Hermès was making different complications in our watches. For me, that’s a real signature. That watch, as I’ve mentioned before, even won an industry award, and when you say “Le Temps Suspendu”, you think Hermès. There’s a link there. The Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente is also one of the watches that is a signature of Hermès because it tells stories. Today, I would like to buy another watch from Hermès; I have a lot of watches but I would like to buy a watch that has a story. Many people, as I’ve discovered, are like that.
I want to get a sense of your roadmap, in terms of the future of watchmaking at Hermès. A typical watch brand usually has several lines of watches: simple time-only pieces, middle complications, and maybe some high complications such as the perpetual calendar. But I see your approach is a little bit different from that. It seems to prioritize the storytelling aspect, and elegant, beautiful design. Can you comment on your vision for the future of Hermès watches?
We need to, first, keep going on with what we have started. I’m going to continue to develop our men’s mechanical watches, which will be technical, very aesthetically driven, and show that we view “time” in a very different way. Secondly, we want to bring creativity and desire. The goal is not to be a typical high-end watchmaking brand — there are others who do that very well, better than us. Our goal, instead, is to surprise. Thirdly, we want to bring innovation — we want to be good at giving our customers, and future customers, products that are different from [those offered by] the brands around us; to have a true difference from our competitors. In the market right now, there are a lot of watches that look similar, and there have been no truly iconic watches in recent years. Watch brands tend to follow each other — it’s what I feel when I go to trade shows, or even look at magazines.
It must be quite difficult to surprise, because it takes a lot of time and effort to really come up with a good idea for a complication.
You need to have the ideas. That’s the most difficult thing. The manufacturing process is of course complicated, but the idea is important because that’s how everything starts. You have to be really positive about your ideas and it’s never easy.
How do you feel about the watch industry now?
There is an optimism in the watchmaking industry and I hope that it’s going to last. One of the things that has entered recently is the smart connected watch and I think that it’s a good addition. It’s very interesting to have the classical mechanical watch live in parallel with the smart connected watch in our lives today. It’s like owning a Tesla on one hand, and an old Porsche or Maserati on the other. There is the pleasure of driving the Maserati or Porsche, with the delicious sound of the engine, and if it breaks down and I’m late, it’s okay. However, if I take my Tesla, I want to be on time and to be connected, with all of the most modern tools in my car. Two cars in the same garage, with two destinations and two emotions; both give me different emotions and reasons for owning them. I think both really live together — the classical watch and connected watch.
Arceau 43mm in platinum and blue dial.
It’s nice to hear this from you, because a lot of watch brands are very traditional. With Hermès, however, you have the freedom to pursue emotions whenever they come, rather than sticking to the idea of only following tradition.
We cannot deny the fact that the connected watch exists; everyone has a smartphone and uses it in our current technological world. Yet I wear my L’Heure Impatiente more because it’s beautiful. I won’t have the same emotions when I wear a smart connected watch. For the traditional brands, traditional watchmaking is what they have to defend, and I’m fine with that. The difference is not to deny what will come in the future. After all, tomorrow the human race might go to Mars.