Someone who loves watches may be forgiven for paying less attention to a brand like Hermès that makes principally leather goods, perfumery and fashion garments. But in actual fact, Hermès makes beautiful watches, proving that quality in watchmaking is absolutely possible for a horizontally-diversified brand of this type – as is the case for Bulgari and Cartier to mention just two others.
Thierry Hermès, born in Germany in 1801, moved to France with his family in 1828, and in 1837 set up a harness workshop in Paris supplying products such as bridles to aristocrats for their carriages. In 1880, Thierry’s son Charles-Émile Hermès moved the company to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where it has remained ever since. They made luxury saddlery, adding accessories (handbags) and fashion garments in the 1920s. At the same time, their first contact with watches took the form of straps made for other watch brands. Scarves arrived in 1937, and they soon became a classic.
Hermès began selling its own branded watches from 1928, commissioning them from Universal Genève. They were branded “Hermès” or “Hermès Universal Geneève.” The collaboration continued until the 1950s, after which Hermès worked with other brands such as Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The brand’s watch subsidiary La Montre Hermès was founded in 1978, with workshops in Bienne, Switzerland. It launched the Arceau model, inspired by the stirrup shape. Other significant models were Clipper (1981), with a circular bezel resembling a porthole, and Cape Cod (1998), with a double wrap-around leather strap based on an idea by Martin Margiela, creative director for women’s ready-to-wear by Hermès.
In 2003, Dressage was presented, an automatic watch with a Manufacture Vaucher movement. In 2006, Hermès purchased a 25% holding of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. The other 75% is owned by The Sandoz Foundation, which also owns 90% of watch brand Parmigiani Fleurier. Not surprisingly, Hermès supplies Parmigiani with leather watchstraps.
In 2008, the first movement exclusive to Hermès was launched, the calibre H1 for its Clipper H1 watch. The first of the brand’s series of ironic, quirky watches was Le Temps Suspendu, 2011, in which pressing a button caused the hour and minute hands to an impossible time, the minute hand about 2 minutes beyond the 12, the hour hand the same angle before the 12. The Hermès Dressage L’Heure Masquée continued the same sort of theme, with the hour hand hidden under the minute hand until you pressed a pusher and it popped out to indicate the complete time, rushing back to under the minute hand when the pusher was released.
In 2015, Laurent Dordet became CEO of La Montre Hermès, and at Baselworld he himself presented what he described as a “collection representing an important step for the brand, very meaningful and representative of what we want to achieve over the next few years.” Hermès has been progressively investing in watchmaking expertise, moving towards an integrated manufacture. The new H1950 movement is the third Hermès exclusive calibre made by Vaucher, an extra-slim movement used in the new collection Slim d’Hermès.
La Montre Hermès SA
CH 2555 Brügg
Tel. +41 32 366 71 00
Laurent Dordet, CEO of La Montre Hermès, from 1 March 2015 (photo below courtesy of Hermès):
Philippe Delhotal, Creative Director of La Montre Hermès