Hermès Stays Original As A Whimsical Watchmaker With Two Novelties: Galop d’Hermès And Arceau L’Heure
La Montre Hermès, the French luxury house’s watchmaking arm, is having an exceptional year in getting the watch industry’s attention, having introduced some truly outstanding creations at the 2019 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Of course, we had expected nothing less from a brand known for its originality and whimsical horological ideas.
Among other horological novelties are two standouts that caught everyone’s eye, albeit for obviously different reasons. First is a watch of modern style and sophistication, designed for the feminine wrist: the Galop d’Hermès has a slim strap and boasts a stirrup-shaped case, a completely new silhouette for the watchmaker that also clearly references the maison’s ties with the equestrian world.
Second, a moonphase watch that upends traditional concepts of the age-old complication that tracks the lunar cycle—and it does so with impressive wit and style, no less. The Arceau L’Heure de la Lune is unlike any other moonphase watch. Instead of indicating the lunar phase via an aperture on the dial, Hermès has chosen to place it front and centre. As its moving subdials, which tell the time, glide across stationary mother-of-pearl moon discs set into the dial, the waxing and waning of the moon are replicated across the face of the watch with whimsical realism.
We caught up with La Montre Hermès creative director, Philippe Delhotal, while he was in town for the maison’s Time, a Hermès Object exhibition in May. He shed light on the ideas behind these creations and how the brand has thrived on making play an essential element of its watches.
The Galop d’Hermès was designed by furniture and lighting designer, Ini Archibong. Why did you choose someone who is not in the watch business?
Philippe Delhotal (PD) We didn’t want someone who’s experienced in watchmaking.On the contrary, we wanted to go out of the box so it had to be somebody who has never designed a watch before and isn’t constrained by the norms of watchmaking. I interviewed a few potential designers, and there were good vibes when I met Ini, which is very important when it comes to working with someone creatively. I liked his creative touch, his furniture work, as well as his personality. But it’s true. I did take a risk—working with big objects is definitely not the same as designing something of a much smaller scale, like a watch.
What was the brief to him?
PD I didn’t give him a specific brief. Instead, we focused on immersing him into the Hermès culture by bringing him around our boutiques and private museums, so he could seek inspiration. We gave him the freedom to play with the design of this new watch.
Were you surprised by the result?
PD His first design was definitely not anywhere near the final Galop d’Hermès. In fact, it wasn’t what we were expecting to see at all. But I understand that you can’t expect someone who’s designing a watch for the very first time to get it right immediately. From that point, we worked together and took it in another direction. The next draft was very different from the first one—and spot on. I was surprised by the eventual shape of the watch—it is not what I would have done, but it had a modern twist, and it just worked. The crown is very unique and its placement at the bottom of the watch is crucial to the balance of the form.
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Why did you think the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune made such a big impression this year?
PD The moonphase complication, as you know, is not uncommon in haute horlogerie, but it’s always been made as an accompanying feature to the time-telling function. So instead, we wanted to create a moonphase watch that made the lunar feature the focus of the watch and presented it as the central “story”. And that’s why it’s such a success—people talked about the unusual moonphase design rather than refer to it as the watch with an additional moonphase function. Of course, we wanted to treat the watch not just as a functional object but also take the concept beyond time.
Play is a big element in all your watches—how has it helped to distinguish the brand from other names in the industry?
PD The element of play is an intrinsic part of the Hermès DNA, perhaps even more evident in its watches. It’s about originality—we try to stay away from what others are doing as much as possible, but at the same time, the element of curiosity is very important. There are so many watch brands out there, yet when you compare all these watches, most of them aren’t really that different. Imagine a line of soldiers marching in synchrony towards one direction…Hermès is like the one soldier who’s marching in the opposite direction from the others.
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How differently does Hermès operate as a watchmaker as compared to other watch brands?
PD It’s a strength for Hermès to have a total of 14 metiers because we can help one another with our own area of expertise. Our watches won’t have much to do with, say, the perfume department, but we definitely have chances to work with the silk and leather makers. But even so, there will be occasions that we can draw inspiration from the perfume makers—through exploratory conversations and discussions, for example. Inspiration can come through so many different sources and people, so these metiers are real assets for us.