The watchmaking legitimacy of Hermès, while it is directly due to its primary métier - leather goods - does however date back to 1912 with the realization of a historically precocious leather strap for a pocket watch. And, with the expansion in popularity of the wristwatch beginning in the 1920s, Hermès made and sold watch straps.
Yet, as of 1928, the brand began selling its own watch products. These were, most notably, the famous Ermeto, a pocket watch that was wound by sliding the watch open and closing it. From then on, Hermès continuously made watches, primarily in collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, Universal, and Vacheron Constantin. In passing, we should also mention the belt-watches for golfers also starting in 1928, and the Etrier pieces sold during the 1950s and 1960s.
Moving into quartz movements, Hermès launched the famous Kelly timepiece in 1978, inspired by the padlocks on the famous handbags with the same name. The Kelly pieces were created by the brand’s subsidiary, La Montre Hermès SA, located in Bienne. From then on, the company’s timekeeping division would flourish. The Clipper came in 1981, the Sellier in 1987, the Cape Cod in 1991 (with its double strap in 1998), the Médor in 1993, and the Heure H in 1997.
Association with Manufacture Vaucher
In 2003, Hermès began its collaboration with Manufacture Vaucher, which equipped the Dressage with its first automatic movement. In 2004, Vaucher created, especially for Hermès, a retrograde date function and lunar display for the Dressage. ‘In exchange’, Hermès delivered leather straps to Parmigiani.
During October 2006, the brand took another step. Hermès International invested CHF 25 million to obtain 25 percent of the capital of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier.
This purchase was made “in order to create an environment conducive specifically to the fabrication of Hermès movements,” explains Emmanuel Raffner, who manages La Montre Hermès SA. “We wanted to constitute an industrial tool to develop the watchmaking activities of Hermès,” he adds, “in order to equip our collections, little by little, with highly technical movements with maximum finishing. But, our ambition is two-fold because, while we want to put great movements into Hermès timepieces, we also want to put Hermès into movements.”
The CAPE COD pink gold and the CAPE COD MOON PHASE
New watch propositions
In the near future, the brand’s new watch collections will be presented, and will be equipped with traditional complications. As one example, a perpetual calendar has already been announced. “The particular relationship that Hermès has with ‘time’ – the brand has always considered ‘time’ as part of its evolution, has always taken the ‘time’ to do things, and believes that one of the principal qualities of its products is that they age well – has been expressed, until now, only stylistically,” continues Raffner, “but we want to go further and express this relationship also in terms of the movement. Each year, we are going to add another complication to the Dressage collection, and gradually strengthen our capacity as this new approach is assimilated by our distribution network. Our approach must be perfectly understood by our clients. We must help educate them, and explain the reasons behind the increased prices of these models. But, at the same time, we absolutely want to conserve our identity: our products are reliable; they are made to be worn; made to grow old; they are the expression of a very high level of savoir-faire.”
Integration of a leather atelier
Within the framework of this progressive ‘assimilation’, Hermès has also just integrated an atelier producing leather straps into its facility in Bienne. Since its original profession as a saddle and leather goods maker gradually led Hermès into timekeeping, the incorporation of a leather atelier is like making a full circle for the company.
When you see this atelier, you begin to understand why Hermès has earned such a remarkable reputation in this domain. Everything begins with the fabulous stock of skins, sorted in Paris and then patiently selected before being sent to Bienne. A system of total traceability of the product has been put into place in order to arrive at the highest quality. Just to give two examples: the calves destined for Hermès are raised in enclosures without barbed wire so that the skin doesn’t get scratched or damaged; the alligators are chosen and purchased already at the egg stage…
The selection of the parts to be cut (between 20 percent and 30 percent of the skin of a Barenia calf is utilized) is meticulously carried out in order to carefully avoid any veins, scars, or tiny defects. The skins are then pre-cut, followed by preparing the thickness (a strap is made up of three to five layers in order to obtain the required fineness and strength). The intermediate layers are then glued and cut into the shape of the straps before they pass to the sewing stage.
The sewing atelier is also quite amazing. Each strap requires about one hour of manual work, carried out by highly specialized artisans. It is wonderful to see them work at the various steps – hammering, sewing, successive polishing, tinting of the sides, threading, and re-polishing – until they obtain the final and impeccable product. The notion of a skilled craft is certainly evident here, and after seeing this meticulous work, you will never look at a leather watch strap the same way again.
This brand’s ability to ‘give time to time’, its absolute respect for the product, lets us comprehend the undeniable success of Hermès, a success that the company also intends to patiently attain in the realm of Haute Horlogerie.
Source: Europa Star April-May 2007 Magazine Issue