HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker

December 2016

Hermès is a rare example – the only one, as far as we know – of a saddler turned watchmaker (among other things). In fact, it is through leather that Hermès came to watchmaking, as illustrated by its first watch, made in the early 1920s – a small pocket watch encased in leather and mounted on a strap.

A re-edited, re-interpreted version of the “porte-oignon” watch by Hermès, dating from the 1920s
A re-edited, re-interpreted version of the “porte-oignon” watch by Hermès, dating from the 1920s

These origins explain why for Hermès, leather does far more than simply “complement” a watch, but is integrated, lock, stock and barrel, into the watchmaking process. A leather workshop, the only one of its kind, is part and parcel of the La Montre Hermès atelier in Bienne. There, specialised craftsmen and women work on the leathers specific to the company, matching them to each timepiece: goat, calf, buffalo, ostrich or alligator, the same skins – such as the robust Barenia or the Epsom, recognisable by its texture – and the same colours as those that go to make the famous Hermès bags.

HERMÈS Cape Cod GM double wrap-around smooth orange calf strap
HERMÈS Cape Cod GM double wrap-around smooth orange calf strap


The leather selection process is rigorous. Wrinkles, veins and scratches are strictly avoided. The two pieces must have the same shade and scales, for example, and must be of the same shape and size. The leather, however, is still thick at this point. It is now dressed and tapered. The pre-cut straps are flattened to paper thickness at their outer edges. A strip of Viledon, an especially strong fabric, is placed as a lining between the upper and lower sections of strap, and the whole assembly is glued together. Each worker will work on a whole bracelet.

Act I involves marking or tracing the sewing line and the stitching points with a pair of compasses. Using a single flaxen thread and two hand-held needles, the artisan creates the classic saddle stitch by a complex dance of the needles into each hole with an elegant finishing technique. The stiches are gently hammered into place on both sides to avoid them being exposed to wear and tear.

HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker

Act II concerns the look of the strap, in particular the edges, which first need rubbing and sandpapering. With great care, the leather worker now applies a dye, smoothing it out and then polishing. Each step is repeated until the look is perfectly uniform and the strap looks as if it came from a single piece of leather. A furrow pressed between the sewing line and the edge of the leather makes the strap suppler, while at the same time underscoring its thickness.

HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker

During Act III, the two loops that will hold the tongue part of the strap need to be made. One will be fixed, the other mobile. To do this, the artisan cuts two thin strips, pares down the edges to form a loop of the same thickness where the edges are joined. The same steps as with the strap’s edge now need to be performed, albeit on a smaller scale: gluing, marking for stitching, sanding, dyeing, smoothing out, and polishing over and over. The most intricate manoeuvre is fixing the one loop to the strap with the same saddle stitch. The finishing stitch, invisible to the owner of the strap, forms an “H”.

HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker HERMÈS - Saddler turned watchmaker

Source: Europa Star 5/16 Winter 2016 Magazine Issue