“The dialogue between contemporary creativity and our artistic craft professions is vital for us. It is a source of invention, new challenges and discovery, without which we risk resting on our laurels, remaining trapped in a certain routine. The projects that artists bring to us are a true challenge for our craftsmen, first seemingly insurmountable, but they allow us to push the limits of our expertise,” says Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès. Here, he is not talking about watches, one of the fourteen categories of products that the brand offers, but rather the scarves—the famous Hermès scarves, those precious printed silks that were born in 1937.
Under the designation of Hermès Editeur, some of these scarves are entrusted to well-known contemporary artists, such as Josef Albers, Daniel Buren, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. But what Pierre-Alexis Dumas is saying is true for all the brand’s categories, including watches. “With a humanist tradition, Hermès has always been close to the world of culture. A company that just earns money is really quite poor unless it can also enrich itself on the human and cultural level,” he adds.
This proximity to art and culture is also ex-pressed through the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, which works to promote artisanal know-how, support artistic creativity and promote access to education and training, as well as supporting endeavours that favour the preservation of biodiversity. In the artistic domain, the foundation is active in the plastic arts, photography, the dramatic arts and design. Exhibitions, artist residences, support for the performing arts, meetings, awards and scholarships make up the generous menu of its activities. “The projects that we support are essential for the brand because they are in resonance with our universe,” Dumas goes on to explain.
Exploring unique territory: turning time upside down
Philippe Delhotal, director of design at La Montre Hermès, agrees. “In comparison to other watch brands whose perimeter is clearly defined, the creative territory of Hermès is immense, since this proximity to contemporary creation is carried throughout our fourteen crafts. All of these generate designs that can inspire us in watchmaking. To give you an example, the very innovative use that we are making of enamel, with its very contemporary motifs, was inspired directly by our other professions. Inside the watch boundaries, however, our watch division needed to define its own particular territory. In the process, the Grandes Heures timepiece played a central role.”
Remember? Introduced in 2008, the Cape Cod Grandes Heures re-invented “a new choreography of time” by offering different speeds according to the time of day. On the dial, the hour indications are no longer simply placed at regular intervals but are moved closer together or farther apart in order to give the impression that time is accelerating or slowing down. Thus, 8 and 12 o’clock are closer together, while “temporal pauses” are added between 12 and 4 o’clock and between 6 and 8 o’clock. These positions correspond to various ways to live the hours—all relative—of the day.
“Based on this founding watch, Hermès has marked out its own particular watch territory, which is imaginary time, the time to take time, we could say,” Delhotal explains.
Introduced in 2011, the Arceau Temps Suspendu timepiece allows its owner to “suspend” time by making it disappear (the hands move into a position that does not point to a time) and reappear (the same hands return instantly to the exact time regardless of the time that has passed). This unique timepiece not only made a big impression on its debut, but it also positioned the unique watch style of Hermès squarely in the art of watchmaking.
Choreography of time
Exploring the “choreographic” possibilities of displaying time, La Montre Hermès is quite naturally inspired by contemporary dance and, in return, has also inspired it. One could thus attend a superb presentation of contemporary dance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, in London (which will be presented around the world). Its title, Time in Motion, clearly describes the relationship between the arts—music (art unfurling over time) and dance (the art of movement in space)—and watchmaking. More specifically, this programme was created to highlight the advances made by La Montre Hermès in terms of movement: in this case, the mechanical movements that the brand developed in exclusive collaboration with Vaucher Manufacture (of which Hermès owns 25 per cent). Two beautiful in-house movements, the H1837 and the H1912, were presented. Decorated with a fine H design on the oscillating weight and the bridges, featuring a double barrel delivering a constant force, and an in-house escapement, these two movements equip the Dressage and Arceau, respectively.
Created in 1978, La Montre Hermès has grown with infinite patience, in order to gradually acquire the necessary expertise to practice the art of watchmaking to the full. And, it practices it well—both technically and aesthetically. Today, watchmaking by Hermès can fully develop within its own clearly defined space, which nobody can contest.
Hermès’s adventure in the world of watchmaking began in 1912. A photograph from that period, now famous, shows the young Jacqueline Hermès, daughter of Emile Hermès and grandmother of Guillaume de Seyne, current chairman of the board of directors of La Montre Hermès, wearing a small pocket watch wrapped in leather around her wrist. A totally original creation, it was a completely “logical” creation for the saddle maker that Hermès was, and still is today. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of this watch, which is among the very first wristwatches in the world, Hermès decided to re-issue the piece. Ingenious, inventive, original, and perfectly finished (an entire week of work by hand is required to produce the strap holding the watch), the watch features the new H1837 movement and a palladium case mounted on a Barenia calf leather bracelet. It will unfortunately only be available in a limited series of 24 pieces in stores from March 2013, at a price of CHF 33,000. The In The Pocket timepiece, wearable by men and women, should fly off the shelves. Hopefully, Hermès will decide in the future to make more of these beautiful watches.
Source: Europa Star December - January 2012-13 Magazine Issue
The Arts & Watches section comprises the following articles:
- Introduction: Is watchmaking an art?
- The cultural track: a discussion with Franco Cologni
- Rolex - handing down talent and experience
- Girard-Perregaux: paying tribute to Le Corbusier
- Breguet’s cultural patronage: miraculous manna
- Vacheron Constantin: Creating a dialogue between art and artisanal
- MB&F – “In watchmaking, there are not enough egoists”
- Greubel Forsey – Microscopic art
- Cinema Paradiso: watches and cinema