The ultimate purveyor of beautiful objects, Hermès cultivated its reputation for craftsmanship with collectibles that were often as functional as they were exquisite. This has been a brand promise since its inception in 1837, when its artisans made leather saddles and harnesses fit for the stables of kings.

Founder Thierry Hermès was born in Germany to a French father and German mother, but moved to his father’s homeland in 1828. Nine years later, he established the first Hermès site — a harness workshop — in the Grand Boulevards quarter of Paris, where he serviced the equestrian needs of European noblemen. His flawless harnesses and bridles for the city’s flourishing carriage trade not only pleased customers, but also won the business several awards, such as the first prize in its category at the Expositions Universelles in 1855 and 1867.

Leather goods were the mainstay of the brand’s early years. In 1880, Thierry’s son, Charles-Émile, took over and relocated the store to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where it still stands. However, it channelled its traditional leather expressions into an unusual form in the early 1900s when Jacqueline, one of the founding family’s descendants, was spotted wearing a pocket watch on her wrist, secured by a leather strap crafted by the company’s saddle makers. A photograph of her with the impro- vised wristwatch remains in the archive.

Expanding into the world of horology seemed a natural extension — the deftness of hand and eye for detail necessary in microengineering were traits Hermès already appreciated and fostered through its artisanal work. In 1928, the first watches bearing its signature were presented, sparking its legacy in creating “guardians of time”, as the maison describes them.

Watchmaking is a craft and science Hermès takes seriously. It marked its commitment in 1978 with the launch of the La Montre Hermès S.A., a subsidiary that organises international distribution and operates a production facility in Biel, Switzerland. In 2006, it invested CHF25 million to acquire a 25% stake in movement specialist Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, as well as transferred its exotic leather strap workshops from Paris to Biel to affirm its base in the heart of haute horlogerie. In the following decade, savvy acquisitions saw the formation of Les Ateliers d’Hermès Horloger, which gives it internal control over movements, cases and dials.

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The luxury goods house makes daily life its playground, turning mundane items into objects that bring joy. Time is another dimension it revels in. Its timepiece collections derive inspiration from various sources, never seeking to capture or control time, but to celebrate it in every fashion. That it was one of the earliest watchmakers to take note of women’s desires in the male-dominated sphere of modern wristwatches ensures it has vast experience to draw from when creating the treasures of tomorrow.

Cape Cod Martelée


 

Lightly hammered
Named after the popular summertime destination of the moneyed and merry, the Cape Cod collection is inspired by the rich history of the American East Coast. It was born in 1991 with the sure pencil strokes of artistic director Henri d’Origny.

D’Origny was asked to design a square watch, but he preferred the elongated symmetry of rectangles. The result was a square-within-a-rectangle scheme derived from the unique shape of the Hermès “Chaîne d’Ancre”, a textured link that resembles a nautical anchor chain. Two Chaîne d’Ancre half-links hold the square dial within which time freely spins. The geometric proportions are now a hallmark of the sporty, unisex collection, which has extended lugs that evoke the casually elegant, al- most languid New England spirit of the Massachusetts coastline.

New to the line-up is the Cape Cod Martelée. The timepiece is a paradox of values: daring yet dainty, sophisticated yet rugged. Its anchor chain shape is highlighted in a dramatic play of light and shadow against flat planes and sunken surfaces, as well as forged and patinated structures.

This is achieved through the jeweller’s art of hammering, a complex and demanding skill that imbues the 316L steel case with a striking patina-like effect. The dial, too, is similarly decorated, hammered and coated with a thin layer of translucent lacquer in gradient shades from anthracite to black. This is no small feat as the dial is a mere 23cm by 23cm. Anti-glare sapphire crystal protects the dial, which in turn shields the Swiss quartz movement that operates the hour and minute hands. Countering the dynamic design of the case and dial is an understated black calf strap, available in Single or Double Tour versions.

Even the raw and edgy aesthetic, enhanced by a play of depth and suggestion of coarseness, cannot conceal the discriminating techniques that produced this timepiece. It takes considerable artistry to craft an offbeat temperament with such style — and a woman of great poise to pull off the look.

Heure H

An initial says it all
The Heure H is a literal interpretation of the way Hermès holds onto ancient traditions and crafts; not only does the brand’s initial encase the dial, it also acts as the lugs that hug the strap. The case owes its emblematic silhouette to the creative impetus of in-house designer Philippe Mouquet, the same great mind be- hind the Terre d’Hermes bottle and whimsical animal prints for neckties. Its singularity lies in its ability to capture time within a single letter, framing its passing in a playful, almost mischievous manner.

Carrying similar prompts as the H belt, the graphic design has achieved iconic status with its classic yet versatile codes. The Heure H has become more than just a watch; it is a symbol of a house that is certain of itself but recognises the times we live in. Since its conception in 1996, the model has taken on numerous guises — bold, chic, vintage and trendy — without losing sight of its identity as an enduring signature of the brand.

The 2020 iteration is a rose-gold construction imbued with assertive character thanks to the intense black lacquer that skims the case. Its outline is gilded with a decorative golden fillet to accentuate the H. Within, a 21cm by 21cm dial wears a similar lacquered cloak, but a faceted sapphire crystal gives an illusion of depth, its angles catching the light with every movement of the wrist.

Slim gold-toned hands, specifically redesigned for this model, mirror the gilt of the case border, providing the only contrast for the all-black ensemble as they sweep the numeral-free dial. A Swiss quartz movement powers the twin hands. Even its side profile is charmingly refined with a black-lacquered cabochon crown. Black alligator straps that embody Hermès’ leathermaking expertise are integrated into the case.

For a wrist adornment that makes a statement, few could do better than the latest Heure H. The stylish timepiece pairs just as well with a pair of jeans as it does a suit or cocktail dress, cementing it as a wardrobe staple that will withstand the test of time.

Arceau Soleil

The sun encircled by stars
The Arceau was among the earliest collections to join the Hermès stable, making its debut in 1978. Artistic director d’Origny was just a couple of decades into his tenure — he would spend some 60 years developing an original design anthology for the company — when he sketched the brilliant Arceau prototype.

Named for the eternal curves of a hoop and inspired by the equestrian cues that permeate the ethos at Hermès, the Arceau series has endured through the ages with its blend of artistic wonder and serious watchmaking. The upper lugs bear a distinct resemblance to stirrups while its Arabic numerals whip around the dial with typography and angles that recall the swiftness of galloping horses. That said, the equine references are subtle, while whimsy and imagination leap to the fore.

Joining the parade of novelties this year is the Arceau Soleil. The yellow dwarf star that informs the name’s suffix explodes across the dial with wavy lines radiating from the core in a stunning sunray engraving. The motif was imagined by Swiss artist Fred Rawyler and originally intended for a silk scarf, but was transposed beautifully onto this timepiece. A subtle chiaroscuro gradient traces the sweep of the slender hands, lacquered in translucent grey or blue for a smoky effect, yet it is not this tableau that mesmerises the viewer.

That privilege is commanded by the hour markers, glittery diamonds that eschew their traditional setting around the dial in favour of the sapphire crystal. The embedded precious stones create an illusion of levitation, appearing to hover over the dial. Angle the wrist to watch the light coax their sparkle while also casting their shadows onto the dial below. The poetic vision continues across the 36mm circumference with 100 diamonds circling the round steel case. Alligator leather straps in polished sapphire blue or matte pearl grey complete the look.

This ethereal, almost enigmatic, spectacle infuses a touch of levity into a solid object. And that, right there, is where Hermès resides — in the realm between fantasy and reality. – Bloomberg

Photos: Joel Von Allmen, Calitho