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The One To Watch

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 12 min read
The One To Watch
What do the Arceau L’heure de la lune, Slim d’Hermès GMT and Arceau Skeleton have in common? Philippe Delhotal, creative director at Hermès Horloger, the man who helped create and design these remarkable timepieces for this year’s launch
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SINGAPORE (July 9): In November 2019, we had a very rare opportunity to be taken on a journey of how a Hermès timepiece is made. We started at the very beginning; the ideas and inspiration stage. This was at the Emile Hermès Museum that is located at the top of the Hermès flagship store on Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris.

It is at this museum that many Hermès collaborators are invited to come in and have a look — to glean ideas from the items collected by the founder Emile-Maurice Hermès on his many travels around the world. Altogether, there are about 55,000 Hermès heritage objects. Among them, we spotted collectibles including equestrian paraphernalia, a horse-drawn carriage, an old Hermès clock, pill boxes, swords, picnic baskets and travel trunks.

Of interest are the historical timepieces, a collection that is most admired by creative director Hermès Horloger Philippe Delhotal who admitted to spending many hours at the museum to absorb the spirit of the place to get inspired for all the Hermès Horloger launches.

At that time, he also revealed the early designs for the 2019 Watches & Wonders watch fair that is now postponed to next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Options followed up with Delhotal recently for his comments on the new collection that was just launched and checked if the museum is still the source of inspiration for the latest collection. He reveals, “My sources of inspiration are mainly based on the extraordinary creative wealth of the Hermès universe. When designing, I’m constantly thinking what our clients expect from us. Wearing a Hermès watch is about appreciating a style that is rigorous but free of any formalism. It is about asserting oneself as a man or woman free of temporal constraints, relaxed and occasionally whimsical.”

He adds it is about making light of time rather than seeking to dominate it. He invites us to experience a singular relationship with time, a time with which one plays, yet without ever hoping to control it. This year’s collection embodies all that and more.

Under normal circumstances, Delhotal would be in Singapore to present the timepieces to the media but, unfortunately, this is not the case because of travel restrictions. Delhotal is no stranger to the media and we have always enjoyed his chats and respected his wealth of knowledge when it comes to timepieces.

His very impressive track record lists his studies in clock and watchmaking with certificates of vocational proficiency CAP and BEP from France. Later, he studied fashion designing and styling before taking up gemology courses to learn more about semi-precious and precious stones. He has worked with the best as he had stints with Vacheron Constantin, Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Options once again tap on his experience and knowledge through e-mail to find out more about this design inspirations and the challenges he faces when it comes to creating this year’s novelties.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s collection?

We have just presented three new men’s watches: Arceau L’heure de la lune with new dials, Slim d’Hermès GMT in rose gold and Arceau Skeleton. For women, we have unveiled bold new creations as part of our iconic Cape Cod and Nantucket collections. Finally, in the métier d’art collection, Arceau pays tribute to exceptional craftsmanship.

Our highlight, Arceau L’heure de la lune is a very good expression of the singular interpretation running counter to industry trends. We presented it last year in a limited edition and we had the great pleasure to be awarded by the GPHG or the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève that gives out awards of excellence for contemporary watches that contribute to the promotion of the watch industry worldwide.

This year, we feature new versions with a lunar, Martian or Black Sahara meteorite dial. It is a useful function with a graphic and mysterious side. This new complication evokes a sense of dreams and emotions. The face of the watch is daily transformed. Its readoff is playful, with counters gravitating around the topsy-turvy moons, because Hermès loves to dream with its head upside down.

We also present a new skeleton version of Arceau, subtly revealing the mechanism and paying tribute to the equestrian line which was introduced in 1978 when Hermès established watchmaking in Switzerland.

Another men’s launch is the Slim d’Hermès GMT. Slim d’Hermès was launched in 2015. It is an elegant Hermès object that appeals to customers looking for a singular timepiece with a strong Hermès DNA and high-quality movement and finishing. The first GMT version with a palladium case was presented in 2018 as a limited edition. This traditional complication was interpreted in a different way by playing with the distinctive numerals on the GMT dial, as if one has “lost his bearings”. It was a great success. This year, we present a rose gold version in blue tones that highlight elegance and classicism but also contemporaneity that speaks to the essentials of the brand.

We also pay tribute to Cape Cod, an icon born out of a rebellion in 1991, and Nantucket. Henri d’Origny, a longstanding creative partner of the maison, was asked by Hermès to design a square watch. But this free spirit saw things differently and preferred to respond in an almost irreverent manner with a watch representing a “square inside a rectangle”. For almost 30 years, the Cape Cod has been an icon, its anchor chain motif cut in two to insert the square case. Its design reflects rigorous discipline combined with a boldly impertinent attitude. Its natural penchant is to lend itself with great aplomb to the ebb and flow of the times.

Its success was further amplified by Martin Margiela’s novel idea for his very first Hermès runway show in 1998, adding a double-wrap strap that would later be known simply as the “Double Tour”. Sales rocketed and the Cape Cod watch became an icon, almost a style in its own right. Everything was possible; both men and women felt an immediate sense of kinship, driven by a sense of style and liberty.

The Hermès singular interpretation of time running counter to industry trends is supported by watch models through their singular functions, and also by models with distinctive and non-formalistic designs, imbued with creativity and boldness, such as Cape Cod, Galop d’Hermès, Kelly and Médor.

In 2017, Cape Cod made its appearance again, this time boldly attired in black for the Shadow version. The Cape Cod Shadow version maintained the full force of its disruptive strength. The black DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating intensified its energy while the redtrimmed black calfskin leather strap encapsulated its boldness.

And this year, we introduced the bold and innovative Cape Cod Nantucket, featuring a steel case adorned with a matt hammered finish as well as a gradient-lacquered dial ranging from black to anthracite. On its side, the Nantucket is set in diamonds to propose a jewellery watch to Hermès clients.

Last but not least, Arceau Cheval cosmique is an example of a very interesting and original timepiece that involves special skills. Over the course of the year, we have had the opportunity to meet talented craftswomen and craftsmen to express the creativity of the house. It is always a big challenge for them to work on a smaller scale but they appreciate this new field of expression. This includes enamel or engraving or through techniques which are rarely applied on a small scale such as crystal, leather, straw and wood marquetry. Arceau Cheval cosmique is an expression of this creativity with two different versions paying tribute to the art of engraving.

Which creation would you say is the most challenging?

Arceau L’heure de la lune embodies the authentic identity of Hermès men’s watches. It features a horological complication with a singular interpretation of the moon phases and a more daring graphic design which showcases extremely rare celestial stones. The meteorite dials offer a unique and creative touch, perfectly expressing the cosmic theme and letting everyone dream with their feet on the ground and head in the sky. It is important for us to continue proving and reinforcing the credibility of our work. These daring and singular models enable us to stand out from the rest of the industry and affirm the values of the house of Hermès. With the Arceau L’heure de la lune, we address a client who is either a connoisseur and values the watchmaking development; or perhaps one who is less so but still values the perfection of the object.

Can you take us on one of your design processes from a piece of paper to the finished product?

Every object I create is different in terms of shape, function or design and brings new perspective to my works. However, each follows the same path taking into account the context, the materials used, and the production process. The creation process cannot distinguish the mechanism or the complication from the shape and the materials of the timepiece. It is a whole. Hermès creates objects that are not fashion totems. Our objects are shaped by the hands of artisans to make them true companions for those who wear them, conveying daily emotion to our customers. We like our objects to have rigorous and unique designs, uncompromised technique and quality, and also to be practical and functional objects.

How would you describe the evolution of the Hermès timepiece story? How much has it changed?

In recent years, we have seen growing interest from Hermès customers and watch collectors, thanks to launches featuring singular designs and unconventional interpretations of traditional watchmaking: in 2015 with Slim d’Hermès, born from a stylistic exercise around the purity of design, and expressing a move towards essentials with a minimalist style; in 2018 with Carré H, a squareshaped watch designed by Marc Berthier featuring a contemporary aesthetic; with Arceau in 2011, which suspended time through a unique complication; the start of playing with moon phases in 2019 (“Heure de la lune” complication). Nevertheless, a common design philosophy runs through them: since 1978, Hermès has been expressing the audacity of its designer Henri d’Origny. with sobriety and elegance.

We are very enthusiastic to see the growth of collectors’ interest in our watches which proves that the expression of time by Hermès pleases them. Watchmaking represents a “client recruitment” metier for the maison, through objects imbued with Hermès values, whether equipped with exceptional technical watchmaking elements, or expressing singular creativity unrestrained by conventions.

Hermès has been around for centuries and has seen its fair share of crisis. How will you rethink the way watches are made and presented after Covid-19?

We are adapting to the situation by ensuring that our launches convey the right messages and are understood in a world which has become mainly digital over the last months. And by supporting the retail in markets that have re-open or which are about to re-open. Hermès is a house of creations and we work on presenting new products to our clients. The second semester will be rich, especially for our women customers highlighting creativity and singularity in our objects.

The main trends which are unchanging despite the situation today are: being singular and bold to offer client authenticity and perfection.

What is your vision for the future?

I’m not in a position to predict the future of the watch industry but I can tell you where we see Hermès watchmakers: Recent years have confirmed that Hermès is legitimate in making watches, bringing its creativity and craftsmanship to another territory with full credibility. We will keep developing watches that capture the full Hermès essence and featuring alternative ways of displaying time to interest collectors and customers who are passionate about beautiful, high-quality objects. The potential for increasing the business is high for Hermès watches all around the world. Our ambition for Hermès is to remain an important and well-respected player in the Swiss watch industry while respecting the values of the house. It thus seems to us entirely legitimate to pursue our development within the circle of high-quality watchmakers while safeguarding and “owning” the singular characteristics of our maison. We will never stop surprising our customers with innovative products.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

My whole career has been in the watch business and I feel really blessed. The opportunity to join Hermès is a dream for anyone like me who is passionate about luxury and about beautiful high-quality objects. Hermès creates objects which are neither fashion totems, nor cult objects. These are objects that are shaped by the hands of artisans to make them true companions for those who wear them. These practical and functional objects stemming from uncompromising expertise radiate all the inherent lightness of the unexpected. They transform daily life into a playground, and a specific point in time into a uniquely special moment. Being part of this activity is an honour for me and gives me deep satisfaction, every single day. I’m proud every day to be part of the Hermès family and to create objects that please our customers. Playing with time is one of my favourite things to do.

Arceau L’heure de la lune features a horological complication with a singular interpretation of the moon phases and a more daring graphic design.

Slim d’Hermès GMT. Slim d’Hermès in rose gold version in blue tones highlights appeals to customers looking for a singular timepiece with a strong Hermès DNA and high quality in terms of movement and finishing.

Arceau Cheval Cosmique is an example of some very interesting and original exceptional timepieces that involve special skills such as enamelling or engraving or through techniques which are for the first time applied on a small scale such as crystal, leather, straw marquetry and more recently wood marquetry

Arceau has a new skeleton version that subtly reveals the mechanism and pays tribute to the equestrian line which was introduced in 1978 when Hermès established watchmaking in Switzerland​

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