Although celebrated French brand Hermes is known for its long history associated with equine accoutrements – particularly the harness and its famous “saddle-stitch” – it shares an equally long, albeit low-key, relationship with the world of horology.
A quick look at the Emile Hermes Museum collection, tucked away in its flagship store along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, will reveal hundreds of timepieces and clocks in its archives, while the brand’s collaboration with the best names in mechanical movements to complement its in-house dials for most of the 20th century is no secret. It was only in 1978 that the house decided to seriously relook the future of this business component.
“Hermes made, primarily, a lot of saddle-stitched cases for pocket watches in the past, but these were a very marginal part of the business then,” notes Marc Stoltz, its directeur de conservatoire.
The catalyst for this change? Jean-Louis Dumas, the fifth-generation descendant of founder Thierry Hermes, who assumed leadership of the family business in 1978. It was he who imagined a bigger, brighter future for the house’s watchmaking business and proceeded to chart a steady course for it.
One of the first things Dumas did was establish a new subsidiary – La Montre Hermes – which he headquartered in Bienne, a famous watchmaking city that is home to numerous other big names, including Rolex and Longines.Article at The PeakFrom exquisite straps to mechanisms, Hermes has invested heavily to join the top ranks of the horological big league.
Ever since, La Montre Hermes has been quietly investing in the technical know-how that, slowly but surely, is propelling its timepieces into the top tier of the horological big league.
One of the most significant moves was the partial acquisition of the celebrated Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier in 2006, as well as leveraging on the inimitable artistry of its sister companies, like the Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis, to create timepieces that not only ticked with the finest mechanical movements, but also boasted dials that were distinctively Hermes works of art.THE SPIRIT OF SAINT LOUIS
Horological enthusiasts would remember well one of the prettiest timepieces ever unveiled at the annual Baselworld watch fairs.
In 2014, La Montre Hermes showcased its star piece – the Hermes Arceau Millefiori, a glass jewel of a timepiece adorned with a thousand exquisite crystal flowers on its face, made by the famous Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis.An artisan creates magic and beauty in Saint-Louis.
Utilising crystal-making know-how that dates back to the 16th century, this Hermes-owned manufacturer is famous for its decorative crystal, particularly its exquisite paperweights. But it also creates miniaturised versions of this precious art as ultra-artisan dials for selected Hermes timepieces.
Part of the magic at the Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis lies in the crystal-making process itself, where a handpicked group of artisans work in blazing temperatures to produce “crystal canes” – long, reed-like rods that, when cut, reveal a multi-coloured design.The Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis is where the dials of the spectacular Millefiori timepieces are made.Each Millefiori piece abounds with the beauty of a thousand crystal flowers, as seen in this captivating piece.
Referred to as bonbons or “candies”, these minuscule works of art are then placed together on a watch dial to create a totally unique masterpiece, rendering the finished product as much a timekeeper as it is an objet d’art.THE HEARTBEAT OF THE WATCH
Certainly, the holy trinity of a timepiece with gravitas is comprised of dial, watch case and its own in-house mechanical movement.Long crystal canes that reveal intricate designs when cut.Arceau Millefiori timepieces.A Millefiori pocket watch.
In 2012, La Montre Hermes acquired the celebrated La Chaux-de-Fonds-based dial-maker, Nateber. With Nateber in place and the 2013 acquisition of Joseph Erard SA, after a longstanding partnership, thereby securing its supply of watch cases, it would be the celebrated Vaucher name that would complete the strategic component alliance La Montre Hermes had been seeking.
Established in 2003 after Parmigiani Mesure et Art du Temp SA split into two separate entities, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier is one of the few Swiss watch manufacturers that can boast of being able to perform the complete process of conceptualising, developing and producing the heart of a watch – its precious “movement”.Fusing the cut pieces of crystal.
Certainly the most fundamental component of any timepiece worth its mettle, these critical “heartbeats” of a watch determine its complexity, which covers a variety of aspects, from power reserve and horological complications like chronographs, to perpetual calendars and moon phases.
Located in the Canton of Neuchatel and housed in an impressively modern set-up, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier is fully equipped to produce the entire movement of a watch completely in-house, which, for La Montre Hermes, include specifi cally the H1837 and the H1912, both of which were unveiled at Baselword 2012 in the men’s and women’s Dressage and Arceau watches, respectively, and, of course, the ultra-thin H1950, which equips the Slim d’Hermes range.WRIST MANAGEMENT
Just as the brand founded its name on the quality and excellence of Thierry Hermes’ saddle-stitch, it goes without saying its wristwatch straps, naturally, reflect this heritage. Having already made exquisite straps for watches since the 1900s, La Montre Hermes has since built on this expertise by inaugurating a dedicated leather workshop a decade ago.The headquarters of La Montre Hermes in Switzerland.The house has perfected the art of saddle-stitching.An Aladdin’s cave of the finest and most distinctive leathers and skins.
Stocked with an array of the finest and most distinctive leathers, ranging from goat and calfskin to ostrich and precious alligator – of the exact same quality that would go into the crafting of Kelly and Birkin bags, as well as the house’s renowned saddles – a team of leather artisans work swiftly and surely to create each single-watch strap by hand.
Every strap used in La Montre Hermes’ timepieces is produced here, as well as a limited quantity for the house of Parmigiani-Fleurier, due to the close friendship shared between the two maisons.Dominique and Olivier Vaucher.
The process is arduous, involving the pre-cutting of sections of leather, the fixing of buckles and lugs, as well as tracing sewing lines and stitching by hand, which only craftsmen are permitted to do after years of training and practical experience.
Each watch strap is also the mastery of a single dedicated craftsman, whose hands are responsible, from start to finish, for the transformation of a piece of raw material into a wearable work of art, matching perfectly the timepiece it will go on to adorn.THE ART OF ENGRAVING
One of the oldest and most-admired traditions in Swiss watchmaking’s long history is engraving.
An ancient art, it is primarily a decorative skill that demands extraordinary know-how as well as artistic talent from the engraver.
Tucked away in a little cul-de-sac off a Geneva street is the workshop of one of its great exponents – Olivier Vaucher. And it is in his workshop where the ancient arts of engraving and enamelling come vividly to life.
Overseeing a team of at least 25 artisans, it is here that Vaucher, together with his wife Dominique, work on commissioned engraving and enamelling work for only the finest names in haute horlogerie.The technique of shaded enamel appears for the first time on an Hermes timepiece.The Arceau Tigre was one of the stars of Baselworld 2016.
Together, the company of artisans perform the alchemy that will transform a timepiece into an artistic masterpiece, drawing upon their collective mastery in disciplines that range from micro-painting to gem-setting, polishing, marquetry and, of course, the traditional arts of enamelling and engraving.
All these ancient skills are today supported by integrated new technologies that include CNC programming and laser-cutting.
“This is to ensure the quality of execution, complemented by know-how and a very artistic approach,” Vaucher explains.
For those unable to imagine the mastery of grace and shadow that is conjured up by Vaucher and his team, one need only look to the maison’s theme for the year: Nature at Full Gallop.
Inspired by the great artist Robert Dallet, one of the most breathtaking pieces showcased at Baselworld this year was, undoubtedly, the limited edition Arceau Tigre, which is the house’s first timepiece crafted using the technique of email ombrant (shaded enamel), a technique never before performed on a watch.
This latest and unprecedented iteration in the art of telling time could perhaps be the most exciting one yet from the celebrated luxury brand, signalling, perhaps, that La Montre Hermes’ star is well and truly ready now for its horological ascendancy.THE EMILE HERMES MUSEUM
Where the past serves the future of the brand.
Few places capture the essence of Hermes quite like the Emile Hermes Museum. Tucked away across a few floors of the brand’s legendary Faubourg store in Paris, it is a confidential collection – an expansive cabinet of curiosities whose expansive space is filled with priceless, historical objects, and its secrets jealously guarded. For it is here that precious objects from the brand’s storied past continue to serve as inspiration to its artisans, continuing an inextricable link between the maison, the atelier and its craftsmen. “The house of Hermes is known for its ability to tell stories,” says Mark Stoltz, Hermes’ directeur de conservatoire. “Many of the objects you see here belong as much to Hermes’ history as it does to France’s national patrimony.”
Certainly, time seems to have stood still – or as Hermes would say, le temps suspendu – as you explore the extraordinary space. It is as if one has been transported back to the time of the Napoleonic Empire, surrounded by pieces as wonderful as they are whimsical, including a rare 18th-century baroque papier rolle artwork; a special caleche (carriage) for children, designed to be harnessed to a goat; lorgnettes complete with a spy mirror within; and numerous treasures that allude to the brand’s affinity (and affiliation) for the horse, which, after all, as the house likes to say, is the brand’s “first customer”.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Hermes, it was Thierry Hermes, the founder of the maison, who began handcrafting exquisite harnesses for horse-drawn carriages in 1837. Born to an innkeeper, the young Thierry soon found himself orphaned, the unfortunate circumstance of war and disease that kept ravaging Europe at the time. Arriving in Paris and with an innate skill in leatherwork, he managed to open a shop specialising in equine accoutrements, particularly beautiful yet sturdy harnesses so needed by society then. It was this combination of beauty and strength, and the mastery of an exemplary method of stitching known as the “saddle-stitch”, that won Hermes the attention of wealthy Parisians. In time, the creation of this maison, built on the foundation of equestrian elegance, would lead to the establishment of one of the world’s greatest names in luxury, and whose long list of illustrious clients would include Napoleon III and the last tsar of Russia.
Fast-forward to the present, the Emile Hermes Museum remains a trove of inspiration from which the maison’s artists may draw whenever they please. Interestingly enough, a sizeable collection of over 500 clocks and watches also form part of the collection, including saddle-stitched cases for pocket watches – an elegant fancy for wealthy gentlemen in bygone days – as well as beautiful leather belts embedded with timepieces and watches produced in collaboration with some of the greatest names in timekeeping. “Our story is here. Our roots are here,” affirms Stoltz. “And these instruments give wonderful perspective to Hermes’ history in timekeeping as well.”