Luxury house HermÃ¨s is known today as a brand that creates wonderfully whimsical complications with an unexpected, oftentimes playful, approach to the art of timekeeping. revolution speaks to the man responsible for this creative direction, Philippe Delhotal, to find out what further surprises he has in store. By Adi Soon.
How do you view the HermÃ¨s brandÂ and its achievements in termsÂ ofÂ watchmaking?
We used to be seen as a maison that just made accessories. Today, we are definitely perceived to be very serious inÂ our watchmaking.
Our progress has come about quicklyÂ because HermÃ¨s became a manufacture with the part ownership of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier in 2006. From that time on, weâ€™ve integrated our competences â€” the manufacture of watchÂ dials, Vaucher movements and ourÂ main specialty, in comparison with other watch brands, leather. Weâ€™re the only ones to manufacture wristwatch bands completely in-house.
We have gained in credibility from allÂ these factors so that, today, people seeÂ us as not just an accessories company, and because of the work weÂ have done, we have also received a few important watchmaking awards. That being said, weÂ still need years and years of work to beÂ as famous as a brand like Patek Philippe, for example, in terms ofÂ watchmaking.
Three versions of the 38mm HermÃ¨s Arceau Le Temps Suspendu; the 43mm Le Temps Suspendu, like the original 2011 edition, comes with date indication.
Is it your goal to reach that level?
If I compare both our brands today, IÂ think that as brands, we are equal. But it is important for us that people come to HermÃ¨s in the future to buy a watch â€” not just as something on the wayÂ toÂ buyÂ an HermÃ¨s bag, but to buy a watch itself â€” like you would if you went to VacheronÂ Constantin. Itâ€™s a normal thing that you go to HermÃ¨s to buy a nice bag, belt or clothes, but not a watch, especially for men. But we are gaining more credibility [as a watchmaker] in recent times, and that isÂ veryÂ good.
Do you feel that your efforts have beenÂ well-received by the men that Â youÂ areÂ targeting?
So far the comments have been very positive, and the best indication of that was when the original HermÃ¨s Arceau LeÂ Temps Suspendu was named Best Menâ€™s Watch at the Grand Prix dâ€™Horlogerie de GenÃ¨ve (GPHG) in 2011. It was the best award that we could receive because we could not imagine that we would be in the same competitionÂ as some of the most prestigious watchmaking brands like Vacheron Constantin. It is a good sign that the GPHG acknowledged HermÃ¨s and, for us, it was a good indication of theÂ progress that we made. One thing Iâ€™ve noticed is that artistic spirit is the true signature of the maison. I used to work in other watch brands, but when I arrived at HermÃ¨s, IÂ found it to be a very different company because theÂ environment encourages collaboration between people who have different talents and jobs, and this allows the brand to access the kind of creative powers that the other â€œpureâ€ watchmaking brands doÂ not have.
Millefiori dial pattern being assembled; HermÃ¨s Arceau Millefiori watch.
Itâ€™s like the millefiori dials in yourÂ watches, where you took the ancient art of crystal-glass making at the Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis, and transformed it to be usedÂ inÂ watchmaking.
Exactly. Thatâ€™s a good example. Also, in our work with leather, whichÂ is our mÃ©tier, we have integrated itÂ into our watchmaking not just as strapsÂ but on dials as well, like in the HermÃ¨s Arceau Cavales, which showcases leatherÂ marquetry. TheseÂ watches all haveÂ nice stories behindÂ them, and theÂ stories legitimizeÂ the watches. Today, a woman is going to buy a watch because it looks nice. A man is different â€” he has much less possibility of wearing jewelry on him, and he is more attached to the brand and what the brand means to him. If you go to the Breitling store, for example, itâ€™s to buy a sports watch; if you go to PatekÂ Philippe, itâ€™s for high-end watchmaking. TheÂ relationship with watches is very differentÂ betweenÂ men and women.
Slim dâ€™HermÃ¨s Lâ€™Heure Impatiente; specially designed by Agenhor, the complication of Lâ€™Heure Impatiente enables the watch to chime a reminder to its wearer.
So, in the past few years, what was the one HermÃ¨s watch that you felt changedÂ peopleâ€™s mindsets about theÂ brand in watchmaking?
Thereâ€™s no doubt about it â€” the Arceau LeÂ Temps Suspendu. Why? Because it was the watch that made everyone realize that HermÃ¨s was making different complications in our watches. For me, thatâ€™s a real signature. That watch, as Iâ€™ve mentioned before, even won an industry award, and when you say â€œLe Temps Suspenduâ€, you thinkÂ HermÃ¨s. Thereâ€™s a link there. The Slim dâ€™HermÃ¨s Lâ€™Heure Impatiente is also one of the watches thatÂ is a signature of HermÃ¨s because itÂ tells stories. Today, I would like to buyÂ another watch from HermÃ¨s; I have a lot of watches but I would like to buy aÂ watch that has a story. Many people, asÂ Iâ€™ve discovered, are like that.
I want to get a sense of your roadmap, in terms of the future of watchmaking atÂ HermÃ¨s. A typical watch brand usually has several lines of watches: simple time-only pieces, middle complications, and maybe some high complications such as the perpetual calendar. But I see your approach is a little bit differentÂ from that. It seems to prioritize the storytellingÂ aspect, and elegant, beautiful design. Can you comment on your vision for theÂ futureÂ ofÂ HermÃ¨s watches?
We need to, first, keep going on withÂ whatÂ we have started. Iâ€™m goingÂ to continue to develop our menâ€™sÂ mechanicalÂ watches, which willÂ beÂ technical, very aesthetically driven, and show that we view â€œtimeâ€ inÂ aÂ veryÂ different way. Secondly, we want to bring creativityÂ and desire. The goal is not to beÂ a typical high-end watchmaking brandÂ â€” there are others who do that veryÂ well, better than us. Our goal, instead, is to surprise. Thirdly, we want to bring innovation â€” we want to be good at giving our customers, and future customers, products that are different from [those offered by] the brands around us; to haveÂ a true difference from our competitors. In the market right now, there are a lot of watches that look similar, and there have been no truly iconic watches in recent years. Watch brands tend to follow each other â€” itâ€™s what I feel when I go to trade shows, orÂ even look at magazines.
It must be quite difficult to surprise, because it takes a lot of time and effortÂ to really come up with a goodÂ ideaÂ for a complication.
You need to have the ideas. Thatâ€™s the most difficult thing. The manufacturing process is of course complicated, but the idea is important because thatâ€™s howÂ everything starts. You have to be really positive about your ideas and itâ€™sÂ never easy.
How do you feel about the watch industry now?
There is an optimism in the watchmaking industry and I hope that itâ€™s going to last. One of the things that has entered recently is the smart connected watch andÂ I think that itâ€™s a good addition. Itâ€™s very interesting to have the classical mechanical watch live in parallel with the smart connected watch in our lives today. Itâ€™s like owning a Tesla on one hand, and an old Porsche or Maserati on the other. There is the pleasure of driving the Maserati or Porsche, with theÂ delicious sound of the engine, and ifÂ itÂ breaks down and Iâ€™m late, itâ€™s okay.Â However, if I take my Tesla, I want to be on time and to be connected, with all of the most modern tools in my car. Two cars in the same garage, with two destinations and two emotions; both give me different emotions and reasons for owning them. I think both really live together â€” the classical watch andÂ connected watch.
Arceau 43mm in platinum and blue dial.
Itâ€™s nice to hear this from you, because a lot of watch brands are very traditional. With HermÃ¨s, however, you have the freedom to pursue emotions whenever they come, rather than sticking to the idea of only following tradition.
We cannot deny the fact that the connected watch exists; everyone has a smartphone and uses it in our current technological world. Yet I wear my Lâ€™Heure Impatiente more because itâ€™s beautiful. I wonâ€™t have the same emotions when I wear a smart connected watch. For the traditional brands, traditional watchmaking is what they have to defend, and Iâ€™m fine with that. The difference is not to deny what will come in the future. After all, tomorrow the human race mightÂ go to Mars.