FOREVER YOUNG. Despite its 178 years of existence, Hermès is always young at heart in its creations, including its timepieces. That youthful spirit resonates well with how Guillaume de Seynes nurtures La Montre Hermès: One solid step at a time
Wristwatches today are no more than personal pleasures. Design, prestige and history make each piece a true one of a kind, and an object of pure obsession. Embodying this approach is Hermès watches. Irreverently playful yet sensually luxurious, the timepieces speak more of personal impressions rather than impersonal technical complicacy. Hot on the heels of the whimsical Dressage L’Heure Masquée launched last year is a whole new watch family called Slim d’Hermès. It represents a powerful advancement of the brand, which now comes to talk more and more of in-house movements.
This makes complete sense, with regard to the 25-percent acquisition of quality watchmaking center Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier in 2011. La Montre Hermès has since debuted its first flying tourbillon (Arceau Lift Flying Tourbillon, in cooperation with La Joux-Perret SA), reintroduced previous collections with in-house movements (such as the Arceau and Cape Cod Automatique), and featured its first in-house chronograph (Dressage H1925 Chronograph). If the goal is to elevate most, if not all, mechanical collections with manufactured movements, that dream has never been as close to realization as it is now. Guillaume de Seynes, managing director of La Montre Hermès, discloses his view and prediction on this.
DA MAN Caliber: Hi Guillaume, congratulations on the launch of Slim d’Hermès collection. How long did La Montre Hermès take to come up with the new line?
Guillaume de Seynes: We worked on the project for nearly three years. Hermès is not much of a marketdriven company; we are more interested in the creativity of creations. Under the supervision of my cousin, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès, the design direction was to go back to relatively simple watches. Understated elegance with specific details referring to the brand identity on dials and numerals was much preferred. At the same time, we have Vaucher Manufacturer Fleurier, our partner for watch movements. They had developed an ultra-thin movement that we could use for the watch. So, it was really about connecting these elements that took us a few years, but we’re very happy with the result.
DA MAN Caliber: The design of Slim d’Hermès was derived from a typeface that Philippe Apeloig created for the brand. It’s rather rare for such an inspiration to materialize into a watch in this industry.
Guillaume de Seynes: I think that is one of Hermès’ strengths. Since the creation of Arceau watches, we no longer use Roman numerals. We use Arabic numerals but with intensive design research and appropriate application to the design of the watch. I think, among Swiss watchmakers, we may be the only one to use this approach [of developing a watch based on a typeface].
DA MAN Caliber: Then, you also have the Slim d’Hermès Koma Kurabe which incorporates a dying Japanese craft. Why Japanese art?
Guillaume de Seynes: At Hermès, it’s very often just a matter of chance encounter. Once again, it’s not a marketing strategy, but it’s a fascination over particular technical know-how or a master artisan. Two years ago, there was a trip to Japan organized by the Japanese province of Kanagawa, a small district known for its traditional craftsmanship. I didn’t join the trip, but we had 12 Hermès talents, including Philippe Delhotal, creative director of La Montre Hermès, go and see local artworks first-hand. And Philippe was absolutely fascinated by this Aka-e painting and by Buzan Fukushima, the artisan. He thought it could be an interesting idea for a watch dial. So, really, it wasn’t as if we told Philippe that we should please the Japanese clientele and, thus, he had to find something from Japan. It was never the brief; he could’ve come back from the trip, saying there was nothing for Hermès. But in the end, he proposed this Japanese craft to Pierre-Alexis Dumas, and the result was absolutely beautiful.
DA MAN Caliber: That and other pieces of Slim d’Hermès are equipped with in-house movements. Are in-house movements a focus for La Montre Hermès now?
Guillaume de Seynes: Yes, but mostly for men’s watches. We do it step by step, starting from this collection. Hermès is always looking at the long-term prospect, so we never rush into things. We want to use more and more in-house movements for most of the watches. We see this as a crucial step to realizing a top quality of Swiss watchmaking production.
DA MAN Caliber: So, say, in the next five years, will we see all Hermès’ mechanical watches equipped with in-house movements?
Guillaume de Seynes: Mechanical watches represent 30 percent of our business today. Not all of them are equipped with in-house movements, but I believe that all of our mechanical watches will come with in-house movements within five years.
DA MAN Caliber: That’s a very serious ambition.
Guillaume de Seynes: I first set this goal since I was the CEO of La Montre Hermès. Back in 2003, the first Dressage watch used a Vaucher movement. Then in 2006, we invested in the Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier by acquiring a 25-percent stake. And now it’s almost ten years after; it is, indeed, a long process. But Hermès has been involved in timekeeping creations since the end of the ’20s, and we created our own subsidiary business of La Montre Hermès in Switzerland back in ’78. The most important thing is not so much how long it takes, but that every year we are heading toward the right direction. Such as when we had the Suspended Time watch and we won the prize in Geneva; that was a very important recognition that we were going in the right direction. Now we’re introducing the Slim d’Hermès with in-house movements, another step toward that dream. I hope we keep on pushing the envelope every year. I’m really pleased with how things have turned out since three to four years ago. The press, retailers and watch enthusiasts seem to have understood, followed, and supported the direction of La Montre Hermès with the current watch collections.
DA MAN Caliber: If so, do you consider La Montre Hermès “mature” enough now?
Guillaume de Seynes: Hermès, as a whole, is 178 years old. In the watch industry, though, we are still quite young. Obviously, we have many challenges to overcome, but I think we’ve improved a lot. Competitors now take us seriously, yet I believe we’re still like a teenager. [Chuckles]
DA MAN Caliber: How do you then define the standard of maturity in this industry?
Guillaume de Seynes: I think, for me, the recognition [of Slim d’Hermès] for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève Award was part of it. It may not solidly confirm that we’re part of the “mature” watch club, but we’re nearly there. If it’s about the percentage between mechanical and quartz watches or men’s to women’s pieces, the ratio is never balanced, as we know. But we’re seeing more and more rewarding recognition of Hermès watches in the last two to three years. In Asia, there were some men who bought expensive Hermès timepieces and, for them, the watch was their first Hermès product. This goes to show that they were not Hermès customers. I was discussing with the person in charge of communications of Hermès in Italy some time ago after the relocation and expansion of the Milan store. The
watch sales have been very dynamic ever since, and she told me that some of the exceptional timepieces were sold to Italians. I must say, Italy is such a mature market for mechanical watches, and so this is a really encouraging sign. I don’t think five years ago, an Italian guy interested in mechanical watches would’ve bought an Hermès timepiece. So, there is progress. Come back next year, and I’m pretty sure I can give you another example of progress that La Montre Hermès has made. [Smiles]
Guillaume de Seynes
“In the watch industry, we are still quite young. Competitors now take us seriously, yet I believe we’re still like a teenager.”