Laurent Dordet Explains the Future of La Montre Hermès

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERFECTION. Laurent Dordet, the new CEO of La Montre Hermès, raps about the present and the future of the Parisian watchmaker

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Laurent Dordet

No one could deny the appeal of Parisian design. Hermès, which fetes its 180th anniversary this year, has been a master in leather saddles, accessories and, of course, silk. It was only in the last quarter of the 20th century that it ventured into the watchmaking business, with very serious ambitions.
Five years ago, the brand pushed forward with distinctive complications and later even went into the field of making movements. While such a move might look impulsive, it’s all part of a master plan, as revealed by Laurent Dordet, the new CEO for the watchmaking division, during the last Baselworld fair.
He himself has been with the brand for over 20 years. He has also been involved in different métiers, from textile production in Lyon to leather goods in Paris to the watch division in Switzerland. Despite his relatively recent arrival to this part of the company, Dordet has patiently and passionately implemented his business strategies to lead Hermès’ watchmaking ventures.

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The Slim d’Hermès GRRRRR!

DA MAN: Before we talk about the ins-and-outs of this year, how was 2016?
Laurent Dordet: It’s a challenging year for the watch industry, although it was a good year for Hermès. In terms of sales in retail, we’re flat—which I don’t consider as a huge success at all. But, at least it showed some resilience because 2016 was a difficult period. The retail business here mainly concerns with the trade at our own stores, all over the globe, which represents around 80 percent of the business. The rest is the trade made through selective networks of independent retailers, department stores in various countries. The latter, I must say, was much more challenging, because of the inventory issues. There was, basically, a discrepancy between offer and demand in most of our partners, but not of our stock, but the stock of big watch brands— we’re still a small player in the watch industry. So our partners had to deal with that.

“Hermès is a maison of knowhow; it’s a family passionate about know-how”

DA MAN: You’ve been in the watchmaking department a couple of years now. What do you think of it?
Laurent Dordet: Hermès is a maison of know-how; it’s a family passionate about know-how. So, we started with leather in the beginning, and only a hundred years and more later did we foray into silk production. We wanted to become a very legitimate house in silk, and that’s why we employ about 1,000 people in Lyon, France, focusing on textile production. The family is very passionate about watches, too, and from the history of the brand, you can see that we had a lot of partnerships with Jaeger-LeCoultre, Universal, etc. in the past.
So in 1978, [late artistic director] Jean-Louis Dumas decided to do what they did with silk, which was to venture into the watchmaking business by establishing a manufacture where the know-how is, Switzerland. And the ambition was very clear from the beginning: We would do simple watches first, meaning quartz movements and stainless steel cases, but of the highest quality. We want the best sapphire crystals, stainless steel and finishing, and we work with the best supplier.
Then again, the main objective is to bring something new, different from what is there in the industry. So, we brought in a style that’s not typical of a watchmaker’s style, but of Hermès’ style. Instead of working together with watch designers, we decided to work with Hermès’ own designers. We came up with very classic but at the same time revolutionary designs, such as the Arceau, Cape Cod and H Hour. The success was great.
What makes us also different is the philosophy of time. For this maison, time has never been a constraint, not something you want to control in a serious manner. Time has, instead, always been our first ingredient to manufacture objects, whatever the object is. Time is a friendly notion for us, and we always like to play with it. In the creation process, if we don’t play, if we’re not having fun with our objects, we wouldn’t be proud to showcase the products to the customers. We often like to say: We do things seriously in terms of know-how, but certainly we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Now, ten years ago, the company decided to take a step ahead with our know-how by integrating the Vaucher movement manufacturer. The question was then: What complications are we going to develop? Again, we’re here to twist it up, to offer Hermès’ own complications, such as Le Temps Suspendu (in the Arceau), L’Heure Masquée (in Dressage) and now L’Heure Impatiente (in Slim d’Hermès). Even through we’re very sure in achieving the know-how in this business, we have the ambition to offer fantasy and playfulness in our watches.

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Decorating the dial of the Slim d’Hermès GRRRRR!

DA MAN: Does Hermès apply for or have patents for those “poetic movements”?
Laurent Dordet: If somebody wants to copy them, let them be. The same story told by another brand means nothing.

DA MAN: What about the focus on sports watches? The Clipper collection?
Laurent Dordet: Ah, that’s the discussion that we have internally. Yes, we probably need a sports watch. Keep an eye out on this.

DA MAN: So, the focus for men’s watches in the coming years is still on the Slim d’Hermes?
Laurent Dordet: Our major lines for men would be the Slim d’Hermès and the Arceau. We are actually thinking of a new line…

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Details of the of the Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente’s movement

DA MAN: Since you mentioned about poetic movements, rumor has it that there was a delay with the delivery of the Dressage L’Heure Masquée last year. What happened?
Laurent Dordet: There was a delay in delivery, but I wasn’t in the watchmaking division yet. This is precisely the reason why I postponed the launch of the Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente that was initially scheduled for last year to Baselworld 2017. The L’Heure Masquee watch was launched too early, although there weren’t any technical problems.

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Details of the of the Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente’s movement

DA MAN: This year’s novelties don’t seem to include many métier d’art pieces, like the Slim d’Hermès Koma Kurabe.
Laurent Dordet: Metiér d’Art is a significant part of our retail sales worldwide. It is well appreciated and at the same time recognizable in terms of know-how. We only work with the best independent craftsmen that still create products for other brands. We’re very open to include other techniques into watchmaking, like from the crystal and porcelain making. Sometimes, we take in designs from other products under the Hermès group, like the new GRRRRR! watch from a men’s scarf. It’s an artistic point of view, reflecting other métiers. This explains why our métier d’art is successful, and why those artists like to work with us.

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Details of the of the Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente’s movement

DA MAN: Hermès is also big on making straps for Apple, will you provide straps for other brands?
Laurent Dordet: No, we don’t. Except for a limited number of Parmigiani Fleurier watches. That brand is not our direct partner, but it also owns the Vaucher manufacture. That’s why we provide straps for them as well.

DA MAN: Looking further ahead, what are the brand’s long term plans for the future?
Laurent Dordet: We finalized the manufacture integration last year. It took us a few years to do it, meaning that we closed one factory and transferred all the staff to another, 20km away. Now, our case and dial manufactures are under the same roof, in a very modern factory. We are also on this fair reiterating who we are once again, a French designer but Swiss manufacturer that brings to the market the fantasy and playfulness of time. Our longterm mission for Hermès is to create very aspirational products for men and women, to be one of the leaders in the women’s watch industry—we’re surrounded by giants! And also to have the ambition in the men’s watches to be a desired newcomer. Five years ago we didn’t have the collection of mechanical watches. Now, we have had awards and certifications. So, it’s time for us to engage with the customers. To earn the same legitimacy in men’s watches as in women’s watches will take time. We’re prepared for it. The good news is that Hermès has time. We will take the time needed to prove every year that our products are more and more legitimate in terms of technique and aesthetics that will be desired by watch lovers.
Now in terms of distribution, we have to fine tune our external distribution, to recruit more selected partners and further develop our e-commerce infrastructure. E-commerce will be key to develop in certain markets, particularly in Asia and the U.S., although we’re already on e-commerce by now.

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Caseback of the Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente

DA MAN: Last but not least, you’ve been with the company for over two decades. What made you stay at Hermès for such long time?
Laurent Dordet: I didn’t intend at all to stay for over 20 years. Frankly speaking, I’ve enjoyed my time joining a group that’s filled with high-quality people. It’s the culture of the company that respects human beings, the knowhow, suppliers and customers. So, the passion and the ambition for the know-how are still there and are still the same for over 20 years.
Secondly, Hermès does have an incredible variety of know-how. I’ve had the chance to join a small group in the beginning and, as the group grew, to take part in silk, leather, exotic leather goods, saddle-making and now watch production. Every four to five years, I have to change my mindset totally from one métier to another. But the common spirit, values, craftsmanship and creativity are always there. It’s a unique experience to see so many different mindsets and know-how but under the same work philosophy throughout one’s career. Basically, I am just lucky. I don’t have the impression of having stayed in the same company for over 20 years. Instead, it’s like living four or five different lives so far.

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Close-up of the Slim d’Hermès Quantième Perpétuel