Baselworld 2012 - Official PuristSPro Report: Hermès

Apr 21, 2012,13:26 PM

 Hermes - 100 years of horological history. (Press Kit)


“Horological history” what does it mean and what happened between 1912 and 2012?



Jacqueline Hermès, wearing a “porte-oignon” made in the workshops of the Maison Hermès in 1912. (Copyright Julie Hermès)


The 1920s

Hermés manufactures and sells leather saddle-stitched watch straps. They begin to sell watchmaking pieces, manufactured in Switzerland by Movado, in 1928.


The 1930s

Mechanical sports watches, watch brooches, clocks and table clocks. Regular collaboration with Jaeger, Universal, Vacheron Constantin, Mido, Tavannes and Eterna watch manufacturers.


The 1940s

Several chronograph models.


The 1950s – 60s

Several new wristwatches in steel for men and in gem-set gold for woman. Footing model – also known as the Étrier with a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement.

From the 70s until today there have been lots of different watches introduced, called: Kelly, Arceau, Clipper, Rallye, Sellier, Cape Cod, Médor, Harnais, H-our, Tandem, Nomade, Paprika, Glissade, Dressage, Barénia, Kelly 2, Arcole … . Serious watches? Well, who is the judge?

But is clear is that La Montre Hermès accomplished something: In 2011 Hermes is one of the winners of Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève ( Arceau Le Temps Suspendu wins in the Men´s Watch category). There have been lots of other strong contenders in this category, like e.g. the Voutilainen's Vingt-8, but they got it in the end.


Hint : Maybe some of you get the Le Monde d´Hermés Magazine and have already seen that “Time” is the topic of the year 2012. An article about complicated watches in general, the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu in specific and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht that I (Oliver) can recommend can be found at page 50.


We will come back to this watch/winner later.


But now, let´s finally have a look at the novelties from Basel 2012, let´s have a look behind the scenes … :

Shapes & patterns…

… mysteries …

… technical stuff…

Magnus during our meeting with Luc Perramond, CEO of La Montre Hermès.

We learned that Hermès is definitely ‘en mouvement’:

(VanMoof bike in a Hermès video (screenshot)… - interesting combination of Dutch design and French lifestyle!)

Mr Perramond explained to us that La Montre (!) Hermès is dedicated to move from the old concept of in-house design / outsourced technology to a fully integrated manufacture that has in-house control over all aspects of watchmaking, from movements over dials to cases. The process is still on going, but has some interesting history:

Maybe some more dates/info are of help to make your own opinion: The subsidiary entity ‘La Montre Hermès´ was founded in 1978. 20 years later, in 1999 – inauguration of the new building in Biel (Switzerland), not far from the old (!) workshops. October 20th 2006 – Hermés International invests 15.7 million € in acquiring a 25% capital share in Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. Today – ongoing negotiations for strategic partnerships with a dial- and a case-maker.

The strategic objective of the company is – according to Perramond – to obtain same levels of skills in all watchmaking disciplines. “We are a house of quality – not fashion. We are costly – but not expensive”, Perramond says.

With the upgrading of the watchmaking expertise ‘La Montre’ wants to expand its customer base in two ways: first, it want to ale existing Hermès customers aware of the watches. Second, new clients should be attracted to Hermès through the watches.

It is thus that the firm is on a…

“Drum-roll” …

For the first own calibre, in two versions: H1837 and H1912. These movements stem from the on going cooperation between two Houses dedicated to excellence, Hermès and Vaucher Manufacture.


Mechanical self-winding movement(s),

Vaucher Manufacture H1837 and H1912

26mm mm in diameter (H1837) and 23.9 mm (H1912)

3.7 mm thick

28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)

50-hour power reserve thanks to two barrels

Circular grained and snailed bottom plate, oscillating weight adorned with the special Hermès decoration (H symbols)


The finish looks nice, but of course is not what we would call Haute Horlogerie and the approach reminds on the movement finishing from Cartier.


The Dressage watch, created in 2003, now appears in a modernised interpretation while remaining loyal to its original aesthetic. Calibre H1837 - this in-house movement, named after the founding date of the Maison Hermès, is available in versions with either a large central seconds hand and a date display at 6 o’clock, or with small seconds at 6 o’clock.



Let´s have a look at the details, but we only saw the version without date:

The multi-level, silver opaline dial is well balanced and nicely done.

The back shows the new movement.

The red gold version with grey dial looks much better in the metal.


The different finish (matt/shiny) fits very well with the shape of the case.

40.5 x 38.4 mm is the size of the case.

The shape looks good, but how does it look on the wrist? Let´s try:




It is perhaps the collection that is closest to the equitation background of the company. A stirrup inspires the case which is asymmetrically mounted on the rails/lugs. The Arceau watch itself was originally created by Henri d’Origny in 1978 and has been in Hermès’ catalogues ever since.

Arceau 34mm

This year the emblematic Arceau collection is enriched with a new (34mm) feminine version housing the company’s first 10 ½ “ manufacture H1912 movement. A serious statement attesting to the horological technicité of Hermès female clientele.


Arceau Le Temps Suspendu

This watch represents a masterful yet humorous approach to timekeeping. Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s ingenuous suspense mechanism allows the wearer to literally ‘forget about time’ without actually compromising timekeeping. A ‘return to rest’ complication can be activated by the pusher at 2 o’clock to have the watch either showing actual time or being ‘out of duty’ with the hour and minute hands at an ‘impossible’ (the displayed ‘time’ does not exist) position and the date hand disappearing. In this position the clockwork continues to count time, and a second operation of the pusher brings the hands magically back to show correct time again:

The movement is unfortunately hidden from view:

We have been shown a silver …

… as well as a black dialled version:

With a diameter of 43 mm both version sit extremely well on different wrists, a testimony to the competence in case design!


Arceau Attelage Céleste

As one of the most coveted techniques for spectacular dial manufacture, the age-old technique of grand feu paillonné enamelling excelled also in the hands of Hermès:

“Only a few craftsmen have achieved mastery of the complex and demanding paillonné enamel technique. First meticulously hand-engraved on the gold dial, the pattern reproducing a detail of a Hermès trinket dish is then covered with translucent blue pigments and repeatedly fired in a kiln at nearly 800°C. Star-shaped gold paillons, delicately placed one by one during the enamelling, spangle the sky. The enamel artist herself made the gold confetti stars that intensify the depth of field on the dial.” [Press Kit]

The watch is powered by a H1928 movement exclusively crafted by Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier.


Arceau Marqueterie de Paille


A second masterpiece of craftsmanship honours the ancient art of straw marquetry. Hermès uses the resulting fishbone or chess-board regular effect to recreate some of Jean-Michel Frank’s most emblematic furniture creations from the first half of the 20th century:

To apply the technique in the tiny context of a watch significant miniaturisation efforts had to be done. The result is compelling and mesmerising:

The watch is powered by a H1928 movement exclusively crafted by Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier.

We thought it would be interesting to learn how the marquetry is made. Here is what Hermès tells us:

“Today, the rye straw used in these models is produced by only one farm in France. Longer and less knotty than its standard counterpart, it is hand reaped to ensure optimal selection of the usable parts. Mass-coloured on the spot and then laid out flat to dry, the straw which is subjected to weather conditions, variations in humidity and various baths, never displays the exact same shades of colours. Its natural colours subtly illuminate the marquetry motifs. …”

“Split open with a thin blade and then manually flattened with a bone tool, the wisps are then cut up into various lengths. This calls for accurate gestures and considerable physical strength. …”

“Playing with the colours and the directions of the various wisps, the artisan assembles his motifs on a sheet of graph paper. Glued in much the same way as a leather book binding, the straw marquetry motif is then assembled on the watch dial.” [Press Kit]

The result definitely speaks for itself, and dare we say, looks of much higher sophistication than Cartier’s use of a similar technique. Probably it’s the patterns that are more amenable to the technique itself that are attributable to the outcome.


Arceau Pocket Astrolabe

The last addition – at the same a piece unique – is a 48mm pocket watch adorned with the image of an astrolabe (the astrolabe, from the Greek meaning “star-taker,” is an instrument for measuring the height of the sun or a star above the horizon, in particular to determine the time).

The astrolabe motive is magically translucent...

… and reminds on the famous church windows Marc Chagall has created for several churches (here the windows in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Mainz, Germany):

  “The reason the image of the astrolabe gleams so brightly on the cover of this pocket watch is that it uses the traditional hand-crafted technique of plique-à-jour enamel that is rarely applied in the watchmaking domain. The subtly nuanced plique-à-jour enamel technique involves three stages. The first step consists in etching out the motif from a baseplate or sheet of metal. The outline of the astrolabe formed by the remaining gold wires appears between the pliques or openings of the metal filigree. In a second phase, the pliques form cells that are filled with enamel. Successive firings at 800°C reveal the colours one by one in all their delicate translucency. Small moon-shaped gold paillons or spangles are dotted across the vitrified surface, lending a subtle sparkle to the astrolabe. Finally, after the last firing, the metal backing is removed. The design then reveals itself like a miniature stained glass: light passes through the enamel, enhancing the velvety intensity and shimmering gleam of each colour.” [Press Kit]

This pocket watch is equipped with the mechanical self-winding Calibre H1928 by Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, with an oscillating weight in 18-carat solid gold.


Cape Cod

Cape Cod Grand Feú Enamel

With these pieces Hermès transfers the motifs of its famous Hermès scarfs to the dial of a wristwatch driven by the manufacture mechanical self-winding Calibre 1928.

“A Hermès scarf settles gently on the face of time. The original equestrian scene reproduced in cloisonné enamel is lit up by the white gold of the case. The artist has meticulously recreated the motif by surrounding it with gold wires before applying the enamel. He then fires it several times in the oven, before the miracle takes place and the colours are revealed in all their glory.” [Press Kit]




Hermés - a jack of all trades or a serious watchmaker? We saw some solid watchmaking, if you like. But is this enough? Who is the first to judge?



Hermès – the saddle making workshop is the oldest one of their workshops and their expertise in saddle-making is undoubted. Uncompromising attention to detail is shown in most of their pieces available in their wide collection – scarfs, ties, bags, clothes, blankets, furniture, perfume … . Credibility is not their problem, most of the time. I am addicted to this, quite often J

When it came to watches it was different in the past. Yes, in the past. I really appreciate their latest activities around watchmaking. The spirit of “La Maison”, the attention to details, serious craftsmanship, a laboratory for ideas, continually seeking to explore new territory and good sense of humour (!) … everything is there already. Luc Perramond, CEO of La Montre Hermès, seems to have a clear vision about what is needed for watchmaking in the name of Hermés. Maybe they are not ready yet to cover all our (very high/PuristS) expectations, but I would really like to know what they have under their sleeve for the coming years.

Favourite pieces?

·         Arceau Le Temps Suspendu – even when it was not introduced in Basel. The humour behind the watch is striking, it makes me smile, it looks good on my wrist and shows DNA of the house.

·         Dressage small second in steel. The “tonneau” shape case, with integrated lugs looks special but understated and feels good on the wrist. The original aesthetics of the horns on Hermès’ models from the past are there. Could imagine that watch as a daily beater and would like to test if the new calibre H1837 is reliable – long term smile

  A further comment – the Arceau Marqueterie de Paille is a nice watch and shows a beautiful dial. The ancient art of straw marquetry is gorgeous, but (for me) not on a dial. If one would offer me one of the Jean-Michel Frank´s style furniture instead, I would not think about twice what to take.

Final note - the leather straps on all the watches have been outstanding. Not a big surprise in that case, but nonetheless rare these days.



I am a scientist (by education & heart) and my approach to watchmaking is driven by an admixture of analysis, synthesis and emotion – with (at least to me) often surprising outcomes (and a strong focus on the former two characteristics).

I have to admit that Hermès in general strikes a lot of ‘ticks’ with me – (largely) family owned, a comprehensive and consistent approach to luxury, restraint in respect to marketing.

I followed Hermès’ path into watchmaking independence with interest and affection. Did they make the ‘right’ decisions? Did they short-cut? Do their products resonate with connoisseurs?

Can they be considered a serious player?

I guess the answer is a cautious ‘yes’. La Montre Hermès seems to be dedicated to eventually become a serious player in the manufacture segment. The company made investments to foster its perceived strengths (like, for example, DeWitt did).

Again, the timepieces show their real assets only in ‘life’ situations: on the wrist! I have to admit that I was totally taken by the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu – a watch that demonstrates how a luxury house could interpret timekeeping!

It is an archetype in the sense that shows the comprehensive view Hermès has to all its products. They do not want to compete horologically with the likes of A. Lange & Söhne or Patek Philippe, they have their own interpretation that is based on a holistic view of a ‘luxury’ timepiece. It does not focus on the art of watchmaking, it is merely a well dosed blend of all the skills involved. Here the words of Mr Perramond are met with substance!

I also appreciate the artistic versions presented – with Hermès, they are much more in place as with other houses – they belong here.

I am staying excited about the upcoming developments and surely anticipate with joy the presentation of Basel 2013!

Magnus & Oliver


PS: Mystery – to solve. What was in there?

We got it in Basel and it was tricky to bring it home (and expensive to some smile only ... ) …

Not a competition, but maybe fun for those who have not visited Hermés in Basel smile

This message has been edited by small-luxury-world on 2012-04-25 13:09:32

More posts: DeWittVingt-8Voutilainen

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Comments: view entire thread


Thanks for the comprehensive report....

 By: KIH : April 21st, 2012-17:06
.. I am, not having encountered in person, still suspicious.... Suspecting it is just another luxury brand sniffing around "the next money machine" and started making, a bit more expensive non-quartz ones, watches.... I have to see to believe one. I tend ... 

'sniffing around "the next money machine" '

 By: Ornatus-Mundi : April 24th, 2012-04:08
Well, well, after 100 years in the watchmaking business I find your comment a bit strange. Hermès shows dedication towards serious watchmaking translated into a concise strategy. They play their strengths quite well, and even today you see where they come... 

Actually I saw at 24 Faubourg

 By: sidneyc : April 24th, 2012-04:30
.... a guy dressed like Elvis, a lady with a Kelly bag that look like it's gone under a bus, and quite a lot of people that look more like they belong to the circus than shoppers, but the sales assistants are equally welcoming. I don't think it's that bad... 

Well, yes, I see where they come from...

 By: KIH : April 24th, 2012-09:54
.. horse leather goods. I didn't know they had 100 years of watchmaking business. Had never seen serious watch from them. Sure, many "trendy" ladies wear quartz watches with bracelet of "H" links...... Sorry for my ignorance, but I just have never seen th... 

Ken, I actually prefer a relaxed (long-winded and side-tracked post!) ...

 By: Ornatus-Mundi : April 26th, 2012-02:13
over a formal, uninviting and unrelaxed atmosphere - by a great margin! I have been invited to various boutiques recently and I have to ask myself if I would feel free and relaxed enough to decide on a purchase there . In most cases, the answer would be n...  

With respect...

 By: KIH : April 26th, 2012-06:25
... (1) I fortunately or unfortunately have owned or had interest in ZERO Apple products whatsoever therefore I am sorry I don't understand the first half of your post. (2) I dressed up "adequately" when we went to the Opera house in Vienna - great place ... 

Ken, at least a little smile?

 By: small-luxury-world : April 25th, 2012-05:45
" Arceau Le Temps Suspendu" - the idea behind the watch, doesn´t it make you smile ... a little bit ... Clothes - even in flip flops and T-shirt they treated me well, but only the good ones. I always try to remember the name of the good ones and to buy fr... 

Ah, my friend, Oliver...

 By: KIH : April 25th, 2012-06:29
... always a voice of conscience.... Yes, I agree with you. Thanks. But, seriously, thought, they never promote watches in Japan and I honestly have never seen them or any watch friends who own or even talk about them.... But, yes, I am an open-minded man... 

Beautiful post, Oliver.

 By: VMM : April 23rd, 2012-01:57
Some very nice novelties from Hermes for 2012. I like them all, the Dressage collection looks great on the wrist and the marqueterie pieces are very very nice, to me. Great pics, as usual. Thanks for sharing. Vte

Vincente, thanks!

 By: small-luxury-world : April 25th, 2012-05:46

Great report Oliver and Magnus!

 By: sidneyc : April 24th, 2012-04:37
The Dressage collection look interesting! Hermes have lifted their game immensely in recent years in horology. I don't doubt Hermes' commitment to watchmaking, however, as I said, they only moved into high end watchmaking for not too long (and unfortunate... 

sidneyc, thanks for your reply and ...

 By: small-luxury-world : April 25th, 2012-05:53
I agree the pricing is, let´s call it sporty Just have been invited to the latest "petit H" exhibition and there was a funny cuckoo clock, but after I saw the price I couldn´t stop to laugh. If they can sell it for that amount of money, they can... 

One of our hints became reality: La Montre Hermès acquires dial & case makers!

 By: Ornatus-Mundi : May 2nd, 2012-06:17
Dear All: We hinted two developments that would strengthen La Montre Hermès' watchmaking capabilties tremendously. Now their are reality: The watch manufacturer announces the acquisition of the case-maker Joseph Erard and the high-end dial manufactur...