Whether you’re destination-shopping at the maison’s Parisian flagship on Faubourg Saint-Honoré or zipping into one of its many travel-retail boutiques in airports around the world, stepping into an Hermès boutique is always a special experience. Because who knows what you’ll be leaving the store with today? A new handbag if you’re lucky, or that gorgeous silk scarf you’ve always wanted, maybe a pair of shoes… And these days, fashion shoppers have included another must-have item on their Hermès wish list: a luxury timepiece.
For much too long, luxury shoppers have associated Hermès purely with silk and leather products, looking farther afield to satiate their horological desires. In recent years, however, the maison’s watchmaking division, Hermès Horloger, has seen accelerated interest in its creations. It has also gained an incredible amount of traction not just among the watch-loving Hermès customers, but the serious watch collecting community as well.
Watches such as Arceau Heure de la Lune, H08, and the maison’s many métiers d’arts-infused timepieces have all done a marvellous job defining Hermès Horloger’s place in the contemporary haute horlogerie world.
More importantly, they demonstrate the magic of Hermès craftsmanship which is the continuous red thread found in every product large or small. “The common point among all Hermès products is style,” says Laurent Dordet, CEO of Hermès Horloger since 2015. Joining the division after eight years steering the leather goods and luggage division, he brings over two decades of experience with the maison in various top-level roles, thus ensuring that the quintessence of Hermès flows freely from its workshops in France to its horology manufacture in Biel, Switzerland, where all watches are meticulously crafted and produced.
He shares more with Vogue Singapore watches & jewellery editor Celine Yap over a morning cup of coffee at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, where Hermès’ newly refurbished Madison Avenue store just reopened its doors.
The Hermès identity is so deeply rooted in handcraftsmanship. We’ve seen some really inspiring examples at the recent Hermès In The Making event in Singapore. But Hermès also goes beyond the classical métiers such as grand feu enamel and hand-engraving, showing an innovative side with unique crafts such as leather marquetry. How did this one-of-a-kind approach for métiers d’arts begin at Hermès Horloger?
Hermès has plenty of know-how in France on leather goods. I come from the bags division before going into watches, but I was personally very surprised and proud of our teams in Switzerland for inventing leather mosaic. This technique came from our leather workshop in Bienne. For that we won a GPHG award in 2018 with the Arceau Robe du Soir. Yes, we like to nurture crafts but we also focus on creativity. We have 16 different métiers throughout the company and a cross-fertilisation of ideas that is extremely original.
That’s what customers of Hermès love about the maison, isn’t it? The knowledge that every Hermès product, whether bags or shoes or clothing or timepieces, is completely infused with the same brand DNA
The common point between all Hermès products is the style. For sure it goes without saying that there is high quality, but it always brings style and creativity to every facet of life. And with watches we can bring even more, because there are functions that we can play with in terms of style and message.
Hermès is the pinnacle of French luxury but where luxury watchmaking is concerned, the best players are conventionally Swiss. What are your views on this assessment?
Mindsets are changing quickly. Not quickly enough for me, but quickly. Five years ago, this was the only category in the luxury business still 99 per cent dominated by pure players, meaning companies making only watches or sometimes watches and jewellery, most of whom have been around since centuries. In the early years, it was an obstacle to have come from other universes, and frequently we were labelled as a fashion company. People were attached to strict categories. In order to rise up to the challenge and show we are serious about making watches, we establish our manufacture in Switzerland since 45 years now. We were among the earliest to have done so.
So what changed?
Step by step, and not only at Hermès but also other maisons, proven that we can also produce singular timepieces, and then consumer mentality in some countries especially in Asia began to really change. Now, the icons remain as they are but more people are looking at quality and technique in addition to originality, which can be a specific style like French design, maybe Italian design, or Hermès design.
And that is not something you’d find with the Swiss brands.
That’s something new and different. I think people today want to be different. Someone explained to me recently that, in Asia, people gravitate towards reference brands for reassurance, and these are mainly Swiss brands with a few exceptions. But after that, they will not consider others. Instead, they will go for an emerging player, Hermès for instance, which is offering interesting proposals. In other words, not being a pure player and not coming originally from the watch world was an obstacle five years ago. Now, it is starting to become an asset.
I have to agree. With a few exceptions, some of the most interesting developments in recent years have in fact come from the emerging players.
[Pure players] are doing as splendid a job as they always have. But if I may refer to Jean-Louis Dumas who asked of this division 45 years ago: “I ask you two things. First, to be at the same level as the best brand in terms of material, creation, and refinement. Second, to be as different as possible. Because if you’re not being different, then why are we even here?” There are plenty of good watchmaking companies around. If we come in simply to do the same, then there is no reason for us to come in at all.
“In other words, not being a pure player and not coming originally from the watch world was an obstacle five years ago. Now, it is starting to become an asset.”
Hermès Horloger has a wide assortment of timepieces. Fine and high watchmaking are obviously a major point of focus but there is a large segment of classics as well, such as H-Hour, Faubourg, Kelly, Cape Cod, etc. These are iconic and high performing categories as well. What plans do you have to develop these collections?
This would be the next step. On the men’s side we’ve succeeded with complications such as Le temps suspendu, L’heure de la Lune… Now with H08 we’ve established another pillar in a new price point. With feminine watches, we’ve done much to upgrade the lines especially for Cape Cod, Faubourg, and Kelly, bringing refinement to the material, case, and dial. In terms of complications, we’ve introduced Le temps voyageur for ladies. Then not forgetting jewellery watches and métiers d’arts timepieces. Even though metiers d’arts is a niche, it is becoming a big niche. I think the time has indeed come to develop mechanical offerings for smaller watches, so that will be our priority in the coming years.
You’ve also done such great work with métiers d’arts.
It’s a very specific segment of the industry. We have a yearly rendezvous with our customers who wait for our new yearly collection, around 20 designs per year, all expressed by the finest craftsmanship we can find in France and Switzerland (sometimes elsewhere) internally and externally.
I had wanted to ask you about celebrity endorsement which has made a big return to the luxury business, but then I thought maybe not…
It is not the policy of Hermès. Never for any product. We don’t do this because the product is king, not the ambassador.
What are your thoughts on this though, with so many luxury players going full-on with celebrity endorsements?
It is not for us.
So what would be the ideal way to create desire an Hermès timepiece?
When people come into an Hermès store, some want a watch, others don’t know what they will be walking out with. We do advertise the brand and inspire people to dream and invite them to our stores. And when they come, it is the job of sales associates to present exciting new products from all our categories. That’s the strength of Hermès. You go to a watchmaking brand when you want to buy a watch. You come to Hermès not always knowing what you will buy, and this is a clear advantage for us.