Long admired for its expertise in luxury leather goods, Hermès has also garnered acclaim in recent years as a purveyor of fine timepieces. The company is showcasing this watchmaking expertise at a new exhibition this week at its New York City boutique called “Crafting Time.” We visited the opening-night reception and discovered several interesting timepieces that display a range of horological skills and crafts, including an all-new limited-edition pockewatch that made its debut at the event. Here’s a look.
Among the highlights for horophiles:
The Hermès Arceau Lift Flying Tourbillon is inspired by the historical headquarters of Hermès, at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. The double “H” topping the tourbillon carriage and the barrel bridge of the Arceau Lift reproduces one of the emblematic motifs featured in the interior design of that Paris boutique. Testifying to the enthusiasm for wrought-iron work in the early 20th century, the motif appears in a number of areas, including the entrance, the handrails and bannisters, and above the door of the “Lift” (elevator), installed in 1923, which gives the watch its name. The rotations of the flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock are accompanied by those of the double H, whereas the second “Lift” motif, above the barrel bridge in the upper part of the watch, remains fixed in place. The movement, Caliber H1923, produced in cooperation with La Joux-Perret, is named for the year when the elevator was installed in the Paris boutique. Certain parts of the multi-layered movement form the dial, with a raised chevron motif. The finishes alternate between purely decorative and more specifically horological. Some of the finishing on the components of Caliber H1923 include beveling on the bridges, wheels and screws, all done entirely by hand; and a mirror-polishing technique called specular polishing used for the 12 o’clock jewel surround as well as the double “H” topping the tourbillon carriage. The gold caseback, bearing a Hermès engraving, features a small, round window to the inside of the watch.
The Hermès Slim d’Hermès Perpetual Calendar, the most complicated timepiece in the recently introduced Slim d’Hermès family, has a 39.5-mm case made of 5N rose gold and a perpetual calendar movement (the base Caliber 1950 with an added module produced by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his team at Aghenor, who also worked on the brand’s Arceau le Temps Suspendu). The module adds only a minuscule 1.4 mm to the overall movement). The watch’s opaline silvered dial has a four-year display that indicates months and leap years, subdials for a dual-time/GMT function and date, and a moon-phase indication with a white mother-of-pearl moon disk against an aventurine sky. The baton hands are 4n-gilded or lacquered blue and sandblasted. The movement, which is equipped with a microrotor for automatic winding, beats at 21,600 vph and holds a power reserve of 42 hours. Its haute horlogerie decorations include hand-chamfered bridges and the brand’s Hermes “H” motif. The Slim d’Hermes Perpetual Calendar comes on an alligator strap, in either matte havana (brown) or matte black, with a rose-gold pin buckle.
One of the most striking metiers d’arts pieces on display, the Hermès Arceau Tigre, has a dial with a three-dimensional tiger’s head motif created with a technique called émail ombrant (shaded enamel). Artist Robert Dallet, who worked with Hermes in the 1980s, contributed the illustration for the watch, which is limited to just 12 pieces and is the first to ever feature a dial executed with this method. In the shaded enamel technique — which is derived from a style originally developed by artisans in the Limoges region of France, and requires an entirely different approach from traditional relief engraving — an artisan creates a motif in relief on the dial’s white gold base before coating it with a slightly tinted, translucent enamel. By accumulating in the most sunken areas, the enamel becomes denser and darker, while the most highly raised zones are barely covered and thus remain very light in color. The cavities and raised areas are fashioned exclusively according to the light they will catch or reflect, which is why the finished image is revealed only once it is captured in enamel. The fine details are impressive: the engraver has even shaped the individual hairs of the tiger’s coat to match the look of the original sketch. The 41-mm Arceau case in white gold also has a transparent caseback, which shows the watch’s automatic H1837 movement, with its snailed and circular grained baseplate and Hermes “sprinkling ‘H'” pattern on the rotor.
The brand’s first watch with an openworked mechanical movement, the Hermès Steel Arceau Skeleton, features the familiar Arceau case — whose round body and stirrup-like lugs are inspired by the company’s roots in saddle making — in stainless steel. Two sapphire crystals offer a view of the movement, with blued hands sweeping over the skeletonized bridges and mainplate, polished gear wheels and oscillating weight adorned with the Hermès signature. The distinctive arabesque numerals on the openworked dial’s rim are silvered and frosted on the model with a slate gray dial, and beige on the one with a brown dial (pictured). The strap — in either Havana brown, as below, or matte black— is of course created by Hermès’ own in-house leather artisans, as are all Hermès watch straps.
Limited to only six pieces, and seen for the first time at the exhibit, is the Hermès Slim d’Hermès Pocket Vieux Gréement, a pocketwatch that combines the arts of engraving and grand feu enameling. On the hinged, white gold case cover, graced with the design of a ship on the ocean, an artisan first engraves the waves and the deck of the ship and its masts. He then delicately executes the elements of the sky in the background before polishing the ship’s hull to an eye-catching shine. Finally, he engraves the rigging and seams of the sails. Once the engraving process is finished, the case cover is immersed in a ruthenium bath to give it its subtle anthracite gray color, after which it undergoes more polishing by the engraver to create areas of greater volume of light and dark. The final step is layer of varnish on the entire surface. Beneath the case cover, and a sapphire crystal, the watch’s dial sports a dazzling blue hue achieved by grand feu enameling. Made of white gold, the dial is coated with glass powder and undergoes successive firings at over 800º Celsius to achieve its intensity of color. The case measures 45 mm in diameter and its clear caseback reveals the ultra-thin, automatic Caliber H1950, with its hand-chamfered bridges and “H”-sprinkled micro-rotor. The cord strap and carrying pouch, both made of sapphire blue alligator leather, give this very rare timepiece a suitably Hermès finishing touch.
More than 20 notable Hermes watches are on exhibit in the Hermès Madison Avenue boutique until November 4, and all are available for sale. The wide range of techniques on display include straw marquetry, jewel and stone setting, leather craftsmanship, millefiori and glass blowing, engraving, miniature painting with lacquer, various types of enameling, and several haute horlogerie complications.