06/26/2023
 6 minutes

Hermès Is Taking the Watch World by Storm

By Barbara Korp
Hermès-2-1

Can you imagine choosing a watch from Hermès over an Omega? A few years back, I think most watch enthusiasts would’ve answered with a resounding no, but things are starting to look a little different at the French luxury brand. In recent years, the fashion house has proven that they also know a thing or two about manufacturing fine timepieces. There’s been a slew of new collections and models as of late, all of which boast attractive designs, a comfortable fit, and solid – if not impressive – specs. Not only have these new watches won the hearts of Hermès diehards, they’ve also gone on to win various awards. You can even spot them on the wrists of a growing number of celebrities; from Ben Affleck to Gwyneth Paltrow, Hermès watches are recruiting more and more fans. Keep reading to learn more about Hermès’ watchmaking history, and find out which models we love and why.

(image: Hermès)

The History of Hermès

The Hermès story began in 1837, when Thierry Hermès opened up a saddlery in Paris. Neither fine leather handbags nor silk scarves were anywhere to be found in the company’s early days – nor wristwatches for that matter! For one, it was still the era of pocket watches. 1912 is often considered the year Hermès informally entered the world of watches, after Émile Hermès attached a pocket watch to a leather strap for his daughter Jaqueline to wear. It wasn’t until the late 1920s, however, that wristwatches formally entered the brand’s portfolio. And it was even later still, namely 1978, that the company joined the watchmaking industry in earnest, setting up a production facility in Biel, the heart of Swiss watchmaking.

For quite a number of years, Hermès’ offerings were limited to women’s watches with quartz movements, including well-known models like the Arceau, Cape Cod, and H-Hour. All the watches featured interesting designs, but pretty uninspiring calibers. It wasn’t long before interest in mechanical men’s models started to grow, and Hermès didn’t want to be left behind. In 2003, Hermès partnered up with movement maker Vaucher/Parmigiani with the aim of crafting luxury watches of the highest quality that would stand out both in terms of looks and technology. In fact, Hermès held a 25% stake in the company for a very long time. A similar collaboration with case manufacturer Erard followed, and dial maker Nateber was taken over entirely.

Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune
Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune

Working with these big names, with their ample experience, enabled Hermès to craft watches of the highest standard. The company was also aware that, as a newcomer to the industry, they ought to deliver something novel. There were already enough perpetual calendars and the like on the market; therefore, Hermès set out to create “la montre singulière,” i.e., a one-of-a-kind timepiece. And boy, did they deliver: From unconventional complications and creative designs to new shapes, watches from Hermès are far from remakes of other watches on the market. Furthermore, they successfully retained the brand’s elegant style – and its female clientele. The following models perfectly illustrate how Hermès has managed this delicate balancing act.

Hermès Arceau

The Arceau has been an integral part of the Hermès lineup since 1978, and is one of the brand’s signature models. Intentionally asymmetrical, this watch does completely without lugs on one side. The shape is vaguely reminiscent of a stirrup, a nod to the brand’s history as a saddlery. While the Arceau enjoyed many successful years as a quartz model, it has since joined the ranks of a fine mechanical watch suited for the 21st century. Today, the series is home to some of Hermès’ most interesting watches. In 2023, for example, the collection was expanded to include the Arceau Petite Lune. This women’s watch delivers one of the finest moon phase complications I know of. Its intricately designed dial made of aventurine, aragonite, mother-of-pearl, and opal will literally transport you to another galaxy.

Hermès Arceau Petite Lune
Hermès Arceau Petite Lune

But the Arceau line had already caught the attention of the watch world as early as 2011, the year the Hermès Arceau Temps Suspendu made its debut. Not only can this watch display the time, but it can also forget it. With the press of a discreet button at 9 o’clock, the hand on the retrograde date display disappears, and the main hour and minute hands assume an impossible position on the dial: the hour hand sits just before 12, the minute hand just after. The watch will stay suspended in this position until the push-piece is pressed once more. Then, the hands jump back to their correct positions, the date pointer reappears, and time keeps on ticking. The idea that you can stop time in the midst of hectic everyday life, to allow yourself a moment’s pause, is perfectly captured with this timepiece. It should come as no surprise that it’s one of the most popular watches in the Arceau collection.

Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu
Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu

The Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyageur is also worth a closer look. This world time watch executes the well-known complication in a whole new way, with a subdial that moves across a map of a fantasy world. The Arceau L’Heure De La Lune is yet another novelty. On this watch, two discs displaying the time and date rotate over a dial featuring two moons. Not only has Hermès managed to master a double moon phase, but they’ve also reversed the traditional arrangement of the displays. The only downside of the Arceau collection is the sheer number of fascinating models to choose from. I can’t possibly do them all justice here, so be sure to have a good look for yourself!

Slim d’Hermès

Launched in 2015, the Slim d’Hermès, as its name suggests, is home to particularly thin watches. Most of the timepieces in the collection have a back-to-the-basics look with clean lines, timeless elegance, and good legibility. The details are what really shine here. Every single case contour serves to emphasize the watch’s slender profile – Hermès even developed a new font for the hour markers. The numerals are easy to read and boast a classic look. But don’t let the purist case and dial overshadow the true highlight within the watch: the ultra-flat caliber H1950 with a micro-rotor.

Slim d’Hermès
Slim d’Hermès

The Slim d’Hermès line is also home to numerous limited edition models. One such example is the Slim d’Hermès Cheval De Légende, an extraordinary watch with a dial inspired by a Hermès scarf that has attained cult status. You may recognize the galloping horse as it emerges from a constellation of stars. While the stars are represented as dots on the scarf, they are depicted by nearly 1,680 gold or enamel beads on the watch dial. Moreover, the case is set with 52 baguette-cut diamonds. All that extravagance aside, the Slim d’Hermès Cheval De Légende is still a very wearable watch thanks to its well-balanced dial and clean lines.

Slim d’Hermès Cheval de légende (Bild: Hermès)
Slim d’Hermès Cheval De Légende (image: Hermès)

Hermès H08

In 2021, Hermès took a step in a sportier direction with the Hermès H08. Here, too, the brand forged its own path. It didn’t go for yet another diving or pilot’s watch, but rather something completely its own: the cushion-shaped H08. This watch is a slim, lightweight, and colorful addition to the Hermès range. It has clean lines and a reserved design. As you’d expect from a sports watch, it is water-resistant to 100 m (328 ft). Since 2023, the H08 has also been available as a chronograph and in a smaller unisex size. All the models are powered by in-house movements, which can be viewed through the sapphire crystal case back – it’d be a shame to hide the movement with its decorative “H” logo.

Hermes H08 Chronograph (Bild: Hermès)
New in 2023: the Hermès H08 Chronograph (image: Hermès)

Summary

So, why is Hermès still not considered a big name in the watch industry despite all of the above? Well, maybe it’s because the brand is still too famous for its leather and silk goods. Or maybe watch enthusiasts are more keen to buy tried and tested brands. Whatever the case, the relative lack of attention does come with one distinct advantage: You won’t see a Hermès on every other wrist. These watches are statements of passion for haute horlogerie and great design – as well as elegant, independent style.

Hermès’ strengths as a watch brand can be summed up like this: All of their watches are top performers in the two areas that matter most to watch lovers, namely movement and design. The calibers developed by a traditional Swiss manufacturer are slim, reliable, and meet all the necessary technical requirements. And you can clearly see the influence of the wider fashion house when it comes to aesthetics. Nothing is left to chance when it comes to the design of these timepieces. As is the case with other Hermès products, classic elegance is combined with something new, fresh, and a little light-hearted. Want the best of both worlds? Technology and design, timelessness and modernity, classic and avant-garde? Well, look no further than Hermès watches!


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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