How Hermès' Audacious Approach to Time Creates Emotional and Offbeat Watches

IMAGE Hermès

As someone who has studied the technical aspects of clock and watchmaking in France and has also taken courses in fashion design and styling at the École des Beaux-Arts as well as gemology, Philippe Delhotal possesses a unique set of talents and skills. “I studied Fine Arts and got a technical education at the same time, which has allowed me to play with both these backgrounds and have a much better overview than a designer or technician alone,” he observes. “It helps a lot in my work because I can judge the technical aspects and the aesthetics at the same time.”  

It’s also why he is perfectly suited to be the creative director of La Montre Hermès, as the French luxury house takes its watchmaking very seriously, combining technical precision and savoir-faire with the house’s famous craftsmanship or métiers. At Hermès, it is not enough that a watch simply be beautiful—it must also spark imagination as an object of desire.

“Hermès watchmaking offers a different interpretation of time: a time full of fanciful touches which goes well beyond style; companionable, lasting, mischievous, and recreational, providing an opportunity to tell a story and stir emotions,” says Delhotal. “The Maison does not seek to replicate what already exists, but to be audacious and follow its intuition by creating objects that do not only indicate the time, but tell stories in order to build a relationship with it.” 

This is perfectly embodied by its two new releases, the Arceau Awooooo, with its howling enamel-painted wolf on the dial, and the Arceau L'heure de la lune, Hermès’ artistic take on a moon phase watch. Both exhibit an extremely high and meticulous level of workmanship and are meant to spark conversation, the way anything produced by Hermès would. Or, as Delhotal puts it: “Hermès time is inherently eclectic and also conveys a sense of humor.”


Hermès Arceau Awooooo

Photo by Hermès/Joel Von Allmen.

Hermès Arceau L'heure de la lune

Photo by Hermès/Joel Von Allmen.

By the time he joined La Montre Hermès, Delhotal already had years of experience with the world’s most prestigious watchmaking companies under his belt. He had been a designer for Piaget and Vacheron Constantin, a development manager for Jaeger-LeCoultre, and had completed a five-year stint as creative director for Patek Philippe. But Hermès has been his longest career detour so far, as he marks 10 years with the brand this 2019.

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“I’m proud of all the launches we have achieved—the Arceau Le temps suspendu in 2011, the Slim d’Hermès in 2015, and more recently, the Arceau L’heure de la lune and the Galop d’Hermès,” he says, reflecting on the pieces that have been released under his tenure. “All these novelties express the Hermès values and our singular approach to time.”  

It was also under his watch that Hermès launched a booth at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie last year, although it has been a veteran of the other major watch fair, Baselworld, for more than 20 years. The brand was also among the first to embrace the Apple Watch when it rolled out in 2015, releasing leather straps to complement the smartwatch that changed the game for all smartwatches.

Philippe Delhotal, creative director of  La Montre Hermès

Photo by Courtesy of Hermès/Ngoc Quang Nguyen.

“It was a new attelage or pairing, as natural as it was unexpected—a meeting of minds sharing common values in a spirit of mutual respect and admiration.” And it worked, as each enhanced the other by boosting their cool factor and social cachet—the Apple Watch was cemented as a luxury object, while Hermès looked utterly current and hip.  

But it made sense to Delhotal from the start: “The collaboration between Apple and Hermès was a meeting of cultures which, at first glance, may seem different, but we are strongly united by the same deeply held ideas and principles—the uncompromising pursuit of excellence and authenticity and attention to detail and design in order to fabricate useful and functional contemporary objects, the resulting beauty of which transforms one’s everyday life.” 

True to his brand, Delhotal is no stranger to bringing a sense of fantasy and whimsy to the seemingly ordinary, as embodied by the watch he currently enjoys wearing, the Arceau L’heure de la lune. “It’s a useful function with a graphic and mysterious side,” he says. “This new complication evokes a sense of dreams and emotions. The face of the watch is transformed daily. Its read-off is playful, with counters gravitating around the topsy-turvy moons, because Hermès loves to dream with its head upside down… and who has never dreamed of visiting the stars and the moon?”     

ESQUIRE PHILIPPINES: Have you noticed any changes or developments in the Hermès' approach to watches during your time with it? 

PHILIPPE DELHOTAL: Watchmaking is one of the 14 Hermès métiers and, like all the others, it is handled in a rigorous manner based on high stylistic and quality standards, in keeping with the values of the Maison. 

1912 marked the start of watchmaking at Hermès. An archive photo shows the four daughters of Émile Hermès, including Jacqueline, who wears a pocket watch for which her father had asked the saddle-making and leathercraft specialists to create a leather strap.  

In 1928, the historical Hermès boutique at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris welcomed watchmaking and began offering the first timepieces bearing the Hermès signature, equipped at the time with mechanisms from the finest Swiss manufacturers.


Photo by Hermès/Joel Von Allmen.
Photo by Hermès/David Marchon.

Fifty years later, in 1978, the Maison established the Hermès watchmaking subsidiary in Biel/Bienne, at the very heart of the Swiss watch industry. Ever since, it has been developing its collections by progressively integrating watchmaking skills in its movements, cases, and dials. 

It thus seems to us entirely legitimate to be pursuing our development within the circle of high-quality watchmakers, while safeguarding and “owning” the singular characteristics of our Maison. These more recent years have confirmed that Hermès is legitimate in making watches, bringing its creativity and craftsmanship to another territory with full credibility.  

ESQ: Tell us about your latest watch, the Arceau Awooooo.

PD: On the new Arceau Awooooo, crafted in enamel, the silver-furred animal stands out against a star-studded backdrop featuring a slim moon crescent. Named after a motif picked up from an Hermès silk carré and designed by a friend of the Maison, the artist Alice Shirley, Awooooo is the perfect embodiment of the principle that mere mastery of skills is not enough for an object to be truly Hermès—it also calls for a fanciful touch and offbeat creativity. 

Photo by Hermès/David Marchon.
Photo by Hermès/David Marchon.

ESQ: What should we know about the Arceau L'heure de la lune, as well?

PD: Arceau L’heure de la lune is a singular complication enabling simultaneous readings of the moon phases in the northern and southern hemispheres. The “southern” moon appears as someone based in Australia sees it, while the “northern” moon is depicted as seen by a person in Bruegg, Switzerland. The moons are in mother-of-pearl and the dial in meteorite or aventurine. The two time and date display sub-dials move in order to reveal the moon.  

We express a loss of temporal and spatial bearings, an “upside-down” environment, a voyage through the cosmos. Stars, metal, and rock conjure up images running counter to the acceleration of the world around us. This watch hints at the existence of another space and time, a deeper interlude. 

Photo by Hermès/Joel Von Allmen.

Photo by Hermès/Lucas Vuitel.

Photo by Hermès/Lucas Vuitel.

The module is an exclusive development for Hermès. The technical expression of this pair of moons was no easy task. The moon rotates once a day, while a lunar cycle lasts 29.5 days, thus there are 59 cavities between the toothed wheels to enable the two hour and date moons to reproduce the periodicity of the lunar cycles. Moon adjustment is synchronized with date adjustment. 

Issues such as robustness and sensitivity to shock played a key role throughout the development process in order to guarantee that the running remains perfectly smooth. The geometry of the chassis represented a singular and highly specific development in itself. Meeting aesthetic expectations, such as the absence of visible screws on the dial side, meant implementing a certain number of innovative technical solutions. 

ESQ: Hermès has been participating in Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva for the past two years. How has this changed or affected the way you approach, design, and release watches?  

PD: The Hermès watchmaking métier has evolved a great deal in terms of our watch collections, the integration of various skills such as case, dial, and movement, as well as the creativity of our men’s and ladies’ models. Watchmaking is a “recruitment” métier for the Maison through objects imbued with Hermès values. Our distribution strategy has also evolved, with a greater proportion dedicated to an own-name retailing approach.  

Photo by Hermès/Lucas Vuitel.
Photo by Hermès/Lucas Vuitel.

The SIHH, with which we share a number of values, seemed to us to offer an appropriate response to a fast-changing world: a spirit of openness, notably with the Carré des Horlogers, as well as the provision of a communication and sales platform benefiting the exhibiting brands, all the while bearing in mind specific objectives as well as moderate and controlled growth.  

ESQ: What else can we look forward to or expect from La Montre Hermès in the future?

PD: We will continue offering more and more creative watches, either with a singular design or with unconventional complications, to interest collectors and customers who are passionate about beautiful, high-quality objects. The potential for increasing the business is very high for Hermès watches all around the world. Our ambition is to stay an important and well-respected player in the Swiss watch industry, while respecting the values of the house.  

Photo by Hermès/Joel Von Allmen.

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