CULTURE

Time according to Hermes

From the celebrated Faubourg Saint Honore flagship to stores in Beijing and Shanghai, pure luxury-lovers flock to Hermes outlets to order their Kelly or their Birkin – handbags named after Grace and Jane respectively. Some also come for the Paprika – one of the company’s stylish timepieces. «More and more people are interested in watches today; they have developed into an accessory of personal elegance and status,» said Guillaume de Seynes, managing director of La Montre Hermes, to Kathimerini English Edition on a recent trip to Greece. A member of the sixth generation of the Hermes family – great-grandson of Emil Hermes and nephew of current President Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes – de Saynes built a solid marketing background in companies such as La Chemise Lacoste and Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne before joining the Hermes watch division in 1997. His mission? To make the timepieces as popular as the house’s renowned silk scarves. Though clearly at the high-end of the global watchmaking industry, Hermes watches are more affordable than the impeccable Hermes leather handbags. And while they might be a household name in countries such as France and Japan, there is room for growth in other places. In Greece, La Montre Hermes has entered into a fruitful partnership with Flamme Hellas, with a network of six exclusive selling points (five in Athens and one in Thessaloniki) while plans include more selling points in hot spots like Myconos and Santorini. For Hermes, watches are not an accessory diversification simply capitalizing on the brand’s power. As with all 14 families of Hermes products, the watches go back to the company’s roots. A family affair since Thierry Hermes opened his saddle-making unit in Paris’s Madeleine quarter in 1837, the company’s refined skills have always been recognized. Following World War I, Emil Hermes, a member of the third generation, realized that horses were going to go «out of business» as means of public transport, giving way to automobiles. His idea was to develop a series of products whereby the highly skilled Hermes ateliers could carry on executing the finest pieces while venturing beyond the focus on horses. As the house of Hermes moved into leather luggage and bags, a mini-revolution was taking place in the world of timepieces, with wristwatches beginning to take over from pocket watches. In 1928, Hermes began selling timepieces – a variety of watches, some were «imagined» by the house and made by Swiss watchmakers, while others were high-quality pieces by other labels. In the 1970s, the quartz revolution urged Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes to develop an in-house division and let go of other labels. «At Hermes, we often say that we prefer the term ‘creation’ as opposed to that of marketing,» said de Saynes. But Hermes watches do not enjoy the handmade qualities of the saddles, for instance. What do Hermes watches take from the house’s renowned artisanship? «Being essentially quartz timepieces, we claim the discreet style of Hermes,» said de Saynes. «It’s an everyday elegance with a quality of utility; the house of Hermes was not born into the department of jewelry or haute couture.» Today, watches represent roughly 10 percent of the company’s consolidated sales, and together with products such as perfumes, they are sold both in Hermes outlets as well as in other stores. (In France alone, Hermes timepieces are available in 80 selling points.) And as is true of high fashion and accessories, watchmakers are expected to come up with exciting new stuff, in an increasingly competitive and challenging market. «Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes is very concerned when it comes to design; he does not like to travel back in time and resuscitate old models, as he is deeply interested in creativity,» said de Saynes. «It might sound a little bit provocative, but sometimes it seems that our problem is that we have too many ideas.» Abundant creativity translates into steel, gold and steel or solid gold, metal or stitched leather straps for models such as the Nomade, the Cape Cod chronograph and the H-Hour, to name just a few. With assembly lines situated in Biel, Switzerland – where components come from around the country, except for leather straps which are made by Hermes in France – the annual output is estimated at 140,000 pieces. The oldest design still in production is the Kelly. Originally designed in 1975, it was recently given a modern spin by Hermes’ womenswear designer, Martin Margiela. A good example of in-house creative synergy, Margiela began working on an idea for a key ring, finally coming up with a hanging watch. And while design remains crucial, the division is also on a quest for technical development, where the Hermes craftsmanship spirit would be more evident. Meanwhile, the house’s tradition remains intact: These are beautifully handmade utility products, executed to perfection for a long life and becoming more noble as they grow older. «All Hermes products, including the timepieces – even though it is hard to see the patina of time – are essentially inspired by this philosophy,» said de Saynes. «One of the nicest compliments I ever received was in Belgium recently. Showing me her 16-year-old Hermes watch, a lady spoke of how it was working wonderfully, justs like the day she bought it. I told her that was great and that it was probably time for her to buy her second one!»