For almost a decade, Hermès has advocated for a more playful relationship with time. The Swiss-based timepiece division of the global luxury brand has approached watchmaking beyond timekeeping and accuracy with a series of unusual watches, including the Arceau le Temps Suspendu, which gives the wearer the control to ‘suspend’ time, and the Dressage L’heure Masquée, a one-hand timepiece that tells the time only in minutes — both of which evoke a leisurely interaction with time.
Directing the creation and style of watches at the leading luxury Maison is Philippe Delhotal, who proves to be a natural fit with his background in fashion and previous experience with Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe as creative director. When it comes to incorporating Hermès métiers into watch design, Delhotal looks back to vintage and contemporary Hermès designs from two archives: a warehouse that exhibits an example of every piece Hermès has made, and a private museum built by Émile-Maurice Hermès housing objects — from stirrups to picnic sets — that have inspired Hermès collections over the years.
We sat down with Delhotal to discuss how his passion for watchmaking all started, the future defining trends for timepieces and the luxury market in Asia.
You studied watchmaking in university, so what was that lightbulb moment that made you realise and decide that you wanted to work with watches?
I knew I wanted to work in watchmaking as soon as I received my very first watch from my grandfather. I love this object because it is technical and aesthetic at the same time, which gives me the will to enter the field of watchmaking.
You used to work with some of the most prestigious luxury houses such as Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre. How were the experiences different from working for Hermès?
Working for Hermès is actually very different from my experience with these high-end watchmaking brands because we are a maison of 14 different métiers, which help create diversity and offer a richer environment for creativity.
Can you adapt all the Hermès métiers on a dial?
We do tend to use the métiers of the maison to bring creativity to the dial. The Arceau Millefiori watch collection is a good example — it was the first time for Hermès to bring together pieces of crystal to a dial. With the advantage of having and mastering the know-how of crystals, we are able to use unique materials that other watchmaking brands wouldn’t normally use.
What do you believe are future defining trends for timepieces?
There has been an increased demand for smartwatches as more people desire a technical object on their wrist, yet this trend coexists with traditional watches that display fine craftsmanship. These two watch trends will not compete with each other as they don’t respond to the same need.
If one could invest in an Hermès watch, what do you recommend?
It depends on the person and his/her personality; it makes a difference if it’s someone who wears a suit all day or likes to be active because you can have a different watch for each activity of the day. In the past, men used to own only one watch and wear the same one everywhere. The trend now is to have different watches that you would change during the week. Women have always had several watches to wear depending on their clothes and makeup, so why can’t men do the same? Gentlemen today don’t want to wear only black suits anymore — they want to match their outfit different accessories. Look at how men are wearing bracelets these days, this is a trend that didn’t really exist before.
So what makes a watch Hermès?
A Hermès watch shouldn’t be indifferent — it should provoke something in you. It has to be sophiscated yet simple, which true to all of our métiers. It must evoke emotion, not as an object but as a craft that represents a character. You wear it not because it’s a watch that fits but because it brings an attitude.
Do technical boundaries hinder your creativity?
First you’re creative, then you think about the technique after. But of course we always face technical boundaries and this has been part of the creative process. There’s always a challenge between the creative minds and the artisans, but the tradeoffs at one point will turn into something possible. It’s a matter of talking to each other and finding a solution together.
Do you see any difference between Hermès’ buyers in Asia compared to those in other markets?
In Asia, consumers are very aware of watchmaking; they know the field and a lot of exceptional know-how, which makes them different from, say, those in the US, who may be less sensitive to the know-how. Asians like to look behind the scenes and to be informed about how the watch is made, it’s a very unique quality of Asian consumers. We’re lucky to have buyers who are curious about the creative process, which is often complex and not easy to explain, but they make it possible for us to do so.