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Hermès’ Philippe Delhotal believes in the storytelling power of a beautiful timepiece

Philippe Delhotal, the Creative Director of Hermès Horloger, loves a watch that tells a story. His latest, the Arceau Le temps voyageur, blends the fantastical and magical worlds of Hermès with our own into a visually stunning and technically impressive object of art.

For Philippe Delhotal, each new timepiece presents a new chance to tell a story, to transport the wearer (or its beholder) to another place, another world, another dimension. As Creative Director of Hermès Horloger, a position he’s held since 2019, Delhotal has dreamed up and brought to life a number of those stories — with his most recent, the Arceau Le temps voyageur, paying tribute to the Maison’s rich history across fashion, watchmaking and even a little bit of fantasy.

An homage to Henri d’Origny’s original 1978 Arceau design, the Le temps voyageur blurs the lines between magic and reality as the signature “Travelling Time” mechanism circumnavigates the dial — set against the design of Jérôme Colliard’s fantastical Planisphere d’un monde équestre — offering an instant glimpse at the day, hour and minute across 24 unique time zones, melding the world of Hermès into our own.

“At Hermès we say we do watchmaking in a serious way, but also with a light tone of voice. That is due to the Maison — to do things a step aside, or to bring something different,” says Delhotal. “People like to wear beautiful objects that tell a story, objects that can make the customer dream, or go somewhere else for a time or travel in another dimension. For us at Hermès, the watch is a true companion; it’s something that comes with you all day long in different moments of your life, so it’s really very intimate and a close friend to the people.”

To bring the Arceau Le temps voyageur to life, Hermès linked up once again with the Swiss horology specialists of Chronode. It’s the second exclusive movement they’ve developed for the Maison — the first being the Arceau L’heure de la lune — and continues a collaboration that Delhotal describes as “very smooth and easy going”.

“The people working at Chronode are creative, but also very, very technical, so they have this ability to understand my ideas and recreate them in a technical way, but still with the idea I have in mind,” he adds. “For all watches, we have this duality between creative and technical that is really about finding balance in order to bring the best possible product to the market.”

The brand’s first world-time watch, Arceau Le temps voyageur debuted earlier this year at Watches and Wonders in Geneva, and is getting its Hong Kong closeup this month — see it for yourself on exhibition from 5-15 October in Hermès’ Landmark Prince’s store.

Arriving in three distinct styles, Hermès offers a 41mm platinum iteration (complete with a matte-black, DLC-treated titanium bezel) as well as 38mm all-steel and 78-diamond-set models of the watch. Strap offerings feature in alligator and Swift calfskin, with the same attention to detail and level of expert craftsmanship you’d expect from the French luxury house.

As Arceau Le temps voyageur settles in for a visit along our fragrant harbour, Lifestyle Asia spoke with Delhotal about bringing the latest piece to life, creating magic through horology and the one thing that today’s smartwatches can never replicate.

Philippe Delhotal on the Hermès Arceau Le temps voyageur

What were your impressions of the original Arceau by Henri d’Origny?

I always knew the Arceau watch, because when you are in the watchmaking industry, you are keen on discovering the timepieces the competitors are developing. But when I had it in hand for real at Hermès, it spoke a lot to me. It’s a watch with a strong history and a singularity because of the shape, the aesthetic design of the lugs — all of these details are very important to me. And it’s a watch that was not designed by a watch designer, but a person who had nothing to do with watches before.

What was it about the Arceau that made it ideal for you to express the Le temps voyageur model on this canvas?

One, the case is quite large, and you have a wide opening on the dial, which implies a better landscape to work with and express our idea. The second reason is because when we think about Le temps voyageur, we think about travel, horses — the movement of people. We have harnesses on the stirrup with the shape; that was linked closely to this equestrian universe and this idea of travel, so the style was really consistent with the idea of Le temps voyageur that I had in mind.

Let’s talk a bit about Jérôme Colliard’s fantasy map of the equestrian world. What inspired you about that and what made you want to use this on the Arceau Le temps voyageur?

It came from the idea of this silk carré (Planisphere d’un monde équestre), with this history, this imaginary and fantasy world. This world map — that does not exist at all — is something created and imagined by Jérôme Colliard. It is really appropriate, and meant to be on this watch to express the dreamlike sensation of Le temps voyageur. The uniqueness of this watch is in the functionality — this satellite moving on the dial — but also for its history, with this silk carré and all of its imaginary continents and names that do not exist.

Is there a favourite element or are there any parts of the design you’re particularly fond of?

In terms of details, I like the planisphere on the dial, and also the way it was created in our workshop. But also the encoded, secret details by Hermès that we can insert into some of our watches in order to surprise the customer, such as 24 Faubourg (24 FBG) instead of Paris, or the city Samarkand which is really dear to the Maison. All of these details are very significant to me.

Following the L’heure de la lune, the Le temps voyageur is the second exclusive movement developed by Chronode for Hermès. What makes the collaboration successful?

We have been working with Chronode for some years now. They deeply understand the philosophy of the Maison — as well as the DNA and the culture of the Maison — and this is very important for us to work with them, because they are able to produce something that is faithful to our spirit. And they are also people that are very reliable, so it’s really a pleasure to collaborate with them.

What was the key challenge that you faced during the development in terms of both creative and technical aspects?

The challenges are indeed both creative and technical. From a technical point of view, the most challenging part from Chronode was to respect the smaller size of the Arceau le temps voyageur. If you remember, Arceau L’heure de la lune was 43mm; here we are on a 41mm case, so in terms of components, a lot of work was done. Also, the four different layers of dial contained in this case are quite thin, so this was a major challenge from a technical aspect.

La Montre Hermès Shooting de l’assemblage d’un mouvement chez Chronode Le Locle, le 09 décembre 2021 Photo: David Marchon Cernier, le 8 décembre 2021 Photo: David Marchon

From a creative point of view, we are talking about the world timer, or GMT, with a lot of information, a lot of cities, the planisphere and so on. The readability and the ease of access to the watch was one of the major challenges for me; it has to remain airy and clear, very visible, and in terms of functionality, it had to be very easy for the customer to use, to set, to read, so [all of this] we had to keep in mind for development. 

It’s also very important that both teams have an open dialogue to find solutions and do some compromise; sometimes I will have an idea, but it’s not really feasible in terms of technique, so we have to compensate one in the other and find the best solution to faithfully express the idea.

Who is the Arceau le temps voyageur wearer that you imagined when designing the watch?

Men or women, young or old, collector and non-collector. It’s really wide open in terms of type of customer. Mainly, the pieces are made for people that are curious to discover. This kind of watch will bring emotions that take the customer to another universe — the universes of the Maison — and share the richness of our history, of our values with the customer through a beautiful object. When somebody buys an Hermès object or an Hermès watch, it’s really because they are in love with the beauty of the object.

Hermès watches are really objects of curiosity. We are offering a discovery in another concept of watches: to bring some emotion, to bring some surprise, to really bring some sparkles in the eye of the customers when we tell the story of why we decided to create this type of watch. It’s offering a new possibility and a new type of object that they won’t find in another brand. Very often when we receive customers in stores, they come to Hermès to find something singular and different that they know they will find in our Maison, and not in another competitor. 

In an age when time zones — and time itself — are instantly accessible from the home screen of your smartphone, what does it mean to have a piece like this on your wrist?

It’s really something intimate. If you are thirsty, you will drink. If you need to check the time, you will have a look at your smartphone. But if you need to travel, if you need to go somewhere else, if you want to experience something different? You will have a good glass of good wine instead of water, just to have this emotion of the taste in your mouth. It’s the same concept with the watch. If you want to check the time, but have some emotion and live in a different way, you will look at your watch instead of your smartphone. It’s really two different levels of experience.

Do you feel that we’ve lost a certain sophistication for convenience and technology?

I dont think so. When the smartwatch first appeared on the market, everyone was very scared about the end of quartz and mechanical. Ultimately it was not the case. Every year, more and more amazing watchmaking creations come to life and are presented by different brands; we have more and more mechanical watches on the market and so on, so it’s really two different things co-living together.

It’s very reassuring to see that the young generation today very often have both: a smartwatch to do sports and live their daily life, but when they go out or have a special occasion, they will likely wear something a bit more beautiful, an object of watchmaking with mechanical movement, with good finishing and so on.

The old profession of watchmaking has had a good reaction toward this appearance of smartwatches, because it enabled us to really develop new tools, new craftsmanships, a new way of thinking and new creations to put in our watches. It’s something that will last in the future. The only thing lacking in the smartwatch today is that they will never be able to put the heart and the emotion into these types of watches — so on that topic, we are safe. 

What do you hope people take away from watches like the Arceau Le temps voyageur?

It is said that at Hermès, watch lovers come to us because they are keen on discovering a new way of creating watches, to find a timepiece that they could not imagine. As such when we think about Le temps suspendu or L’heure de la lune or even Le temps voyageur, it’s a surprise — customers don’t always expect such a thing. And then, they come to us more and more about these types of pieces.

The relationship between the brand and the customer is changing; it’s really a new paradigm. It’s more and more important that you pamper the person and also cherish the relationship to create something special with them — it’s more than just a watch.

Hermès, Ground Floor, Landmark Prince’s, 10 Chater Road, Central, +852 2525 5900

Hermès’ Philippe Delhotal believes in the storytelling power of a beautiful timepiece

Nathan Erickson


Born in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has been writing about culture, style and food for some of the world's biggest publications for over a decade. He likes Canon lenses and the films of Chow Yun Fat.

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