Hermès is extraordinary. The pacesetter across a terrain that takes in shirts, shoes and cufflinks; the breadth of merchandise the Parisian brand produces to an impassably high standard is second to none.
Success is based on securing the best possible craftspeople, as was demonstrated at last year’s Festival des Métiers exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (who knew that live tie-making could be so fascinating?). Philippe Delhotal, creative and development director at La Montre Hermès, explains, “Hermès is about simple objects with a particularity, a twist. This is Hermès’ territoire unique.” In watches, this means useful complications, but always different and always “au service de poésie”.
In the last few years, this has seen Hermès produce watches that play with the way time is shown, simply because they can. The marque’s new timepiece, Dressage L’Heure Masquée, fits in the same mould as the 2008 Grandes Heures, which makes the hour hand travel at different speeds through different parts of the day, while the second and minute hands keep regular time, and Le Temps Suspendu, which hides the time when you press a button at nine o’clock. A totally useless but impressively complex piece of watchmaking.
Now L’Heure Masquée plays a less obvious trick, appearing only to have a minute hand, save for the mystery of a little window at the bottom, marked “GMT”. But press the button in the crown and the hour hand swings into position and the GMT window shows a second time zone. All very simple, but predicated on some very clever watchmaking.
Hermès aren’t the only ones getting creative. Agenhor have been instrumental in putting some of Van Cleef & Arpels’s wilder fancies into production, notably with the Pont des Amoureux, which has two lovers on the hour and minute hands meeting at midnight. The partnership has also delivered the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs, a timepiece that can show two time zones – the time at home at 11 o’clock and the time away shown at five o’clock.
In addition to Franco-Swiss efforts, the German-speaking end of the Jura mountains is where H Moser & Cie can be found, whose Seventies-inflected smoky dials hide clever horology. Their Perpetual 1, for example, will keep the date correct through leap-year cycles. It’s also delightfully easy to read, which is always useful.