'Hermès watches play with time edge', article from The Australian

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  1. This is an article from The Australian newspaper with Luc Perramond, chief executive of La Montre Hermès at the company’s Australian head office in Sydney.
    From: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/executive-living/luxury/hermes-watches-play-with-time-edge/story-e6frg8io-1226870693582
    I’ve copied and pasted it anyway. I've had to do so in two posts as the article is quite large but it makes for interesting reading:
    Hermes watches play with time edge
    THE 177-year-old Paris-based company Hermes is known for many things in the world of luxury.
    When the company was founded, it was renowned for its harnesses and saddles. Over the years it has gained cachet as, among other things, a maker of the finest silk scarves, the most sought-after leather goods in the world and a purveyor of high fashion under designers such as Martin Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier and now Christophe Lemaire (women’s) and Veronique Nichanian (men’s). And while the company’s ready-to-wear, silk and leather products are known for meticulous craftsmanship, exotic materials and painstaking attention to detail, its watches have lagged somewhat behind many other luxury brands.
    “Five years ago Hermes was making nice fashion watches, accessory watches, sold mostly to women and mostly with quartz movements,” says Luc Perramond, chief executive of La Montre Hermes, the company’s watchmaking division. When Perramond joined Hermes in 2009 he brought 25 years of experience in the watch industry. “My mission was to really transform the watch business into what I would say is a more upscale business which would pay more attention to the craftsmanship and to the quality and with a mission to make it a more integrated activity where we would have the watchmaking know-how in-house.”
    Although Le Montre Hermes was incorporated in Biel in Switzerland in 1978, the company’s watchmaking tradition dates back to 1912, when it started making watch straps; timepieces were introduced into Hermes boutiques in the late 1920s. The first Hermes watch was a pocket watch that could be transformed into a wristwatch with an ingenious leather strap and was made for Jacqueline Hermes by her father Emile. (That watch, “In The Pocket” was re-released last year in a limited edition of 24 pieces.) From the 1920s through to the 1960s, Hermes worked with watchmakers such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet to produce movements for its watch designs. In 1978 that strategy changed when Jean-Louis Dumas succeeded his father, Robert DumasHermes, as the head of the family firm and created a new subsidiary for watchmaking in Switzerland; it was the first time Hermes had used craftsmen outside France. In keeping with the development of the quartz watch internationally, Hermes bought components and used them in their own designs, based on the company’s equestrian heritage. Then, at the beginning of the 21st century, the revival of mechanical movements left Hermes languishing.
    “To become a credible watchmaker you need to pay as much attention to the inside, to the mechanical movement, as to the design of the watch,” says Perramond.
    “Today the business is about two-thirds quartz and onethird mechanical. But I think we will be more in mechanical watches as we grow in terms of awareness and recognition in the market.”
    In 2006 Hermes bought a 25 per cent stake in the Swiss movement manufacturer Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier for a reported 25 million Swiss francs. In 2011 it invested in case manufacturer Erard and in 2012 acquired 100 per cent of Natebar, a dial manufacturer. “We now have control over three strategic components that represent close to 95 per cent of the finished product. We are also the only watchmaking brand to manufacture our own leather straps in-house.” Perramond says Hermes has no plans to acquire a hand manufacturer as it requires high volumes to have economies of scale, “and we are not a volume business”.
    The acquisition strategy Hermes employed to become a mechanical watchmaker is increasingly necessary for smaller watch brands if they are to stay independent and grow their market share. In the past 20 years a once-fragmented Swiss watch industry has become concentrated into three main players: Swatch (whose brands include Omega and Longines as well as ETA, the biggest manufacturer of watch movements), Richemont (which owns Cartier, IWC, Piaget and Baume & Mercier among others) and LVMH (Bulgari, Chaumet, Dior, Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith). By acquiring stakes in a group of independent suppliers, Hermes has guaranteed access to components. The first mechanical watches it made in-house were released in 2012 and that year sales of watches increased 17 per cent based on these new lines.
    Hermes is unusual in the watch industry in that its biggest market is its home base of France. “We have grown fast over the last five years and each region of the world has been contributing to that growth but it is true that France remains our No 1 market for watches,” says Perramond, who before joining Hermes spent 13 years with TAG Heuer and had a stint with the Brazil-based jeweller, H. Stern. “In France a Hermes watch has become a very important gift when, for example, your son or daughter gets his high school degree.” This is why, according to Perramond, despite the move into higher-end watches, it is important for Hermes to still offer entry- level products for its customers.
    “I would say we need to have some automatic watches that are about $3000 to $4000, which is why we will continue to work with ETA for some of our movements.”
     
  2. ...


    Traditionally, mechanical watches have been bought by men while women preferred the simplicity of a quartz movement. Before Perramond’s arrival and the move into mechanical, the Hermes timepiece business was therefore a predominantly female one. “We definitely sell more to men now and I would say 40 per cent of our watches are bought by men; five years ago it would have been less than 20 per cent,” says Perramond. The move into mechanical also comes at a time when women are becoming more interested in mechanical timepieces. “If you look at the statistics over the last 10 years, the volume of watches sold by Switzerland in quartz has been flat but increasing very fast in mechanical. We are seeing more and more women who are looking for a mechanical movement because they want the craftsmanship on the inside as well. They are looking for it not, I would say, because they are obsessed with the technical features but because it is a sign of authenticity. They know that a Swiss watch should come with a mechanical movement; it’s more authentic than an electronic battery.”


    Perramond wants Hermes watches to be not only authentic but also distinctly Hermes in their complications.


    “We will always have watches with traditional complications such as calendars and chronographs — all of those functions have been done for 200 years — but we also want to innovate and bring our vision of what time means to us to the market and to have a more poetic approach to time,” he says.


    One example is the Arceau Time Suspended watch, which was shown in Basel in 2011. As the name suggests the watch movement has the ability to suspend time, on the timepiece, at least. When a pusher at 9 o’clock is pressed the watch appears to stop and the hands move to just before 12 o’clock and the date indicator disappears. At this point, time on the watch is suspended, but the movement continues to work. Press the pusher again and the time display moves to the current time without losing any accuracy. “In terms of watchmaking it’s quite advanced,” says Perramond. “It shows that the technique at Hermes should not be pure technique for the sake of it; it’s really technique dedicated to the poetic values of the house.”


    The idea for the Time Suspended watch, according to Perramond, came from a meeting with independent watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht in Geneva. Perramond and his creative team from Paris were discussing their vision and their philosophy with Wiederrecht in the hope of working with him. When the lively meeting started to wrap up, one of his team said, “I wish we could stop time.”


    “So we said to Jean-Marc, this is what you need to do — a watch that stops time; that’s crazy enough for Hermes.”


    Another watch along similarly playful lines is the Cape Cod Grandes Heures, which has minutes and seconds marked at traditional intervals and the hours at irregular ones: some are closer together or farther apart to give the impression that time is accelerating or slowing down.


    “What we are doing is developing new concepts like this one and we want to create what we call time to dream territory. At Basel this year, we will introduce a new concept, still about the philosophy of time, still about interacting with your watch to play with time, to create your own time but completely different from Time Suspended.” Due to be unveiled at the world’s biggest watch fair in Basel this week, this is based on the Hermes Dressage watch and is called L’heure masque. At first glance, it looks as though the watch has only one hand (a minute hand); however, the hour hand is hidden behind the minute hand until you press and hold a button on the crown. The hour is then displayed until you take your finger off the button. In a way this watch is a device to ignore the hours and have, as Perramond says, time to dream.


    Many watch brands use Basel to show updated versions of historical models, special anniversary watches and collaborations with other brands or personalities.


    Perramond, however, says Hermes does not believe in replication of the past. “We have a conservatory where each object that was once created and manufactured by Hermes is kept and we try to do that across all product categories. Our creative director in watches will often go there to get inspiration — let’s say to see how the leather was used, or how maybe an interesting function was used.


    It’s not to replicate an old piece; it’s just to find some inspiration and to stay within the codes and values of Hermes. But, really, we don’t want to replicate the past; we are very forward thinking in terms of creativity and trying to truly create something new, not to reinvent.


    “And in this matter I often tell the creative people that they’re not allowed to look at what the competitors are doing. Because if you start looking at competitors and there are many in this world of watches — whether you want to or not, subconsciously you will somehow copy what you have seen. So it’s better to look at other sectors like art, architecture and design and to get your inspiration from outside the industry.


    “I think it is our mission to make our clients dream, to enchant them, to surprise them and to have something which is totally outside the convention. There are so many brands that are very good at what they do, but they stay, most of them, within the convention of the industry and I think it’s our role to break the code and to try and be a little bit crazy.” Doing that, however, takes time and patience. “It’s very challenging for our creative teams because they first have to have the idea and then they have to make it possible from a technical point of view.


    Each new watch is like a start-up business.”
     



  3. I specifically made the second post with the second half of the article start with this paragraph.


    Frankly, I am more than a little taken aback by this comment in bold in particular (the whole paragraph preceding it doesn't sit too well with me either).

    To me it seems Mr Perramond does not really know his customers; I know of no other brand where the technical features and specifications of accessories from bags to scarves to boots - on the inside, outside, and seams - is as venerated, obsessed over, and appreciated as by Hermes customers. And not for solely aesthetic purposes, but because of the craftsmanship and materials used. To assume his customer base has horological preferences that are determined by authenticity concerns over craftsmanship leaves me a bit queasy to be honest.

    His fairly archaic generalisation of his target market is not the most endearing PR move for me. I'd use the word patronising but I'm afraid that word might be a bit too complicated for me.


    On the bright side, its an, um, encouraging step for H watch fans that this seems to be an area of the business which is building.
     
  4. I suspect some of his meaning has been lost in translation - in French that sentence would have a different meaning/nuance. Great article, thanks for posting.
     
  5. Thank you for clarifying. I took it at face value and in context of the rest of the paragraph, but did wonder if that was the case.

    Its nice to see the brand is retaining its integrity and bringing more specialised skills "in house".

    I'm just thinking now, maybe this thread qualifies to being merged into the "Hermes in print" thread. If so mods please move.