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Hermes CEO Luc Perramond on his favourites and hopes from Dressage L’huere Masquee in an exclusive chat with Hiren Kumar Bose
Hermès has actually been making watches for about 100 years but the perception that it’s a fashion brand continues despite creations like Le Temps Suspendu, the first exclusive movement in a Dressage watch, a chronograph version of that watch, etc. Why is it so?
I don’t think that’s the case. The perception is changing, though slowly. Winning the Grand Prix of Horology in 2011 with Le Temps Suspendu was a leap forward; people in the industry began looking at us differently. Our investment in a new booth at BaselWorld shows we are a serious player. Our numbers indicate that more and more people see these changes and appreciate them, because our average price has doubled in five years — about $5,000 now at retail compared to $2,000 five years ago. People are prepared to invest more in a Hermès watch. It’s a sign that people believe in what we’re doing.
What steps do you take to make Hermes a fine watchmaker?
We have always slowly mastered the know-how and integrated the craftsmanship. It is the same for the watch business: to ensure the best quality possible, and to guarantee that quality to your clients, you must at some point do it yourself. Also, we want to ensure our independence. The watch industry is getting more and more concentrated, and it’s important that we can secure this expertise in dials and cases in-house rather than contracting it to others. So we are progressing along this line, and sticking to this strategy, which is working well.
In 2011 Le Temps Suspendu won a prize at the Grand Prix d’ Horlogerie. Any such expectations from the products launched this year?
Arceu Time Suspendu won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in the men’s watch category. We wish we could win a prize this year with the Dressage L’heure Masquee which is unique as it has a single complication or the Arceu Millefiori in the craftsmanship category as this represents an innovation in terms of watchmaking.
Do tell us about Arceu Millefiori which presents a new facet of artistic crafts.
We are interested in approaching ancient craft techniques from an innovative angle. The paperweights of Saint-Louis are magnificent and are known the world over. Sadly, this type of craftsmanship is not very popular anymore. We planned to promote this wonderful technique performed by the craftsmen from the Crystalleries royales de Saint-Louis. It has belonged to Hermès for a long time. The art consists of finely cutting up coloured canes obtained by superimposing layers of crystal and enamel. We have managed to transpose the work performed in creating the famous paperweights onto a very thin layer composing the dial of the Arceau Millefiori and the lid of the l’Arceau Pocket Millefiori. Once again, we innovate by offering singular, unique things. By putting it in our dials we thought of giving it a breath of fresh air. We took it as a big challenge. The material is very delicate but after several attempts we finally succeeded.
This year Hermes has slightly shifted its priorities focusing more on men’s watches. Is it a conscious decision to be so?
Five years ago, we had a mix that was unbalanced, about 80 per cent ladies, and it was a key part of our strategy to rebalance and capture more of the men’s market, which we have done. Today men’s watches are 40 per cent of our business. While the past few years have been devoted to the masculine side of things in the Hermès’ collections, this year the company is giving pride of place to women. This year, we wanted to focus strongly on women. For the past five years, we have redeveloped the men’s watch market to re-establish a certain balance. Today, we have reached a ratio of 60 per cent ladies’ and 40 per cent men’s watches. It was important to comeback and talk to women.
You’ve a winner in the Time Veiled model with people talking about the watch which masks the hour in two time zones.
At Hermès, our starting point is that time is a friend. The heure masquée or “Time Veiled” concept is all about innovation and singularity-innovative, as this watchmaking module was created from scratch. We took inspiration from regulators which were used decades ago so that people could set and adjust their watches correctly. The regulator shows a minute hand. We brainstormed with our technical teams at Vaucher Manufacture to find the best way to express it. It’s about playing with time, interacting with the display of its steady flow—a concept which was actually the opposite of Le Temps Suspendu. It took us about two years to develop and to bring this concept to life.
Which are among your favourites this year?
That’s difficult to answer as they are all my babies and hard to judge. I am very happy with the result of the Millefiori models, which represent a fine performance in terms of both aesthetics and expertise. Dressage L’heure Masquée is particularly impressive. Finally, I would like to hail the arrival of the Cape Cod Nantucket, which spells the return of silver to Hermès with a new non-tarnishing alloy.
In which markets do you see the growth potential for Hermès watches?
France has been our largest market, so is the US and China. In fact, China has become one of the largest markets in a short time. There are markets that are virgin for us, like Russia. The Eastern Europe countries will be important, so will the Middle East. Then you have some markets in Latin America-Mexico and Brazil. Hermès has always been a powerful brand in Japan. We’re seeing its comeback strongly.