Image: Johann Sauty
There is perhaps no more faint praise when it comes to watchmaking than calling something well-designed. Dismissing design in this way is a long tradition in watchmaking. This is unfortunate because great design encapsulates not only the look and feel of a timepiece, but also how it takes hold in one’s mind. While a disdain for design does have real roots in watchmaking, fine and otherwise, the times have moved on and timepieces with them.
It is impossible to consider and understand contemporary watchmaking as practised by Hermès Horloger, for one, without acknowledging the merits of design. Mind that the previous sentence is not to impugn the manufacture in any way — we do not after all use the word manufacture lightly.
In the course of looking at forward-thinking timepieces as a celebratory option for our website and L’Officiel Singapore audiences, Hermès invariably came up. However, my interest in the watches from this whimsical brand runs towards those for men, which of course demonstrates that there is more than one sort of approach here.
Hermès Horloger has been making a successful go of things with their focus on fonts and bringing a true designer’s eye to proportions and the like. The patience the company has invested in defining, refining and communicating the character of the watches is admirable. The good results of this deliberation are most evident in the H08, and as a full collection, that is indeed the case. But the completely unexpected Slim d’Hermès Squelette Lune adds rather more depth.
Slim d’Hermès Squelette Lune. Image: Hermès
For this reason, we thought we would do two things: first, a look at the characteristics of the Slim d’Hermès Squelette Lune — it is after all new for 2021, and we have not even covered the initial launch. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we thought we would prevail upon someone at the design department at La Montre Hermès to tell us about their grammar and vocabulary, if you will. As luck would have it, none other than Philippe Delhotal himself spared a few moments for us. We will present his thoughts after introducing the Squelette Lune and doing a brief recap on the H08.
Of course, even though the Squelette Lune is new, it is part of the Slim d’Hermès collection, which we have been getting quite used to since 2015. That is not a good long while certainly, and the collection is actually the first proper round watch for the brand; Hermes is much more connected with form watches. All the same, it is worth noting that Hermes watches are hardly associated with bags and other fashion accessories. Indeed it feels somewhat sacrilegious to write that, and probably the same to read it.
When we saw the Squelette Lune in person recently, the qualities of the Slim d’Hermès came to the fore once more. If you bring the standard models to mind, they will look the part of classy dress watches, with a bit of a twist. The Squelette Lune manages to maintain all the class, despite having lost its dial and more besides.
This will be a matter of opinion of course, but what is certain is that the Squelette Lune does not diminish the Slim d’Hermès collection. The slim profile and bezel remain, as do the tapering lugs — indeed they suit the Squelette Lune quite well. Philippe Apeloig’s unique font design also remains, but takes a back seat on what is left of the dial.
The openworked watch is quite paradoxical, simultaneously stripping the movement and dial of as much material as possible while adding a sense of opulent grandeur or architectural splendour — think of the Eiffel Tower for example. Kinetic sculptures might also come to mind, or perhaps so-called Cyber Punk machines.
It is definitely not for everyone, but watchmaking brands do like to take up the challenge of this form. Hermès Horloger has its own approach, which is low-key and deliberately unfussy. You would be right to think that the manufacture is deploying skeletonisation, otherwise known as openworking, as part of its signature whimsical touch.
Another dash of fanciful watchmaking is the photo-realistic moon discs of the moon phase display, which are miniaturised versions of what you might recall from the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune a couple of years ago. Of course, the H1953 movement is all-new, and is an automatic with micro-rotor.
Like the contrast between the moon phase display and the rest of the movement, the polished platinum bezel, matte bead-blasted titanium case and white gold crown all feel like they are meant to juxtapose against each other, to produce a singularly distinctive vision of watchmaking. The effect in this area is somewhat muted for the observer while being rather more obvious to the wearer. In practice, the watch is not as heavy as we expected it to be, but also not as light.
As for the H08 collection, we have already covered it in some detail, multiple times, so we’ll just summarise our thoughts quickly. We will double-down on our assertion that the watch is a study of the concept of the tool watch, which is especially evident in the form of that central second hand. Choc-abloc with fascinating design flourishes, the H08 is a watch that always baits the eye.
For more on both the Slim d’Hermès Squelette Lune and the H08, we present the words of Philippe Delhottal, Creative Director, Hermès Horloger
What unites disparate designs such as the H08 and the Slim d’Hermès?
In 2015, when we first launched the Slim d’Hermès, we were looking for an elegant piece that speaks to the essentials of the brand. We also knew we wanted to incorporate an ultra-thin mechanical movement. It is a very modest size for a mechanical watch and utilises a simple design, pure and perfectly in harmony with a sense of minimalism.
This year, with the launch of the Hermès H08, we wanted to create a watch, strongly anchored in the Hermès all-terrain, “multi-vital” masculine universe. It was a desire to express our values, to embody them. This timepiece embodies “the Hermès take on contemporary masculinity”. While undeniably sharp and a little raw, it is also sensual through the curves that blend with the design of the case, the font and the mix of materials.
We often look for stylised representations of the letter H in Hermes watches, and we think we see something in both the H08 and the new Slim d’Hermes Squelette Lune. In the former, it is the form of the watch itself (and the bracelet links of course) and in the Squelette, the bridge in the moon phase display. Tell us if we are completely mistaken!
Right, we have some details in the design that are familiar to the house as per example the letter H you could find on some components. However, for the creation of those lines, we did not opt for a figurative approach, nor direct references to equestrian figures or a reinterpretation of the anchor chain.
In addition, we wished to avoid having a watch based on a literal shape (such as the H for example). For both lines, it was fundamentally an abstract geometrical exercise, yet geometry is part of the Hermès design vocabulary. The Maison loves to play with proportions, shapes and volumes, the square being the best example. We closely examined proportions, rounded shapes and squares, all combined with simplicity in terms of legibility.
Overall, Hermes is known for its whimsical creations. What’s a surprising place we can find this whimsy applied in the H08 and Slim d’Hermes? We know for example that the fonts specific to the Slim d’Hermes are quite intriguing, and this is the case for fonts across many collections.
Typography at Hermès is an integral part of our timepieces, and such is also the case with the Slim d’Hermès and the Hermès H08. In 2015, Philippe Apeloig created a font that differs from what is currently on the market. Philippe Apeloig previously collaborated with the House in 2012 and 2013 so he understands the philosophy of Hermès very well. His graphical approach was exactly what we were looking for. We wanted to have coherence between the case and the typography, and to create a timepiece that stands out.
Looking at the font of the new Hermès H08, this legible and functional font does not stand out, instead seamlessly blending in with the overall design. It also features stylistic and geometric elements derived from the case. The 0, for example, echoes the shape of the bezel, while the 8 has the same contours.
With the Slim d’Hermes Squelette Lune, why mix materials for the case?
We like playing on the materials that can bring contrast, fascinating colour effects and complete the overall aesthetic appeal.
Given that the Slim d’Hermes Squelette Lune is all-new, why introduce this movement and function in the very specific skeletonised style? It would have been more usual to have the non-openworked version of this watch appear before the open-worked version, for example.
Hermès watchmaking offers a different interpretation of time: a time brimming with whimsical fancy, which goes beyond style — a time that is friendly, enduring, playful and recreational. A time that tells a story and arouses emotions. The Maison does not seek to replicate what already exists, but instead to be daring and follow its intuitions by creating objects whose purpose is not only to indicate the time, but to build a relationship with time.
With the new Slim d’Hermès Squelette Lune, there is a story that is revealed when seeing the movement and the function working with the many components, bringing everyone to another playground. And this is the story that we wanted to tell and show.
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