A few years ago, I remember chatting with Guillaume de Seynes, a member of the Hermès family and of the company’s board, about the recent acquisitions of a dial company, a case manufacturer and a 25 per cent stake in a movement supplier, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. When I asked him why, he didn’t mention watches in his reply; rather he told me about Hermès’ famed silk scarves. In the 1940s, the firm was as famous for its scarves as now, but then there were 30-plus suppliers: various companies imported the silk yarn, other firms wove the silk, others printed the scarves while someone else did the hand rolling of the edges. Now, Hermès owns and operates every facet of its scarf production; he told me that in the luxury industry the one thing your clients demand is consistency, and you can only obtain that via complete control – and with that control also comes the flexibility to do interesting things.
In the watch world, one of the most interesting “things” of the past year has been the Slim d’Hermès: a hit at Baselworld and, in its exceptional perpetual calendar guise, a winner in its category at November’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve. A relaxed dress watch that comes both in women’s and men’s sizes, it’s notable in particular for its airy dial aesthetic, with an exclusive stencil-style font for the numerals, designed by Parisian graphic designer Philippe Apeloig.
Wiederrecht and his team have built movements and modules for clients as varied as Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Fabérgé, Romain Jerome and MB&F. What marks it out from most other firms – including Vaucher, for instance – is its method of operation: it doesn’t actually make anything. Rather, it designs everything in-house, using the most modern CAD facility I’ve ever seen. A small army of specialist sub-contractors then manufactures each part and delivers it to Agenhor’s modern plant in Meyrin, where its watchmakers do the assembly.
What Wiederrecht and co have come up with for the Slim d’Hermès is truly special. The perpetual calendar is the most useful of complications, the original “wear it and forget it” watch – until, that is, you want to travel with one. The problem is you can’t turn them back a day, which you regularly need to if you travel west across the International Date Line. But that isn’t a problem with the Slim d’Hermès perpetual calendar, as it includes a second time zone dial along with all the expected indicators, and it manages this in a module which is only 1.4mm thick. When the module is stacked on top of the H1950, it’s 4mm thick – a supremely skinny engine for a self-winding perpetual calendar with the addition of a second time zone and day/night indicator.
But this is a watch in which lightness of touch is the defining factor across the different parts of its design, as Delhotal explained. “The important thing is the balance between the different aspects of the watch. It isn’t just the case or the dial colour or the typography – it is how all of them go together in harmony that makes the watch.”
The case and the typography were in fact worked on at the same time, Apeloig, who has worked with Hermes on previous projects but not on watches, coming up with the unique typeface. What makes this work perfectly is the use of white space breaking up the forms of the numbers. There is enough of the outline visible for the eye to quickly read and understand the numbers, but they are broken up in such a way as to appear playful on the dial. It makes what is otherwise a very simple dial in the three-hand versions, and a very traditional one in the perpetual calendar, seem not in the least austere.
“It’s like music and an orchestra”, says Delhotal. “The best results come when all the players work together.” The collective efforts from a broad group of collaborators have produced one of the most accomplished new watches of 2015, and one that richly deserved its victory at the GPHG as the best calendar watch of the year.