At this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, Hermès unveiled Galop d’Hermès, a new women’s timepiece that is poised to become a new classic of the house.
Inspired by the shape of a stirrup and the aerodynamics of a galloping racehorse, Galop d’Hermès is one of the main highlights of this year’s lineup of new timepieces by Hermès. Its dynamic design, very much in line with the Parisian leather-goods maker’s equestrian heritage, is the fruit of a first-time collaboration with an American designer, Ini Archibong.
“We chose Ini because he is talented, très sympatique, charismatic, and he likes Hermès and our way of thinking,” Hermès said at the unveiling of the watch in Geneva.
Retaining an outside designer can be an uncertain proposition for a heritage house like Hermès, which has a well-defined style and established visual identity. But when there is synergy, it can breathe fresh air into an existing repertory of designs.
For Hermès, which ventured into watchmaking 41 years ago by adding a manufacturing capacity to its retail watch business, Galop d’Hermès promises to be the start of a new line that could be developed over the years, as has been done with Arceau and Cape Cod.
Hermès Grows Its Business
Two years ago, Hermès joined the roster of independent brands exhibiting at SIHH after opting out of Baselworld. The more intimate setting of the Geneva fair has brought Hermès greater visibility in the high-watchmaking league.
“We have had great success at this Salon and are reaping the rewards of the efforts Hermès put into establishing itself in Switzerland and developing its watchmaking activity in the past 10 to 15 years,” Hermès says.
One of the rare family-owned luxury brands to disclose some financial information, Hermès posted 9 percent growth last year by its watchmaking division, Hermès Horloger, which reportedly produces upwards of 60,000 watches annually.
“This growth was recorded worldwide but was mostly generated in Asia, which includes everything from Australia to China, without omitting Korea and Japan,” Hermès says.
That percentage, which does not include its jewelry division’s performance, reflects a growth in sales across the board in its brand-owned boutiques and in the network of retail distributors that Hermès has in recent years looked to tighten in order to make it more exclusive.
Hermès and Watchmaking
Hermès first ventured into watchmaking in 1978 when it established a subsidiary, La Montre Hermès, in Biel, Switzerland, producing quartz-powered watches designed and finished to echo the brand’s equestrian style.
Over the years, applying a strategy of vertical integration, Hermès has made some significant acquisitions to position itself in the high-end mechanical watchmaking arena. In 2006, Hermès acquired an interest in the movement-maker Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, a sister company of the watchmaker Parmigiani, before purchasing and integrating into the Hermès group, a Swiss case and dial-maker and a leather-strap manufacturer.
“We have an original voice in watchmaking, as much in our style as in our movement-making and we are strictly committed to making 100 percent Swiss-made watches,” Hermès says.
Hermès also began producing men’s watches in the last decade, and over the years, its complicated timepieces have earned industry praise. Its Arceau Le Temps Suspendu was crowned Best Men’s Watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2011.
A New Collaboration for Galop d’Hermès
Archibong, who will turn 36 this year, founded his independent design studio, Design by Ini, in 2010. Until a fateful encounter three years ago with Philippe Delhotal, creative director of Hermès Horloger, he had never designed a timepiece, and had specialized in lighting and furniture design.
Born in 1983 in Pasadena, California, to Nigerian parents who immigrated to the US, Archibong graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and earned a master’s degree in luxury design and craftsmanship at L’École Cantonal d’Art de Lausanne (also known as ECAL). It was in Geneva, where he is based today, that he met Delhotal, who challenged him to come up with a new face for an Hermès watch that would appeal to today’s woman.
For the project, Archibong immersed himself in the heritage and values of Hermès by visiting its museum and the Conservatoire des Créations Hermès outside Paris, which houses some 40,000 objects made by the company since its founding.
“At the Conservatoire, I learned about the place of horses and carriages in the creations of Hermès,” Archibong says. “The stirrup became a logical starting point.”
Designing with Light and Motion
Though Galop d’Hermès was inspired by the shape of a stirrup, Archibong also sought to capture in his design the essence of a dynamic, modern woman. For that, he looked at street fashion photographs of women taken around the world. What they all had in common, he found, was that they were “in movement with a direction.”
But he still wanted a design with unisex appeal. “The idea of androgyny is something I really wanted to bring into the watch,” Archibong says. “To have something that is curvaceous and beautiful but also succinct, direct and to the point, and doesn’t need to be dainty or covered with diamonds in order to speak of a woman’s power.”
There is an aerodynamic fluidity to the timepiece, from the lines of perspective in the shape of the case itself, and the boundaries inside the dial, which Archibong has erased to emphasize contours that catch the light.
“The crown at the bottom instead of the side gives a sense of freedom to the watch,” Archibong says. “The numerals go from smaller on top to larger on the bottom, giving an added sense of speed and perspective, as if you were flying in a jet.”
Or galloping on a horse… The number eight is shaped like a stirrup, a nod to the original inspiration for the watch.
“Light and movement are precisely what we wanted to express,” Delhotal says. “Typography is also important at Hermès because that is a signature and a particularity that characterizes our house.”
This fresh new vision of time in curves and light comes in steel and rose gold, each with a diamond set option, with prices starting at $3,650 and up to $15,400 for the diamond-set rose gold case on an alligator strap.
“My philosophy of time is completely free,” Archibong says. “To me, time is not so much precision, but more about how you enjoy it.”
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