Why Watches from Hermès Are True Works of Art

  • Hermès’s Arceau Tigre
  • The delicate process of émail ombrant on Hermès’s Arceau Tigre begins with a detailed engraving
  • Jonathan Keats

Hermès’s Philippe Delhotal works with a massive array of artisans at his fingertips.

In mid-19th century France, people were fanatical about paperweights. Some of the most luxurious were crafted by Les Cristalleries royales de Saint-Louis, using the ancient millefiori technique. Though the fad dwindled by 1860, Saint-Louis never stopped producing millefiori orbs, as Philippe Delhotal discovered on a visit to the maison in 2012. “They had four artisans still making the paperweights,” he recalls. “It was not a way to earn money, but just to save the craft.” Delhotal inquired whether the hefty glass bulbs might be scaled down to make watch dials. One of the artisans, a man named Xavier, looked at him and said, “Are you crazy?”

As creative director at La Montre Hermès, Delhotal is accustomed to that response—a reaction he often provokes by suggesting the impossible to artisans at maisons like Saint-Louis, which Hermès acquired in 1989. Delhotal is also accustomed to hearing what Xavier said next. “He told me, ‘This is a challenge, and I like challenges. Let me try.’ After two years and a lot of broken crystal, he succeeded.”

Featuring dials decorated with dozens of colorful handworked glass flowers, the timepieces in the Arceau Millefiori collection are characteristic of the watches Delhotal has designed in his seven years at Hermès. They also exemplify what makes La Montre Hermès unique with respect to the métiers d’art.

Hermès has sold watches since the 1920s. Initially the company collaborated with manufactures such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, enhancing high-end timepieces with fine leather straps. The Hermès name began to appear on movements in 1978, after the company opened production facilities in Switzerland, adding horology to the range of Hermès métiers. Recent additions to Hermès holdings—including a 25 percent stake in Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier—have augmented access to expertise and quality control. “We are known for craftsmanship and creativity,” says Delhotal. “Vaucher increases our credibility.”

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