Ven­er­a­ble Gi­ant

French luxury mai­son Her­mès is a com­mer­cial, as­pi­ra­tional pow­er­house. With an ar­ray of métiers that in­cludes the found­ing line of leather goods and sad­dlery, through to silk, tex­tiles, ready-to-wear ac­ces­sories and perfumes, the brand con­tin­ues to ex­pand.

Plaza Watch International - - Venerable Giant - AS TOLD TO: NICK RICE PHOTO H er m è s

Adored by con­sumers, revered in busi­ness terms, the Her­mès brand is stronger than ever in its French home­land and be­com­ing ever more em­bed­ded in con­sumers' de­sires all around the world. The brand’s col­lec­tions now com­prise over 50,000 items, all spread across the dif­fer­ing métiers, or sec­tors, they spe­cialise in.

The watch di­vi­sion rep­re­sents five per cent of the group’s to­tal busi­ness and it is poised for more fo­cused devel­op­ment. La Mon­tre Her­mès last year recorded 17 per cent growth with sales of €173 mil­lion. Lead­ing the charge is CEO, Luc Per­ra­mond, who is de­ploy­ing his for­mi­da­ble busi­ness acu­men to el­e­vate Her­mès time­pieces to new heights. This means watches that are built to more ex­act­ing stan­dards, a com­mit­ment to self­suf­fi­ciency, and pro­pri­etary me­chan­i­cal move­ments. In short, a drive to­wards higher horo­log­i­cal mas­tery.

The first Her­mès watches with in-house me­chan­i­cal move­ments de­buted at Basel­world in 2012 and Per­ra­mond has been keep­ing his eye on the tar­get ever since. Speak­ing to him at Basel­world 2013, Per­ra­mond was gra­cious and friendly as ever, and concise in his aims for La Mon­tre Her­mès.

“As a brand, Her­mès, who we are as a watch­maker, we want to be re­ceived as a se­ri­ous watch brand and we are com­mit­ted to watch­mak­ing in the long-term – but at the same time we are very sin­gu­lar and dis­tinc­tive, bring­ing in a new per­spec­tive to watch­mak­ing with our own val­ues. The val­ues of Her­mès, which are more emo­tional.”

Per­ra­mond refers to the ap­peal, of­ten sub­con­scious, that some brands em­body. That magic alchemy that casts a spell over con­sumers and in­spires brand loy­alty with gen­uine longevity. Per­ra­mond de­scribes the val­ues of Her­mès time­pieces as, “Po­etic, rather than pure per­for­mance or ra­tio­nale, like some of the Swiss watch­mak­ers. We def­i­nitely have a strong place in the watch­mak­ing world, but our own unique po­si­tion­ing.”

La Mon­tre Her­mès was founded in 1978 by Jean-Louis Du­mas who, in an un­prece­dented move at the time, shifted op­er­a­tions for this part of the busi­ness to Switzer­land. Du­mas knew that the com­pany had to be lo­cated at the heart of the watch­mak­ing pro- fes­sion in or­der to ab­sorb the vast amount of knowl­edge and science re­quired to con­struct fine time­pieces. How­ever, things were not rushed and it took 34 years for La Mon­tre Her­mès to launch their first ‘in-house cal­i­bre’ – the H 1837. This first pro­pri­etary move­ment ar­rived last year in time for the brand’s 175th an­niver­sary, and is so named in

hon­our of the year Her­mès was founded.

This con­sid­ered ap­proach with a gra­cious lack of haste is cer­tainly typ­i­cal of the brand’s sober and metic­u­lous prin­ci­ples. And they in­tend to pro­ceed in the same vein, as Per­ra­mond states, “We will con­tinue our devel­op­ment to­wards fine watch­mak­ing, to which we are very com­mit­ted. We want to de­velop our know-how more and more. Af­ter the first in-house move­ment last year, which was a sim­ple three hands move­ment, we in­tro­duced a chrono­graph – which is a nice com­pli­ca­tion. We like it be­cause it's the most noble com­pli­ca­tion in watch­mak­ing, and it’s also the most use­ful, and at Her­mès we like use­ful ob­jects. It's im­por­tant that there is a func­tion that makes sense – for us it’s a new step. We are go­ing to make a fam­ily of man­u­fac­ture move­ments in-house and slowly de­velop that.”

One of the less func­tional, but cer­tainly in­spired and whim­si­cal cre­ations from the brand is the ‘Time Suspended’ or Le Temps Sus­pendu, which has been in­cred­i­bly well re­ceived. The watch has a nov­elty whereby you can ac­ti­vate a pusher on the left side of the case and the hands leap to­gether, ceas­ing to func­tion. The move­ment still keeps time though, but you can't see it on the dial. Press again and your mo­ments of time­less­ness van­ish, the hands flick back and time marches ir­re­vo­ca­bly on once more.

Launched in 2011, and de­vised un­der the tow­er­ing ex­per­tise of mas­ter watch­maker Jean-Marc Wieder­recht, this watch con­sol­i­dates the real power of the Arceau col­lec­tion to which it be­longs. Com­ment­ing on the col­lab­o­ra­tion with Wieder­recht, Per­ra­mond says, “We started to work with Jean-Marc five years ago and we told him we have this very spe­cial phi­los­o­phy of time, where we see time as a friend. Time is a very pre­cious re­source for us to make beau­ti­ful ob­jects in. We brain­stormed a lot and at some point some­one said, ‘I wish we could stop the time be­cause we’re hav­ing such a great dis­cus­sion’ and that led to the Le Temps Sus­pendu.”

This spe­cial ap­proach to time and th­ese art­ful col­lab­o­ra­tions look set to drive the brand for­ward, and Per­ra­mond adds, “We be­lieve in the no­tion of a time to dream, be­cause it’s a ter­ri­tory that is re­ally per­fect for us. It is very em­blem­atic of what we do – po­etry with fine watch­mak­ing – and so we have new ideas for new con­cepts where we can ex­plore the idea of play­ing with time, cre­at­ing your own time, in­ter­act­ing with time, be­cause time has so many qual­i­ties. So Jean-Marc is work­ing on a new con­cept and we are work­ing with a lot of other very tal­ented watch­mak­ers in Switzer­land.”

The Arceau range forms a par­tic­u­larly strong pil­lar for La Mon­tre Her­mès and is in­spired by the world of equine el­e­gance the brand is rooted in. “What we have seen in the last three years is the Arceau col­lec­tion slowly be­com­ing the most iconic de­sign, and the most iconic col­lec­tion. It is very in­ter­est­ing be­cause Arceau was cre­ated in 1978 and is the old­est watch de­sign for us – it's re­ally show­ing a lot of strengths, it's a strong sig­na­ture. You have th­ese asym­met­ric lugs at­tached to the strap, which re­minds peo­ple of our eques­trian roots with the stir­rup, and you have those num­bers danc­ing around the dial. It’s a very pow­er­ful de­sign and is emerg­ing as an iconic one,” Per­ra­mond says.

Now ap­proach­ing his sixth year as CEO, Per­ra­mond is no­tably op­ti­mistic about the watch in­dus­try in gen­eral and he be­lieves there is a lot of po­ten­tial in for­eign mar­kets. “We can see that the Euro is very re­silient, in spite of the macro eco­nomic tur­bu­lence. I think the US has huge po­ten­tial; it has been over­looked be­cause the US is the largest luxury mar­ket in the world by far, in terms of value. I think the in­dus­try has had a ten­dency in the re­cent past to over­look the USA and fo­cus too much on China. And what is hap­pen­ing in China now is just a nor­mal­i­sa­tion of the sit­u­a­tion, be­cause it was out of hand for the last three years, grow­ing way too fast. This was un­re­al­is­tic and not rea­son­able so has been nor­malised. Ja­pan, which was tra­di­tion­ally a very im­por­tant watch mar­ket, is com­ing back strongly, which for me is a very healthy sign that the tra­di­tional watch mar­kets, like the USA, Ja­pan and Ger­many, are re­ally still grow­ing.” he states.

“We have new ideas for new con­cepts where we can ex­plore the idea of play­ing with time, cre­at­ing your own time, in­ter­act­ing with time, be­cause time has so many qual­i­ties.”

“We want to de­velop more com­pli­ca­tions, but if we launch a new com­pli­ca­tion, it has to be with a twist. We can­not just do an­other tour­bil­lon.”

The brand has a solid and sta­ble world pres­ence and with re­gard to ex­pan­sion into new mar­kets, Per­ra­mond has his eye firmly trained on the Mid­dle East and In­done­sia. As he ex­plains, “We are quite well-bal­anced be­tween Europe, Amer­ica and in Asia, and we have fu­ture driv­ers of growth in Asia too with a coun­try like In­done­sia. There is fab­u­lous po­ten­tial with a strong ap­petite for luxury. It’s a mar­ket where do­mes­tic con­sump­tion is driv­ing the econ­omy, not ex­ports but do­mes­tic con­sump­tion. So it's a dif­fer­ent busi­ness model than China and I ex­pect a lot from In­done­sia.”

Con­cern­ing the Mid­dle East, Per­ra­mond adds, “There is a lot of po­ten­tial there too, we are grow­ing in dou­ble dig­its and now Her­mès has a good net­work in the Mid­dle East – in the last five years we have opened flag­ship stores in Dubai, Bahrain, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Beirut and re­cently in Kuwait. The only mar­ket miss­ing now is Saudi Ara­bia, which will be the next pri­or­ity. Busi­ness is re­ally start­ing to take off as we have the pre­cious col­lec­tion for ladies and the full range now for men with me­chan­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions and high- end watches – so the Mid­dle East is very im­por­tant.”

La Mon­tre Her­mès are plot­ting a smart and strate­gic course to en­sure con­sis­tent marked growth of the brand, and they are do­ing so with a dash of play­ful magic, in­fus­ing their watches with a wel­come dose of joie de vivre. Ex­pect to see more non­con­ven­tional com­pli­ca­tions, which is some­thing of a sig­na­ture for the brand now, and more un­pre­dictable fun. As Per­ra­mond concludes, “We want to de­velop more com­plica- tions, but if we launch a new com­pli­ca­tion, it has to be with a twist. We can­not just do an­other tour­bil­lon – it has to be some­thing spe­cial where we bring some new value – so it's in the pipe­line and you will see some­thing for the end of this year. You will see a nice sur­prise and in the fu­ture, even more.”

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