Words: Josh Sims
It would, of course, take a Frenchman such as Philippe Delhotal, creative director of Hermès’ watch business La Montre, to draw a parallel between designing a watch and the art of cuisine. ‘Simple is actually very hard to pull off,’ he says. ‘If you think about the need to create an identity for a product, you have to bring in a distinctive, different element, of course – but not necessarily lots of them. It’s just like cooking – you don’t need lots of ingredients to make something that tastes really good. In fact, the result can be stronger. Less is more, as they say.’
Hermès has certainly taken that mantra to its heart with its latest timepiece, the Slim d’Hermès – the latest addition to the French luxury-goods house’s range of watches. Indeed, as well as a stripped-back dial – the kind of clock face a small child might draw, Delhotal suggests, or at least a child with a preference for Mies Van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan – just about everything else about this watch is minimalistic, too, the depth in particular. At just 2.6mm deep, that makes the Slim, well, pretty slim, and, at 39.5mm across, it’s on the daintier side for any man who likes to wear his machismo on his sleeve, or just below it.
That makes it a feat of micro-mechanical engineering – and the Slim packs into its interior a tiny Vaucher Manufacture H1950 self-winding movement and a specially developed regulator, too. More impressively, a perpetual-calendar version has been developed for Hermès by Agenhor, in which the movement has to breathe in even more. Yet, philosophically speaking, again as perhaps only a Frenchman might, the Slim d’Hermès also reflects the times, Delhotal argues.
‘Naturally, there’s something elegant about a slim watch – it’s not too much, unlike so many of the big watches that have been around in recent years,’ he says. But it’s more than that, he adds. Slim represents modern thinking: a reductionist attitude that Hermès has historically taken with many of its products, and which brings every object back to the essence of the thing, counter to the maximalist approach that dominated pre-crash times. ‘That was when luxury was more bling-bling, when newly rich people wanted to show off the fact they had money. Watch design reflected that,’ he explains, ‘and wasn’t always in good taste. But now the prevailing mindset is in wanting an object to last longer – and not being so easily recognised as a statement of luxury. Its value doesn’t necessarily have to be something you can even see on the outside.’
Although, with the Slim, it is, as long as you look close enough. But far from taking this cue as an opportunity to wax lyrical on the watch’s signature ‘H’ guilloché, its 29 jewels, rotors, base plates and the unbearable lightness of bearings, Delhotal rather refreshingly describes the Slim as having been ‘more an exercise in style, and whether we could mix the modern and the traditional, in the way some home decoration can look good when you have both furniture that’s centuries old and very contemporary.’
And, to this end, Delhotal wanted to employ an external graphic designer to create a bespoke font for the dial. He turned out to be Philippe Apeloig, who’d designed posters for Hermès but who had never designed a watch, or any part of one. In fact, he’d never designed anything quite so small. The result, though, is striking, poised between a nod back to Hermès’ Art Deco heritage and the broken forms of something much more post-modern. The figure ‘8’ and the ‘4’ are particularly special, but all the numerals have been dematerialised – skeletonised, in a sense – that is, in a way, entirely apposite for a slim watch.
‘I knew we needed to stay away from anyone with a history in horology,’ says Delhotal. ‘We wanted someone with a fresh perspective, who didn’t live surrounded by watches all day – in fact, the whole process has made me think differently about the role of fonts in watch design. Now we’ve done this, I want to work more often with people from outside watchmaking, because they bring the difference consumers want now.’