As hard core watch collectors, we sometimes overlook Hermés and dismiss it as a fashion brand. Not unjustifiably so, as they are extremely famous for their ladies handbags, scarfs and fashion items. But this is a serious oversight. Most of us may not be aware that Hermés have been making watches for 40 years. Initially via co-branding with the likes of Jaeger LeCoultre and Universal Geneve, and now making their way to being a manufacture. With partners like Vaucher and Jean-Marc Wiedderecht of Agenhor, they are slowly but most surely, making their way into serious watchmaking. Being family owned, they do not seem to be in any hurry, but content to take things in a measured and deliberate manner. Always with a strong focus on their savour faire of making high quality products and concentrating on technically simple but aesthetically beautiful watches. Hermés style. We caught up with Laurent Dordet, CEO of La Montre Hermès recently. Here is a summary of our tête-à-tête with him.
Enter Laurent Dordet
A career Hermès man, Laurent Dordet started in the company as the Chief Financial Officer in 1995, after a 4 year stint in Arthur Andersen following his graduation from Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris in 1990. His rise within the company was fast. He stayed within the Hermès Group but moved from CFO to Deputy CEO of the textile subsidiary in 2002. From 2007 to 2011, he was CEO of Cuirs Précieux (precious leathers division), and became CEO of Maroquinerie-Sellerie (leather goods and luggage with ‘saddle-stitching’) from 2011 to 2015. Since 2015, he assumed the position of CEO, La Montres Hermès, based in Brügg, Switzerland (watchmaking division).
We found him relaxed and candid when we met up with him at their flagship boutique in Liat Towers. A genial gentleman, who has deep understanding of the Hermès aesthetic, the work ethic and quality focus of the brand.
The La Montre Hermès’ ambition
Currently watches make up a relatively small portion of overall business for Hermès, accounting for just about 4% in their 2016 turnover of about €5.2 billion. Which make the revenue from watches about € 200 million, a figure not to be sneezed at. They make some 50,000 watches a year, with an average price range from € 1,000 to € 5,000.
We went on to discuss the intent of the brand in the high quality watch space. The watches retain the unmistakable Hermès aesthetic and spirit of high elegance and style. This aesthetic is rather unique in the watchmaking world, and they retain this by intentionally not working with watch designers. But with designers who are familiar with their DNA and style.
More than 80% of their watches being made for ladies target market. Most of these timepieces are supplied with quartz movements. Classics like the Kelly “lock” and Heure H are big hits.
However, the men’s market is growing very fast, and Laurent hopes to balance it to about 30% of their total production soon. We have seen this recently in the Carré H line, and more recently in the Arceau, Slim d’Hermes bringing the number of men’s collection to three. A fourth line will be added soon.
To this end, the ambition for the brand is to make a serious attempt at the high craft pieces. Phase two of their entry into horology began in 2000 when they decided to become more technical and be a manufacture.
Circa 2011, they made their foray into specialized, complicated movements via collaborations. With the intent to bring complications to the table to be proposed every second year. Always with the corporate aesthetic and style, but with interesting and useful complications.
Their recent move to exhibit at SIHH is an investment Laurent is making to bring the Hermès branding to the market.
Hermès as a manufacture
Hermès currently has a 25% stake in Manufacture Vaucher. Vaucher is a part of the Parmigiani Group of Companies specializing in movement design, prototyping and manufacture. This stake in the company began in 2006, and is held till today. Through this participation, 3 special calibers have been developed: the H1837, the H1912, and the H1950. The latest H1950 is a movement which is also used in certain Parmigiani and Richard Mille watches.
The desire to offer more technical watches grew and in 2011, they teamed up with Agenhor’s Jean-Marc Wiederrecht to come up with modifications to the base movements for more complicated movements. First with the Le Temps Suspendu (GPHG winner 2011), then new Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente, and most recently the Slim d’Hermès GMT.
While the movements are made by partners, Hermès makes the leather works in-house (of course!). The case is by Joseph Erard, a company fully owned by the brand. The dials are made by a company also fully owned by Hermès: specialist dial maker Natéber. In this sense, Laurent can legitimately claim that the brand is an integrated Swiss manufacture, as they have control over every part of the manufacturing process.
The digital divide
Interestingly for a family owned business with traditional roots, Hermès is already invested heavily into digital. Laurent tells us that they prefer to deliver information and awareness digitally against the traditional print channel. But also for e-commerce. He reveals that they began to experiment with e-commerce for watches as early as 1997 with mixed success. At group level, 3% of Hermès products are sold online currently. With watches accounting for less than their fair share. So he and his team have embarked on revamping the website to fix this. A new refresh is currently under way for their online site, and will be launched by the end of 2019 in Singapore.
He declined to give more information on this new launch, but indicated that he is now preparing for digital partnerships to go on trial as early as November this year. We hope we will be able to participate in this exciting time in Hermès history.
The conversation gained us some insights into the world of Hermès. And an impressive insight that is to us. They offer a unique approach which tries, and succeed at not to being a regular luxury watch we see ubiquitiously elsewhere. But to offer a quiet revolution with a refined aesthetic, a joyful stylee and the spirit of the Parisian lifestyle and joie de vivre that is captured within. Vive la révolution!