by Elizabeth Doerr
By any measure, the quality of Hermès’ wristwatches has increased year for year since 1978 when the leather giant founded its own watch factory in Switzerland.
And while ever-improving quality for a high-end luxury brand may sound like a given, it is much more of a given when your name is Hermès: this is a brand far more concerned than most when it comes to the details that matter in order to create an object corresponding perfectly to its long-standing philosophy.
Corners are never cut.
And this becomes abundantly clear when talking to Guillaume de Seynes, member of the Hermès family and managing director in charge of the manufacturing division and equity investments.
De Seynes joined the Hermès group in 1997 as international sales and marketing director of La Montre Hermès in Switzerland after gathering experience by working for other internationally renowned brands such as Lacoste and Mumm.
He was appointed the managing director of La Montre Hermès SA in 1999 and became vice-president of Hermès International in 2006 before being promoted in 2011 to the position he holds today.
Quill & Pad recently had the chance to chat with de Seynes to understand the brand’s corporate philosophies and history in watches a little better.
Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune with meteorite dial
Interview: Guillaume de Seynes
Q&P: Were you very involved in the process of the creation of the Arceau l’Heure de la Lune?
GdS: No, no. I was of course aware, and I thought that it was an exciting idea to have this very different moon phase complication because I think that the purpose of Hermès is to establish itself as a true watchmaker, but to try to keep this idea of freedom of creativity, of creation, and something different.
Hermès Le Temps Suspendu
I think we did quite well with 2011’s Suspended Time, which was really a major step for us in this process. And I think this year in a different way this is also quite a step because of course this is a traditional complication – the moon phase – but here I think we’re bringing something different, technically, visually, and aesthetically. So I’m quite happy with the result, I must say.
Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune with meteorite dial
Q&P: Would you wear a watch with such a prominent moon phase?
GdS: I think the moon phase is an interesting complication because it really speaks to you. A lot of people say that in fact we underestimate the impact of moon in our lives, and so it’s good to know where you are [when you look at your wrist].
Elizabeth Doerr interviews Guillaume de Seynes of Hermès
Q&P: You just mentioned Time Suspended, which for a lot of people was the big introduction for Hermès, its entrée into the world of haute horlogerie so to speak. And one of the big things that happened that year in 2011 was winning a big prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. And since then Hermès has won a couple of those awards. Do these change anything for your company?
GdS: Well, I think yes and no. Yes because I think the way the press, competitors, etc. consider us has changed or is changing. It takes time. We say at Hermès that we’re always on a long-term perspective, which is very true, but we are still of course a small challenger in this industry where there are some very big and prestigious names. It takes some years. So we’re getting there, but every year is a step, and every new addition to the line like this is a step in that direction.
Laurent Dordet, CEO of La Montre Hermès, accepting the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève prize for best calendar watch for the Slim d’Hermès QP
Q&P: But when a big prize comes along like that do you change anything in the way you think about developing things for the future? Or does that not change anything there?
GdS: Again, yes and no. No because at Hermès – and not only for watches – we think in terms of how we can be creative, how we can be different, how we can at the same time bring something new and of course in the best possible quality. This is no different before or after we win a prize; we were always thinking that way.
But it’s true that it does change our lives as a fantastic recognition . . . I think it changed the way a lot of people looked at us from the industry, for example. I think for some it came as a surprise that Hermès won that prize. So of course, we can say that it has changed the way we do things today. Because now we need to be even more accurate and demanding in terms of quality. It encouraged us to go further in breaking this new ground; it provided confidence.
Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir’s dial comprises thousands of tiny leather squares in mosaic
Q&P: I can guarantee you there were many collectors looking at the Arceau Robe du Soir, which won the Artistic Crafts Prize at the 2018 GPHG. It was so different from all the other watches, even among all the other unique and one-off pieces that were entered into that category. I also thought it was amazing – because it included one of the core know-hows of Hermès: leather.
GdS: Yes, that’s of course why it’s so exciting, because this one brings something that maybe nobody else can bring to the industry: it’s so much original know-how and craftsmanship. Also, a good thing is that it came from our own workshop in Brügg, not from Paris, where of course the know-how in terms of leather is at an intimate level. We have developed very nice expertise in leather mosaic with a lady who came from Paris but now is fully involved in the watch business. That’s great.
Guillaume de Seynes’ Carré H peeks out from under his cuff
Q&P: Do you notice an increase in sales after winning a prize like that?
GdS: Oh, yes. Very clearly for Suspended Time, that was really a definite help.
Q&P: Any particular markets?
GdS: Well, I think watch lovers are all over the world. What was great, especially with Suspended Time, was that some of our stores said that we sold pieces to gentlemen who had never bought anything at Hermès. So we are bringing new customers to the house through an exclusive watch. Generally such a man, or woman, was already a customer. So it is quite rewarding to know that in several cases where a man had bought his first Hermès object that it was a watch.
Q&P: That is quite remarkable. Four years ago, you and I spoke and you said that the Hermès watch business was interesting for you because Hermès is not considered the top of the top in the watch business, like in leather or silk. Has this view shifted at all? Do you have a different opinion of that now?
GdS: The other main new product we presented at SIHH 2019 was the Galop d’Hermès, which has been receiving a very good welcome. I think this piece expresses what our ambition is in watches: we want to have the freedom to propose a very large collection, entirely Swiss made, with the same idea of quality. And we are proud of having this beautiful Galop d’Hermès watch, which is quartz and mostly feminine.
It is beautifully made and offered at a price positioning that corresponds to a stainless steel watch with a quartz movement. And at the same time, this and all the complications we propose and all the effort we do really go to building a very interesting men’s collection; we don’t see contradiction there.
Behind this is the same approach: quality of style, design, and originality. I think that’s also where we are a bit different from a lot of others in this industry. So, it’s true that we want to be perceived as true Swiss watchmakers, but at the same time we want to keep this creativity, this originality, this freedom. And I think 98 percent of people can guess when they see it that this Galop d’Hermès watch is from Hermès. It has a strong recognition factor.
Q&P: I have one last question regarding the collaboration with Apple Watch. Apple is a big brand, but so is Hermès. What did this collaboration actually bring to Hermès aside from selling some straps?
GdS: Firstly, it was handled completely separately from the watch division. Secondly, it’s interesting to put this in parallel with the 1920s when my great-grandfather started to sell watches, because in fact it’s the same approach.
When Hermès started to be interested in the watch business it was 1927-28, he did the same. Of course, the big trend was wristwatches, which were replacing pocket watches more and more. He brought his know-how, his leather, his straps, to the watch and he started to sell watches in his store. These were then Swiss watches equipped with Hermès straps.
In fact, with Apple we have done the same. We have brought our best know-how with beautiful straps, a lot of creativity in terms of color and shapes and so on, to this object. So it’s interesting to note the same approach.
What it has brought to us? Certainly, for some people it has changed the way they look at us. And it has brought us new customers, for sure – people who were thinking “Hermès is not the brand for me” because it is too conservative or too expensive or too whatever. We like to surprise people, and I think we surprised people with that.