By Marton Radkai
As Creative Director for La Montre Hermès, Philippe Delhotal has been the driving force behind some of the marquee brand’s most creative, time-bending watches.
As we prepare to see what the watchmaking division of this global fashion powerhouse will debut during Watches and Wonders 2023 in late March, in this interview we learn a few details about how Delhotal approaches his design duties at Hermès. Delhotal also discusses his views regarding the differences between traditional men’s and women’s watches.
iW: Hermès is often perceived as a quintessentially feminine brand, though you do make men’s watches. How did that come about?
Philippe Delhotal: Hermès is a feminine brand indeed. When you visit us, you’ll see watches, handbags, scarves, perfume for women. And we have watches for men, too. Until now, about 80% of our production has been in ladies’ watches.
We have been making watches since 1928 and back then already they were already a big part of our portfolio. We would buy great movements from the likes of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, and many others. And at the time movements were very small, and round and this allowed us to make watches for women.
What, for you and Hermès, are the important elements that make up a watch conceived for women?
The form watch (a watch other than round) has a stronger character than a round watch. The Cape Cod, for example has a real identity, a personality. But it is difficult to find the right shape. That is the strength of Hermès today. The round Arceau’s character, however, comes from its asymmetrical lugs. This gives it a lot more originality and presence.
Round watches account for eighty percent of the market, so you can see how difficult it is to give them an identity. But you have to remember is that there are not many types of ladies’ watches around. And a woman will dress in a manner that is very different from men. On the other hand, many men’s watches are quite simple, and they are good for the casual chic look.
Finally, there’s a cultural aspect. In some cultures, wearing a man’s watch is much more common. European women tend to wear more masculine watches. In Italy for example, many women wear Panerai or Rolex. If you go to Asia, you’ll see far more feminine watches, with diamonds, and so forth.
You started focusing on men’s watches in 2011. What are the specificities from the standpoint of design and market?
A breakthrough with men’s watches is quite complicated if you haven’t seen there right from the start. It is hard to be considered legitimate and be accepted. And then there is the mechanical connotation: Men don’t choose Hermès for a mechanical watch off the bat, they go to Audemars Piguet, Cartier, or IWC.
From the design standpoint, a man’s watch must be original, surprising and also of very high quality. The first project that made our reputation in the world of male watches is the Temps Suspendu.
It won a prize at the Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), which gave us a lot of visibility. It was a surprising piece because no watchmaker had even thought of stopping time. They’d rather do the opposite.
What in your experience is the difference between male and female buyers?
A man we’ll simply go for a male watch, a woman will choose according to what she feels at that moment. Women will change clothes, will change handbags, will change shoes, so they will have many more accessories than men depending on their choice of clothing or costume. So they will choose a watch according to the momentary function. A woman will change her watches a lot more often than we will, barring collectors of course.
When Yves Saint-Laurent designed his first costumes for women, it was considered a revolution. Women have so many ways of using accessories in the good sense of the word, compared to men, who have a few suits, some neckties, and maybe cufflinks, that no one wears, and watch, which is the only jewel today, though we do see occasionally rings or those little bracelets. It’s developing.
A big subject of discussion, even controversy, these days is gender fluidity. Is that having an impact on the world of watches?
I am convinced that we are right at the start of jewelry for men. Seeing a woman with a very nice suit today doesn’t shock anyone. but if a man wears a dress, other than in Scotland, things will get complicated.
When Henry D’Origny designed the Cape Cod, he just wanted to make a watch. And it ended up becoming a part of the women’s world, perhaps because it looked like a link in a chain, it had rounded edges, a hint of jewelry. When we made the model for men, it was a little different. But I must add, women were also the buyers of the male Cape Cod.
At any rate, the success of the house is definitely based on its products. We believe we are seducing our clients, female and male, with an object that is well made and our sincerity vis-à-vis the object. we really put our heart in our objects, we spend a lot of time pondering them, we rethink them, we try to do genuine things, we have doubts at times, a lot happens while the object is maturing, and I think people feel that. And at some point, people just appreciate this product. There is no magic formula.
I think there is a genuine transformation on the social landscape that is happening around us, so that today it’s very difficult to say this is a watch for women that is a watch for men. You just must look at catwalks nowadays, the male ones and the female ones are getting closer and closer. This mix is as much from the female towards the male as it is from the male to the female. I find this extremely interesting, and why not?