La Montre Hermès CEO Laurent Dordet holds court on the playful and practical visions of time embodied in Hermès timepieces.
As a total outsider in the world of watchmaking, Laurent Dordet relied on personal history to help him move Hermès watchmaking forward. His chief executive role may be his highest profile position at the rarefied brand, but he has occupied various high-level positions here since 1995. With success so intricately tied to Hermès’s values, it is unsurprising for Dordet to strengthen that bond to emerge stronger.
It has been awhile since we caught up with Dordet, who was in Singapore for the Time, A Hermès Object exhibition. Although he does not come right out and say it, growth remains positive at La Montre Hermès. At the same time, he remains steadfast that watchmaking at Hermès will remain resolutely Hermès, meaning the brand doesn’t aim to “surpass Patek Philippe,” as he puts it. We speak with him to find out the secrets of his success.
Time, A Hermès Object reminds us of the philosophy of Hermès, which is taking the time to enjoy time…
Ah good, I don’t need to explain the exhibition to you then! This is exactly what our message (at Hermès) and the event is all about.
This playfulness in Hermès watches surprises us because we don’t see it very often in watchmaking.
When we started to address mechanical watches and manufacture movements, we immediately thought about expressing specific complications about fun, about taking the time to enjoy time. Basically expressing lightness and a fantasy about time. At first, it was mainly about movements.
Last year, we decided to communicate more about watches as a different area for Hermès. In relation to this, we figured out that this lightness and playfulness was not only about our men’s complications. It could be about style, unexpected colours or a look — like the Grrrrr! watch. Take the Hermès Cape Cod Shadow, which you might expect for men only, but we offer it for women in what might be an unexpected shape and size, at least for Hermès.
What happened was we decided to speak about Hermès time, time as a Hermès object not only for men’s watches but really for everything. We created advertising campaigns all centred around this idea, and communicating this idea. We think all our watches can communicate the ideas of freedom and fun.
The emotion (of our timepieces) is very linked to the feeling of being unique; to have something that not everyone has — something that is discreet, discreet even on your own watch that only you know about. For other brands (in fine watchmaking), this might be related to the technical elements, but for us, it is in the fantasy we provide. It can be provided by our own movements, of course, or a specific complication (like the Temps Suspendu) but also by our style, generally speaking, throughout our collection.
As far as originality goes, one option could be form watches. What’s your perspective on this, especially given the prevailing sentiment for round watches?
Two years ago, our bestseller was H-Heure — it still is, in fact. It is a key model for us worldwide. We had another great model successful in America and Europe that we never emphasised in Asia much. This is the Cape Cod. There was no real reason for this, other than the (continuing) success of other models here. We renewed totally this collection and proposed this renewed collection, and then proposed it all over the world. We were astonished by how big a success it was, especially in Asia.
This means that all the advice we got to launch a round watch for Asia, well, we were lucky not to follow it! There is a fantastic buzz around Cape Cod, an emblematic shape for us, and I would say that H-Heure is still big but Cape Cod could be bigger.
Probably, form watches are roughly 80 per cent for us. You know, when we entered this business 40 years ago, the first (objective) was to be at the best level, technique-wise, immediately. The second point was to work with our own Hermès design (team), not watch designers! (The reason was) we were not in this trade to offer what (watchmaking brands) have been offering for hundreds of years — we are here to bring fresh air, fresh style. In other words, (we meant to offer) Hermès style — you can like or not but at least it is original.
Hermès is all about design and know-how. This we have in the leather goods, in silk, and so on. We wanted to bring this to watchmaking — this was the ambition 40 years ago and remains our ambition.
Where do you see growth for the Hermès watch segment?
There are two areas — first of all, we open new markets, but key markets are most important, and that is China, the USA, France, South Korea, and Singapore (to name just a few). Second, we extend our lines upwards — we keep our simple and quartz watches, but expand to more mechanical pieces. This is very successful right now, so in doing this, we can reach (new) clientele. So, there is geographical growth as well growth in (value).
How is the Arceau doing for you?
It was quite successful for us, from day one, with both men and women. The first year, it was already almost 10 per cent of our business, and it remains so. We introduce new complications most years, starting with moon phase, a chronograph, and, of course, the Temps Suspendu. Step by step, we build up the line, and there will, of course, be more and more new things.
Referring to that gender split, Hermès watches mainly appealed to women. How has this changed, if at all?
We remain at this share, with 80 per cent (of our watches appealing to) women. We have seen good growth here, but even better with men’s watches.
Image by Laurent Dordet