Hermès Carré H
Like the hands on a watch, certain ideas cross paths, brush against each other and then glide on. Those of designer and architect Marc Berthier, and of Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès, simply met and mingled. These devotees of the finer things in life united their passions and their expertise. This encounter and this creative spirit “squared” have given rise to a rare object stemming from a magnificent alchemist’s blend. How was the Carré H born, since this is a watch that does not seem to match any of the current watchmaking standards? Marc Berthier:
A few years ago Jean-Louis Dumas, then at the head of Hermès, asked me to think about “what a Hermès timepiece for a travelling dandy might look like”.
At the time, the trend was for increasingly larger watches. I showed him a few sketches that were very structured but not at all showy. Pierre-Alexis Dumas:
This project remained tucked away in a back drawer until four years ago, when I was checking Marc Berthier’s file and was immediately struck by his sketch of a square shape. The square is a simple yet difficult geometrical shape that can be boring because of its harmonious lines. Even if it is strongly present in the other Hermès crafts such as silk scarves, the square is not frequently used in watchmaking. I therefore decided to meet Marc Berthier, while feeling both curious and intimidated. So you pooled your skills and began a first cooperative effort. P-A.D.:
The two of us began working together, aided and abetted as time went on by Philippe Delhotal, Artistic Director of La Montre Hermès. He oversaw the evolution of this atypical project in the brand’s watchmaking workshops in Biel, Switzerland. Such a bold square with a large dial opening somewhat overturned our existing conventions.
What is so different about the Carré H? P-A.D.:
This is a square watch that actually isn’t completely square. M.B.:
It has rounded corners, creating an elegant domed shape. The upper watch glass is curved, and the dial below it slopes downwards. This is often the case for round watches, but not generally for square ones. P-A.D.:
It is supple, accurate, and anthropomorphic. The counter-curve on the wrist makes it extremely light to wear and eliminates any stiffness. It is the epitome of contemporary classicism. Renzo Piano once told me: “That which is misshapen is not ugly, but just a different shape.”
Deformity in design involves pushing the field of exploration a little further. M.B.:
The Carré H is an extremely contemporary design. I designed it before today’s nomadic objects such as cellphones and laptops, which used to have sharp-sided shells and cases and now feature softened angles. However, the hour-markers show very clean, crisp lines. M.B.:
They are baton-shaped. It’s all about balance. The watch is pared down. The hands are the same width as the hour-marker bars and are lined up exactly in such a way as to extend them. Everything is calculated to within a tenth of a millimetre. Achieving this degree of perfection meant reworking the composition on the square countless times. P-A.D.:
This watch is born of a love of geometry. My grandfather, Robert Dumas, was ambidextrous and he was always drawing something. I have just found a sketch in which he shows the right way of tracing oval shapes. Geometry is the structure undergirding any shape and which results in beauty. M.B.:
Both the square and the circle are shapes embodying pure geometry. To compose these forms, you have to look for harmony in purity and perfection in details. P-A.D.:
The beautiful thing about this watch is the way squares are nested within the overall square. This design is resolutely dynamic and reveals a diagonal line composed of a small seconds sub-dial, a medium-sized dial for the hands, and a large dial with the hour-markers. Even a round shape is more stable than that. That’s why people will not tire of the design of this watch, because it is full of subtle features. M.B.:
It’s a genuine architect’s watch. How did you define the size? M.B.:
According to several criteria. First of all, we wanted to be able to derive a smaller feminine model from it one day. Secondly, for a man’s watch, a 36.5 x 36.5 mm size provides space to accommodate a high-quality mechanism. So could you tell us about the mechanism housed inside the watch? P-A.D.:
The GP 3200 movement is made by Sowind, a renowned Swiss manufacturer in the Jura region. It is an extremely precise mechanical self-winding movement. Due to gravity, an oscillating weight serves to transmit the energy to the barrel-spring. The entire set of components is fixed to an entirely circular-grained baseplate. The oscillating weight as well as the bridges with their hand-polished angles are decorated with a sprinkling of “Hs”.
Since the watch is assembled from the underside, a first dial is fixed beneath the glass and bears the hour-markers. The movement composed of the central dial and hands is then fixed in the centre. It is adorned with fine hollowed guilloché lines. M.B.:
Viewed from the top, the Carré H is an elegant, extremely restrained watch that does not show off its technology. Then turn it over. Through its underside, it reveals the mechanism through a sapphire caseback that is as clear as crystal and as hard as steel. It’s a question of infinite subtleness, like a Hermès coat with lambskin lined pockets.
Why did you choose to make it in titanium? P-A.D.:
Because it’s a very light and rugged material. Its microbead blasted treatment lends it a surprisingly soft touch and a discreetly sensual aura. On the upper part of the case, the edge is meticulously polished, making the light bounce off it as it does off the edge of leathers polished with wax at Hermès. This is where the link between the treatment of metal and leather is expressed. It’s our House signature. M.B.:
That’s the first time I’ve heard that, and I really like the idea! And where does the colour come from? M.B.:
It’s natural. Microbead blasting the titanium gives it a warm grey shade. I had originally designed the watch in black titanium, and this anthracite tone is a Hermès suggestion that I find very interesting. And the strap? P-A.D.:
It is in black Barenia calfskin, a leather with a slightly oily velvety touch, which acquires a magnificent patina over time. It is saddle-stitched, straight, and neither flared nor tapered. The pin buckle is in titanium. Finally, to secure the strap to the watch, we have designed loops rather than lugs. M.B.:
In keeping with the distinctive Hermès stirrup theme. Why the name Carré H? P-A.D.:
All objects bear a name at Hermès. Like all names that seem quite obvious, we spent a long time looking for it. The carré or square was a natural choice, because it’s the ultimate Hermès symbol. Is the Carré H a limited edition? P-A.D.:
Yes, there are only 173: one for each year of existence of Hermès, founded in 1837 ■
Marc Berthier is a designer and architect who has also in the course of his extremely rich career been a teacher and an art director (for the Marie-Claire press group and Galeries Lafayette). Exhibited at the Modern Art Museum and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, as well as the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, his works have earned him numerous distinctions, including the Grand Prix National de la Création Industrielle awarded by the French Ministry of Culture. For the past 30 years, he and his associates at the Eliumstudio in Paris have been cultivating an approach to design based on lightness, movement and sustainable development. He has designed watches, furniture, cellphones for Japan, handbags, eco-friendly products for the Cousteau Foundation, and recently presented the Walter chair for the California-based Environment Furniture company. His creations draw upon cutting-edge technologies while remaining enduringly timeless and beyond fashion ■
After graduating from Brown University with a degree in visual arts, Pierre-Alexis Dumas joined the Hermès group in 1992 in the creative departments of Saint-Louis, the crystal manufacturer, and Puiforcat, the silversmith company. In 1993, he joined Hermès, managing the group subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China from 1996 to 1998. He then took the reins of the English subsidiary until 2002, at which time he returned to Paris to take up the role of Deputy Artistic Director under Jean-Louis Dumas. In 2005, he was appointed Artistic Director, alongside his cousin, Pascale Mussard. In May 2008, he created the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, of which he is president. This initiative has given renewed impetus to all of Hermès’ patronage activities in the arenas of creativity, craftsmanship, sustainable development, and education. In February 2009, Pierre-Alexis Dumas was appointed Hermès’ General Artistic Director and is now charged with leading all of the Hermès group’s creative direction supported by a team of art directors for each métier ■