May 2016

by Serge Maillard

After a fifteen-year campaign to gain legitimacy for its watch manufacture, a campaign that focused on men’s high-end timepieces and which has a raft of awards to show for it, Hermès is planning to devote more of its exuberant creativity to ladies’ lines. Always with that slightly eccentric touch to each apparently classic piece that gives Hermès its spice. We met the director of the watch division, and veteran of the family firm, Laurent Dordet.

Laurent Dordet, Hermès
Laurent Dordet, Hermès
“Before I came to watches I was previously in charge of leather goods, then writing instruments, for Hermès. The Hermès philosophy is to systematically create products that are different, whatever the field may be. In the pen sector, which was new to us and already very saturated, the challenge was particularly tough. We decided to call upon the famous Australian designer Marc Newson (Editor’s note: one of the fathers of the Apple Watch) to design the Nautilus. In order to produce this pen out of cast aluminium and stainless steel, we tapped into the considerable experience of Japanese company Pilot. The result is surprising: unlike traditional pens, it has no clip; the design is minimalist and elegant and offers unparalleled writing comfort.”

You took over as head of the watchmaking division in 2015. What are your impressions?

I’ve been with Hermès for 20 years, first in textiles, then in bags and now in watchmaking. I’ve noticed that watchmaking, like textiles, includes strong aspects of both industry and crafts. Our aim is to bring together exceptional craftsmanship with high-precision industrial processes. But what we’re looking for above all at Hermès is authenticity. If there’s no authenticity, often there is no rigour.

Is your arrival likely to bring about a change to the DNA of La Montre Hermès?

Absolutely not. Except that I prefer to call it Hermès Horloger, rather than La Montre Hermès! What I bring is common sense and the Hermès spirit. I would like to pass this message, this concept of Hermès Horloger, all the way down the chain, and make the end client aware of the artisans who are behind the products. Over the last fifteen years our teams have done some amazing work to make Hermès a true, legitimate watch brand. Our Slim d’Hermès QP won the calendar watch prize at the most recent Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève,

What are your plans, in concrete terms?

We are developing several strategies, beginning with women’s watches. The women’s sector remains our primary watchmaking outlet. In recent years women have been somewhat overlooked, because the creative endeavour has been devoted mainly to men’s lines. And that’s natural, because the last fifteen years have been an intense learning period for us, during which we entered the mechanical watch sector, which is largely masculine. We have built up a solid range of collections: Arceau, Cape Cod, Slim and Dressage, with a focus on manufacture movements and involving our other métiers. But it’s time we turned out attention to women!

Could you give any examples?

You will see some new models at the forthcoming Baselworld. The Slim d’Hermès Mille Fleurs du Mexique gives you a foretaste. We also want to reinvigorate our current collections. Our ambition is to seduce women both with jewellery and with affordable pricing. We will therefore be working on simpler watches as well as gem-set models. All our clients, both men and women alike, can stay with Hermès for life, beginning with the more affordable watches and working up to our exceptional pieces. Their common denominator is elegance.

Watchmaking is one of many métiers at Hermès. How do you ensure it remains visible within this vast universe?

We need to begin by giving watchmaking greater visibility in our network of boutiques. The problem is that, when our clients enter one of our shops, they often don’t see all of Hermès’s watchmaking potential. We therefore need to devote more effort to training sales personnel in the Hermès boutiques, to ensure they are capable of explaining and showcasing this wealth of opportunity. Our watchmaking enjoys recognition within the industry and among experts, particularly men, but this has yet to trickle down to our clients. It’s a commercial challenge. Also, we are becoming increasingly selective with our retailers.


We have realised that, in times of crisis, the Hermès boutiques are more resilient, whereas with our network of retailers we lose ground. Unfortunately, this has translated into slightly disappointing results for 2015 as a whole. Like the rest of the industry, we are suffering from the slowdown in watch sales in China, a market we were overly reliant upon, but we are in the process of redressing the balance in Europe, Japan and the United States. Unlike retailers, our boutiques carry a wide selection of products, not just watches. Watches remain highly cyclical in nature. Today they represent 3.5% of Hermès’s revenues – proportionally, watchmaking has grown less in comparison to other métiers such as leather goods since 2000. At the moment, other Hermès products are achieving better sales, which is compensating for the downturn in watch revenues.

Your partnership with Apple to supply the strap for the Apple Watch came as a surprise to many.

This was our first foray into the vast world of smart devices, but Hermès has had a very good relationship with Apple for quite some time! The challenge was to come up with something creative, suited to a contemporary high-tech device. It was also a meeting point for two big companies, and an opportunity to surprise and win over young people. In my opinion, it complements our own range.