Paris-based Hermès has always taken a couture approach to its watchmaking division, incorporating not only finely decorated in-house movements, but high-end leathers and high metiers d’art dials that are hand-crafted to the same level of perfection required by fashion houses in order to earn the haute couture label. The Arceau Robe du Soir, Arceau Caveles, and Slim D’Hermès Les Zèbres de Tanzanie are the latest examples of this highly crafted, limited-edition aesthetic.
The Arceau Robe du Soir is a miniaturization of a miniaturization. Traditional mosaic tile compositions are made by putting together a puzzle of tiny pieces of tile that are assembled to form a motif or pattern. On a watch dial, the pieces are even tinier, and in this case, they are made of leather – 3,500 tiny squares of leather, to be exact. If you think it takes patience to put a watch movement together, try sticking 3,500 pieces of leather onto the dial of a 41mm watch. It took a year and a half to conceive in R&D, and it takes several weeks to execute each dial. The result is an image of the head of a show horse in profile, with leather reins and bit, inspired by the Hermès silk scarf pattern “Robe du Soir” designed by artist Florence Manlik. The strap matches the electric blue background of the dial. The case, typical of the Arceau line, with its asymmetrical lugs and long leaf-style hands, is made of 18k rose gold. It is a 12-piece limited edition, priced at $50,000.
The leather marquetry pieces are not any easier for the artisans to put together. The Hermès Arceau Cavales and the Slim D’Hermès Les Zèbres de Tanzanie are pieced together using squares of leather. One forms a stylized image of horse heads and the other, a herd of zebras. Using leather is a symbol of the brand’s original craft, which was saddlery – hence also the repeated use of the horse motif. Hermès was established in 1837 when German immigrant Thierry Hermès opened a harness workshop in Paris. His sons later introduced saddlery (including handbags designed to carry saddles) to the business and it eventually went retail, catering to the elite of Europe. Next came accessories and clothing, then scarves, and perfume. Hermès began producing watches in the 1930s in partnership with Universal Genève.
The pieces used for the leather marquetry dials are made from full grain calfskin, each split to a thickness of around 0.5mm. Each dial takes six hours to make. The equestrian motif dial is inspired by the Samarcande chess set created by Hermès in 2009 out of palissander wood and mahogany. It comes in either Hermès red or indigo blue, with a matching calfskin leather strap. Each Hermès Arceau Cavales watch is a six-piece limited edition, priced at $34,800 in 18k white gold. Both the Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir and the Hermès Arceau Cavales share the same 41mm wide, 30m-water-resistant Arceau case and the Hermès H1837 automatic movement with 50 hours of power reserve.
The Zebra-themed dial, the Slim D’ Hermès Les Zèbres de Tanzanie, is even more complex, combining leather marquetry with champlevé enameling and miniature enamel painting. The center zebra is composed of hand-fitted leather inlays surrounded by miniature painted zebras in contrasting matte and shiny finishes. The dial is filled with several layers of enamel. Each one takes 26 hours to complete. The motif was designed by French animal artist Yves-Marie de Malleray. The watch is part of the Slim D’ Hermès collection, with its signature right angled lugs and slim 39.5mm case in 18k white gold and contains the ultra-thin automatic H1950, with a micro-rotor and 42 hours of power reserve. The strap is graphite colored alligator. There are three variations in 18k gold, each in a 12-piece limited edition, and priced at $52,200. hermes.com