December 5, 2018
by Bilal Khan
The Hermes Slim d’Hermes was released about three years ago in late 2015, and I’ve always held it in high regard due to its original & whimsical design, quality, and price of $7,650. The Slim d’Hermes provides so much solid value in an industry and category that seldom does so. Even so, the difference between those watches that reach truly “timeless” status and, well, everyone else lies in an enduring appeal that can transcend ephemeral trends.
So, the question here is, has the French fashion house & watchmaker done this with the Slim d’Hermes?
Funny enough, it’s probably too early for me to make that call. But, three years in and I am hard pressed to find a dress watch at this price point that excels in so many aspects while having a design that doesn’t rely on being derivative. Quality in finishings, perfect proportions, and a dial that perfectly utilizes the underrated art of typography come together and result in the one dress watch I’d ever need.
The purpose of this article isn’t really to serve as a typical “review” that we do, but rather as a rundown of the piece I spent several weeks with followed by an extensive survey of the “slim dress watch” landscape across similarly priced watches and those priced somewhat lower and higher than its $7,650 price tag. I think time and distance is necessary when evaluating a simple time-only piece that contends to be a “modern classic” and that is one reason I held off for so long before reviewing the Slim d’hermes three years after its initial release.
The Slim d’Hermes was a hit when it came out in 2015, but there’s been a lot of Hermes news since that’s overshadowed this humble dress watch by now. Most notably, the relationship between Apple and Hermes is stronger than ever, with the latest Apple Watch Series 4 Hermes edition retaining its status symbol reputation. Of course, it’s a deserved, if somewhat tenuous, reputation as being the smartwatch priced at around $1,500 (that’s about a $1,000 premium over the standard Apple Watch).
The Slim d’Hermes line itself has grown, with sexier and more eye-catching models like the Quantième Perpétuel Platine which is a perpetual calendar piece priced alongside watches from brands like Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Soehne. More recently, a Slim d’Hermes GMT version was released which I haven’t gotten the chance to spend much time with yet, but being limited to 90 pieces will keep it off the wrists of most people. I’m going to venture to assume that there are more than a few people out there who want this watch but can’t get it due to this two-figure production number. Fingers crossed for a non-limited edition version of that one in steel as opposed to palladium, which pushed the price up nearly $15,000.
Hermes has very distinct watch lines that have little overlap with each other. For example, you take the Slim d’Hermes line, the square-dial Cape Cod line with its lugs and rectangular case, the square case Carre H, and something like the Arceau Chrono and you have four very diverse aesthetics for very different types of buyers.
The story of the Slim d’hermes really goes back to 2006, when Hermes acquired a 25% stake in Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. The famed movement maker is still 75% held by the Sandoz family, who are also behind Parmigiani Fleurier. The relationship extends beyond sharing movements as Hermes creates the leather straps used in Parmigiani’s watches. I go into this relationship in my piece on the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe.
The Slim D’Hermes runs on the Hermes H1950 movement, which is a modified version of the Vaucher 5401 (if you’re interested in knowing as much as possible about this movement, then read this piece by Jack Forster). This manual wind movement is used in pieces priced at less than $10,000 like the Slim D’Hermes but is also found in the Richard Mille RM 033 which retails at over $70,000. You’re not going to get the hand finishing and decorative work on the Hermes that you would on pricier pieces, but the movement itself is absolutely top notch.
The H1950 adds the seconds sub-dial to the base Vaucher movement, but that’s about it. The movement measures 30mm wide and 2.6mm thick and is obviously a necessary component for the “slim” nomenclature. Several people have assumed the movement is manual, but it has a micro-rotor which allows for automatic winding. It operates at 21,600 vph and has a 42-hour power reserve.
The movement here is arguably the most important single aspect of this watch, but it also is the cause of my single biggest complaint about the watch. First the good, though. The movement looks handsome overall and fills out the large exhibition case back. On that second point, there’s nothing sadder than an exhibition case back that only takes up something like 65% of the case back.
However, I just can’t get into the repeating H pattern decorating the movement. It’s just too reminiscent of a handbag pattern that’s long since become associated with either desperate gaudiness or a knockoff. Neither of these applies even closely to the Slim D’Hermes because 1.) it’s on the case back where you can’t show off a designer name and 2.) it’s obviously real. I’d prefer if Hermes kept the design to the micro-rotor while sticking to a simple Cotes de Geneve for the rest of the movement. The repeating pattern comes off like a distraction, but one in the form of a design choice that I’d rather be distracted away from.
The case of this watch has a singular goal that justifies its entire identity and that is that it must be slim. The watch measures at 39.5mm wide and my closest estimation of its thickness lands at somewhere just around 8.2mm. That’s an impressive figure, but I think pictures speak louder than words here. The watch just works when you look at its proportions and how it wears on the wrist. It’s not claiming to be “ultra thin” or “the most (insert adjective here)” but rather an impressively slim and practical dress watch that wears its identity on its sleeve (or, uh, wrist).
My wrist measures 7.5 inches in circumference, so a 39.5mm wide watch is usually on the smaller end of what I wear. That’s actually something that I took a strange pleasure in, because I realized I so often find that my peers or fellow horologically-inclined friends categorize me as someone who only wears “bigger” watches. I started to think this way too, often prejudging anything under 42mm to be “too small” and halfway writing it off before I even try it on.
The thin bezel of the Slim D’Hermes makes for a watch that wears bigger than the 39.5mm wide case would lead you to believe. The lugs are short but have that distinctive look of pointing inwards at the strap. It’s such a small touch, but one that goes so far in creating the final product of the watch.
And that’s why the Slim d’Hermes is such a success. It’s an amalgamation of very subtle design-conscious choices that make for a watch that actually stands out in its category.
Two of the easiest traps a brand can fall into have to do with design. Many brands are complacent in design choices that are totally safe and unoriginal. Alternatively, and often much worse, a brand is so desperate to be original that they just end up creating something gimmicky, obnoxious, or just puzzling. Hermes avoided both of these pitfalls by creating something original that authentically stands out by hiring graphic designer Phillippe Apeloig.
The Slim d’Hermes was designed by Hermes Creative Director Philippe Delhotel, but it was this other Philippe who was behind the watch’s most distinctive feature – the typography behind the hour numerals. The numerals are characterized by straight lines, curves, dashes, and of course the cuts that splice the digits. Imagining the watch without Apeloig’s work is nearly impossible and picturing the piece with a more generic typeface results in just another nice, but generic, dress watch.
Now that the Slim d’Hermes has been around for a couple of years, it’s really able to be privy to the type of review that really puts a piece through the gauntlet: a thorough accounting of how it stands up to its peers. In addition to the standard review of competitors that are similarly priced, I think it’s important to also look at cheaper options and some more expensive options as well. Here, I am going to go through thin dress watches that are priced less than, at/around, and more than the $7,650 price tag of the Slim d’Hermes.
Just a note for clarification and general posterity when I do comparisons like this: I am looking at models currently in production. There are many, many discontinued or vintage thin dress watches out there that possess a ton of character around this price. While I can’t feasibly go through and add these to the article for several reasons, I’d love to hear about these in the comments from you guys.
In 2014 (about a year before the debut of the Slim d’Hermes), the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin line was released and I feel like there’s little doubt that this is at or near the top of the competitors’ list here. By the time I’m writing this article in late 2018, JLC has several steel versions in this line, including the Master Ultra Thin Date ($7,500), Master Ultra Thin Small Second ($7,200 on strap, $8,500 on bracelet), Master Ultra Thin 41 ($7,850) among other versions that are not relevant to this discussion.
These watches operate using different variations of JLC’s automatic in-house ultra-thin movements, but each watch measures in at just around 7.5mm thick in comparison to the 8.2mm thick slim d’Hermes. The difference in thickness isn’t going to make someone break one way or another, though the horological chops of the Jaeger-LeCoultre movement here are undeniable.
However, if I was choosing between any of the JLCs and the Slim d’Hermes I would go with the Hermes each time. For me, it comes down to design and personality, both things in which the Hermes excels handily. Yes, the JLC watches are handsome and elegant but in ways that are honestly quite bland at the end of the day. It excels in movement, but not the total package.
Go ahead, @ me.
So, while the JLC would be the obvious pick in terms of competition, I am compelled to name another piece as being on the same level. Before I do so, I will once again admit right here that if you’re talking about movement quality, the JLC does have both beaten. This other watch that I think presents solid competition in this price range is the Chopard L.U.C XPS (or the simpler L.U.C XP version without seconds sub-dial) which was updated in 2017. Slight modifications like fusee Dauphine hands and changes in the dial text refined this entry-level L.U.C, making an already great dress watch even more compelling.
The L.U.C XPS features the automatic L.U.C 96-50-L Calibre which measures at 27.4mm wide and 3.3mm thick. The finishes on the movement are nice enough (just don’t compare it to other L.U.C movements) and the power reserve is significantly better at 62 hours compared to 42 hours for the Hermes.
The watch itself is 40mm wide and 7.2mm thick, making it slimmer than the slim d’Hermes or any of the JLC pieces I mentioned. As far as design goes, I do like the Chopard more than any of the JLC watches but we are still talking about a pretty generic dress watch. At the end of the day, if I want a Chopard L.U.C watch that really lives up to the L.U.C reputation, I’d probably have to increase my budget rather than going for the entry-level model. So, with a price of $8,200 the Chopard is just a hair more than the Hermes. Personally, I’m going Hermes here as well.
Honorable Mentions: The Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie Automatic has been around for a couple of years now. While the watch in steel retails at $2,690, I think the 38mm wide and 5.9mm thick 18k gold version at $5,900 presents a compelling challenge to the Hermes if you want a thin, gold dress watch at this price point.
The Girard-Perregaux 1966 40mm steel watch is an under-the-radar offering that actually provides great value for a knowledgeable buyer. The watch measures in at 40mm wide and 8.9mm thick and while it isn’t the sexiest or newest offering out there, it certainly deserves a place here. The GP 1966 40mm in steel is priced at $7,950.
The Blancpain Villeret Ultra-Slim steel watch uses the caliber 1150 movement and comes in a 38mm wide and 9.15mm thick case. It’s about as generic an offering from Blancpain one can imagine, but with a price of $8,000 it does check all the boxes to fit in as a competitor albeit a pretty uninspiring one.
If the Hermes Slim d’Hermes is a little too rich for your blood, I think there are two thin, steel dress watch options that rise to the top. The Zenith Elite Classic is a legitimate value for $4,700. It’s a time-only 39mm wide steel dress watch that operates on the Elite 679 movement (operating at 28,800 vph with a 50-hour power reserve). At 9.45mm thick, the watch is a little thicker than the Hermes though not terribly so. At about $3,000 less, you’re getting a whole lot of thin dress watch for the money.
The other piece here is the Cartier Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat is a manual wind piece that uses the Cartier caliber 430 MC which has a 38-hour power reserve. I can imagine that a power reserve that’s less than two full days can get annoying to deal with considering you’ll have to manually wind. The watch also only has hour and minute hands which can make the dial look overly simple for some people, including myself.
That being said, the case measures at 39mm wide and only 6.6mm thick which makes the manual-wind movement worth it for a lot of people. The Cartier name, the case slimness, and the price of $5,600 makes for a pretty decent offering even if you’re not wowed by its looks.
There are two Nomos watches that could ostensibly fulfill the thin dress watch need one has: the Orion Neomatik 41 Date and the square Tetra Neomatik 39.
The Orion Neomatik 41 Date in Midnight Blue is my favorite, though they all share the 41mm wide and 9.4mm thick case. Running on the in-house DUW 6101 movement with a 42-hour power reserve, the Orion Neomatik 41 Date is priced at $4,350. The more interesting option though is the square Tetra Neomatik 39 which measures 33mm wide and high while being very slim at 7.3mm thick. This watch operates on the in-house DUW 3001 movement that has a 43-hour power reserve. The Tetra is more affordable than the Orion, priced at $3,980.
Honorable Mentions: The super-slim, solar power Citizen Eco-Drive One is very different from everything else on this list except that its wafer-thin case has everyone else beat. Measuring at 40mm wide, this watch is only 2.98mm thick. The Eco-Drive One is priced at $2,600.
For real value-seekers, the Frederique Constant Slimline Automatic watch offers a ton of value. With a 40mm wide and 8mm thick case, the Slimline Automatic runs on an FC-306 movement that has a 42-hour power reserve that’s visible through the exhibition case back. This FC is priced at $1,695.
You can’t really talk about slim dress watches without discussing Piaget. However, there are caveats that push the Piaget Altiplano which uses the ultra-slim 430P movement far out of the price territory the slim d’Hermes occupies. Most notably, the fact that the Altiplano is only available in gold which pushes pricing to over $16,000 to start with the 38mm wide version that comes in at just 6mm thick.
Pricier and basically a sibling to the Slim d’Hermes is the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 (seen here in a pricier meteorite dial), which shares the Vaucher 5401 movement that Parmigiani refers to as the PF702. Arguably Parmigiani did a better job than Hermes at decorating the movement that you can admire through the case back. However, and this is a pattern that I’m sure you have noticed by now, the dial is…well, elegant. Yes, the word “elegant” is basically synonymous with inoffensively good looking but without a lot of character.
However, at $9,900 the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 in steel is over $2,000 more than the slim d’Hermes.
Bulgari has been doing absolutely amazing things with their thin Octo Finissimo pieces which are sportier than what we’re discussing here. However, the less-publicized Bulgari Roma Finissimo is a more “traditional” offering from the brand. However, with that “traditional” tag comes some design choices (ahem, that bezel) that will detract a lot of modern buyers.
That being said, the Roma Finissimo runs on the thin in-house manual BVL 128 caliber movement which is absolutely stunning from the exhibition case back. The 41mm wide watch is just 5.15mm thick, which is absolutely impressive in person and on the wrist. A niche piece with a high hurdle in terms of design as well as cost, the Bulgari Roma Finissimo is priced at. $12,500 in steel.
Honorable Mention: The Vacheron Constantin FiftySix watch which isn’t really marketed as either a dress watch or a slim watch. That being said, any marketing aside, the watch can absolutely claim the territory. With a classic design and a case that measures 40mm wide and 9.6mm thick, the FiftySix is a more “everyday” high-end wear than some of the other pieces I discuss here. When looking at Vacheron’s catalog, there are much dressier and pricier watches but the FiftySix attempts to strike a balance so as to target a “younger” audience. Priced at $11,900, it may appeal more to someone who wants a simple everyday watch that isn’t the usual Datejust or other established watch.
I realize I just went through quite a lengthy list of watches, but my goal here was to really take the inventory of the comprehensive set that the Hermes Slim d’Hermes is competing with. I’m sure you can guess my final take if you read this entire article, but here it is:
There are several thin, steel dress watches out there that do certain things better than the slim d’hermes, but almost all of them fall into the same trap of being generically designed and relatively safe dress watches. Hermes smartly understood that at this budget, a buyer will want a dress watch that stands out from the pack precisely because it will likely be the only dress watch in their collection.
Three years into its release, the Hermes Slim d’Hermes is still one of the best offerings in its category. And in my humble opinion, it’s the best dress watch under $10,000 for the reasons I’ve gone through in this piece. Truly original design, an authentic personality, and a great movement for a price of $7,650. If this article wasn’t enough, you can learn more at their website at hermes.com.