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Hermes - Sassy Straps
WORLDTEMPUS - 27 December 2012 When you think of Hermes, you automatically think of Paris. And this is natural; it is the company's traditional home. A well-kept open secret, though, is that Hermes has had a second home in Switzerland since 1978. And this is no vacation home, I assure you. The company's interest in the world of watchmaking was perhaps aroused thanks to Jacqueline Hermes' interest in watches, which is documented from 1912. The young woman, great-granddaughter of founder Thierry Hermes, who opened his store in Paris in 1801, had a small pocket watch and wanted to wear it - almost ahead of the fashion for the time - around her wrist, so she asked the family leather workshop to make her a strap.
Though the company began making saddle-stitched leather straps in the 1920s, it wasn't until 1928 that the first Hermes watch was commercialized, a product of the 24, rue du Faubourg location powered by a Movado movement. The cover of this automatic pocket watch was naturally crafted in Hermes leather. By the 1930s, Hermes was regularly collaborating with the best movement makers of the time, companies including LeCoultre, Universal, Mido, Tavannes, Eterna and Vacheron Constantin. Fifty years later, in 1978, Jean-Louis Dumas (the fifth generation of the Hermes family to lead the company) decided to move the watch production to neighboring Switzerland "to take advantage of the extreme horological know-how here," as Luc Perramond, CEO of La Montre Hermes, explained to me not too long ago. This Hermes metier is the only one of the company's in-house crafts not located in France.
Interesting factory Now 120 employees b, La Montre Hermes in Brugg/Biel has boasted its own arm of the leather strap workshop since October 2009. This building - purpose-built to resemble the headquarters in Paris complete with the little man on the roof and completed in 1992 - has a light, friendly feel to it. Incidentally, La Montre Hermes also acquired case maker Joseph Erard last year as well as dial maker Natebert this year in May. "We have spent the last two years improving the industrial side of our business to secure our supply," Perramond continued. Though the strap making process can hardly be called industrial as such - I would really term it artisanal - its integration into the Brugg factory brings a whole new quality to it. In fact, to my knowledge this is the only factory in watchmaking to have a complete strap-making facility integrated. The movements used today - including Hermes own Caliber H1837 - are manufactured by Vaucher, in which Hermes owns a 25 percent stake.
Working leather This section of the factory, located in the basement (though big ground-level windows keep it well lit and friendly), has a completely different feel to it. The quiet concentration of watchmakers is replaced by the colorful fashion and upbeat chatter of leather workers. A total of 15 craftspeople work in the leather workshop in Brugg. The first set are in charge of cutting, preparing, precutting, pairing the leathers, while six leather seamstresses sew the pieces together using the brand's world-famous slanted saddle stitch. The most intricate work takes place in creating the two loops holding the strap in place. This particular step requires great experience, skill and patience. When all is said and done, the finished strap - which has needed one hour alone with the seamstress - is checked by quality control for the leather department and stamped with the appropriate marks denoting year and brand.
?"Our clients are looking for exclusive products, in all categories," Perramond continued. "So we are continuously looking for new crafts to showcase our artistic talents." The leather straps - which are only shared with Parmigiani - is an ideal way to add value and a unique quality to the watches.