Stories to fuel your mind

Precision craftsmanship: Hermés

Share the story

Story by Nathalie Atkinson

Switzerland is best known for extremely delicious chocolate and a tradition of exacting, dispassionate bankers. The country’s reputation for precision also comes from its centuries-old tradition of fine Swiss watchmaking: museums devoted to creators like Breguet,Audemars Piguet,Longines and Patek Philippe dot the Watchmaking Route between Geneva and Basel.

So it is of course in Switzerland that Hermès, the historic French saddlemaker turned luxury goods house,crafts its exceptional timepieces and one-of-a-kinds,like those presented at the annual Basel watch show.There are the exceptional jewellery pieces like a white gold ladies Heure H Jaipur, the bracelet and case inspired by the

house’s 2008 theme of India set with 364 full-cut brilliant diamonds,mechanical marvels visible through glass in a skeletal version of the classic Arceau and the numbered, limited edition of 24 Clipper chronographs in rose gold. And this fall Hermès introduces the new caliber, the Clipper H1.

Creating a new movement like this one requires at least four years from concept to launch but luckily Hermès prestige watchmaking partner Vaucher Manufacture in Fleurier, Switzerland,specializes in a patience that can be measured in microns (thickness of a single strand of hair or one one-thousandth of a inch).After all,thousands of tiny watch screws and gears,smaller than fleas,can be held in the hollow of a hand. Each movement is a miniature mechanical masterpiece, often no more than 1.5mm thick.

The picturesque watchmaking village of Fleurier is nestled in the Jura mountains of Switzerland. It’s known for its creation of fine mechanical timepieces: the Vaucher watchmaking family dates back to 1730 with founder David-Jean-Jacques-Henri Vaucher. In 1820 one of the master horlogiste descendants introduced an innovative balance-spring with a frequency of 18,000 vibrations per hour,which soon became the standard of the day

Sponsored Ads

The principal building of Vaucher’s three sites in Fleurier houses the pièces uniques workshop (which creates only 1-2 specialized objects every couple of years) and the high-tech complications lab. It’s here that Corum’s distinctive Golden Bridge movement was interpreted and re-launched). The nondescript white building resembles an elementary school that belies the detailed wizardry inside; dreaming up new watch movements requires advanced mathematical knowledge and the R&D department alone comprises 12 engineers and technical draughtsmen,

master craftsmen of the infintessimally small. Complications can include perpetual calendars, tourbillons, or devices that indicate tides,holidays,planetary motion.A complication requires 400 hours to assemble (compared to one hour for an automatic watch) and every aspect–pinions, gears, springs and disks–is hand decorated, engraved and polished at Vaucher.

Sponsored Ads

The H1 Clipper and Cape Cod Grandes Heures watches début at Hermès Boutiques and authorized dealers later this year (from $10,000).

Hermès new Clipper H1 movement was born here,too,as were grand complications such as the handassembled high-precision Hermès H1928 movement and the hand-wound Cape Cod with an eight day power reserve and jumping hours.But unlike many other manufactures who often sub-contract the development of movement components to several suppliers,Vaucher developed and designed the automatic self-winding H1 movement entirely in-house, and exclusively for La Montre Hermès.

It is an autonomous master watchmaking workshop is a modern industrial facility that preserves hand craftsmanship skills, manufacturing over 12,000 movements in 2008. The H1 has a dual energy source system (so the power reserve can be extended up to 50 hours),vibrates 28,800 times per hour and is made up of 193 parts, with 28 synthetic jewels acting as bearing for the various moving parts.

The bridge and oscillating weight display are patterned with tiny hand-engraved H symbols.At its simplest,the H1 displays hours,minutes,date and seconds;a variant modules like the H1 Big Date has an instantaneous large date display via two separate discs,while a sport version has a more athletic

silhouette in a steel case and a unidirectional notched rotating bezel that is both elegant and robust.Once the H1 movement is assembled and tested,it moves to the headquarters of La Montre Hermès in nearby Bienne. Here, skilled artisans walk the aisles of the temperature-controlled skins stockroom to select the right one for a single watch strap from shelves piled high with exotic skins: fuchsia ostrich,slate blue bison,glossy black alligator.Each is cut,sewn and finished by hand.

With an elegant,ergonomic profile (it’s just 3.5mm thick) and artisan crafted strap,the Hermès Clipper H1 is a handsome piece of architecture. That’s a fitting detail: the Swiss Jura is also famous as the birthplace of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret,a.k.a.Le Corbusier,Switzerland’s most famous son and father of International Style of architecture.Jeanneret’s Maison blanche,built in 1912 before the architect had adopted his famous pseudonym,is the first personal and independent building created by the architect. The Vaucher craftsmen and master horlogistes drive by Maison blanche every day on the way to work.

Related Articles