Sit yourself down with a blank piece of paper and a pencil, and on the count of three, I’d like you to design a Heure H watch. Chances are you’ve drawn a slightly shaky circle before even stopping to think about it. Few man-made items are so deeply ingrained in our psyche as looking a certain way – at least, not objects as sophisticated and complex as a watch.
The strength of this association means there is enormous punch to be had in breaking those expectations: rectangular, or other geometrically adventurous watches, are a sign of individuality. At various times in history, case designers have embraced alternatives to the round case, but not one has been able to parlay the iconography of the brand itself into a watch design in the way that the Hermès Heure H does.
Of course, the letter “H” is a gift; its proportions invite a watch dial to sit between the uprights, with broad-shouldered serifs at top and bottom performing the role of lugs, to hold the strap. Designed by Mr Philippe Mouquet in 1996, it has been a mainstay of Hermès’ collection ever since.
Now, however, the Heure H watch has been released for the first time with a mechanical movement – and in the process Hermès has taken the opportunity to give it a radical change of appearance. The smaller, quartz-powered Heure H models have stuck to stainless steel or gold, with light, sunny dials. As you can see, nothing could be further from the brief here: a tone-on-tone execution of black and grey brings texture and detail to the fore.
The brushed centre of the dial contrasts with the satin-finished outer ring, and the grey transferred numerals are uncluttered by minute markers or scales of any sort, for maximum impact. Meanwhile, the 30.5mm square case is now rendered in grade five titanium, bead-blasted and satin brushed for a tactile, technical feel.
Turn the Heure H watch over and you’ll see the automatic calibre H1912, decorated with the brand’s signature tessellated pattern – another ingenious use of the letter “H”. But lest you think there is even a hint of style over substance about this movement, allow us to expand on Hermès’ horological credentials.
For more than 15 years, Hermès has been a stakeholder in one of the most interesting and highly respected movement makers in Switzerland: Manufacture Vaucher. Based in Fleurier, in the heart of the Swiss Jura valleys, it is one of the very few movement makers to even make its own hairsprings, a challenging skill for which nearly all watchmakers rely on external suppliers.
It would have been sufficient to use one of the ubiquitous large-volume movement suppliers out there, but if you know Hermès, you know it never does things by halves; everything is founded on a policy of seeking out the best artisans in their fields, and its watchmaking is no different.
The movement is usually – and justifiably – the yardstick by which most watch fans judge a new model, but the same commitment to in-house quality runs through the entire Heure H. We began by praising the execution of the watch’s case and dial, and while we don’t usually spend too much time lifting the lid on the industry’s manufacturing processes, it’s worth mentioning that both are made by Hermès’ own workshop – Les Ateliers d’Hermès Horloger, just a couple of hours’ drive north east of Vaucher Manufacture.
When you take the time to lay the proper foundations, this is what’s possible – we saw it with the H08 last year, and we see it here again now. There’s only one element of the Heure H we haven’t touched upon: the soft black Barenia leather strap. Do you really need to ask?