Over the last few years, Hermès has made three watches that add a touch of irony to precision timekeeping. In 2011, Le Temps Suspendu was presented, a watch in which pressing a pusher at 9 o’clock puts the hour and minutes hands into a V-configuration near the top of the dial, far removed from the real time. The movement keeps track of the time and another press of the pusher sends the hands back to where they should be. Three years later, it was the turn of L’Heure Masquée, a watch that seems to have just a minute hand: the hour hand pops out from underneath to the right position when you press a pusher in the crown.
Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente, presented at Baselworld in March 2017, displays the passage of an hour before a significant event. You use the crown at 4 o’clock to set the time of your special moment, and exactly one hour before the event, the countdown begins, shown by the hand at bottom left. After an hour, the watch marks the moment with a single chime. This unique and original concept was brought to fruition by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, movement designer, founder of Agenhor and creator of the movement in the Slim d’Hermès L’Heure Impatiente. We asked him how long it took to complete the project from concept to market.
“It took five years,” said Jean-Marc. “Below the dial, there is a lot of work. It wasn't easy to make a nice sound, we had to create a special gong and a special hammer, and design a system that stored the energy necessary to hit the gong.”
So let’s talk about the initial idea. How did it all start?
“It began began five years ago in Basel. Philippe Delhotal (Artistic Director at La Montre Hermès) came to us with an idea of how we could envisage the hour before an event, and so it soon became clear that two things were necessary, how to display this hour, and how the user could set the starting time. Our work on the movement started from the idea of a rotating disc which sets the time that you choose. In the first sketch drawing that we made, the watch was already very close to its final appearance.”
Were you able to use part of an existing movement?
“We chose the H1912 movement, because the H1950 was too large, thin but too wide, over 30 mm in diameter. The final movement is 23 mm in diameter, and that gave us space to put a gong between the case and the movement. The watch had to be slim, because that’s its name! We needed 4 mm for the hammer, and that’s the space we had between the case and the movement.”
In watches that produce sound, there are always two conflicting requirements, the need for an acceptable water resistance, and the need to allow the sound to emerge. How did you do it?
“We had to work on the case and the empty space inside, to allow the sound to develop well, and we used a thinner sapphire watchglass. There were many other technical aspects to this, but the final result is a pleasant sound that emerges from the case and has a good duration. It lasts 1.6 seconds, starting from an initial volume of 35 dB.”
“The owner can hear it because it's a long sound,” said Laurent Dordet, “but it is also very discreet, so in fact, only the owner can hear it. It’s a selfish noise! You could consider the timepiece as being a mechanical hour glass.”
“That final sound is the cherry on the cake,” said Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, “the culminating moment after an hour during which you see the hand moving slowly. You’re looking forward to that event, and that single sound means that it’s time. In a normal watch, with just one sound like that, you wouldn’t hear it.”
So there are a lot of design influences that have come together. There is the Slim typeface, and Philippe Delhotal’s artistic contribution...
“Everything started with the design of the dial,” said Laurent Dordet, “and as we said, the initial sketches were quite close to the final product. The technical part, the movement inside, included some original ideas proposed by Jean-Marc. For example, the shark.”
There’s a shark inside the movement?
“Yes, that’s right,” said Jean-Marc, “the real problem was to accumulate enough energy to enable the hammer to hit the gong hard enough to create a satisfactory sound. When you have at your disposal just the energy of the normal movement, and one hour of time, you have to optimize everything. The system has a special spring that stores the energy, but everything starts with the fin of the shark, which is like a special cam on a rotor. Energy is stored over the course of one hour, and then it is discharged in that sound. Another component in the module is shaped like a Pegasus. The user can’t see them, they are underneath the dial. I think that everything should be beautiful, not just what you see, but what is inside as well.”
For more Time With Henry, visit our Watches page.