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The Man Behind the Moon: Hèrmes’ Philippe Delhotal talks about whimsy and watchmaking

As one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Hèrmes has been known for its whimsical approach to luxury: more playful and elegant than serious and heavy. Still, how does all this translate into the world of fine watchmaking? Well, to be honest, it translates pretty well. 

The past few years have seen Hermes come up with timepieces that aren’t just novel in terms of design: they’re outright works of art when it comes to horological engineering. 

Take the updated Le Temps Suspendu from 2013, which has the curious ability to stop telling the time. Pressing a button triggers a complex sequence that pauses the hands at the 12-hour mark. The date display hand disappears altogether, creating the illusion of time being suspended. Press the button again and everything returns to normal, with the watch still displaying the correct time.                        

Le Temps Suspendu

That’s playfulness and elegance translated into a watch right there, a whimsical and unhurried approach to the way we interact with time. And this is how Hèrmes—known for its quirky bags, ties, scarves, hats, and even a pair of boxing gloves—interprets their identity through watchmaking. In this year’s SIHH, Hermès continued to display the same kind of thinking, releasing the Arceau L’Heure De La Lune. This time, the maison brought out a moon phase complication that’s quite unlike anything out there.

In this year’s SIHH, Hermès continued to display the same kind of thinking, releasing the Arceau L’Heure De La Lune. This time, the maison brought out a moon phase complication that’s quite unlike anything out there.   

Arceau L’Heure De La Lune

On the dial, two mother of pearl moons lie at 12 and 6 o’ clock. Two floating displays, meanwhile, rotate around the dial every 59 days, covering both moons and showing their current phases in the north and south hemisphere. Yet another unusual approach to the way we see time.

And the man behind this line of thought? That’s Philippe Delhotal, the Creation and Style Director for La Montre Hermès, the brand’s watchmaking subsidiary. Delhotal has had a storied career, having studied the arts, fashion, and watchmaking, as well as working under familiar names, including Patek Philippe and Vacheron-Constantin. It’s this experience that has let him create the timepieces that define Hèrmes watchmaking today. Mantle talks to the man behind the moon about what it means to lead the design of the iconic brand’s watches.                                         

Philippe Delhotal, photo by Ngoc Quang Nguyen

You’ve had quite a lot of experience in both fashion and watch design. How do these fields come together in your work?

I studied Fine Arts and a technical education at the same time. These studies allowed me to play with these two backgrounds and have a much better overview than the designer or the technician. It helps me a lot in my work, because I can judge at the same time the technical aspects and the aesthetics. It allows me to have more agility in my daily work.

In designing a watch, what are the principles behind your creative process? How do you begin designing one?

I am guided above all by a concern to do things well while respecting the iconic Hermès design codes. My sources of inspiration are mainly based on the extraordinary creative wealth of the Hermès universe and this is where everything begins. 

Hermès is known to be quite whimsical in its designs. Is that a difficult thing to bring into watchmaking?

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Hermès’ history shows its willingness to pamper and surprise consumers with exceptional pieces embodying a unique level of craftsmanship and innovation. These are the same values that drive us at the watch métier. We will keep developing watches that capture the full Hermès essence and featuring alternative ways of displaying time. We will never stop surprising our customers with innovative products.

The Arceau L’Heure de la Lune combines a very technical complication with a very wearable design. How did the idea behind it come about? 

In the same vein as the singular complications presented in recent years on the theme of Hermès time, I wanted to present a new horological animation, this time relating to the moon. With this in mind, I consulted the Chronode module and complication development firm, based in Le Locle. I presented the Hermès Time approach to Mr. Mojon so that he could express it technically through a new mysterious, aesthetically appealing and graphic complication, while inspiring dreams and moving away from traditional moon complications. A fine challenge!

He then suggested a technical and astronomical interpretation, not through apertures, but as the primary dial read-off. The moon thus becomes a central element rather than a subsidiary function. This resulted in an interesting dial layout and a resolutely graphic appearance. 

Over the past few years, Hermès has been playing a lot with the concept of time and how we approach it. Is this a path that you will keep exploring in the future?

Absolutely. Hermès watchmaking offers a different interpretation of time: a time full of whimsical fancy, that goes beyond style, time as friend; lasting, playful and recreational. A time that serves to tell stories and stir feelings. The House does not seek to replicate that which already exists, but instead to be daring and follow its intuitions by creating objects whose purpose is not only to tell the time, but that also serve to build a relationship with time. Rather than measuring, ordering and seeking to control it, Hermès dares to explore another time, designed to arouse emotions, open up interludes and create spaces for spontaneity and recreation. 

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