Watches, inherently part of the DNA of Hermès – an exclusive interview with CEO Luc Perramond

Few may be aware but Hermès watchmaking tradition dates as far back as 1912, when one of the owning family members invented the belt watch. However, La Montre Hermès was formally setup in Biel, one of Switzerland’s cradle of luxury watches, by Jean-Louis Dumas in 1978. Today, La Montre Hermès is proudly housed in an impressive facility, similar to Hermès’s main Manufacture hub in France.

Light flooded, the Manufacture is conceived to capture maximum day-light, with an open air atrium crowned by a wooden sculpture of a horse, the ‘Pegase’ being a symbol of the reputed maison. Today, the Manufacture in Bienne (Biel) houses the assembly of the watches, administration and an atelier specialized in strap making.

La Montre Hermès’ commitment to establish itself as a reputed watch-maker is at the heart of the company’s long term strategy. In an exclusive interview during my visit to Biel, CEO Luc Perramond shared ‘We do not want to depend on suppliers which are gradually snapped up by the large groups. We already made our own mechanical movements, dials, and watch cases in-house, adding ‘We invested over 26 million dollars to acquire a stake in movement maker Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, a significant significant stake in case maker Joseph Erard Holding and dial maker Natéber‘.

I pursued by asking Perramond about the production output of the maison and his retort was very firm ‘We are not volume oriented! Our aim is to master the know-how as our Maison does in all other sectors such as fashion or accessories’. He also said ‘We are value driven – Hermes watches are functional objects of the highest quality, meant to surprise, endulge and bring satisfaction and pleasure to our consumers’.

Since taking over as CEO in 2009, Luc Peramond has been the driving force of re-positioning La Montre Hermès long term strategy and to instil coherence through quality and creativity. ‘Today, our offering is well balanced, with men’s watches growing from a 20% share to 40% and over half of our watches being mechanical, while our entry price increasing from 2.000 euros to 4.000 euros’.

I pursued by asking him how Hermes’ legendary inovative spirit is translated into watches. Perramond said smiling ‘This is exactly what makes us different from other luxury watch-makers. While staying conservative and quality oriented, in recent years we demonstrated our ability to bring fantasy, dreams and surprise to our watch business. Much like an Hermes product, watches provide a unique escape to fantasy and time to dream’.

La Montre Hermès is inherently linked to the spirit of the Parisian Maison through a poetic inspiration which watches embody in their DNA. When launching ‘Le Temps Suspendu’ watch in 2011, La Montre Hermès indefinitely secured its positioning by creating unique product which make people dream, while remaining functional in every day life. ‘What better function of your watch than suspeding time and thus endulging oneself with the luxury of being in charge of your own time’ Perramond said.

The creative process which is closely tied to Paris also ensures artistic coherence between watches and all other products of the Maison. ‘As for design, it is a collective effort between Hermès designers in Paris like Henri de Linares, designers at La Montre Hermès and specialist watch designers in Switzerland’ added Perramond.

I could not take advantage of my encounter with Perramond to ask him about how he sees the relationship between luxury and lifestyle. ‘There is no such thing as a 360 degree luxury lifestyle. Nowadays, driving a certain car type is no longer a statement, as one could easily lease or rent a car. In our case, our most loyal customers are also Hermes clients. Hermes is a universe of exceptional products from crafts which our maison masters. But that does not mean a loyal customer for us could not pass for the most common person’.

At the heart of the success of La Montre Hermès is its unique retail model, with watches being sold primarily through Hermes stores, yet, at the same time, Hermes boasting a network of reputed watch retailers, worldwide. ‘Our ideal retail presence is within an Hermes store, as a shop in shop, with even a separate entrance. Mono-brand boutiques exclusively dedicated to watches are indeed an opportunity to convey our image and at the same time to educate consumers’ Perramond shared.

One the most important developments for La Montre Hermès this year, in terms of retail, is the opening next month, of a dedicated Hermes boutique featuring watches and jewelry at Harrods in London. ‘This is an important statement for our maison’ said Perramond. It is our successful retail strategy which has been at the core of our success too’. adding ‘This year, China has overtaken Japan as our second biggest market, while France retained the leading position, with half foreign shoppers.’

Next year at BaselWorld, La Montre Hermès is preparing yet another surprise, adding to the success models it boasts in its collection.

Oliver Petcu in Biel (Bienne)