Guillaume de Seynes Of Hermès On Wristwatches And The Power Of Orange
The quality of the wristwatches that Hermès has brought onto the market has increased year for year since 1978, when the leather giant founded its own watch factory in Switzerland.
And while ever-improving quality may sound like a given, it is probably much more of a given when your name is Hermès: this is one brand that is far more concerned than most when it comes to the details that matter in order to create an object that corresponds to its own philosophy.
Corners are never cut.
And this becomes abundantly clear when talking to Guillaume de Seynes, member of the Hermès family and managing director in charge of the manufacturing division and equity investments.
De Seynes joined the Hermès group in 1997 as international sales and marketing director of Hermès Watches in Switzerland after gathering experience for other internationally renowned brands such as Lacoste and Mumm.
He was appointed managing director of La Montre Hermès SA in 1999 and became vice-president of Hermès International in 2006 before being promoted to the position he holds today in 2011.
It is relatively easy to pinpoint a few of the things that have changed over the last couple years to make this increasing focus on demanding wristwatches possible:
* The 25 percent acquisition of Vaucher manufacture to ensure access to proprietary mechanical movements.
* The acquisition of both dial and case suppliers in Switzerland.
* An effective strategy supplied by a team combining the talents of the Hermès (Dumas) family, the CEO of La Montre Hermès Luc Perramond – who is unfortunately slated to leave the brand at the end of the year to become the new CEO of Ralph Lauren Watches and Jewelry – and head timepiece designer Philippe Delhotal.
In 2014, Hermès introduced a large number of interesting wristwatches led by the decorative, yet intriguing, Arceau Millefiori. This original timepiece shared the spotlight with the whimsical Dressage Heure Masquée.
The year 2014 also brought other whimsical delights of the type that Hermès specializes in such as the decidedly feminine 28 mm Faubourg and various unique pieces embellished by rare and beautiful crafts.
Recently, Quill & Pad had the chance to chat with de Seynes to understand the brand’s corporate philosophies and history in watches a little better.
ED: You’ve had a long and varied career in champagne, textiles and such. Is there a difference – perhaps even emotionally – in running luxury companies that deal with different products such as champagne, textile and watches?
GdS: Well, of course, there is always one very strong common point: the search for quality, which, for me, is quintessential to any high-end brand. I think what I was always interested in is products that offer a certain integrity, a certain level of quality, and are very often based on tradition and have a history.
All these champagne companies have long histories. If you take, for example, the company for which I was working, Mumm, of course it’s about the quality of the wine. But once the wine is made, the way to make champagne is the same for all brands.
But Mumm had this fantastic innovation with a white label with a red stripe. What is interesting in that story is that if today you are looking to create a label for champagne to say “high-end,” you will use maybe gold, maybe black, but never white and red. So, white and red arrived because they wanted to give “the legend of honor” to this wine.
I tell this story because at Hermès we have this fantastic packaging: it is orange. Today’s marketing people would never propose orange packaging. They would maybe go for dark brown or matte gold or whatever.
Orange was not the original packaging color of Hermès. Before the Second World War, the original packaging was brown, imitating leather a little bit. But during the war, we were short of the original packaging, and the suppliers said to my grandfather (Robert Dumas), “We have nothing left, I just have some orange that nobody wants.”
Then they took the orange, and after the war it was so striking, so strong, that it was immediately identified with the brand. They wanted to go back to the old packaging, and all the customers said, “No! It’s Hermès orange.”
What is interesting about that story is that sometimes in these long-lasting companies you understand that creativity is absolutely key, and it’s not so much about marketing, but it’s about having ideas and sometimes a little bit of luck.
ED: So, to extend this idea: when we think about the Time Suspended and the Time Veiled models, for example, do you think an Hermès customer, once he or she buys a watch like this and has had this sort of playful complication on the wrist, he or she would probably say, “I don’t want to go back to a normal watch now?”
GdS: Well, I do think that. I have even experienced that myself. Once you have it, and have raised interest around you with it, then you go back to a normal watch, you are less the hero of the evening. (laughs)
ED: That’s true. It was very interesting to me to see Hermès moving in that direction with the complications, then to do it in such a playful way. It fits the positive energy of the company.
GdS: The idea that we wanted to express, of course, is that Hermès is recognized as a very creative company, and it’s one of our strengths together with craftsmanship, so we have been very creative in the watch world.
But until four, five, six years ago we were creative mostly in the shape, in the design. And by going into mechanical world, we wanted not only to have some traditional complications, of course that you need to have, but we wanted to also express our creativity regarding the movement.
And to have not like the 50th tourbillon or whatever; we wanted to also have something that says something about the brand – and says something different. Because that’s a challenge in the watch industry. A lot of things have been invented and have been made; there are very strong brands and I think we have now found our way.
ED: I also believe the “métiers d’art” is a very strong part of the business now for Hermès, is it not?
GdS: Absolutely true. Here, also, by proposing those watches, we try to be even more Hermès than before. That means, of course, that craftsmanship is at the heart of Hermès – since its foundation – and combining some very high and rare crafts with some designs coming from Hermès, we thought that was really an interesting approach.
This year I’m really very excited about the crystal (like the Arceau Millefiori) because it’s quite new. It’s also based on a craftsmanship that we have in the group. It’s fantastic and it provides something that is playful, colorful, fancy and classical at the same time.
ED: When you entered the family business, after being at other companies, was it your choice to enter the watch division specifically?
GdS: To be honest, no. I had a nice Hermès watch, but I was not a fan; I can’t say I was passionate about watches before that, and it’s my uncle (Jean-Louis Dumas) who proposed that challenge. I think it was quite wise of him because along with fragrance, watches are one of the few products that are sold not only in Hermès’ own stores.
To be honest, I was a bit surprised by the proposition. I was not expecting it, and very quickly I was passionate about the product and this industry. I was also passionate about the position of Hermès; it was more exciting to be in a business where Hermès was not recognized like it is in leather or in silk as the top of the top. So it’s more challenging, but, as I said earlier, you have to find ways to be very Hermès to also be perceived in that industry as a true player.
ED: According to my information, watches only make five percent of Hermès’ total turnover. It seems like Hermès puts so much energy into the watches, though, with the acquisitions of suppliers like movement maker Vaucher. Why?
GdS: The watch business has grown, but Hermès has also grown very strongly. We believe watches are a strong product category for us.
We’ve been in this business since 1928, so that’s a long story even if we were not manufacturers at that time. And, of course, the link was first made with my great-grandfather through the leather, the straps.
As we’ve done in leather, silk, and so on, the idea of the acquisitions is to be able to control the know-how and to ensure the final quality of the object. So, we were thinking about it for a long time. Having our own case manufacturer is completely key for the future.
Of course, the investment in Vaucher was also a way to secure key supply of high-end movements, even if when I did that, the question was not so much about trying to reduce supply to other customers. It was more to find this idea of craftsmanship that we have in other métiers; we were lacking a little bit in watches as we were selling mostly quartz watches, which is not so much about craftsmanship, but about industrial quality, reliability, and ease.
ED: Thank you for the wonderful chat.
GdS: You’re welcome, my pleasure.
The First Wristwatches From Breguet, Hermès and Patek Philippe Were Made . . . For Women for more on how the first watch on a leather strap came into existence.
How Hermès Transforms Crystal Into The Colorful Dial Of The Arceau Millefiori Watch
Hermès Presents Seriously Playful Springtime Watches At Baselworld 2014
Hermès Puts Pen To Paper With The Nautilus
For more on Hermés, please visit www.lesailes.hermes.com.