25 Years Of The Hermès Cape Cod
by Nancy Olson
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the first watches bearing the Hermès name made their debut, paving the way for the full range of luxe products we associate with the company today.
In 1978, in its unwavering commitment to fine timepieces, La Montre Hermès SA just outside of Bienne, Switzerland, began overseeing the manufacture of the company’s full range of watches. Hermès’ Swiss facility, in addition to the more mechanical aspects of watchmaking, specializes in crafting the brand’s own straps (see Hermès Watch Straps: Quality Without Compromise, Suppleness Guaranteed).
And this is logical: back in 1837 it was horse harnesses and bridles, followed by saddles, that first put the company on the map at the hand of founder Thierry Hermès. This grounding in leather is never far from the collective imagination.
Hermès handbags and accessories arrived on the scene in the early twentieth century as a logical progression based on the company’s reputation in leather goods. And whether evident in the Hermès carriage-and-horse logo or the perfectly comfortable and luxurious timepiece straps, it’s clear that Hermès reveres its roots.
The Cape Cod’s roots
As the Cape Cod watch celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2016, I am reminded once again that good designs and good materials endure.
Like all things Hermès, the Cape Cod was born in 1991 from the brand’s singular vision.
Legendary artistic director Henri d’Origny, at the request of then-chairman Jean-Louis Dumas, was responsible for its design inspired by the iconic Chaîne d’Ancre (“anchor chain”) link seen throughout the company’s jewelry collections and dating to 1938.
His intent was to achieve a square inside a rectangle, which he accomplished by using a squared case and dial added to the elongated effect afforded by stylistic lugs. The now-accustomed watch dial typography is indicative of the line and it has translated well throughout the various interpretations of the collection over its 25 years.
Named for the tiny but renowned coastal destination in Massachusetts, the Cape Cod has become a mainstay among the Hermès watch classics because of its chic, go-anywhere appeal and freedom of style.
Not so incidentally, d’Origny, who has worked at Hermès since 1961, is also the man behind the Arceau (1978) and Clipper (1981) collections, proving that his eye for staying power is clearly one of his strong suits.
Leather was once again instrumental to the Cape Cod and it played an important role in the watch’s early success.
Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela, artistic director for Hermès’ women’s ready-to-wear as of 1997, added the double-wrap watch strap that would later be known simply as the “Double Tour.” Margiela created 12 fashion collections for Hermès between 1997 and 2003, and while the Double Tour is not necessarily what he is mainly remembered for at the chic Parisian brand today, it did make its debut at Margiela’s first Hermès runway show in 1998.
The designer known for understated elegance and sleek monochrome lines thus catapulted the watch to global fame using what could well be considered an accessory – though those of us entrenched in the world of watches know that the watch strap is much more than just an accessory (see Here’s Why A Watch Strap Is More Than Just An Accessory).
The Double Tour strap is not only a vital part of the Cape Cod collection today, it remains a most emulated element now used by countless watch brands – making this perhaps the most important design that Hermès has brought to the world of watchmaking.
Cape Cod through the years
The primarily young and fresh, mostly quartz and feminine Cape Cod collection has welcomed several notable iterations over the years that break out of this established mold, including the Cape Cod Moon Phases of 2007, the Cape Cod 8 Days with jump hours, chronograph variations, and even one in a wild tonneau-shaped case – which may seem a little heretical, but really does make for a beautiful variation on the theme.
Each retains the inimitable character of the line, proving time and again its solid, though compatible, personality.
In 2009, the Cape Cod H au Galop debuted with a grand feu enamel dial inspired by an Hermès silk scarf created by designer Bali Barret. Anita Porchet, the Swiss enamel artist known for her exquisite miniature dial paintings for a number of the most prestigious watch brands, created its the dial.
This automatic white gold watch powered by Caliber H1928, a backbone movement for Hermès created with Vaucher (of which Hermès owns 25 percent), was introduced as a set of four one-of-a-kind pieces with differing dial hues in red, yellow, blue, and black and white.
Also that year, in 2009, the first Cape Cod for men with a mechanical movement was introduced: the exquisite Cape Cod Grandes Heures.
Developed exclusively for Hermès by Vaucher on the base of its Caliber H1928, the “Grand Hours” module incorporates a system of oval-toothed wheels that makes it possible to speed up or slow down the movement of the hour hand, while the minutes and seconds pass at a traditional pace.
The stainless steel watch was introduced in two dial colors and six different time-telling patterns. Ever playful in its expression of time, this kicked off Hermès’ now-emblematic, elegantly whimsical line of watches including Arceau Le Temps Suspendu (2011) and Dressage l’Heure Masquée (2015).
The following year, 2010, saw the debut of the Cape Cod Tourbillon powered by a hand-wound movement created by Vaucher: Hermès Caliber H8930 VMF. The pink- or white-gold limited edition watch featured a seven-day power reserve with a dedicated indicator on the silvered or dark gray dial.
The Cape Cod GMT arrived in 2014 with an automatic movement. This stainless steel watch displayed a second time zone, day/night indication, and a large date at 12 o’clock thanks to a Soprod module. Its displays are shown on a choice of silvered or blue dial.
Precious Cape Cod silver
In a bold move, a silver case was added to the line in 2014 made of a proprietary silver alloy containing more than the conventional 925 proportion and said to “lastingly preserve the inimitable radiance of the precious metal,” meaning that this silver does not tarnish.
This metal mainly associated with vintage pocket watches was directly offered in two Cape Cod case shapes: Tonneau and Nantucket.
The Silver Nantucket model (quartz), with its elongated opaline silvered dial, was offered with more than a dozen leather strap options in colors ranging from raspberry to storm blue, single strap or Double Tour. Keeping the chic destination theme proximate, it is named for Nantucket island off the coast of Cape Cod.
A Cape Cod Tonneau GM (Grand Modèle) Silver and Tonneau PM (Petite Modèle) Silver, both quartz, also came in diamond-set or plain cases along with a plethora of strap choices.
Soon thereafter, in 2015, a Cape Cod TGM (Trés Grand Modèle) Automatique version with a square stainless steel-framed dial measuring 33 x 33 mm was introduced, powered by the automatic in-house Caliber H1912 with date.
And another Cape Cod métiers d’art piece made its debut the same year, again inspired by an Hermès scarf, the Zebra Pegasus designed this time by London-born Alice Shirley. In an ongoing collaboration with Hermès, Shirley has created silk scarves, enamel jewelry, beachwear, and more.
The 22-karat gold dial of the Cape Cod Zebra Pegasus employs two distinctive art forms: engraving and cloisonné enameling interpreted in four one-of-a-kind watches. The timepiece crafted in white gold is powered by Caliber H1837, which, by the way, is the first Vaucher-produced base movement made exclusively for Hermès. It was introduced in 2012.
Cape Cod 2016
In honor of the Cape Cod’s twenty-fifth anniversary, the 2016 renditions are notable and include the development of a new gem-setting technique and new dials in lacquer, mother-of-pearl, and stone – including onyx and lapis lazuli – which enliven the line while maintaining its fashionable familiarity and singular essence.
These quartz watches’ steel cases range from 23 to 33 mm on a black Barenia calfskin cuff-style watch known as the Cape Cod Bracelet de Force that is slated for men (but would look great on a feminine wrist as well).
Diamonds on the rectangular steel perimeter are featured on the mother-of-pearl model, which also boasts diamond hour markers. The models with stone dials are also diamond set.
No surprise, the leather straps (interchangeable single or Double Tour) are gorgeous and the colors are sublime. The hues of the calfskin, goatskin, and alligator leather are as vivid as their names, including bougainvillea, iris, and peacock blue, with coordinating stitching.
Happy birthday, Cape Cod! We wish you many, many more good years and many more great watches.
For more information, please visit http://usa.hermes.com/watches/cape-cod.
Quick Facts Cape Cod Bracelet de Force
Case: 33 x 33 mm, stainless steel
Functions: minutes, seconds
Strap: black Barenia calfskin cuff-style