Hermès Arceau Squelette: How A ‘Smokescreen’ Achieves Ultimate Elegance
by Martin Green
Creating something that remains current in perpetuity doesn’t happen often. When it does, the design is often as simple as it is powerful.
I wonder if Henri d’Origny, Hermès’ legendary artistic director, knew what he had accomplished when in 1978 he put the pen down with which he had just designed the Arceau?
We are now four decades away from that day, and the Hermès watch d’Origny designed still looks pleasantly contemporary today. Show it to somebody who hasn’t seen it before, tell them it was first introduced last year, and they will very likely believe you.
It is one of my favorite designs from Hermès for the simple reason that it is understated yet makes a statement at the same time.
The Hermès “smokescreen”
Among my least favorite watch styles are skeletons. While I adore the craftsmanship that goes into making them, I am not fond of seeing them on my wrist where a stunning movement gets a backdrop of skin and pressed hair.
Hermès must have been thinking the same thing when it developed the Arceau Squelette, which showcases the beauty of the movement but without the previously mentioned disadvantages.
The designers achieved this by creating a “smokescreen.” Unlike many skeletons, Hermès has fitted the Arceau with a sapphire dial replacing the dial. By applying a black gradient coloring around the edge, the movement gets “surrounded.”
This offers various advantages, of which the first is that not the entire skeletonized movement is visible, only the center. As the middle contains the most parts, the viewer can still enjoy the inner workings of this automatic movement but see hardly any skin underneath it when worn on the wrist.
The other advantage is that Hermès has ample room for its signature Arabic numerals and minute dot markers in silver. As for the dot markers of the minute track, these comprise only outlines. This not only looks very elegant but is also a nod to the skeletonized movement.
So, unlike other skeleton watches the legibility of this is one superb.
The movement is Sellita-based, which might come as a surprise as Hermès owns 25 percent of movement manufacturer Vaucher.
However, the brand thought it was essential to keep the price of the new skeleton in line with that of its predecessor. Potential disappointment is only between the ears because Sellita did an excellent job in delivering an attractive caliber skeletonized in an industrial fashion, which suits the purity of the design of the Arceau very well.
The bridges are reduced to a bare minimum, yet still decorated with an engine-turned motif.
Also, the spring barrel has been opened, which has the added advantage of providing an idea of the power reserve. Not that you really have to worry about this, because the caliber in this Hermès is automatic. By skeletonizing the oscillating weight, it doesn’t interfere with the view of the movement from the rear while it winds.
You get all this in a well proportioned 40 mm case. This size is the sweet spot for a watch like this and also plays a role in how the design maintains its contemporary appeal.
Hermès also resisted the temptation of choosing a precious metal case, opting for stainless steel instead. A perfect choice, and while I like the alligator leather strap it comes on, I almost feel that a beautiful calfskin leather would be even more appropriate.
The Arceau Squelette is a very welcome addition to the Hermès lineup and, at the same time, one of the most well-designed skeleton watches currently available.
For more information, please visit www.hermes.com.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Squelette
Case: 40 mm, stainless steel
Dial: gradient-shaded black sapphire crystal, transparent in the center with silvered Arabic numerals
Movement: automatic Sellita-based caliber
Functions: hours, minutes