Hermès Arceau Cheval Cosmique: Honest-To-Goodness Design That Increases Desire By Exciting The Eye
I love art in all its forms, be it musical, movement, pictures, or prose. Many think of art in the more traditional formats like paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, film, and possibly textiles. But art surrounds us in forms and mediums as diverse as grand architecture, beautiful sonnets, and live performances. And what’s more, art is understandable by specific principles using defined elements allowing for the creation of every possible piece of art imaginable.
One might think definitions and principles would fundamentally limit art, but they are not what you use to make art (even though you inherently do); they are what we use to dissect what the art is, regardless of the form it exists. It’s possible that you can create art that breaks every rule of design and composition, and yet we can still analyze it using the principles and elements of design.
That is because everything we can create will relate in some way: the principles and elements of design are based on how we humans sense and understand the world around us. Therefore, depending on who you are and what you have experienced in your life, you may fundamentally connect to certain elements and principles of design more than others.
I appreciate patterns (thanks to my primate brain) and contrast, both of which are principles of design, and the use of shape and line to create textures, elements of design.
This also means that I am often drawn to bold patterns mixed and matched with subtle elements and details drawing attention to contrast. Perennial favorites include repeating patterns of lines juxtaposed with natural shapes. Think geometric architecture jutting out of the side of a rolling, grass-covered hill. This also results in a fondness for graphic design, logos, and graphical elements in traditional places.
And that brings me to Hermès, the Arceau, and Gianpaolo Pagni.
Design nerd side note: the elements of design include line, shape, form, color, texture, space, and value, together making up the “tools” of an artist, the objects that can be used to create art. The Principles of Design include pattern, contrast, emphasis, balance, scale, harmony, and movement, together making up the “methods” of using the “tools” to create art. Some sources separate principles or elements into more distinct categories, but they still cover the same results. One that is mentioned specifically in non-static art (i.e., film, music, theater, literature, performance art) is time, which can be used both as an element or a principle of design. As more art becomes multimedia-based, time is referenced more often.
Pagni is an Italian born printmaker, illustrator, and artist who has been professionally active in Paris since at least 1993. Specializing in geometric patterns, primary colors, and an emphasis on pure shape, Pagni has created a wide array of works that help to distinguish his work as distinctly his own. He first began working with Hermès in 2011 designing prints for scarves, which translated into shawls, blankets, twillys, and other accessories highlighting Pagni’s unique penchant for patterns.
One key aspect of his work is how Pagni creates hand stamps, which he uses to create repetition with shapes, lines, and colors. Across his career, specific patterns have become frequent visitors to his works, sort of like subtle signatures of the artist’s creative mind. One of these patterns is concentric arced lines, often used to create incredibly striking, undulating squiggle patterns.
Searching through many of his past works, the first evidence of this specific pattern is found illustrated in his print book La Pasta from 2003. The entry for linguine depicts the origins of this pattern, which has evolved over the years as Pagni created different stamps for variations and alternate uses.
The most replicated version is in his book Everybody Loves Somebody . . . And Nobody from 2015. This pattern was also coincidentally first seen on an Hermès scarf in 2013, though in a less undulating manner than seen later. That playful use of the pattern eventually found its way back to Hermès when Pagni designed an illustration dubbed Cheval Cosmique (“cosmic horse” in French), which has been featured on a scarf, blanket, hand-painted tray, and now a watch (you might have seen that coming).
The silhouetted trotting horse, by the way, is said to be based on one from Émile Hermès’ private collection.
Hermès Arceau Cheval Cosmique
Making its debut during Watches & Wonders 2020 – the first 100 percent digital watch fair – the Hermès Arceau Cheval Cosmique is a riveting example of how one “simple” pattern can play against a different element so well that it makes it hard to look away.
The Arceau Cheval Cosmique comes in two distinct limited-edition designs, each derived from the Cheval Cosmique design found on other Hermès objects and each intended for (but not limited to) masculine or feminine tastes. Both prominently feature the hand-engraved Cheval Cosmique horse, which takes the artisan almost a week to complete, surrounded by white gold patterns derived from Pagni’s oft-used concentric arcs (usually in half or quarter circles).
The two editions come in 38 mm and 41 mm cases, with the smaller model featuring a diamond-set bezel, clearly appealing to those who want all that glitters.
But those aren’t the main differences between the two; the main difference is in how the Cheval Cosmique design has been implemented. On the larger model the dial is a nearly perfect reproduction of the design layout from the other Cheval Cosmique objects found in the Hermès collections.
The undulating concentric arced lines match perfectly in shape, proportion, and position, only diverting where the round dial cuts off the pattern compared to the square format of the other iterations. The large horse engraving is perfectly centered on the dial as well, making it the focal point of the watch.
The smaller Arceau Cheval Cosmique is different. This version mirrors the design, then offsets the horse and pattern to the bottom right corner of the dial, displaying more of the original pattern on the left but cutting it off on the right.
The smaller size of the design also provides room for a numeral track from 9 to 2 o’clock that turns the dial more toward a traditional design.
It’s still visually arresting, but it’s clear the larger, centered design of the 41 mm watch is the showstopper here. The smaller version has tension between components, so the focal point isn’t as clear.
This is no surprise, largely due to a design element that I greatly appreciate: contrast. The dark blue aventurine dial punctuated by the geometrically curving white gold lines separated by black lacquer is a prime example of contrast making designs pop. Further, it actually matches the aesthetic of the name as it feels like a cosmic horse flying through space.
Contrast and repetition
Yet the smaller version can’t be underestimated: the white enamel matched with mother-of-pearl and white gold is lustrous, even if the contrast is subdued. It still features the black lacquer skillfully placed between the white gold waves and matches the black pad-printed numerals and Hermès logo on the dial. But the contrast is lessened in the 41 mm aventurine model, so the main point of attraction comes back to that pattern. That inviting, flowing pattern.
When I first saw the photos of these pieces, this was the part that attracted me, the feature that got me excited. It’s to be expected based on my history: I adored the Arceau Temari from 2015, another watch based on a strong, high-contrast pattern, though that one was Japanese by inspiration.
When I come across creative, energetic, high-contrast patterns, I tend to be drawn to them. And the Cheval Cosmique aligns perfectly with my preferences.
The original pattern from Pagni is based on a set of six arced lines in a quarter circle, which he made from a stamp used to create undulating strings of lines. Often when using the stamp to make prints, he wouldn’t perfectly place the stamp to have visibly uninterrupted lines, leaving some stamps slightly offset in the pattern.
This can be seen in the first Hermès scarf design from Pagni in 2013, though the effect has been nearly eliminated in the dials of the Cheval Cosmique. If anything, the tangent meeting of the two quarter-circle arcs is a little imperfect and short, making the place where the arc changes direction have a very tiny squiggle.
It isn’t much, but with high-res photography being what it is, the details are still visible, and it does indeed connect with the source material from Gianpaolo Pagni. I think given the imperfect nature of the style for nearly everything Pagni does, the collaboration with Hermès is unique, and the Cheval Cosmique brings his work to a different audience.
On top of that, the designers at Hermès seem to have a solid grounding in the elements and principles of design to take such a wild style and make it into a simply gorgeous watch like the Cheval Cosmique.
Pieces like these remind me that sometimes it isn’t just about the mechanics or the futuristic avant-garde nature of pieces of sci-fi on the wrist, but the honest-to-goodness design of a piece, the sheer appearance, that makes me want it for no other reason than it excites my eyes.
This goes a long way toward describing why Hermès has become one of my favorite brands, not just in horology but in luxury goods in general. I strive to be a minimalist, and luxury objects are often the antithesis to my motivations. So for me a brand like Hermès as a favorite might seem odd.
But the fun and creativity that comes from Hermès, its collaborations with artists, and its willingness to combine fine craftsmanship (something very important to me as a maker) with all sorts of inspirations gives me the impression that the brand has a sense of humility with its work, wanting to play and create interesting things without taking itself too seriously.
I’m excited to see more creativity from Hermès and its design collaborators, and if things go we’ll find more examples of bold patterns with high-contrast juxtaposed with the gentler beauty in so many things. If the relationship with Gianpaolo Pagni to create the incredible Arceau Cheval Cosmique is any indication, I’m bound to be hypnotized again before I know it.
So before I become transfixed, let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.3 I tell you, repeating patterns are hypnotizing. So it’s only natural to exclaim wowza!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 93.5» 916.922m/s2 It has to be the undulating black and white curves that tie me to the night as I yearn!
- M.G.R. * 51 A solid base movement manufactured in-house by Hermès, that’s geeky enough for me!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Did you really expect added functions? You must be new here, this watch is here for the art show, not to flex on complicated but visually boring perpetual calendars. You can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream because for this piece you are just feeling it!
- Ouch Outline * 10.99 The existential loneliness of six weeks of solo isolation! Like they say, we are all in this together, but by ourselves because social distancing saves lives. Still, an empty apartment grows deafening in the silence sometimes. That’s why you need an incredible watch to pass the time away!
- Mermaid Moment * That pattern, those lines! Seriously, sometimes all it takes is to see the smallest detail and it grabs your heart!
- Awesome Total * 982 Multiply the number of pieces in each limited edition together (24 x 24) and subtract the result from the total of multiplying the two different diameters together (38 x 41) to achieve a visually entrancing awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.hermes.com.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Cheval Cosmique 38 mm
Case: 38 mm, white gold with bezel set with 82 diamonds
Dial: enamel, white gold, mother-of-pearl, engraved gold applied elements
Movement: automatic winding manufacture Hermès Caliber H1912, 50-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 24 pieces
Price: $54,500 / €49,000 / CHF 56,000
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Cheval Cosmique 41 mm
Case: 41 mm, white gold
Dial: aventurine, white gold engraving
Movement: automatic manufacture Hermès Caliber H1837, 50-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 24 pieces
Price: $54,500 / €49,000 / CHF 56,000