Laurent Dordet famously has a relaxed demeanour about himself. Perhaps it’s the Hermès way of not taking oneself too seriously and enjoying a sense of playfulness and humour, or that the fact that the watches division of what is arguably one of the most well-known luxury brands in the world is steadily gaining momentum as a successful watchmaker, but whatever the case, it’s a mindset that the chief executive of Hermès Watches embodies well.
It’s this sense of lightness that is also on show at Hermès Pavilion at Watches and Wonders, brought to life by the artist Clément Vieille, where intricate structures resembling membranes hang from the ceiling to represent not only the materials used for its H08 collection but also the concept around creating a timepiece that defies the traditional look and feel of a luxury watch.
Various collections of its watches are also suspended in the air, laid out in undulating lines for visitors to weave in and out of, inviting them to take as close a look as they wish to admire the intricate designs and artisanal craftsmanship that Hermès is known for, or its more modern lines like its H08, which for this edition of Watches and Wonders comes with aluminised glass fibre cases and four new brightly coloured straps: orange, yellow, green and blue.
Dordet himself reflects that many visitors have remarked on how open and inviting its exhibition space was, perhaps in stark contrast to some of the other exhibitors who kept their spaces firmly off-limits to anyone without an appointment at what is now the watchmaking world’s largest annual gathering.
“Hermès occupies a specific place in the watchmaking landscape,” said Dordet. “This is the only category in luxury that is still dominated by pure players, which is why we bring something singular in terms of creation as our DNA is different.”
“Hermès is a house with 16 different métiers. Consequently, what we strive to bring is something new, which is another style, another fantasy, another lightness, another colour,” he continued. “That’s why we have shapes that are frequently not round, and that’s why we like to invent new shapes and like to adapt our typography to each and every case.”
It’s clearly working. In its latest set of results, Hermès reported a 23 percent jump in consolidated revenue of 3.38 billion euros in the first quarter of 2023, at constant exchange rates, with watches growing by 25 percent, thanks to demand for its Arceau Le temps voyageur and the house’s classic models.
Add to that the results from the latest Morgan Stanley in collaboration with Luxe Consult report published in March, on the top 50 Swiss watch brands, which ranked Hermès at number 17 in 2022, of which 15 out of the 16 brands ranked above were pure players. The report also noted that last year, Hermès watch sales achieved revenue growth of 43 percent. Not bad considering watches is estimated to account for just 4.5 percent of Hermès’ total sales.
But for Dordet, there is still much more on the horizon. “Our figures have been good, but we are still humble,” he noted. “We will continue working hard to seduce more and more watch lovers, and to confirm Hermès as a legitimate and credible high-end watchmaker. It's a long path, and we take our time. We have a long-term ambition above that.”
Still, the past few years have seen a remarkable amount of interest in its watches, not only with its long-standing customers, but also amongst those in the watch-collecting communities as well.
“We have tripled the business in three years,” said Dordet. “But of course, when you triple (your business) it implies capacity questioning.”
In order to preserve the quality of its watches, Hermès produces just over 60,000 watches a year. And Dordet’s long term vision remains on continuing to develop its watch lines by integrating more expertise, either by taking on external help or by developing more of its own expertise in-house at some point.
We want to propose new fanciful complications, to go further into material development, to innovate, whilst at the same time being light and very creative, he said, as he showed a block of multilayered composite that the company uses to sculpt the H08’s cushion-shaped case. “I think our ranges are wide, from entry prices to high prices, from quartz to mechanical complications and high-end complications… Hermès in all our categories have always been at the same time, exclusive and affordable.”
“So definitely at this point, we do our best to stay on the segments we are on, and to develop more the technical part of our ranges,” he said, adding that this then allows for Hermès to continue to consider how to bring something different to its watches.
However, no industry is without its concerns. As demand ebbs and flows from different regions in the world, notably China and the United States, and geopolitical and global economic concerns persist, many in the world of watchmaking expressed concern over delays in supply chain and production due to lingering effects from the disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic over two years ago.
“Having nice watches made in Switzerland is no longer enough,” Dordet reflected on the watchmaking landscape today at present. “For me, the world of watchmaking is polarising right now. To be successful, it’s no longer enough to be a Swiss-made watch, with 300 years of history, making beautiful watches. People want to have quality and technique, but they also want to be different, have fun and be surprised.”
Indeed, for Hermès, one of the more pleasing things about being a family-owned and thus independent brand, is how the company has outperformed its peers significantly over the past few years, which Dordet puts down to Hermès unique relationship it maintains with its clients.
One channel that has grown significantly in the past five years in particular has been e-commerce which accelerated by the pandemic, allowed the brand to share information about its products when customers were unable to visit its stores.
“We have developed a lot of techniques to have touchpoints that allow us to be closer and closer to the end customer,” said Dordet. “E-commerce is a part of the omnichannel journey we propose to our customers. They start here and they shop online, or they start in the boutique and they click in the shop and they have it delivered later. Everything is possible.”
“It’s been a significant way to talk to our customers, it has been a significant portion of Hermès sales, very different from one category to another, very different from one country to another but for us, whatever the country, whatever the mix, whatever the category, the website is one essential touchpoint to provide the customer on their journey,” he added.
But the focus for Hermès always remains on its human touch and ability to connect with its customers in person. “One of our strengths is that we are one of the very few brands that are 95 percent retail, which means 95 percent of our customers buy through our own boutiques and we know them,” he said.
“We don’t have a waiting list of more than two years,” he added. “We don’t want to have long waiting lists. What we want is hopefully to have proposed new products that are even more attractive to our customers by the time they can get them.”