Hermès’ newest timepieces aim to change your relationship with your watch-–and with time itself.

Too often, time is our enemy. We race against time, run out of time and prefer things that are timeless. Luc Perramond wants to change that perception. As CEO of LA Montres Hermès, Perramond has been using his position to convince as many people as possible that it's better to 'friend' time (to use Facebook parlance) than to 'ignore' it. Time can work on your side, he suggests, especially if you can suspend it on command.

"When you can suspend time, you can dream," he says. "With this control, you can use time to your advantage and step out of an ordinary relationship with it." To Perramond, control of time is a true luxury, perhaps the ultimate luxury, and Hermès is nothing if not among the world's greatest providers of dreamy luxury.

How then can Hermès permit you to suspend time?
Perramond asked this very question more than four years ago to renowned movement constructor and watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, whose talents for designing unusual, active dials, particularly with retrograde functions, are well known in Switzerland. Wiederrecht, who in 1996 started Atelier Genevois d'Horlogerie, or Agenhor SA, a Geneva watchmaking workshop, has created numerous movements and modules for many Swiss watch firms, including Harry Winston (his Opus 9 won a Geneva Grand Prix award in 2009), Van Cleef & Arpels, Gérald Genta and Arnold & Son. The Le Pont des Amoureux watch he designed for Van Cleef & Arpels was named winner of the Ladies Watch award at the 2010 Grand Prix.

His answer was cryptic at first.

"We decided, in common and after a good lunch, to try to make a watch able to stop the progression of the hands of the watch," Wiederrecht recalls. "We also tried to imagine a watch with hands disappearing completely."

A watchmaker who wanted to make the hands of time disappear?

"Of course, at the beginning of a new project, as I never know if I will find an efficient way to solve the given problem, I am always concerned until I find a correct solution."

After four years of experimentation, Wiederrecht and his team came up with a design that is now the Hermès Arceau Time Suspended watch, which debuted last April and is now available worldwide. As Wiederrecht and Perramond hoped, the watch actually allows the wearer, at the push of a button, to make a hand disappear (the date hand) while simultaneously halting the progress of the hour and minute hands.

How it works
The secrets to halting time Hermès style lies deep within the 43 mm Time Suspended case. The magical movement is invisible to all but a watchmaker, and the solid caseback is there to retain that mystery, says Perramond. Hermès, he notes, wants wearers to focus on the dial, not on the movement, which will remain hidden.

"Hermès didn't want this option (an open caseback)," notes Wiederrecht. "The watch is very classic and pure."

However, inside the case, the watch is anything but classical. Instead of employing simple hour, minute and date wheels, Wiederrecht has added acomplex module to an automatic movement that creates a triple retrograde movement. Adding two synchronized column wheels, one for the hours and the other for the minutes and date, he allows the wearer control over the unusual triple-retrograde configuration.

Three patents protect Wiederrecht's design, one patent for its construction and the others for the unusual gear teeth needed to perform the instantaneous retrograde functioning. And even though the movement is not visible to the wearer, all its components nonetheless are hand-decorated with circular graining, engraving and côtes de Genève finishing.

When the wearer presses the button on the left side of the case, he or she causes the date hand to disappear from the dial while the hour and minutes hands assume an unreadable position near the twelve o'clock position. A look at the dial when time is "suspended" will instantly register no date (the hand is gone) and an hour/minute hand combination that doesn't exist on any ordinary clock or watch dial: the hour hand sits a few minutes in front of the 12 while the minute hand stops just after the 12. And of course, there is no seconds hand to signify that the watch continues to operate, and the closed back keeps the ongoing balance wheel out of view.

"The suspended time needed to be unrecognized as a legitimate moment," explains Perramond. "Otherwise it looks as if the watch has simply stopped."

This is when the wearer can begin dreaming, he adds, as his watch will not betray the passage of time while in the suspended mode.

"You can stop for three minutes, three hours or three days, and later on you can bring it back to the actual time whenever you want," he explains. As long as it's on the wrist, the automatic movement's 42-hour power reserve will continue to power the timekeeping within. A second press of the pusher instantly returns the hands to the current time, thanks to Wiederrecht's ingenious dual 360-degree retrograde module. The date hand also returns instantly.

As seen on the iW cover this month, the Time Suspended model is offered in either a limited edition rose gold model or an unlimited steel version, with a black dial optional on the steel model. Only 174 rose gold versions will be made, each created to honor 174 years of Hermès history.

Grand Hours
Of course, this is not the first Hermès watch to play with the perception of time. Four years ago, Hermès developed the Cape Cod Grand Hours collection, a series of watches that use another module consisting of 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 continue to tick at the traditional pace.

While it doesn't halt the perception of time passing in the same way as the Arceau Time Suspended, the Grand Hours instead allow the wearer to choose from a variety of dial alterations on which the numerals are unevenly spaced.  Thus, the hour hand seems to move slowly during hours one prefers to enjoy, while it skips quickly between hours of work. Hermès offers a speedier (accelerando) and a slower (adagio) dial with options for numeral placement on the dial within either speed choice.

Other models
Not all Hermès timepieces require the wearer alter his perception of time. The company offers a variety of dive models, dress watches and specialty pieces that it creates at its Bienne facility. Iconic collections include Kelly, Cape Cod, Clipper, H-Hour and Dressage, the latter typically supplied with high-end Vaucher movements.

So important is the watch division to Hermès that the global luxury company has opened watch-only Hermès boutiques in Beijing, Singapore and Shanghai with plans to expand to the United States, Europe and Asia soon.

"We will never stop surprising our customers with innovative products," says Perramond, though he remains mum about this year's debuts. See International Watch in upcoming months as we show you the newest Hermès watches.


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