‘I’m here by choice, not by obligation,’ Jony Ive tells me as we trek through the dense, mysterious forests of Yakushima in southern Japan.

Me too! My 12,000-mile round-trip from London to this remote island was arduous, but worth it. It’s not often you get to spend time in such a magical environment in the company of Apple’s chief design officer and Hermès’ artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas.

Extraordinary products created by extraordinary partnerships should lead to extraordinary experiences, and the purpose of this two-day sojourn was to better understand some qualities of the new Apple Watch Hermès Series 4. It may seem odd that a company renowned for accelerating digital connectivity would take you to an area that is almost totally off-grid, but finding time to unplug and connect in a different way – with yourself and with nature – is a key component of its new product. ‘We must strive to preserve a connection with nature and a reconnection with our senses,’ explains Dumas, ‘and Yakushima, with its thousand-year-old trees, its incredibly diverse flora and fauna, including 1,900 species of plants, 150 species of birds and around 20 different species of mammals, is a marvellous example of this.’

The watch’s fitness, health and breathing apps are now paramount: ‘We have included additional features and enhancements to help us to live an overall healthier, more active, more balanced life,’ says Ive.

Balance is also key to the overall Apple/Hermès working relationship – the balance of technology and craftsmanship. It is something Dumas is passionate about (he refers to it as ‘technocraft’) and is convinced it is the holy grail of modern design, manufacturing and making. ‘We are a manufacturing species, we make tools and we make tools to make objects. It is part of our culture and it is part of what makes us human,’ he says. ‘We are both so interested in the process of making,’ continues Ive. ‘After I met Pierre-Alexis some years ago, the idea of working with Hermès struck me as entirely natural and logical – almost inevitable.’

By spending time with Ive and Pierre-Alexis Dumas (I’m tempted to refer to them collectively as IPAD), you sense a total meeting of minds. There’s a shared admiration of materials and craftsmanship, and an uncompromising pursuit of excellence.

The obsessive refinement in Series 4 is where the magic happens – such as the significant increase in the display size, by blending it with the curves of the watch. But the new Hermès user interface is the most elegant and succinct representation of the collaboration. As the minute hand sweeps forward, the screen shifts from one block colour to the next, matching the colours of the two-tone leather straps and creating a kind of digital sundial.

Over dinner on the last evening in Yakushima, Dumas reminds me that the Hermès/Apple relationship first blossomed thanks to some Wallpaper* matchmaking back in 2010. The inaugural Wallpaper* Handmade project was in preparation and the iPad had just been announced at one of Steve Jobs’ legendary presentations. Who better, we thought, to design the perfect protective case for this yet-to-be-released technological game-changer than Hermès? It would be a marriage of craft and technology for our Milan exhibition that coming April. Technocraft, no less!

Some five years later, the Apple Watch Hermès was born, and now it was fitting – by choice, not by obligation – to be present at this most extraordinary presentation of their latest collaboration, mindful that the first seeds of that working relationship were planted on the pages of this magazine. §

As originally featured in the March 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*240)