Moonstruck: Hermès takes on space and time at SIHH 2019

Arceau L’Heure de la Lune Pegasus disc close-up
A photograph of Pegasus is superimposed on one of the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune’s tiny moon discs. The design, ‘Pleine Lune’, by Dimitri Rybaltchenko, is from Hermès’ archive.
(Image credit: Lucas Vuitel)

In making the moon the centrepiece of its new ‘Arceau L’Heure de la Lune’ timepiece, La Montres Hermès offers a refreshingly philosophical start to the year. The watch launch kicks off the annual SIHH (Salon International Haute Horlogerie) watch exhibtion in Geneva – a key date on the horological design calendar – which starts today.

‘Arceau L’Heure’ encapsulates the clever light-touch watchmaking that has become Hermès' horological calling card. Yet it has the kind of technical heft that allows for something uncommon – its clever two satellite dials (one for the time and one for the date) rotate over a pair of fixed lunar discs showing the phase of the moon as seen from both Northern and Southern hemispheres. The discs are then alternately masked and revealed over a 59-day period (two lunar months).

The Arceau L’Heure de La Lune is launched in two dial iterations

The Arceau L’Heure de La Lune is launched in two dial iterations - one in meteorite, the other aventurine - each with two satellite dials representing phases of the moon

(Image credit: Lucas Vuitel)

‘Arceau L’Heure has a strong mechanical character,’ confirms artistic director of La Montres Hermès, Philippe Delhotal, ‘but the purpose is not to offer technology, rather it’s to a playground for a poetic story.’ As such, attention is drawn to the design’s aventurine and meteorite dials and the mother-of-pearl moon discs – one of which has a depiction of the moon’s surface, the other, a lunarscape with a ghostly miniature Pegasus on it. The equine design, ‘Pleine Lune’, by Dimitri Rybaltchenko, is drawn from Hermès silk archive. 

The focus on aesthetics meant that specialist watchmakers had to find a way to translate Delhotal’s vision technically – the Arceau, defined by its asymmetrical lugs, is a classic Hermès design, created by Henri d’Origny in 1978. For this 2019 iteration, the depth of the dial had to be adapted so that the design looked proportionally right. The Arceau’s Arabic numerals, with their distinctive sloping font are, of course, intact, denoting its design DNA.

Delhotal’s dream began two years ago: ‘Philippe wanted to take us to the sky and to make the moon the centre of the timepiece, not just a typically secondary complication,’ says La Montres Hermès CEO Laurent Dordet. It was a long time before they saw the shape of their artistic director’s thinking. But, says Dordet, a man obviously at ease with the lengthy time frames horological product-design demands, ‘Sometimes you do things not because they are easy but because they are difficult.’

The journey continued late into last year, with a field trip to Tenerife to take advantage of the Teide Observatory’s sky-high 2,390m altitude to explore the cosmos up close. The largest solar observatory in the world, it was a beguilingly simple way to encapsulate the clever watchmaking that belies ‘Arceau L’Heure’s’ poetic nature. ‘We wanted to create magic out of chaos,' confirms Delhotal: ‘We leave you to dream and we do the rest.’

Tenerife’s cloud covered Teide Observatory

A field trip to Tenerife’s cloud covered Teide Observatory, at an altitude of 2,390m, illustrated the clever horological engineering that belies ‘Arceau L’Heure’s’ poetic nature

(Image credit: Lucas Vuitel)

Arceau L’Heure de La Lune dial close-up

The watch is designed to draw attention to its aventurine and meteorite dials and unique mother-of-pearl moon discs.

(Image credit: Lucas Vuitel)

For more information visit the Hermès website

James Gurney has written on watches for over 25 years, founding QP Magazine in 2003, the UK’s first home-grown watch title. In 2009, he initiated SalonQP, one of the first watch fairs to focus on the end-consumer, and is regarded as a leading horological voice contributing to news and magazine titles across the globe.