IT’S BEST KNOWN FOR its leather handbags, saddles, silk ties, and scarves. But French luxury goods maker Hermès has more to it than that: It also makes watches. Its watches are mostly classic and elegant, but there’s also room for quirky one-of-a-kind pieces with a touch of playfulness. Laurent Dordet, CEO of Montre Hermès, the watch division of the fashion house, talks to Fortune India about the brand.
The foray into watches was relatively late with Montre Hermès being established in the late 1970s, but you’ve had partnerships dating back much earlier?
We are 180 years old and have grown in segments that include silk and perfumes, so we are a successful reference for luxury accessories, in general. Our partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philipe, and Universal Genève, before 1978 resulted in a lot of cobranded watches that are highly collectible and many are unaware of.
What about India as a market for your watches?
It’s too complex in terms of pricing, duties, regulations, and the like. India may be good in the future but right now for me India is like Brazil, exactly the same. Thailand, on the other hand, is taking off. We do sell to Indians but not in India.
What are the three factors to change in India that would help your business?
Duties, duties, duties. India is a part of our future but not in the short term.
How have you evolved since you began?
The ambition in the beginning was to make simple, high-quality steel and quartz watches for both men and women. Now the goal is to bring a freshness to the market with a signature playfulness. The Slim d’Hermès Grrrrr! has a miniature enamel painting of the face of a bear on its dial. It’s an improbable name and brings that smile to one’s lips.
Could you expand on that approach, please? the humour bit.
It’s about fantasy. About expressing something others don’t have. So we are not about performance and thinness. The Hermès Le Temps Suspendu, a watch where you can stop time on the dial while the movement keeps track on the inside, is one example of a cheerful moment. That’s really how we differentiate ourselves. Think of us as a Swiss watchmaker but a French creator.
How much of the watch do you make yourselves?
In 2000, the family took a call to invest in integration and step-by-step progress to making everything internally—the dial, crystal, movement, rare materials and so on. So, it’s taken us 15 years to get to the point where we make our own pieces entirely.
(The interview was originally published in the October-December 2017 special issue of the magazine.)