Jefferson Hack speaks to design genius Jony Ive and Hermès Artistic Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas about the breathtaking collaboration
When is a watch not a watch? When is luxury not luxury? When is a collaboration not just about a shared business objective, but connecting a shared philosophy and love of craftsmanship? As Tim Cook said about the Apple Watch at its press conference this week – “We are just getting started.” Post-event at the Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco I’m sitting backstage with Sir Jony Ive, chief imagineer of the future, a remarkable designer who leaves more than a trace of his personality on his groundbreaking products.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is swimmable, GPS-trackable and boasts a myriad of new features and apps. It’s an astounding leap forward in just 18 months. As Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès, who partnered with Apple on a special edition of the watch, describes it: “The watch is not a watch. It’s more powerful than the lunar module that landed on the moon. It’s an interactive object that is a companion, a toy, a personal assistant.”
“This is a category right at the beginning,” says Ive of the watch’s ongoing evolution. “Given the same amount of time as the iPhone, it’s going to be extraordinary what this is going to do from a wellness, health and fitness point of view.”
Beyond pure functionality, the Apple Watch Hermès partnership introduces new styles, along with new colours of strap. I asked Dumas about their creative process. “I worked with Pierre Hardy (creative director of Hermès shoes and jewellery) and the product development team on improving the first collection to come up with new shapes for bracelets,” he says. “Designing a product with Apple is a slowing-down process (laughs), because it’s all about detail. It’s about slowly coming up with what works best and extreme fine-tuning.”
The expanded Apple Watch Hermès collection includes the Double Buckle Cuff in Swift and Epsom calfskin leathers, inspired by an archetypal Hermès sandal design by Pierre Hardy, as well as a Single Tour Deployment Buckle which quick-releases through the simultaneous touch of two side buttons. Paired with the watch and distinctive Hermès face, the bands look remarkably timeless and ultimately aspirational, a refined mix of retro-fetishism and accelerationist design aesthetics.
“We care about a whole lot of things that people don’t see,” explains Ive. “I do think people can sense care in the same way that people can sense carelessness in the creation of things.” Dumas agrees: “I personally feel the Apple Watch Hermès has this level of incredible care. It feels special. It feels alive, everything has been thought through. That’s luxury today. That absolute level of care.”
It’s hard to imagine how Ive and his famously small 18-person design team manage to oversee all the design at Apple while engaging in complex, time-consuming collaborations such as this one. “It’s very rare for us to do it,” says Ive. “It’s not about business goals but a shared philosophy. It’s been a really rewarding and enjoyable process. I have always had such extraordinary respect for Hermès’ fanaticism for quality and care, their craftsmanship and their sense of non-compromise, to make something of extraordinary value for the people who love their products.”
“I do think people can sense care in the same way that people can sense carelessness in the creation of things”– Jony Ive
I ask Dumas what past generations of the Hermès family would have made of the Apple Watch Hermès collaboration. How would they have reacted? “Thierry was a craftsman,” he says. “He would take the watch and he would say, ‘You guys have been lazy. I can improve your strap, I can do it even thinner and I will find a way to sew so you cannot even see the stitching inside the strap.’ Emile on the other side, his grandson, he loved innovation. He thought of using saddle stitching to make handbags or bring a zip to bags. He would be super-excited by the association of Hermès with Apple because he would say, ‘I am so proud that they are following my idea,’ because he was the first one to put a strap on a pocket watch in 1905.”
For this collaboration, both Ive and Dumas agree that the biggest challenge for both teams was figuring out the complexity of the Double Tour. Originally designed by Martin Margiela for Hermès in 1998, it was a revolution in watch straps and has since become a signature in Hermès collections. “Jony was excited about the idea of us doing it, but after many tests they were very worried that, because the band goes twice under the wrist, it would slide under the watch and prevent it from being in contact with the skin,” says Dumas. “After many tests they came back to tell us that it was not possible.”
Ive believed it would never happen and it was a Hermès craftsperson who solved the problem, using an old technique used for stitching handles in bags. “Hermès have such an insane expertise born of experience, I guarantee we wouldn’t have solved that problem,” says Ive. Dumas describes a new design philosophy that he believes to be at the core of this collaboration: “It’s about a new form of design with respect, with difference. This new design, this new luxury is about being extremely ethical, extremely relevant and always searching for that form of harmony.”
When I ask Ive about the soulfulness in his aesthetic and the feeling of magic and wonder inherent in his approach to product design, he responds: “We are just trying to do something that’s delightful. When your heart skips a beat when you touch our products we truly feel we are serving humanity, and we love that. It’s a privilege to be in our position and we never want to screw that up.”
New colours include Rose Jaipur, Étoupe and Bleu Agate. The new Single Tour Deployment Buckle and Double Buckle Cuff Apple Watch Hermès is available for pre-order September 9