By ALEX WILLIAMS
BASEL, Switzerland — It is a watchmaker’s job to mark the passage of time; musing on its passage typically falls to the poets.
The fact that Hermès’s new watch, the Slim d’Hermès L’heure Impatiente, suggests a reflection makes it one of the most notable, and certainly one of the most lyrical, of the timepieces introduced at the Baselworld watch fair this year.
This whimsical reinterpretation of the company’s critically lauded Slim d’Hermès line features two separate counters near the bottom of the dial that signify a 12-hour countdown, first in hours, then over the last hour in minutes. The point is to measure the anticipation toward a meaningful moment in the wearer’s life — a first date, say, or a meeting with an old friend.
When the countdown finally strikes the end, that moment is marked by a delicate chime from deep inside the watch’s 40.5-millimeter rose gold case.
The watch, according to Hermès, is a horological riff on a quotation from the French writer and statesman Georges Clemenceau, which roughly translates to “the best moment in love is right before it arrives.” The watch, in essence, is a mechanical reminder to savor the sweet torture of anticipation.
Think of it as a stopwatch for the soul.
The L’heure Impatiente, priced at $39,900 and available this summer, is the latest to showcase Hermès’s signature brand of horological whimsy, following in the tradition of Le Temps Suspendu, which in 2012 was named the best men’s watch at Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
That watch featured a cheeky function that allowed the wearer, at the push of a button, to snap the hour and minute hands into a narrow “V” at 12 o’clock, effectively suspending time on the face of the watch. Time, in essence, stopped, allowing the wearer a moment of reflection.
The L’heure Impatiente will not just appeal to well-heeled transcendentalists. Hardened gearheads will appreciate the technical challenges overcome in the design by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, a founder of Agenhor, the award-winning Geneva-based watchmaking studio, and an acknowledged mad scientist in the field of haute horology.
The point of his latest creation, Mr. Wiederrecht said, was not to make “an alarm clock that says, ‘now it’s time,’ like a cellphone. The important thing is this hour before” — in other words, the impatient hour.
While suspense may be the emotional aim of the watch, the payoff — the chime — required no small feat of engineering.
It took two years alone to get the sound of the bell right. “The gong has a very special shape,” Mr. Wiederrecht said. “We made 28 versions before we found the best one.”
The challenge was not just to find a properly pleasing tone, but to fit a highly intricate hammer-and-gong mechanism onto the existing Hermès H1912 movement while maintaining the wafer-thin profile of the Slim d’Hermès line (chime function adds 1.2 millimeters to the thickness of the case).
Indeed, the technical challenges delayed the release of the watch by a year. But that delay was worth it to the company, Mr. Wiederrecht said, because of its ambition to push the boundaries of mechanical watches in the emotional sense, not just the technical sense.
“Hermès gives me the chance to speak about watches differently,” Mr. Wiederrecht said in an interview at Baselworld. “It’s no more about telling normal time. What is important is this very special Hermès spirit, we say in French, décalé” — which translates roughly to quirky or off the wall.
“They look at the earth from the moon,” he said.