Hermès Cape Cod, the watch that didn’t want to grow up
Icons are all very well, but they can sometimes seem a bit... old. The Cape Cod by Hermès, however, has decided not to go there. After all, at the age of 25, you have practically your whole life ahead of you. Happy birthday, Cape Cod!
The Cape Cod is confident and mischievous. A touch frivolous, maybe? I’ll let you decide that for yourself. Whatever the case, the young lady of Hermès’s watchmaking output is blowing out 25 candles, and revelling in her youth and creativity. And, like many young women of her age, she is treating herself to a couple of new outfits. No, the Cape Cod is not “reinventing” itself. There’s no need for that just yet. What we are celebrating today is its eternal youthfulness.
Thinking outside the box
There are few beautiful damsels who have experienced such an amazing career. Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, the watch industry was on its knees. The big names in watchmaking, like those of high fashion, were struggling to move on from the 80s. While financially successful, with hindsight it was not a decade that produced the finest fashion plates, accessories or watches. Far from it. A visionary was needed to reinfuse luxury with elegance, to create some authenticity to go with the showy façades. Or, perhaps, to be free, to think outside the box. Henri d’Origny turned out to be that visionary.
He is one of those rare designers whose name is recognised by the general public. Few succeed in penetrating the public consciousness, beyond the creations they produce for the most prestigious names. Perhaps it’s because Henri d’Origny has been the creative soul of Hermès for 57 years. His genius is behind hundreds of ties, dozens of silk squares, even playing cards. And the Cape Cod. “There wasn’t really any brief, as such,” remembers d’Origny. “Jean-Louis Dumas wanted a square-shaped watch, to bring out the individuality of the piece. So when I created the Cape Cod I was supposed to design a square watch. But because I don’t like obeying orders I made it a rectangular watch, with a square inside.”
Two birds, one stone
So, was it as simple as that? In the short term, yes, but true class is something that emerges over the course of years, decades even. The Cape Cod crossed the Rubicon of the new millennium with an unexpected boost from fashion designer Martin Margiela. During a 1998 fashion show, he had decided to add a double-wrap strap to the watch. Sales went through the roof, and the seven-year-old Cape Cod quickly came of age, as it found itself adorning the wrists of superstars the world over. What no one could have predicted was that the double-wrap strap gained a life of its own, and is now viewed as a Hermès signature!
Fifteen years on, the father of the Cape Cod continues to watch over his protégée’s every step. “It was designed in a day, with a couple of strokes of the pencil. But 25 years from now, it will still look like it does today. There may be new dials, finishes, functions or straps, but its essence will not change,” predicts Henri d’Origny.
The Maison Hermès wisely concurs. In 2016 the collection continues to explore the possibilities, with a number of innovative features. There is a new diamond-set version and a mother-of-pearl dial, as well as a men’s version on a cuff-style strap. A series of interchangeable handmade straps, both single and double-wrapped, come in a range of vibrant colours including electric blue, iris, cappuccino, Veronese green, ultraviolet and tomato red. There are also dials in onyx and lapis lazuli. Will they sell? About that, there can be no doubt. Henri d’Origny gives a clue to the watch’s longevity: “I didn’t design a watch; I designed an object infused with the house values.” That could well be the secret of eternal youth.