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Cape Cod, the geometry of time by Hermès
History & Masterpieces

Cape Cod, the geometry of time by Hermès

Wednesday, 21 November 2018
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Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon
Freelance journalist

“One must be absolutely modern.”

Arthur Rimbaud

It takes passion, a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of wonderment to convey the innumerable facets of watchmaking…

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3 min read

In 1991, Hermès took the wraps off a form watch whose signature combination of a square, a rectangle and the iconic Chaîne d’Ancre motif has become a true classic.

The brief couldn’t have been clearer: a women’s watch with a square case. Henri d’Origny had other ideas. The Hermès designer, who had already lent his signature style to the brand’s celebrated silk squares and many of its ties, was determined to think outside this particular box, and instead set about sketching a simple but no less distinctive form. Classic with a twist. And so d’Origny came up with the brilliant idea of putting a square case inside a rectangle with rounded edges. The lugs attaching the saddle-stitched Hermès leather strap to the case would be inspired by the Chaîne d’Ancre bracelet; one of the Parisian’s firms most distinctive jewellery creations, imagined in 1938 by Robert Dumas.

From wrist to runway

Since its launch in 1991, the Cape Cod’s unmistakable silhouette has returned in multiple iterations for men and women. Henri d’Origny’s design already had seven successful years behind it when Martin Margiela, the newly-appointed creative director of Hermès’ women’s ready-to-wear, catapulted the Cape Cod to megastar status by sending models down the runway wearing one on a Barenia calfskin strap wrapped twice round the wrist, setting the precedent for what would become a hugely desirable strap style for women’s watches.

Cape Cod GMT © Hermès
Cape Cod GMT © Hermès

Impervious to trends, the Cape Cod reached another milestone in 2007 when Hermès chose the collection for the first ever Haute Horlogerie movement in its history. Developed by Vaucher Manufacture, this moon-phase calibre paved the way for further developments “beneath the dial”. A year later, the Cape Cod’s atypical lines played host to a no less singular view of time measurement with the very first Hermès manufacture movement; a Grandes Heures module that demonstrates the subjective nature of time by speeding up or slowing the hour hand, depending on the time of day. Over the following years, Hermès revisited the Cape Cod with complications such as dual time, a chronograph and a tourbillon.

Variations on a theme

From an aesthetic standpoint, Hermès has regularly added to the Cape Cod collection without ever straying from that instantly recognisable square-in-a-rectangle. The Cape Cod Tonneau in 2009 introduced a more curvaceous form in three sizes. This contrasts with the Nantucket’s slimmer, more elongated lines, proving the Cape Cod’s talent for staying fresh without relinquishing its personality. From the large dimensions of the Très Grand Modèle to the diminutive Tout Petit Modèle, from single-wrap to double-wrap straps or a cuff-style band, from the traditional Hermès leather to ringing the changes with a Milanese bracelet, the Cape Cod changes faces while staying true to that original idea.

Cape Cod Chaîne d'ancre © Hermès
Cape Cod Chaîne d'ancre © Hermès

Dials too have appeared in multiple executions, in styles and colours designed to appeal sometimes to men and other times to women. For its 25th anniversary in 2016, the Cape Cod opted for dials in lacquer and hard stones, together with a suite of new leather shades for the strap. The following year, it returned in mat black. And as 2018 draws to a close, a new interpretation takes the iconic Chaîne d’Ancre motif a step further with interlocking anchor chains in black spinels and aventurine on a black dial, or in diamonds and white mother-of-pearl against a white dial. Diamonds frame the bezel on both of these eye-catching models. More than a quarter-century on, the hallmarks of Henri d’Origny’s original inspiration are still very much in evidence. As modern today as always, the Cape Cod offers an inimitable and inalterable geometry of time.

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