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Pierre Hermé, the pastry chef sweet on watches
Watch Stories

Pierre Hermé, the pastry chef sweet on watches

Friday, 26 March 2021
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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6 min read

When Pierre Hermé talks watches, he does so with great appetite as well as a distinct admiration for the expertise, creativity, research, precision and aesthetic of a profession that has much in common with his own passion: pâtisserie.

Heir to four generations of pâtissiers in Alsace, where he grew up, Pierre Hermé was named World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016. He is the maestro of macarons, the man Vogue magazine calls “the Picasso of pastry”.

Do you remember the first watch you were given?

An Omega De Ville for my First Communion. Unfortunately I destroyed it at a party when I jumped into the sea wearing it. I’d forgotten it wasn’t water-resistant.

Pierre Hermé © Stéphane de Bourgies
Pierre Hermé © Stéphane de Bourgies
The first watch you gave?

How could I forget? My wife wanted a Ballon Bleu by Cartier. So I treated her to one. The large model. And a Chanel watch in white ceramic. Also the large model. She doesn’t like tiny watches.

And the first watch you bought for yourself?

Also an Omega. A Speedmaster. It’s a style I’ve always loved. I have several, including some limited editions and a couple of vintage models that I bought pre-owned. I was actually lucky enough to be invited to tour the Omega manufacturing site, back when Stephen Urquhart was CEO. We even had lunch with Marc Hayek. Another of my early buys was a Cartier Must. I would have been in my twenties. I used to have a Santos too, which I sold.

When two watch industry veterans meet the world’s best pastry chef, what do they talk about? Watches or cakes?

(Laughs) Time is an extremely important notion in my profession. Every step has to be timed, from preparation to baking, cooling, resting and finishing. There’s a definite connection between watchmaking and pâtisserie. Both demand precision, attention to detail and most of all patience. If you don’t have patience, if you don’t have love, you’ll come to nothing! Whether in watchmaking or in cake-making, there can be no guesswork. Every component in a watch has a specific function and must be assembled at the right moment, in exactly the same way that every ingredient in a cake must be incorporated at a precise moment. Otherwise the recipe won’t work.

I only ever wore steel watches, then I discovered the gold Rolex Submariner.
Pierre Hermé
You mentioned buying pre-owned watches…

A friend introduced me to the pre-owned market. I bought a couple of Rolex, including a 1950s model with a guilloché dial. I’m less keen on recent models in this style. They don’t have the same look or the same patina. I also treat myself to an early 80s Submariner. Again, I’m not so much a fan of the contemporary designs. They lack something, I just can’t put my finger on what. I only ever used to wear steel watches, until one day I saw a friend’s Rolex Submariner in gold, with a black dial and black crocodile strap. I thought it was magnificent. The day I came across the same model for sale pre-owned, well, I just couldn’t resist…

How do you track down these “hidden gems”?

Word of mouth works well. Otherwise I use specialist websites. I bought my Rolex Daytona, for example, from a Japanese specialist based in Tokyo. Our Japanese friends have immense respect for a well-made watch, as you know. I bought this particular Rolex seven or eight years ago and now it’s fetching record prices. Obviously I asked for the case to be opened so I could check the movement before I bought. Blancpain is another brand whose watches I admire, in particular the Fifty Fathoms, which I happen to be wearing today. The IWC Portugieser is another. It’s chic, discreet, elegant and casual all at once. So, if I count my Chaumet, my Audemars Piguet and my Patek Philippe Aquanaut, I have about twenty watches in my collection. I did own a vintage TAG Heuer Monaco but it was stolen during a break-in.

You sound like a seasoned collector.

Not really. I just like to switch watches to suit my mood, what’s in my diary, who I’m meeting, how I’m dressed. I also like to treat myself. After all, for many men a watch is the only jewellery they wear.

Do you drool over beautiful watches in the same way we drool over your pâtisserie?

The first watch that really set my pulse racing was a Rolex Daytona. At one time I owned a recent model but as soon as I had the means, I “swapped” it for a vintage style. The patina that comes with age makes a huge difference in my eyes.

I don’t own any complication watches. I find them lacking in elegance.
Pierre Hermé
I don’t imagine you wear a watch when you’re whipping up a batch of macarons?

Never! Firstly because of hygiene but also to keep it out of the way of flour and other incompatible substances…

What’s the first thing you look at in a watch?

The aesthetic. If I were choosing a watch right now, I’d be tempted by an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. I love Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, too. In fact if I’m not mistaken, both these watches were designed by the same person. I don’t own any complication watches, probably because they don’t fit into my “aesthetic spectrum”. There are complication watches by prestigious names at dizzying prices, but they don’t appeal to me. Mainly because, in my view, they lack elegance and refinement. Complications are fine when you don’t see them. Even through a transparent back. Perhaps I’m simply lacking the expertise to appreciate the subtlety of a complicated mechanism, in which case I’m willing to learn!

You’ve worked with artists from all horizons. Has no-one ever suggested you create a watch out of macarons, or a macaron-scented watch?

Well, a macaron does measure 45mm in diameter, which is the same size as a watch, isn’t it! I’m actually quite familiar with scents and perfumes, having created a dozen fragrances, but never one in relation to a watch. Possibly because this love of watches is something which, rather selfishly, I like to keep for myself! (Laughs)

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