Meet the first-time designer Hermes hired to create its latest timepiece
Multi-discipline designer Ini Archibong had never designed a watch before the Galop d’Hermes, but the French powerhouse's gamble seems to be paying off.
Ini Archibong is a man of many surprises. With a strapping physique, dapper style and confident stride, the Nigerian-American could well be a West Coast music mogul. You imagine him speaking with a stylised, almost rhythmic swagger. But his tone is silky smooth, more Drake than Kanye. And you detect a sense of humility and sincerity that belies the poised exterior.
"You very rarely attach meaning to a tech object because you know you’re going to get a new one... That’s when I started to study the business of luxury."
And then there’s the Asia connection: Archibong spent three years in Singapore, working on innovation projects for design firm Eight Inc. Its founder Tim Kobe is the man who came up with the original Apple store concept.
“Lots of good memories [of my time in Singapore]. Sentosa Island, of course! And I had a friend who worked in Marina Bay Sands, so I was there a lot. Ku De Ta, Pangaea, Avalon…” he said with a laugh. Singapore, he added, changes so quickly that by the time he left at the end of 2014, "everything was different” in three years.
After working on several technology-based projects, Archibong began feeling disenchanted. “When you design something with technology, you realise how quickly it becomes obsolete. You very rarely attach meaning to a tech object because you know you’re going to get a new one. I started looking at where I could use my skills to make long-lasting, meaningful things. That’s when I started to study the business of luxury.”
He left Eight Inc. to further his studies at the Lausanne Cantonal School of Art (ECAL), where he learned to differentiate between industrial design and design for luxury. Switzerland was attractive because of its long history of design, rich tradition of craft, and high concentration of high-tech manufacturing firms.
"When you think about somebody you love, you think about the whole person, not all the little pieces.”
CNA Luxury met with Archibong at the SIHH in Geneva, where La Montre Hermes (LMH, the watchmaking division of Hermes) presented its latest women’s timepiece, Galop d’Hermes, which Archibong designed.
LMH took a gamble with this relative unknown: This is Archibong’s first foray into watchmaking and his first collaboration with the French powerhouse. But LMH – or more specifically, Philippe Delhotal, its artistic director – has a knack for spotting talent.
After graduating from ECAL in 2015, Archibong knew he wanted to work for Hermes. "It’s family-owned, it’s still dedicated to handcrafts, and there’s a story with every object that’s created,” he said, describing what separates Hermes from other brands.
So he promptly contacted Delhotal in the hopes of landing an internship.
“[At ECAL] We were required to make portfolios, but I don’t like portfolios, so I created a book that expressed how I approached design, which is in a poetic way,” said Archibong. He had designed furniture and lighting in the past, and the book interspersed images of his creations with poetry he had composed while designing the objects.
“I was hoping it would impress Philippe enough to offer me an internship. Instead, he asked if I had an idea for a watch. I went quickly from never having designed a watch to learning how to design a watch.”
Delhotal gave him “a very specific free rein”. The brief called for a new women’s icon, with an iconic silhouette, Hermes DNA, and very considered details. The idea was for it to be easily recognised from a distance, while giving its wearers the pleasure of appreciating its fine details.
Delving into the Hermes archives, Archibong discovered an entire galaxy of reference materials. “There were so many things, but I tried to find one thing. When you think about somebody you love, you think about the whole person, not all the little pieces.”
“[What separates Hermes from other brands] is the fact that it’s family-owned, it’s still dedicated to handcrafts, and there’s a story with every object that’s created.”
Distilling the archives into its essence, Archibong arrived at a singularity. “[Hermes to me is] the supreme attention to detail and quality that comes from the manufacture of the highest quality hardware. That led to everything else."
His watch was going to be about the surface finishes, how it ages, and how the patina will develop. "That’s where I started looking at all the hardware on the harnesses. I realised that the hardware wasn’t aesthetic but extremely functional, aerodynamic. The form started to come together."
That form was the stirrup, an homage to the brand’s equestrian roots. The stirrup-shaped case tapers towards 12 o’clock, the crown positioned at 6 o’clock so as not to disrupt the fluid lines. Archibong also designed a new typeface for the numerals, to complement the taper.
Archibong is realistic about LMH’s aspirations for the watch. “Only time will tell if it’s iconic,” he said. In the meantime, he hopes that wearers will feel joy and confidence when they strap his creation to their wrists. “When you have a certain amount of joy in you, you walk with a certain amount of confidence."