Kelly, a diamond mesh that tells the time

The Kelly Joaillerie d’Hermès watch is a jewel that tells the time. It is one of the finalists for the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix, which will take place on 4 November 2021. But when you look at it, so delicate, it is impossible to imagine that it took more than a thousand hours to melt the gold structure, assemble the elements and set them. Visit the Alain Foubert workshops in Paris, where the watch was born. Text and pictures: Isabelle Cerboneschi

With its gold and diamond mesh, it sits majestically in one of the rooms of the Rath Museum, in Geneva. The Kelly Haute Joaillerie, created by Hermès Horloger, is one of the watches selected for the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, in the jewellery category. If I am looking at it now, it is because the day before its presentation, I discovered it in a much less glamorous state: it looked like a small pile of matte grey metal parts, ready to be cleaned, polished, assembled, set, in short, it was waiting to be born. It was in Paris, in the Alain Foubert workshop, which specialises in settings for some great jewellers whose names we cannot mention, and for Hermès Horloger.

It is difficult to make the link between the raw material on which the gem setters and jewellers of the Foubert workshop have worked and the watch that shines with all its carats in Geneva, on the evening of the opening of the GPHG exhibition. It’s Cinderella before the fairy godmother. And in the case of the Hermès Kelly, it involved several fairies and many magicians. It took a great deal of mastery of jewellery-making and gem-setting skills to succeed in turning the Kelly watch into a delicate and soft piece to wear with its fishnet bracelet, its sautoir and its mobile padlock,” says Philippe Delhotal, Creative Director at Hermès Horloger. The Kelly watch is somewhat unconventional to wear, so we had to carefully study the movements of the object on the wrist or around the neck so that this transformation would highlight this exceptional piece and give it a delicate feel.

Kelly Haute Joaillerie ©Hermès Horloger

To discover the manufacturing secrets of Kelly Haute Joaillerie, one must have been lucky enough to visit the Foubert workshops, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, one day when the setters were working on the piece. A rainy day, incidentally. This old-fashioned workshop has workbenches on several floors. In a narrow office, a small pile of dull grey metal is placed in front of me, hardly impressive. And yet… “This is the decomposed bracelet, as designed by a computer program, i.e. 300 grams of palladium-plated white gold from the cast iron”, they explain to me. If I understand correctly, this little pile that looks like nothing is in fact a precious puzzle that has not yet been properly put together, the objective being to find the place of each element in order to reconstruct the watch.

This pile of elements forms what is known as a casting kit. It consists of 87 metal elements that will be checked and then “repaired”, as we say in the trade. “The craftsmen will repair the cast iron piece by piece, i.e. they will clean each element with very fine files and erase the grains of cast iron to obtain a smooth surface. The whole piece is then pre-polished, a job done by hand by polishing machines. Using an emery wire, they will take up all the surfaces to obtain a mirror polished effect. Once polished, the parts will go back to the workshop to be checked, then they will be pre-assembled. Finally, the assembly will be in the hands of the gem setter who will carry out the final gem setting work. Finally, the watch will be assembled and rhodium-plated before being delivered.”

Elegance would dictate that no figures should be mentioned about the Kelly Joaillerie, but these are worth mentioning: the piece weighs around 130 grams, the bracelet is adorned with 488 stones, including 57 princess-cut diamonds, and it took more than a thousand hours to make it! Its price: CHF 496,700.

This versatile timepiece can be worn in three different ways: as a sautoir, as a wristwatch and as a jewel cuff, without the lock. “What makes the difference between a piece of jewellery and fine jewellery is the technology, the aesthetics and the mobility. The systems must not be visible and the piece must be as beautiful seen from above as from below. When you handle the object, it must remain supple, fluid and pleasant, even if the watch weighs a certain amount,” explains Foubert.

“The Kelly has a special place in the Hermès universe. It is an iconic watch that reflects the values of the company,” explains Philippe Delhotal. “Designed by Philippe Mouquet in 1975, it evokes the clasp of the Kelly bag. This clasp was directly inspired by a piece of harness that was attached to the carriage by means of four nails, which can be seen on the case of the Kelly watch, which is elongated and bevelled at 12 o’clock. From a collector’s watch, I wanted to dress it up in a magical dress and take it to places where we did not initially expect it. While retaining its singular identity, this transformation sublimates this signature creation of the House.”

Three types of setting were used to adorn this model: the grain setting, which consists of holding the diamonds by small grains cut into the gold, the snow setting used for the plate hosting the lock’s fixing ring, where diamonds of different sizes are juxtaposed to cover the entire surface, and the closed setting, which guarantees a secure hold, used for the princess-cut diamonds. The stone is completely surrounded by gold that is hammered around the entire perimeter. The combination of these techniques gives the Kelly a special lightness: the diamonds seem to have been delicately embroidered around the edges of the mobile bracelet.

On 4 November 2021, at the GPHG prize-giving ceremony, all the employees of Hermès Horloger and those of the Bunter workshop in Versoix and the Foubert workshop in Paris, who worked on this incredibly delicate piece of jewellery, will be holding their breath awaiting the verdict. Meanwhile, this precious and fragile lace shall continue to tell the time…