Do you know that a Hermès Kelly bag consists of at least 25 pieces of visible and 20 invisible hardware, and that it takes 130 steps to make a spring hook for its shoulder strap?
As one of the few leading brands that still craft leather bags by hand using traditional techniques, Hermès is committed to the highest standards of craftsmanship in the production of all leather goods. However, one critical detail is often overlooked—the hardware that holds the leather pieces precisely in the right place. Christie’s handbag specialist Jerry Chang is going to reveal the unique features of Hermès’ hardware, illustrated with the rare handbags offered in the upcoming Hong Kong autumn sales.
The craftsmanship behind a handmade leather bag dates back to centuries ago, and hundreds of steps are involved in the creation of a quality handbag. Only artisans with an eye for detail and familiar with the traditional craft of saddle making can achieve perfection. Since details make perfection, Hermès is not only known for its widely recognised achievements in leatherwork, it has also invested heavily in the hardware, ensuring that every bag is a worthy heirloom.
From the pontet on a Birkin and the iconic Kelly swivel lock, to the H-shaped clasp on the Constance bag, these classic and versatile hardware pieces are Hermès’ signatures. From its aesthetics to the delicate sound it makes, every piece of hardware is meticulously designed to achieve simplicity, harmony and continuity. To ensure the unrivalled quality, Hermès works with a designated silverware workshop to produce all hardware prototypes. It takes at least one year to develop and produce a new hardware piece. There are currently over 1,500 types of frequently used hardware for the Maison’s leather goods. Ranging from the pontets and padlocks to studs and spring hooks, most of these hardware pieces are proprietary.
For example, collectors may not know that a classic Kelly bag consists of at least 25 pieces of visible and 20 invisible hardware, and it takes 130 steps to make a spring hook on its shoulder strap. The painstaking process is as demanding as that of a piece of jewellery.
“Pearling” is another meticulous technique used by Hermès to make premium and durable hardware. As all hardware pieces, such as the pontets and swivel lock, are secured with nails, the sharp tips of the nails must be cut and hammered before being treated with a conical sander and polished by hand. This process turns the head of nail into a finely polished dome with a silky finish, resembling a tiny pearl, hence the name, and ensures the hardware is fixed as if by welding.
The finishes of the hardware are expertly made of brass and then plated with various precious metals. The most common types are silver-plated palladium and gold. Silver-plated palladium hardware is first plated with a layer of silver measuring 1µm in thickness, and then with another layer of palladium that is 2µm thick while gold hardware is directly plated with a layer of 23.5 carat gold measuring 3µm in thickness.
In addition to the typical gold and silver options, the hardware of a custom-made or limited-edition Hermès horseshoe stamp bag is also available in light gold with permabrass plating, rose gold with copper-bearing karat gold plating, brushed gold or brushed palladium. For the permabrass hardware, the thickness of gold plating must be within 1µm, so as to reveal the natural light gold colour of brass.
A Hermès leather handbag brings together the impeccable craftsmanship and savoir-faire of different ateliers. While Hermès handbag collectors are fascinated by the exceptional leatherwork, they can also admire the exquisite hardware to discover the eye-opening interaction between tradition and innovation.
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