The film lasts a couple of minutes. Just a glimpse of circular graining being applied to a mechanical movement, but enough to impress the small group gathered round the table. Paul can’t contain his enthusiasm. “It’s so beautiful!” he exclaims. He’s 22 and works in automotive sales. Watches have been his passion from being a young teenager, to the point he’s now considering a new career. “But you can’t just jump in without training,” he says. “Getting a recognised diploma is a first step.”
Paul is taking the two-day Watch Advisor course, the first level of training delivered by FHH Academy, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie’s training department. He’s one of four students, plus an instructor. Four individuals, four backgrounds, four goals. At the head of an investment advisory firm specialising in gemstones and watches, Maurice is there to “refresh his memory.” Sophie has spent twelve years in fashion and accessories at Ralph Lauren. Recently transferred to the brand’s customer service department for watches, she’s “starting from scratch.” Then there’s Patrick, a banker aiming to change careers. “I got into watches by chance a couple of years ago, as part of my current job, and I was hooked. When you’re starting out, it’s not easy knowing where to begin, where to start learning. There’s no shortage of literature out there but none of it is geared towards novices. Learning by yourself takes longer, and you tend to get bogged down in the detail.”
From basic to expert
And watches are all about detail. But which is the best way into this highly technical field? How do you begin to understand the ins and outs of the industry? FHH Academy training provides clear, didactic answers to the questions students bring to the table. From absolute beginners to professionals, there is a level adapted to every profile. The first, Watch Advisor, focuses on three objectives: learn what Haute Horlogerie encompasses, appreciate the essential features of a watch, and understand where its value comes from. Through a step-by-step approach, students master the basics as they go over the industry’s major players, as well as the history, traditions and culture of watchmaking. Not forgetting the key components that make up a watch, from its movement to its external parts.
After a day and a half of training, Watch Advisor candidates confirm they have taken this new knowledge onboard (or not) with a test. If successful, they are awarded the FHH Certification diploma, which is internationally recognised by the industry. It also unlocks the door to the next levels of training. Watch Specialist looks in greater detail at the various complications. Watch Expert corresponds to the highest level of expertise. “At the end of each level, students take a test and, if they pass, are awarded a certificate that is recognised by the profession,” confirms Aurélie Streit, director of FHH Academy. “In this respect, FHH Academy has no equivalent anywhere on the market. The certification process took years of preparation, first to compile the questions and detailed answers, then to validate content and method, and is totally unique in watchmaking.”
21 instructors, 11 languages
FHH Certification not only provides learning benefits; as a recognised tool, it can fast-track a career and, most of all, is an excellent means for brands and retailers to boost their sales force. Indeed, while courses are effectively open to participants from all backgrounds, they were developed with sales staff in mind. “The potential is huge,” continues Aurélie Streit. “We estimate there are 30,000 sales staff who need training.” Not that FHH Academy is in any way daunted. With its 21 instructors able to deliver training worldwide in 11 languages, it’s a well-oiled machine; a gateway to watchmaking culture, from generalist to highly specialised, that’s proving hugely successful, if participants’ responses are anything to go by.
Back in Geneva, the Watch Advisor course is reaching its conclusion. Patrick, the banker, is delighted with his two days at FHH Academy. “It’s an excellent initiative. Teaching is clearly structured and didactic.” Sophie is already planning to sign up for the next level. Paul, the car salesman who hopes to soon be explaining much smaller mechanisms to his customers, is grinning from ear to ear: “This course has been everything I wanted and more!”