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What is Fine Watchmaking exactly?
Point of View

What is Fine Watchmaking exactly?

Thursday, 23 June 2016
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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4 min read

The ultimate reference, Fine Watchmaking remained a vague idea for too long. The role of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie was to provide the necessary clarifications. This is mission accomplished, with the White Paper that defines this singular environment and the brands within it.

A handy guide, a political manifesto, a public inventory, white papers serve many purposes. The one thing they share is that they are founded on objective, factual information. The White Paper on Fine Watchmaking is no exception. It sets out to present this complex environment, and those within it, through a definition of Fine Watchmaking and a methodology that identifies its “perimeter”. “It was our duty, as the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, to clarify the notions that form the very basis of our institution,” Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the FHH, explains. “We hear people refer to Fine Watchmaking in much the same way we talk about Fine Dining or Haute Couture, but what exactly do we mean? Who are its representatives and based on what criteria? The time had come to answer these questions, something we have endeavoured to do with honesty and humility. The purpose of this White Paper is to pave the way for an understanding of what Fine Watchmaking truly entails.”

It was clear that Fine Watchmaking needed more than just a tacit agreement, some loose consensus lacking in substance.

Indeed, since the upsurge of interest in mechanical watches in the 1990s, and as watch companies have come to the fore, making their name alongside luxury brands, important notions such as Manufacture and Fine Watchmaking, also called Haute Horlogerie, have been used indiscriminately. Numerous brands lay claim to one or the other, if not both, prompting little more than raised eyebrows given what in other circumstances would be called a legal vacuum. The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, an organisation established in 2005, stepped forward to fill this gap. Seeing how other branches had taken measures – in France, the term Haute Couture has been defined and protected by law since 1945 – it was clear that Fine Watchmaking needed more than just a tacit agreement, some loose consensus lacking in substance.

Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie © FHH
Three years later

From this realisation to the end result, from the blank page to the White Paper, a full three years went by. Three years during which the 46 members of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie Cultural Council performed their task with complete impartiality, in keeping with their status as independent experts who accepted to carry out their function on a pro bono basis. Their conclusions are compiled in the White Paper, which begins by presenting a definition of Fine Watchmaking and its constituent values. It then lists the categories, each with its own specificities, whose members can claim a rightful place in Fine Watchmaking. These four categories are Historic Maisons, Contemporary Brands, Luxury Brands, and Artisan-Creators.

At the end of the day, it is the product that embodies Fine Watchmaking. This is the question that will keep the Cultural Council busy in the future.
Franco Cologni, President of the FHH Cultural Council

The second part refers to the methodology used to evaluate each brand according to its competencies in seven areas of expertise: R&D and Production, Style and Design, History and DNA, Distribution and After-Sales Service, Collectors, Brand Image and Communication, Training. These criteria enable the Cultural Council to produce an evaluation that is weighted to reflect the category of the brands under review. The results of this evaluation are discussed, in complete confidentiality, with the individual brand. The entire process will be repeated every two to three years so as to stay current with developments in Fine Watchmaking. According to this White Paper, Fine Watchmaking presently corresponds to a perimeter of 64 brands out of the 600-plus that are active in watchmaking today.

Franco Cologni, President of the FHH Cultural Council

“Producing this White Paper was a difficult process,” observes Franco Cologni, President of the FHH Cultural Council. “Particularly as not all brands can claim to belong to Fine Watchmaking. Hence why these definitions and clarifications were absolutely necessary. Not that we are home and dry yet. At the end of the day, it is the product that embodies Fine Watchmaking. This is the question that will keep the Cultural Council busy in the future, as it reflects on the next stage of our White Paper, when it comes to applying the rules to the Fine Watch itself, which is the ultimate reference.”

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