High on Horology
What elevates a watch from the status of useful wrist adornment to exemplar of haute horlogerie? Sean Li explains
ven those with just a passing interest in watches will have noticed that there’s a distinction between watchmaking as a generic term, and “fine watchmaking” or “haute horlogerie.” The latter may be seen as a buzzword, but it’s a serious distinction that separates high-end timepieces from run-of-the-mill, industrially produced watches. Understandably, many brands want to be considered among the crème de la crème—or at least within the periphery of high-end watchmaking.
There’s no short answer to the question of what differentiates a “fine” or “luxury” watch from a generic one. Numerous factors come into play. Take history, for example. Many brands proudly state the year of their founding, but few can really trace their lineage directly back to the original creators. Many a brand has lain dormant for years, if not decades, after the original founders retired or went out of business.
That’s not to say a brand’s history is irrelevant, nor that it’s not palpable in current collections. New owners generally do more than revive the name alone; with access to the company’s archives and intellectual property, their modern collections bear evidence of the lineage. Also, a long history itself isn’t a requirement to earn the appellation “fine”— practically from their inception, some very young brands have joined the realm of fine watchmaking. The barriers to entry are high but not impossible to overcome.
Another factor to be considered is how many of a watch’s components are made in-house by the manufacture rather than sourced from a supplier. Brands that make their own parts and don’t share them have an element of exclusivity that gives them cachet among collectors.