The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie has established a definition for what it considers fine watchmaking. Sean Li explains the process and considers its implications
he term haute horology, or fine watchmaking, is often seen, but what does it mean exactly? What determines whether a watch or brand qualifies for that particular label? And why does it matter to you when you walk into a boutique and face an unprecedented range from which to select your next acquisition?
The latter question is a highly personal one, but it goes to the very definition of fine watchmaking. The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) was founded in 2005 to be a guardian and authority of what constitutes fine watchmaking, and to communicate and educate all levels of the watchmaking industry, from the brands to the retailers and customers. Its mission hasn’t always been straightforward, though, largely because of the lack of a clearcut definition of fine watchmaking. So for the past few years, the foundation has worked to develop a methodology that would lead to not only an accepted definition of the term fine watchmaking, but also an industry classification of which brands would be accepted within its perimeter.
To do so, the FHH turned to its cultural council, which comprises 46 individuals such as collectors, watchmakers, designers, historians, retailers and media. I’ve been honoured to be a member for the past two years. Rather than ask each member for their subjective impressions of a particular brand, the FHH developed a very detailed methodology which breaks down fine watchmaking into seven fundamental areas: R&D, production and technical expertise; style, design and artistic expertise; history and DNA; distribution and after-sales service; connoisseurs and collectors; brand image and communication; and training. Each member of the cultural council is attached to one or more of these areas and was asked to answer a lengthy questionnaire on each area, and for 86 brands. The resulting analysis determined whether a brand operates within the perimeter of fine watchmaking. To level the playing field, as it would not be fair to expect the small independent watchmakers to be able to operate in the same way as the large brands, the perimeter itself is further broken down into four segments—historic maisons, contemporary brands, luxury brands, and artisan creators.
The questionnaires were distilled into a specific rating for each of the 86 brands; if the score was 6 or above, the brand was automatically within the fine watchmaking perimeter. To account for some statistical variation, the council was asked to make a
The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie has released a book outlining the criteria for what defines a fine watchmaking brand