Well the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) has given its answer this question, and recently launched the English version of their White Paper on the topic.
The FHH’s Cultural Council, in consultation with forty-six members of the industry, have ruminated long and hard (and no doubt engaged in much animated discussion) to come up with their answer as to what constitutes ‘fine watchmaking’, a term which is used a lot, particularly in marketing, but about which perhaps there may not be universal agreement regarding its definition.
The White Paper is intended by the FHH to serve as a guide to the general public, presenting both a definition and system of categorisation. It defines ‘haute horlogerie’ as “excellence in watchmaking, the techniques of watchmaking in symbiosis with the applied arts.” The values that he FHH believes underpins this are the following, each of which have a number of evaluation criteria that are outlined in the White Paper : ‘identity’, ‘authenticity’, ‘difference/ originality’, ‘legitimacy’, ‘ethics’.
The paper declares seven areas of brand expertise – research, development and production, style and design, history and DNA, distribution and after-sales service, collectors, brand image and communication, and training.
In very broad terms, the methodology they have used is that brands are evaluated in two ways – a review of each area of expertise, and a “global appreciation” of the brand by each Cultural Council member. These are based on the knowledge of the participants and brand information.
For the review evaluation process, the FHH state that they have used quantifiable measurable criteria and that their experts review only those criteria that are relevant to their area of expertise, awarding a score on a scale from 1 to 10.
The “global appreciation” is a subjective evaluation of the brand from 1 to 10 on the FHH’s ‘Fine Watchmaking scale’.
The final score is a a combination of the above, with a weighting of 65% and 35% respectively. This determines membership of what they have called “the Technical and Precious Fine Watchmaking Perimeter”. Its members are put into one of four categories :
1. Historic Maisons – watchmaking companies that perpetuate a tradition and a heritage.
2. Contemporary Brands – brands which belong to the present day and are characteristic of modern times.
3. Luxury Brands – multi-product labels that approach precious or technical fine watchmaking with creativity, excellence, and innovation.
4. Artisan-Creators – independent watchmakers/ creators who generally carry out the manufacturing, sale and after-sales service of their products.
When assessing a brand’s connoisseurs, they looked for the brand’s performance on the secondary market as well as the existence of an active and engaged collector base.
A total score of six and above is needed for a brand to qualify to be within the FHH’s “fine watchmaking perimeter”. Of the 86 brands evaluated by FHH, 64 were granted entrance inside the perimeter.
The FHH is to carry out this evaluation every two to three years in order to keep up with the latest developments in the industry as well as secure its foundations and ensure its longevity.
For more details, especially regarding terminology, or to read/ download the report, go to this link.
Perhaps next up, a look at ‘in-house’?