What is Fine Watchmaking?

June 2016

Define fine. The FHH has done just that, publishing a White Paper for Fine Watchmaking that classifies brands found within different segments of fine watchmaking.

Labels matter - they can shape our thoughts, opinions, and eventually consumption patterns. Just think about the difference in perception between “fast food” and “fine dining”. That’s why brands across all industries invest millions in marketing campaigns trying to leverage the power of words to sell more, and to sell better.

The watch industry is no different, where we see the phrase “fine watchmaking” with regularity. But what does it actually mean?

The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie - whose mission is to inform, train and recognize expertise in fine watchmaking - has taken upon itself to provide us with a definition. After all, it’s important to know what fine watchmaking is if it’s a core part of your mission statement.

Here’s what the FHH came up with it its recently published White Paper on Fine Watchmaking:

“Seen as a chain of value that entails first and foremost the product, but also the brand or creator that guarantees this product, Fine Watchmaking is an art composed of tradition and innovation, science and technique, creation and the transmission of expertise, ethics and culture.”

The FHH Cultural Council relied on 46 independent, international experts who worked on a volunteer basis for three years to develop the white paper and criteria for fine watchmaking. They focused on 7 areas of expertise (R&D and Production, Style and Design, History and DNA, Distribution and After-Sales Service, Collectors, Brand Image and Communication, Training), and specified 28 measurable criteria to assess exactly how “fine” watchmaking brands are.

Brands were also classified in 4 different clusters of fine watchmaking:

  • Historic Maisons - Watchmaking companies that perpetuate a tradition and a heritage.
  • Contemporary Brands - Brands which belong to the present day and are characteristic of modern times.
  • Luxury Brands - Multi-product luxury brands which invest in the art of technical and/or precious fine watchmaking with creativity, innovation and excellence.
  • Artisan-Creators - Independent watchmakers/creators who draw on specific expertise and who generally carry out the manufacturing, sale and after-sales service of their products.

In total, 86 brands were evaluated, but only 64 entered the “Fine Watchmaking Perimeter”, meaning they scored at least 6 (out of 10) as determined by the experts. Each brand received its scores in a strictly confidential evaluation, which will not be published or used to establish any kind ordered ranking among brands.

What is Fine Watchmaking?

Confidentiality is a good thing – I imagine that many brands wouldn’t have signed up for the evaluations if they were ranked against each other in a league table. The flip side is that we’ll never really know what goes on behind closed doors, and we’ll never know what brand is the finest of them all.

Apparently, the evaluations will be repeated every few years, so it will be interesting to see if and how a brand’s classification changes over time. It’s been said that “what gets measured gets improved”, and if you believe in that adage, then fine watchmaking will only get finer over time.