What precisely is Fine Watchmaking? Industry group Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) may finally be able to answer this question thanks to its report, The White Paper on Fine Watchmaking which aims to provide the first classification of watch brands.

The FHH – an industry group set up in 2005 by the Richemont Group, Audemars Piguet and Girard-Perregaux to promote fine watchmaking to rest of the world - turned to its Cultural Council of 46 independent, international experts from across all areas of the watch industry to undertake this mammoth challenge. The experts worked from the ground up and entirely on a pro bono basis.

Is your watch fine enough?

They spent three years giving shape to this White Paper which presents a clear definition of Fine Watchmaking and a system of categorization for all of the various players. WatchTime’s Editor-At-Large Joe Thompson is one of the members of this panel. Other members include collectors, historians, independent watch industry experts and journalists.

So what is the definition according to this white paper? Fine Watchmaking is excellence in watchmaking, the techniques of watchmaking in symbiosis with the applied arts.

It lists the competencies and seven areas of expertise of that fine watchmaking brands will be held against and specifies 28 objective and whenever possible, measurable criteria across each of these areas. Each brand is then evaluated against these criteria by the Cultural Council experts. The seven areas are: 

R&D and Production: In-house control of production, finishing and decoration are at the heart of Fine Watchmaking. Investment in research & development and in production resources is vital in order to maintain standards over the long term.

Style and Design: Specialists in this area of expertise judge products' originality and design. They consider the extent to which they reflect the DNA of the brand and its development. Use of the métiers d'art, along with creativity and innovation, are important criteria in this decisive category.

It took the experts 3 years to finish this project

History and DNA: Historic maisons have to demonstrate that they can claim an authentic, documented and uninterrupted history. For a contemporary brand with a more recent activity in watchmaking, this evaluation will look at the contribution the brand or its founder has made to watchmaking and the manner in which they document their progress.

Distribution and After-Sales Service: Experts evaluate points of sale in terms of their geographic distribution and the service they provide the end customer. This central criterion also includes an evaluation of after-sales service, comprising routine services and repairs as well as restoration of vintage and historic timepieces.

Collectors: The experts in this area evaluate collectors' interest in contemporary watches (post-1985) and vintage watches (pre-1985). They consider whether a community of collectors exists for the brand and its degree of influence. They also evaluate resale value after ten years, excluding at auction.

Brand Image and Communication: Judges evaluate customers' esteem for the brand, and how they perceive the identity and DNA of its products. They also consider whether the brand is consistent in its global corporate communication.

Training: Specialists in training evaluate how knowledge is transferred to staff in technical professions, and how sales staff are trained in the specific characteristics of the products they sell, brand DNA and watchmaking culture.

Longines is a notable omission

In the end, the watch brands were slotted in to these four segments. In all, 86 brands were evaluated and 64 brands were selected as example of fine watchmaking and slotted in these four categories.

Historic Maisons: Watchmaking companies that perpetuate a tradition and a heritage. These include

A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Bovet Fleurier, Breguet, Breitling, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Girard Perregaux, Glashütte Original, H. Moser & Cie, Harry Winston, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Jaquet Droz, Officine Panerai, Omega, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, Van Cleef & Arpels, Zenith

Contemporary Brands: Brands which belong to the present day and are characteristic of modern times.

Armin Strom, Ateliers Louis Moinet, Cabestan, Christophe Claret, De Bethune, De Witt, FP Journe, Greubel Forsey, Hautlence, Hublot, HYT, Laurent Ferrier, Maîtres du Temps, MB & F, MCT, Parmigiani, Ressence, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Romain Gauthier, Romain Jerome, Speake Marin, Urwerk

Luxury Brands: Multi-product luxury brands which invest in the art of technical and/or precious Fine Watchmaking with creativity, innovation and excellence.

Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Montblanc

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.

Andreas Strehler, Antoine Preziuso, Beat Haldimann, Christiaan Van der Klaauw, Grönefeld, Kari Voutilainen, Philippe Dufour, Roger W. Smith, Sarpaneva, Thomas Prescher, Vianney Halter

This evaluation will be repeated every two to three years to stay current with developments in the industry. Notable absentees from this list include Longines from the Swatch Group and Rolex’s sister brand Tudor. No Asian brands were considered in the first classification, so there is no mention of Grand Seiko or Credor.