Yesterday, April 26, 2017, the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) released a white paper on “Fine Watchmaking”. In short, the white paper was created to promote what they’re calling “Fine Watchmaking”, and they defined 4 market segments and 7 areas of expertise by which 46 “independent international experts” used to judge brands against. These people make up what they’re calling the “Cultural Council”. For a watch to be qualified it must score at least 6 out of 10, where 65% of the score is based on objective criteria and 35% subjective.
In total, 86 brands were judged, 68 made the cut, and only 28 were so good they became partners.
I suppose you can read a lot more about the criteria and methodology at their website, but it’s all irrelevant. This white paper exists because the Swiss watch industry has been reading the writing on the wall the past few years and they needed to act.
In other words, somewhere around 2010-ish there was a big shift in the market. Vintage watches began to gain popularity and buying new, started to dip. This peaked in 2016 when the Swiss watch industry saw its worst decline since, well, 2015. And 2015 was the worst decline since 2014, etc. But 2016 was extra bad because the 45% drop in new watch sales brought the market to a new low that hadn’t been seen since around 1984 when Quartz watches were at their peak in popularity.
This white paper is a reaction to that reality, which took 2-3 years to actually complete, meaning it became an idea in someone's head at more or less when things started to go south.
Of course, the FHH is top-notch, and the presentation of the entire process is really well done. The marketing, the overall polish, how they stroked the egos of the 46 “cultural council” members, all of it, was really really high-end.
And yet, nothing in the world is perfect.
For example, of the “objective” criteria they include “Style, Design & Artistic Expertise” as well as “Connoisseurs & Collector”. I don't think I need to explain why that is a contradiction since neither can be anything but subjective criteria.
Taking that one step further, Tudor, a Rolex subsidiary, which uses Rolex-made cases, has chronometer grade movements, even has their own in-house movements, some made in collaboration with Breitling, who did make the cut, was nowhere to be seen! They failed!
Yet, just last week there was a vintage Tudor that nearly broke eBay and is now on sale at an asking price of $350k. Maybe this white paper will effect that price (by bringing it down to reality) since Tudor has now been deemed to NOT be "fine watchmaking"?
This alone makes the idea that the scores are 65/35 split between objective and subjective completely absurd.
And what about this Cultural Council? They’re supposed to be independent. But, independent is defined as not working for any of the brands. Many of these experts, however, have all kinds of collaborations with various brands. Not just in promoting events, and pay-for-reviews, but also with watches commemorating their work. We’ve had the famous #SpeedyTuesday Speedmaster, Vacheron Constantin and Zenith have special edition watches promoting journalists contributions, etc. It literally goes on and on and in no way can all of these "Cultural Council" members be considered independent. They all have something to gain.
So again, on behalf of the consumer, I call bullshit!
In fact, it’s all bullshit, because all this is, is an attempt to focus the consumers watch-buying sights (and their money) in the direction of the brands that benefit the FHH, which happen to be Euro brands and mostly Swiss, the market that's hurting the most.
(Hey Swiss Watch Industry, I have an idea!: why not stop over pricing your watches by about 100%?)
This is also why Tudor is not on the list. Tudor doesn’t need to be. Tudor will be fine as long as Rolex is fine, so to appear partial, the FHH had Tudor “take one for the team”, wink-wink, nudge nudge.
And then next year, when they do it all over again, Tudor will be let in. Because that's the idea: every year this fiasco will repeat itself and watch brands that didn't make it this year, might make it next year. It's a never-ending marketing campaign that tries to capture and manipulate the focus of the consumer in the direction they want.
This is not unlike the COSC standards that have been outdated for decades, yet many still believe they are the end-all and be-all of mechanical watch accuracy standards.
Then there is the odd omission of Seiko. But not just Seiko, Grand Seiko, and Credor too.
Seiko meets the defined criteria as well as any brand on that list. Grand Seiko even more, and Credor and their Eichi 2 has been referred to as the “best-finished watch” in the world, with only Laurent Ferrier as a rival. In other words, there is no better example of true “fine watchmaking” on planet Earth than Credor, and by extension Seiko.
So, where are they?
Of course, something similar happened to Seiko in the late 60’s and early 70’s when they entered the Neuchatel Chronometer Trials. But the bigger question is why only 86 brands? And how were they chosen? Did brands like Seiko just decide not to participate? Was it strictly reserved for European brands? Did somehow Seiko not manage a 60% score?
I haven’t dug too deep into the FHH’s website to find an explanation, but a quick 10 minutes glance produced nothing. Either way, it’s a watered down competition filled with omissions and other questionable details that make me, for one, suspicious at best.
I also didn't appreciate the condescension exhibited throughout this entire process. Watching some of the interviews of some of the Cultural Council members was ridiculous. Nearly all of them, in different ways, said the white paper is designed to "aid the consumer", to “educate them", as "a guide", and to really “inform them/us" of what fine watchmaking is. Because you know up until now consumers have been so dumb they were obviously buying the wrong watches.
Thank you oh great FHH! Now I will only buy the watches you choose for me. I will also be sure to stop my own critical thinking when wanting to buy a watch and only buy from your chosen group of 68 (until you update the list or say otherwise, of course).
How convenient (for you)!!!
No, if you’re reading this you should ignore this white paper. The more we ignore it, the faster it goes away. It does not address the fact all Swiss watches (minus a couple), are extremely overpriced and it doesn't do anything to stimulate what real watchmaking and watch collecting should be all about.
Shame on the FHH and shame on those so-called experts who are accomplices in perpetuating this crap for what is obviously selfish gains.