The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, whose mission is to be an independent guardian of watchmaking culture and “promote Fine Watchmaking throughout the world,” continues to grow their membership. Founded in 2005 by the Richemont Group, Audemars Piguet, and Girard-Perregaux, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) has a range of activities among which is organizing the annual watch trade show SIHH that is second in importance for the watch industry only to Baselworld and takes place a couple of months before. Both SIHH and the Foundation have continued to grow in size in recent years, increasing the number of partner brands as well as exhibitors at the show. So, it should perhaps be unsurprising that many of the 12 brands the FHH has just announced as new “partners” are also bringing their booths and money to SIHH from Baselworld.
Adding 12 new members to the FHH’s partners brings the total list to 41 brands (see them all above) as of late 2017. The dozen new brands are: Armin Strom, Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, DeWitt, Grönefeld, Hautlence, Kari Voutilainen, Laurent Ferrier, Ressence, Romain Gauthier, RJ-Romain Jerome, Speake-Marin, and Urwerk. As mentioned, SIHH has been growing year over year, and it increased to 24 participating brands in 2016 and then even more for SIHH 2017. Expanding from mostly the founding partners’ brands, SIHH added a “Carré des Horlogers” section of the show for independent watchmakers in recent years. Many of the brands now announced as new FHH parnters were also in last year’s Carré des Horlogers.
It is hard to say exactly what it means for the FHH, SIHH, or the brands for them to be “partners.” As is so often the case in the watch industry, one is forced to try to read between the lines of vague statements and terms. The FHH notes that these partners “actively support” their mission, but it is not clear how they do that nor what benefits they get in return, though surely there is mutual prestige and “legitimacy” in the association and probably some marketing advantage as well. In a perfect example of obfuscation, in my opinion, the FHH put out a “white paper” in 2016 with the purpose of defining the term haute horlogerie – “fine watchmaking” or whatever translation you choose is equally ambiguous in English. What they ended up with after three years was an elaborate set of criteria and a list of 64 brands that met the criteria – about the same number as the FHH’s “partners” plus their also obscurely named “perimeter brands.”
Vis a vis Baselworld, SIHH has worked to maintain its prestige and reputation as “exclusive,” and perhaps only FHH members will be allowed to exhibit in the future. SIHH has been growing in size, but exclusivity means they can’t just let everyone join, right? About that, SIHH Managing Director Fabienne Lupo says the following: “There is no intention of extending SIHH indefinitely. It will grow within carefully measured limits so as to preserve the values of excellence that have forged its reputation. It must also meet the expectations of its exhibitors and clients, both now and in the future.”
SIHH 2018 adds Hermès to its “Historic Maisons” (total 18 brands) and the Carré des Horlogers (total 16 brands) adds three exhibitors – DeWitt, Ferdinand Berthoud, and Romain Gauthier – bringing the total number this year to 34 participating brands. So, clearly, not all the new FHH partners are joining SIHH right away. However, with Baselworld attendance having declined in 2017 and SIHH expanding, we can perhaps expect more balance between the two major shows, and hopefully even more variety and interesting releases at SIHH coming up in January 2018. hautehorlogerie.org