Launched today for iOS and Android, Watch Essentials is an educational smartphone app by the Swiss Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. It is designed to bring newcomers to the horological world, as well as seasoned sales people, up to speed by helping them find out more about the basics and, later on, the intricacies of watch terminology, features, history, and other related topics. The app is free and has a playful element where as you make progress you can earn watch components to build your own virtual watch… and, better still, the first 1,000 people to complete the app will have the chance to take the HH Certification test for free to officially validate their newfound knowledge.
The app has been developed for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) whose HH Certification Exam Ariel and I took last year (read Ariel’s experience and full report on it here). It is part of FHH’s larger mission of educating watch enthusiasts as well as people who work in the industry. The Watch Essentials app is based heavily on the questionnaire used for the HH Certification – which also explains why if you are among the first 1,000 to complete this app you can have a chance to take that online exam for free (more details, disclaimers, and the usual terms and conditions on that directly from FHH in the app).
The app is based on a mix between Questions & Answers, brief, but on-point explanations of the correct answer as well as some short videos here and there. There is a total of 9 main categories which are divided between three to nine sub-categories. Each of these sub-categories comes with an average number of about ten questions. By the time you have completed all nine main categories and their subcategories you will have answered at least a few hundred questions.
The 9 main categories are: Terminology; External parts; Operation; Materials; Introduction to complications; Decorations; History; Market players; and Culture of excellence. All of these are locked when you begin as you have to more or less move in a progression – seasoned watch enthusiasts will arguably find the first couple dozen questions tiresome and easy, but then again, answering those will lead you to the Quiz that is the final subcategory in each of the nine aforementioned ones.
As complicated as that sounds, the app’s layout is as linear as it can be since all you do is make your progress scrolling upwards from the bottom, working your way up through each individual sub- and main category.
What’s a bit weird is that as you get started you have a watch talking to you and guiding you through the process, giving you tasks and asking questions like “You know me as a ‘watch,’ but are you capable of indicating my lugs, crown, or aperture?” No watch has ever asked me that before, so I tap on the little arrow to continue.
Quite unexpectedly, the questions are now asked in a normal way without the watch itself trying to get acquainted with you. Things start with Category I, “Terminology,” and you’re lead through the aforementioned mix of Q&A where you choose your answers and then get to read more detailed explanations of why the correct answer is what it is.
The explanations provided are detailed enough to make them properly educational. For example, they note the exact ISO numbers and requirements for certain watch testing criteria related to the question or give a slightly more detailed explanation of what COSC does and the requirements a COSC certified movement must meet.
What I did find, however, is that a few compromises also had to be made as some of the intricacies of watchmaking have been omitted from the Questions & Answers section. Here, you are often forced to select a not entirely correct answer only for that answer to even be explained to you. For example, True or False: “You can use the chronograph of a water resistant watch under water?” The correct answer they accept and explain here is False, saying that you should never use the chronograph pushers under water – whereas, in reality, a lot of luxury (and more simple) watches have chronograph pushers you can use under water.
It could be viewed as a reasonable simplification, but the correct answer in my mind would have been something like “True, but one should always consult with the manufacturer before attempting to use the pushers or other functions under water.” Again, it may sound like nitpicking, but this is just to say that the topic the FHH embraced is extremely complex and some fine-tuning in the long run will certainly do a lot of good.
What you see above is the congratulatory message once you pass the first main category. Here, you get to choose the shape of the case – the first main component you get and one out of nine that you’ll need to build your virtual watch. As you can see, it is also here where you are requested to sign up.
Once you’ve signed up, what you receive is a quite nice, multiple-page document that summarizes in a clean and easy to understand way what you have discovered and learned about in your most recently completed main category – below you can see the first page of the wrap-up document for Category I, Terminology.
The overall layout is nice, and once you get the hang of the direction the app wants you to move, it really is quite easy to use. The FHH has clearly put a fair bit of effort into thinking through the nine main categories and filling each of them up with a lot of questions which, cumulatively, do cover just about all of the key aspects of modern watchmaking.
Will you learn everything you need to know about watches and watchmaking from the Watch Essentials app? Surely not, but it gives you all the information and all the clues you could possibly need to start googling and researching all the different topics that it guides you through. There surely are a few rough edges here and there that require some fine-tuning, but overall the Watch Essentials app is highly recommended for everyone to have – I just wish one could freely discover the different categories without being forced to take them in order.