Every watch has a story to tell
January marked the latest edition of watchmaking’s biggest event, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). Behind the Salon is the lesser known Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie and at the helm of that organisation is Fabienne Lupo, its chairwoman and managing director.
Lupo, a Toulousaine with degrees in marketing and math, and a flair for event organisation, joined the SIHH team in 1999 after stints at L’Oréal, Givenchy, Secodip and the Foire Internationale de Marseille. In 2005 she was named managing director of the foundation when Richemont Group, Audemars Piguet and Girard Perregaux founded it to promote the culture and values of fine watchmaking around the world. As an individual with intimate knowledge and understanding of the Swiss watchmaking industry and culture, we asked for her perspective on some timely issues.
SS: Few industries are as tightly identified with place as watchmaking and Switzerland. What does it mean for the watchmakers? For the Swiss?
FL: Watchmaking is part of the history of Switzerland going back to the seventeenth century when the Huguenots came. They had very few things to do except for watchmaking. Of course, Jean Calvin forbid the wearing of jewellery, so the Huguenot jewellers had to become watchmakers. Geneva became the cradle of watchmakers.
When it is a tradition, when it is rooted in your culture, it will remain. And it has. Fine watchmaking in Switzerland survived the quartz revolution. It is the nation’s third biggest export industry. For watchmakers being Swiss means being quality. Swiss Made is a standard of quality.
As la haute couture is linked to Paris and Milan, fine watchmaking is linked to Geneva, right down to the Geneva hallmark.
SS: People tend to attach a lot of meaning to a watch, whether it’s a symbol of accomplishment, or luxury, or family heritage. Why do watches have this special place in our collective consciousness?
FL: In part it is simply that watches are really the only jewellery for men. But, more and more, we have to remember that a real watch is a mechanical watch. It’s a living object. You have to care for it. It is not only an object you can have. You have to be committed to it.
A watch can also be a status symbol. This is all about emotion and how it makes you feel. There is as well the matter of heritage. Every watch has its story. When you buy a watch you also buy into the story of the product and the brand.
SS: What do you see as the current state of luxury? Has the way we view the concept of luxury changed during your time in the watch industry, and do you see any significant trends at the moment?
FL: Luxury is a difficult word. It doesn’t mean a lot. The concept has been diluted. Everything is luxury now. It is everywhere. As a consequence, the word luxury means less and less to me. I think true luxury revolves around things like “quality,” “know-how” and “expertise.”
People want more value for their money. They want to see the quality behind what they buy. Fine watch makers can show that. People can visit their workshops and see it with their own eyes.
People no longer want just a brand. They want a real story to go with it. This is a big change. They no longer want just a status symbol. In a way, they need more transparency. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for this industry to be located in Switzerland and not in an emerging country. We’ve seen it in the jewel business. Nobody wants blood diamonds. Fine watchmaking has less of a problem with sourcing because it is transparent in Switzerland. But customers are more aware these days and, to them, social and environmental responsibility are important.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of its training mission, FHH offers HH Certification to demonstrate one’s knowledge of watchmaking techniques, market players, materials, history and culture. Candidates can achieve three different levels – Advisor, Specialist or Expert – based on their results. The certification is not just for professionals but also for enthusiasts.
Article by Peter Carson