ZURICH, Switzerland — Some Swiss watch fans eager to wear the work of a fine maker may have to upgrade after the country’s Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie categorised the industry for the first time, clarifying which brands are in and out of the exclusive club.
In a three-year review of 86 brands, 64 were selected as examples of fine watchmaking, according to the Swiss organiser of the Geneva watch salon and Watches & Wonders exhibition. Richemont’s Cartier, Rolex and Swatch Group AG’s Omega made the cut. Richemont’s Baume & Mercier, Rolex’s sister brand Tudor and Swatch’s Longines didn’t.
The industry group says it’s the first comprehensive effort to classify high-end Swiss brands in a business where the perception of exclusivity equals all-important bragging rights. The group said it wanted to bring clarity to the consumer about what it means to buy a fine watch — even if that involved excluding some other well-known brands.
Money isn’t everything and in some cases heritage trumped price tags: Cartier made it into the rankings even though its watches generally sell for thousands less than a Patek Philippe.
The foundation’s cultural council divided brands into four segments. Cartier, LVMH’s TAG Heuer, Patek, Audemars Piguet and Rolex are included in the category of historic watchmaking houses. The contemporary-brands segment counts Parmigiani and Romain Jerome. Montblanc is cited as a luxury brand, while watch geeks will recognize Kari Voutilainen in the “artisans-creators” segment.
The labels were evaluated based on seven areas that vary in weighting, including research and development, design, history, distribution and brand image. The foundation declined to say which categories counted the most and said the process will be repeated every two to three years.
Members of the council, including former Richemont board member Franco Cologni, collectors, historians and journalists, could not have current links to the brands in order to guarantee the independence of the classification, the group said.
By Corinne Gretler; editors: Eric Pfanner and Paul Jarvis.