Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Sorry Longines and Tudor: Group Says Your Watches Aren’t ‘Fine’

Updated on
  • Swiss watch-salon organizer defines category for first time
  • Rolex, Patek Philippe and Swatch’s Omega make the cut

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 categorized 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 organizer 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.

Zuzanna Pusz, an analyst at Berenberg, said recognition of a brand comes primarily from what consumers make of it, not what an institution defines it as.

“Swiss-made label, high complications, aesthetics, and simple brand preferences are still more important than such definitions and probably won’t affect demand or allure,” she said.

Cartier In

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.

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