New Organization Aims to Promote Luxury Watches

Three leaders in Swiss luxury watchmaking—the brands Audemars Piguet and Girard Perregaux and the Richemont luxury goods group—have formed an organization to boost global awareness and sales of luxury timepieces, unify the fine-watch business, and fight counterfeits.

The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, launched Nov. 3, 2005, in Geneva, has also taken over running the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), a leading luxury-watch trade fair, starting with the 2006 edition, which runs April 3–9.

Franco Cologni, the foundation’s president, cited information and training projects—aimed initially at retailers and the public—as the keys to meeting the organization’s objectives. He said the foundation wants to be a unifying force for everyone who works in the field of luxury watches as well as retailers, collectors, and the general public.

Cologni himself is a leader in the luxury watch business. The former executive chairman of Cartier International and Richemont Haute Horlogerie, he is now a senior executive director on Richemont’s board, chairman of its luxury watch brands Vacheron Constantin and Officine Panerai, and was formerly chairman of the Association Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie (AIHH). He also chaired the Comité International de la Haute Horlogerie (CIHH), now replaced by the Foundation, which ran SIHH.

Oversight council. Overseeing the foundation is a council, which defines its strategy, priorities, and activities. It’s composed of the three founders (with Cologni as chairman) and “professionals and personalities in the field of fine watchmaking,” still to be chosen, say foundation documents. Council members will serve one-year terms. Handling daily administration is general manager Fabienne Lupo Magnaudet, formerly SIHH general secretary. Details about the Foundation’s operating budget and funding weren’t released.

The foundation will focus on two areas. One is the nonprofit Cultural Center of Fine Watchmaking, a think-tank headed by Jean-Claude Roustant, former general secretary of the AIHH, which has disbanded. Its brief is to develop projects that promote fine watchmaking and are open to any luxury watchmaker. A top priority of the Center will be specific projects for luxury-watch retailers, including training programs.

Also getting under way is the Center for Study and Research, which will analyse and develop new trades, markets, innovations, and business developments in haute horlogerie.

“A label of quality.” Long-range plans also call for what foundation documents term “a genuine label of quality” for an international network of qualifying retailers (and later, for others in the luxury-watch field, such as collectors and service providers). “This label will be given to those who adhere to very rigorous criteria,” said Anne Bieler, foundation spokesperson, though it won’t involve courses or tests.

The foundation’s other focus is on organizing international trade fairs, exhibits, and other activities to promote fine watchmaking and fund its nonprofit activities. The main one is SIHH, the prestigious annual watch trade show founded by Cartier (later Richemont) and held in Geneva. Other international events will be designed to enhance the trade’s and the public’s awareness and understanding of watchmaking. A Web site is also planned.

The foundation also intends to fight against counterfeiters and imitations.