In Conversation With: Pascal Ravessoud And Aurélie Streit Vice President Of FHH On The Three Pillars Of The Forum & More

In Conversation With: Pascal Ravessoud And Aurélie Streit Vice President Of FHH On The Three Pillars & More

6 Dec 2023 |
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In the world of watchmaking, horologerie is a word that people use a lot, haute horlogerie particularly. It means fine watchmaking. Fondation Haute Horlogerie recently hosted a forum to discuss “Horology Futurology”. This forum touched upon different aspects of luxury watchmaking beyond 2025 and more. 

We caught up with Pascal Ravessoud, Vice President of FHH, and Aurélie Streit, Vice President, FHH to understand more about this foundation, predictions on luxury watchmaking, and more. 

THM: FHH is driven by knowledge with the intent of spreading knowledge. Tell us about the three pillars - cultural, academy, and forum.

Aurélie: Between Pascal and myself,I am more on the education side. 10 years ago, we launched a training academy called the FHH Academy. It aims to improve the knowledge of mainly the people who work in the industry, but are not watchmakers. Those who are more self-taught, marketing, and communications staff around the world. What we did is to create general content about watchmaking knowledge, but very neutral and transversal. We select some trainers, from across the globe, speaking the local languages, with the local habits. Right now, we have over 25 trainers with several formats of training from e-learning, online, and live sessions as well. We have the only institution with dynastically trained and certified watch people but with general watchmaking knowledge worldwide. 

Currently, in less than a decade, we trade with more than 30,000 people all over the world. We decided to use the same techniques but to transfer them to the general public. What is really important for us is to present the watch because it has a neutral foundation. As a foundation supported by brands, we would like to explain watches as a culture, as an art and so that's what we are doing every day, and in there is our message. Our message is always to answer that question: what's the value of the watch? What is the make the value of the watch and why is it so expensive? It's not in terms of money but in terms of the whole cultural value behind it. 

The three pillars of FHH
The three pillars of FHH

THM: Given the niche genre of the watch industry, do you see a lot of interest coming in from the general public about watchmaking? 

Aurélie: Yes, it's amazing that there are a lot of things for experts or collectors in watchmaking but nothing for beginners. That 101 level doesn't really exist so that's why we decided to fill this gap. Even experts come to our lectures just to learn more. People with no prior knowledge are very happy to discover something new. For example, our lectures are always fully booked out, usually over 150% capacity.

We've done events in Geneva, Shanghai, and Dubai this year and it's always the same success rate. Besides the lectures and courses, the training we provide focuses more on general watchmaking culture and skills – recognizing different movements or complications, and understanding what's automatic versus manual. It's that baseline knowledge even for non-technical staff.

FHH Exhibition held in Geneva
FHH Exhibition held in Geneva

Offering training online globally is tricky due to licensing rules in different countries that regulate vocational education. We say "think globally, act locally" - partnering with local institutions like the University of Hong Kong while also developing video series and smartphone apps to share knowledge more widely.

Pascal: Our goal is to provide that first layer of watch know-how that brands assume consumers already have. This allows complete beginners to gain confidence and fills an unmet need in the industry.

THM: Can you shed more light on the certification process? 

Aurélie: We have three levels of watchmaking certifications. The certification is done through a clever digital questionnaire tool. You are presented with multiple-choice questions and must select one of the six answer options. Importantly, you also have to indicate your degree of confidence, from 20% sure up to 100% sure, for your selected answer. Based on whether your selections are correct or not, combined with your stated confidence levels, the tool provides insights into both your actual knowledge and how unsure or confident you feel about the topics. The questions cover a range of subjects - watch techniques, history, materials, general industry culture, and key brands/people. After going through training, you can take the certification questionnaires again to progress through the three certification levels – Advisor, Specialist, and Expert. So it evaluates both your objective watch knowledge through the quiz questions and also captures how self-assured you feel applying that knowledge.

FHH Academy
FHH Academy

THM: Is it recognized by watch brands? 

Aurélie: Our certification program now has over 10,000 participants from all industry groups. While it does not have official governmental recognition currently, its reputation and reliability continues to grow since we launched it 6 years ago. We have never received complaints about inaccurate knowledge testing. The only complaints are from people unhappy about failing, which is unavoidable when proving expertise. Importantly, our question bank of 3,500+ exam questions was developed and extensively validated to ensure accuracy and relevance. Each question was reviewed by 5 different watch industry experts, making the knowledge certification highly robust and undisputable for assessing skills.

After running this program for years with thousands of watch professionals taking the exams, the industry widely understands and respects HH Academy certifications as a legitimate demonstration of watch knowledge. So while unofficial, they have become a de facto standard.

Pont de la Machine ©Margaret Stepien
Pont de la Machine ©Margaret Stepien

THM: In terms of the brands, we can use the certificates as an individual to go into a professional industry not as a hobbyist. How do you ensure credibility? 

Pascal: Our certifications have become an industry standard - they are globally recognized and people list them on their resumes when applying for watch-related roles. I went through the training myself when working in communications for a major watch brand that highly valued watch expertise. Even coming from within the industry, I felt lacking in knowledge to properly engage with journalists on watch topics. My colleagues who did the training around the same time received bonuses because it demonstrated to the company our dedication both to enhancing our watch knowledge and embracing the deeper cultural passion brands have for watchmaking.

Especially amongst FHH member brands, the training is seen as evidence someone takes watches seriously and values understanding the art and craft. Rather than just a credential, it signals intrinsic motivation to keep learning about the industry you work in. So brands incorporate the courses into their internal development programs for employees. It's become a cultural signifier rather than just a qualification on a CV.

THM: What about the retailers? Are considering your certification and taking interest in educating their teams? 

Pascal: Right now, retailers likely invest less in training than brands. This is the reality we know, and we would love to have more retailers pursuing certification. I don't think it's an issue of them feeling the training isn't valuable or necessary. It's more a question of their general investment policies and how they run their businesses. We've trained some retailers and it works well, but it's definitely not the majority. We want to improve on that. Yes, it's a slow but steady process that we've committed to. 

THM: What does the FHH forum stand for? 

Pascal: It's a platform for discussion, debate, and knowledge-sharing. The idea is to provide knowledge, mainly B2B right now but evolving towards more B2C engagement. The forum gives people a chance to sit back, relax, and think deeply about the future - what the future holds for our clients, our world, and our shared commitments ahead.

Just last week we held our annual FHH forum in Geneva. The goal was to facilitate conversations about where we are headed and how we can collaborate to get there. It's not just about business, but about understanding global contexts and trends shaping society. We aim to provide a welcoming space for exchanging perspectives, learning from experts, and envisioning the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow.

I think it's remarkable to consider how much has changed in the 20 years since the FHH was founded back in 2005. The initial idea was to explain the world of fine watchmaking - to showcase the rich culture and heritage behind the glitter, glamour and marketing. If you want true staying power in this industry, people need to grasp where it all comes from, who shapes what goes inside these watches, and the storied craftsmanship through the centuries that set the foundations. When you understand that depth, you’re invested for the long haul. Those core values still drive us today. We now have 44 partner brands joining us in that mission, co-financing all our pillar projects because they share this conviction that education and understanding breed meaningful evolution. And I don't think it’s a secret that’s true in all realms - but especially in our specialized mechanical watch world where time-telling functionality has faded into the background.

In today’s age where time is ubiquitously tracked electronically all around us, the legacy and backstory become the true value. These timepieces represent hundreds of years of expertise, special know-how, and artistry that persists from generation to generation. FHH continually underscores that, yet it’s hard to fully grasp from the outside looking in just how profoundly rich and storied watch culture is. Which is why they feel their educational imperative remains as vital as ever.