Aurélie Streit of the FHH: Navigating the Shifting Sands of the Watch World
Watchonista recently spoke with Aurélie Streit, Vice President of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, and asked the visionary about the FHH Academy’s metamorphosis, the Forum’s orchestration of industry discourse, and the FHH’s direct involvement with watch aficionados through the group’s “Watches and Culture” platform.
In the dynamic Swiss watch industry, where tradition and transformation collide, 2022 bore witness to a historic surge, propelling exports to an all-time high of CHF 25 billion. This momentum, particularly in key markets such as the US and China, sustained robust growth through the first eight months of 2023.
Yet, intriguingly, the study found that, despite the e-commerce wave that started during the COVID-19 pandemic, a notable 62% of brands envision the continued dominance of in-store sales over the next five years and, thus, plan to expand their brick-and-mortar retail presence.
These revelations, extracted from the Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2023, set the stage for a compelling conversation Watchonista recently had with Aurélie Streit, Vice President of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). Together, we delved deeper into the industry’s current trajectory, the pivotal cultural role of the FHH, and its vision of the future.
The Driving Force of the FHH
Since 2022, following the establishment of the new Watches & Wonders foundation, the FHH has no longer been responsible for the expo, which is the world’s most significant watch retail show. As a result, the FHH has drastically altered its priorities and activities.
Aurélie explained during our interview that the FHH is refocusing on its historical and cultural activities by promoting fine watchmaking in a neutral and transversal way: “We really want to present the watch as an object of art and culture. That’s why we work with several watch brands supporting this mission. But to keep it clear, our three major activities remain the FHH Academy, the Watches and Culture platform, and the FHH Forum, with the Academy being the biggest.”
The FHH Academy
Early on, the FHH grasped knowing more than brand specifics was a key factor for a healthy retail sector. Sure, brands ace their training on DNA and history, but the FHH pushed for people on the sales floor to become true industry maestros, mastering the biz, its history, and the cyber-fair scene.
That is why, from the get-go, the FHH Academy has been dedicated to improving the knowledge and understanding of watch industry professionals (especially those in the retail sector) in the nuances of watchmaking and the culture of enthusiasts surrounding it. “We started [the Academy] by offering training in local languages, a whopping 25 of them, ensuring accessibility and inclusivity,” recalled Aurélie.
Why does this matter? Because, nowadays, collectors roll in with encyclopedic watch wisdom, often outclassing sales associates. “That’s why I started the Academy in 2014,” explained Aurélie. “I realized that people in front of the sales associate were much more knowledgeable than the sales associate.”
All the magic happens right in the heart of Geneva, where the team crafts the content – a symphony of expertise curated for the discerning minds in the industry. Over the past decade, the FHH evolved its methods, rocking not just live sessions but also bringing the heat with online training, a sleek application, and e-learning modules seamlessly integrated into brands and industry learning systems. “It’s been a decade of transforming the learning game, and we’re just getting started,” Aurélie told Watchonista.
The FHH Forum & Discussions of the Future
The FHH Forum is a vibrant platform hailed as a hub for industry dialogue and discourse. Curated both by and for the maestros of the watch world, the Forum has ten successful editions under its belt, with the 2023 rendezvous spotlighting the topic of customer centricity.
As Aurélie puts it, the Forum is the orchestrator, bringing diverse brands together to forge connections, fostering collaboration, and laying the groundwork for innovative solutions. It’s a departure from the routine business chatter and numbers game, offering a unique platform for nurturing ideas and building bridges through non-competitive interactions in a fiercely competitive world.
Watch Aficionados & the FHH
The FHH’s “Watches and Culture” platform is how the Fondation directly engages with watch collectors: “Watches and Culture is our first big step in this direction,” explained Aurélie. “On it, we have different kinds of content, so newcomers to the watch world can more easily adapt. For instance, we have just relaunched our website, and the first topic was ‘How to get into watches.’ We also have an exhibition every year, and we continue to develop activations between experience and exhibitions.”
Another important concept for the “Watches and Culture” platform is edutainment. This concept has been extended, most notably through the FHH’s increased presence at events on the international watchmaking calendar.
Aurélie told Watchonista, “The [edutainment activations] that FHH offers work on a sort of ‘plug-and-play’ model. We have a certain number of modules, for instance, ‘How to start your watch collection’ or ‘What are the icons of watchmaking,’ etcetera, and we can place them in different events.
“Another thing is our Instagram account. It’s growing organically, and what amazes us is the percentage of engagement.”
While it all started with the establishment of the “Watches and Culture” platform as one of the pillars of FHH, setting a robust cornerstone, as time progressed, there was a discernible expansion in the FHH’s cultural council – a tapestry enriched with diverse perspectives and voices.
There’s now a notable shift towards embracing a wider range of business-to-customer interactions. And this shift offers a glimpse into the future, subtly indicating the FHH’s evolving direction as it prepares to unveil more avenues for engagement and foster a broader connection between businesses and customers.
As the Fondation of Haute Horlogerie takes center stage, beckoning luminaries of the watch world to ponder the future, we extend an invitation to join the narrative.
Indeed, it’s a great platform to become a stakeholder in forging trends and contributing to a prosperous future for the watch industry. Your involvement can be the catalyst that transforms visions into reality. Stay tuned in, engage, and let’s chart the course together toward a thriving horizon in watchmaking.
About the FHH Academy
Created in 2014, the FHH Academy is the only institution in the world that evaluates, introduces, trains and certifies general watchmaking knowledge. Originally destined to professionals in the sector, it is now aimed at everyone, as it is also integrated within the programmes of some of the most prestigious universities. This belies a guiding principle of the FHH; that learning and teaching play a preponderant role in the way of understanding the worlds of today and tomorrow. To carry out this mission, the FHH Academy relies on its international network of 22 local trainers, present in 20 countries over four continents.
Online, in class or via its Watch Essentials application, the courses aim to meet all aspirations. Available in 11 languages in the form of classes, training courses, workshops or conferences; the content of the FHH Academy is intended to be neutral and comprehensive, covering all aspects of watchmaking, from initiation to professional level. The FHH Academy’s content is constantly enriched in order to meet everyone's expectations, and now includes training on sustainable development and its concrete application within the industry.
An official organisation recognized internationally, the FHH Academy grants the FHH Certification to participants who successfully complete their training.