Women in watchmaking - Fabienne Lupo tells it all
President of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) and Manager of the Salon de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), Fabienne Lupo, leads – with her magic wand – two key entities in the watchmaking world.
The purpose of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) is to develop activities related to fine watchmaking and its crafts with the aim of spreading know-how. The SIHH, on the other hand, is one of the most demanding fairs in the luxury world.
A flawless and satisfactory career
The meeting took place not even a week after the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie settled in its new offices at the heart of the Campus Genevois de la Haute Horlogerie in Meyrin –the “holy of holies”of Richemont group, the number two in the luxury industry. Fabienne Lupo greeted Watchonista with a big smile and exchanged pleasantries. The 49-year old mother of two claimed that she seeks serenity and well-being but still gets up every morning and puts in 200% to her usual duties whilst also working on a parallel project of her own.
Her strong yet delicate character is undoubtedly the result of a flawless and satisfactory career.
French-born Lupo arrived in Geneva in 1998 and has now applied for Swiss citizenship. At the time, she was a curator at the Marseille International Fair (organized by the Safim). She was hired by Franco Cologni, who was then President of the whole jewelry and watchmaking section at Richemont group. "He was well-known for his strong character", came Lupo’s blunt remark. He was her mentor and a very precious person to her. She told us about the first watch she ever bought –a Reverso by Jaeger-Lecoultre that she bought –and reminisced about her first steps in watchmaking with some anecdotes.
Her first anecdote is about her arrival in Geneva, which she summarized with: "Oh my, where am I?" She thought that Switzerland's proximity to France would mean that the two countries would be very similar. But alas! Switzerland was a whole different country, with a completely different culture that she discovered, grew to love, and has never left since. She feels it’s a privilege to live in Switzerland and compares it to being in a bubble. She claims to be spoiled by the environment in which she lives –surrounded by beauty and luxury –with talented people around her, both in terms of creation and innovation.
Her arrival at the SIHH
In 1999, Cologni hired her for a mission: open the SIHH to new brands like Breguet, Audemars Piguet and Girard Perregaux. She told us about the time where as secretary-general, she had to introduce her strategy to include these new brands. It wasn't to her then boss, Cologni, but to his Chief of Staff. However, he refused her new plan of action and imposed her one of his, convinced that it was the one his superior would like. Hence, after some discussion, Lupo complied and presented the new version to Cologni. His reaction and the way he showed it left no doubt the vision he depicted to her was exactly what she had laid out in her first presentation and at that point she knew that they were on the same wavelength. Hence, she decided there and then that she would never again fail to express her views. What’s more, from then on, she would only defend her own ideas.
Another amusing memory she evoked was her interview with Cologni who told her flat out that the vacancy was for a "guy with a pair". She politely but confidently replied that she was no man but that she was daring and courageous.
A fairy in a men's world
However, in spite of these anecdotes, she does not agree that chauvinism is a reality in the watchmaking world or even that very few women are managers. On the contrary, she believes being a female is an advantage. She has adopted a charming attitude that would not, in any way, incite confrontation. She doesn't see herself as a rival for men but rather, thanks to her position, as the one who facilitates things and unites everyone –a bit like a fairy who sprinkles her magic dust into the air, as she puts it. She does not want to impose herself but instead give off a positive vibe that helps her bring people a sense of security.
When asked about her passions, she answers straight away that it's her children. She relaxes when she is with her family. She also likes going to the theater and would even like to get back on stage but admits that she does not have time for it. Skiing and sailing provide her with what she needs to recharge her batteries.
We can’t really talk about it yet, but we will give full details IN 2017. It's a new mission of the utmost importance for Lupo.
2017 SIHH objectives
A major change has been announced for the 2017 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie at Palexpo Geneva: on the last day (Friday) it will be open to the public from 11:00 to 19:00. To keep a certain control, it has been decided that there will be limited tickets available and only through registration and at a price that targets a certain public (CHF 70 per person). The brands that will be at the fair are satisfied with this decision, Lupo explains. "They get the opportunity to meet their final customers, get to know them and foster customer loyalty. It's the same tendency that accompanied the evolution of distribution, which turned out to be a revolution in retail since various brands now own their own shops and are thus less present in multi-brand shops".
There will be thirty exhibitors, seventeen of which at the SIHH and thirteen at the Carrédes Horlogers. The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie has decided against increasing the number of exhibitors dramatically in order to maintain the excellent and exclusive fair concept. As Lupo puts it: "Small is beautiful".
To the question of how she manages to keep both Richemont brands and all other brands happy, Lupo answers that "cohabitation" is going rather well, and compares it to a boat where everyone rows together to make it move forward.
To achieve that, however, they had to establish a trustworthy relation among themselves so that the watchmaking brands understood that they had common interests and objectives; the first of which is a successful fair.
FHH, communication and events
One of the Foundation’s publications is the HH (Haute Horlogerie) online paper, which is completed by the annual HH Mag, of which 150,000 copies come with the Financial Times. According to Lupo, digitalization has taken up a lot of importance. The organization is very active on social networks with almost 100,000 followers on Facebook, among others. So much the better since the several missions of the Foundation include communicating, informing and spreading the skills of Haute Horlogerie crafts but also promoting key events organized throughout the year. This explains why it will be present at the biennial gathering of antique dealers that will be held from September 10th to 18th 2016 in Paris as well as at the Dubai Watch Week from November 15th to 18th in 2016. In both cases, it will partake with the exhibition "La conquête du temps" (The Mastery of Time) and an introduction to the art of watchmaking.
Another event to look forward to this year is the Forum de la Haute Horlogerie. Organized since 2008 by the FHH, it is a true watchmaking Think Tank. Another area in which the Foundation is doing significant work in 2016 is tackling the training issue.
Lupo vehemently stresses the importance of training in the different skills of watchmaking and hence that of the HH Academy, where both sellers and employees are trained. The training consists of four levels of certifications that are obtained after a two-hour test which evaluates candidates’knowledge with 160 questions.
On June 21st 2016, the Foundation made the headlines with the publication of the "Livre Blanc" –a sort of reference manual that defines the criteria to bestow the "Haute Horlogerie" label in the following four segments: Historical, contemporary, luxury brands and designers. You can read our article about it, here
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