What is Haute Horlogerie?

What is Haute Horlogerie?
What is Haute Horlogerie?

To answer what is Haute Horlogerie, you have to understand the crisis that mechanical watches faced in the early 1970’s. Before then, mechanical watches were the only real timepiece available to carry around. Essentially they had an exclusive on the timekeeping industry. Enter in the quartz technology that turned watchmaking on its head. Quartz powered watches were cheap and more accurate than their automatic grandfathers.

The watch industry had to separate themselves and redefine the artform of watchmaking in a new way. Enter the term Haute Horlogerie. It means the High Art of Watchmaking.

What is Haute Horlogerie

What is Haute Horlogerie?

The 1970’s were an exceptional time for watch collectors to cheaply acquire the timepieces of their dreams. Watch manufacturers were in disarray and letting go of their timepieces cheaply in order to attempt to compete with the quartz market. Then Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and others started creating expensive pieces and priced them for a newly minted Luxury market.

Watch manufactures started to follow suit. Instead of trying to compete on price, they decided to double down on the very craft that was made obsolete by quartz. The focused on Haute Horlogerie – the fine art of watchmaking.

They focused on improving quality of the timepieces and made new advances in precision. They focused on adding more complexity to the high end timepieces. They created new complications which add new features within the timepiece beyond just calculating hours, minutes and seconds.

What is Haute Horlogerie?

We have written about some of the great complications developed such as the rattrapante split second chronograph, which was a tremendous feat and requires extreme precision and time to develop a watch with such a design. Some timepieces were developed with a perpetual calendar and different designs that show time in a different way rather than with 3 center hands on the watch face. Other timepieces focused on adding alarms, countdown clocks, improving the power reserve, improving the luminescence and more.

Most fine watchmakers added sapphire crystal to their timepiece often showing the front and the back of the timepiece in its glorious detail even though sapphire was a more expensive material than plastic.

Essentially creating watches with hundreds of moving parts is a feat that takes months to put together. Rolex and others invested in certifications which tested each timepiece to certify it for waterproofness, accuracy and function. They raised the standards higher than what cheap watchmakers would be willing to or able to attain. And the market responded. Ever since, the prices of Haute Horlogerie watches have risen in value and this has increased collectors, watch lovers and speculators alike to join the trend.

What is Haute Horlogerie?
Rolex Sea-Dweller And Deepsea

Taking Haute Horlogerie to the Extreme

Every fine watchmaker has continued to One-Up each other over the last few decades. Whereas early on each timepiece might pull parts including the entire caliber from a third party source such as ETA, most of the finest timepiece manufacturers have decided to bring everything in house.

By controlling every aspect of the production, the manufacturer can control precise production and perfection throughout the process. Rolex even bought the band maker that provided their various bands over the years. Some went out and acquired the company that manufactures the calibers in order to bring it in house and sometimes to block competitors from having access to those movements.

Rolex developed the Deep-Sea timepiece which blew the doors off of anything ever created in the art of dive watches. Although it supports a dive depth that is extreme, only a small fraction of divers would ever be able to put this timepiece to the test.

Now that the gloves are off, new changes in Haute Horlogerie are happening yearly. If there was ever a golden age of horology, we seem to be in it today.

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