Philipp Mayrhofer, last updated on 07/24/2023

Haute Horlogerie: a term that sounds like prestige, recognition and pure luxury. One reads the term mostly in connection with sinfully expensive luxury watches and on the websites of renowned watch manufacturers. But what exactly do the euphonious words actually mean? In this article, we take a closer look at haute horlogerie and explain in detail what lies behind it.

Haute Horlogerie - the highest expression of watchmaking

Haute Horlogerie is to watchmakers what haute couture is to fashion designers and haute cuisine is to star chefs: it is the art of watchmaking in perfection. The French-language expression translates into German as "high art of watchmaking," which hits the nail on the head. Its origin dates back to the period after the quartz crisis, i.e. the 1970s, and was probably created to distinguish the technically sophisticated mechanical watches of that time from the mass-produced quartz watches.

However, to this day, there is no single, universally accepted definition of haute horlogerie. It is therefore a term that should be treated with a certain degree of caution. Because: Just because a watch contains a tourbillon, comes from a renowned manufacture or is made of a noble material, this does not automatically make it a timepiece that can be counted as haute horlogerie with a clear conscience.

Criteria and standards for Haute Horlogerie

Which brings us to the criteria and standards commonly attributed to haute horlogerie:

Craftsmanship and Precision

Watches attributed to haute horlogerie are a result of the finest craftsmanship. They represent the highest skills on the part of watchmakers and their ability to produce absolutely reliable and extremely precise watches.

Complexity and technical sophistication

Often such timepieces have a particularly powerful movement and are characterized by impressive technical sophistication. The movement is decorated by finissage, using elaborate techniques ranging from perlage and Côtes de Genève to sophisticated black polishing.

Exclusivity and limited production

Haut Horlogerie watches are usually not thrown on the market in masses, but are made in a limited collection. This is sometimes due to the immense amount of work involved in the production of such a high-quality watch. We are therefore dealing with particularly exclusive timepieces, for which many a collector accepts long waiting lists.

Complications and technical masterpieces

If you want to make sure that a watch is a piece that can be attributed to the Haute Horlogerie, the first close look should be at the movement. The more complications are built in here and the better they were technically implemented, the more a watch corresponds to the expression of the highest watchmaking art. The complications, of which such watches usually have several, can be, for example, a date display, the repetition or a jumping second.

In the tradition of haute horlogerie, the pinnacle of watchmaking is the Grande Complication. Here, complications from the three groups "calendar", "timekeeping" and "chiming" come together in one movement - a grandiose masterpiece.

Use of noble materials and refinements

A watch that meets the standards of haute horlogerie is, of course, not made of inferior materials. On the contrary, high-quality precious metals give the watches an aura of pure elegance. As already briefly mentioned, there is often additional elaborate finishing, for example in the form of an often multi-step finissage. This gives each watch the final touch and ensures that there is no doubt whatsoever about the outstanding quality of the models. The same applies to the artistic treatment of dials, for example through enamel, engraving or the finest hand painting.

Renowned Haute Horlogerie brands

Hand on heart: which collector would not like to call a timepiece of the Haute Horlogerie his own? Especially in collector circles, this predicate is not infrequently the measure of all things. But which brands belong to the group of Haute Horlogerie manufactures? We would like to name a few examples at this point.

The first thing many watch fans think of here is certainly Jaeger-LeCoultre - and quite rightly so! At the latest with the development of the Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon, which combines tourbillons with an enormously thin case thickness, there is no question that the luxury brand is at home on the Olympus of watchmaking.

To find out which brands are actually officially part of haute horlogerie, it helps to look at the listing of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, or FHH for short. The FHH is an organization founded in 2005 by Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux and the Richemont Group, whose mission is to maintain and preserve the traditions and immense watchmaking knowledge of haute horlogerie. Accordingly, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Breguet and A. Lange & Söhne are among the select group of Haute Horlogerie watchmakers.

Exclusivity and collector value

The exclusivity of movements from the field of haute horlogerie is just one of many factors that contribute to the fact that watches often increase in value over the years. When high-quality materials, technically flawless workmanship, a great brand name and one or two coveted complications come together, the result is a timepiece that many watch lovers want for their collection. Compared to the demand, the supply is usually very limited, so that the luxury watches on the secondary market are repeatedly traded significantly above list price. This means: If you own a Haute Horlogerie watch, you do not have to worry too much about its value stability.

Conclusion to the Haute Horlogerie

High quality, craftsmanship, tradition, innovation, and the pursuit of sheer perfection: all of these things unite the masterful watches of Haute Horlogerie. Ultimately, it is technical refinements, elaborate finishes and the successful use of many a complex complication that set them apart from the great mass of other, less valuable timepieces.

About the author
Philipp Mayrhofer

Hello my name is Philipp. I actually had my first points of contact with luxury watches through YouTube and the many watch reviews that can be seen there. As a result, I was able to acquire extensive watch knowledge.