Fabienne Lupo, Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

Angus Davies interviews Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.

Fabienne Lupo, Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

The watchmaking industry is known for craftsmanship, heritage, innovation, precision and quality. It is also Switzerland’s third largest exporter (Confédération Suisse 10.7.2019). Huge numbers of skilled individuals work within the numerous watch factories dotted around the country, usually located in the French-speaking regions. However, there are also many more people working for component suppliers and machinery companies that serve the watch industry. Beyond Switzerland’s borders, watch brands have subsidiary companies overseas, with staff working in marketing, public relations, sales and service. Quite simply, the importance of the watchmaking industry cannot be overstated.

The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) is based at the Pont De La Machine in the heart of Geneva and serves many roles. It produces vast amounts of useful information, fulfilling the needs of watch industry professionals, journalists and watch enthusiasts alike. It is a key provider of training, offering a range of courses in a variety of disciplines. Furthermore, as some workers within the industry are scattered around the globe, the FHH offers classes beyond Switzerland’s borders. Lastly, the FHH stages Watches & Wonders fairs both in its native Geneva and also in other regions around the world.

Beyond its change of name, from SIHH to Watches & Wonders, the new fair incorporates several changes. Most notably, the new format includes ‘In the City. This provides a behind the scenes look at watchmaking, showcasing the fabulous expertise of the most prestigious names within the industry.

Exhibitions, walking tours, initiations to watchmaking and visits to manufactures, along with boutique presentations, museum open houses, conferences, conversations with industry players and more will make up a rich and varied programme that is open to everyone – a truly inclusive and immersive event which enjoys the support of the City and the Canton of Geneva.

Fabienne Lupo is the Chairwoman and Managing Director of the FHH and she oversees the delivery of the aforementioned functions. Recently, I grasped the opportunity to ask Ms Lupo a series of questions in order to learn more about the organisation she has skilfully managed for a number of years.

Interview with Fabienne Lupo, Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

Please can you outline the mission of your organisation.

The mission of the FHH is to promote awareness, understanding and interest in fine watchmaking around the world through three core competencies – Train, Inform and Organise. This covers a wide range of activities, including training for professionals within the segment, as well as amateurs with an interest in watches: conveying aspects of fine watchmaking and reporting on the latest industry news. In addition, the FHH is responsible for organising international events such as Watches & Wonders Geneva (the new format for SIHH).

During the time you have been the Chairwoman and Managing Director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, what would you say has been your biggest achievement?

The FHH is now seen as the foremost authority on watchmaking culture. We have succeeded in uniting the industry’s different players behind a single, shared project. It was never a foregone conclusion that we could achieve this and yet here we are today with the support and encouragement of virtually every major Fine Watch Maison (43 in total). They have understood the advantages of developing initiatives for the benefit all. This is what the FHH team and myself have achieved over the past fifteen years, and I’m proud of that.

What did you do prior to assuming your current role?

I began my career in luxury and cosmetics, then at a market research company. Following that, I was made commissioner-general for the Foire Internationale de Marseille, in the south of France, and the many other fairs taking place in the city. It was an exciting role during which I was able to develop my skills organising major trade and general public events. Then, in 1999, I joined the Comité International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva as secretary-general in charge of SIHH. Six years later, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie was established with responsibility for organising SIHH alongside other ambitious projects of the kind I mentioned earlier.

Recently SIHH became Watches and Wonders Geneva. What was the reason for this?

For its 30th year, we thought the time had come to rethink the SIHH format and expand on the ideas introduced in recent years. As you know, people have been questioning the relevance of trade fairs in the current business environment, with the influence of new media and new consumers, and this meant redefining the format. We opted for a fair that retains a high level of exclusivity but is also a communication platform that is connected to social media and the world at large. We’ve also opened the event to the new technologies that are revolutionising the industry thanks to the LAB, another new feature. Right now, we’re working on a programme of events that we’ve called “In the City”. These events will give the wider public the opportunity to experience this exciting and important date in the watchmaking calendar. In fact, for the past two years, the public have been able to come to SIHH and visit the different stands. The positive feedback we’ve had has made us all the more convinced that opening to a wider audience is the right thing to do.

Image – SIHH 2019

Having read some press information about Watches and Wonders Geneva, I gather you intend to hold other events around the globe. Is this correct?

As you know, we’ve organised Watches & Wonders Miami in partnership with the Miami Design District since 2018. Watch fans will also remember that we have held several Watches & Wonders in Hong Kong, the last one in 2015. Now, starting this year, we’ll have Watches & Wonders Geneva. Ultimately, we’d like to organise events in these three continents. First, though, we need to settle the question of dates and find the right platform in Asia, which could take time. Hence for the moment we’re focusing on this first edition of Watches & Wonders Geneva.

With regards to Watches and Wonders, which brands will be offering manufacture visits and boutique presentations?

In the City events will be located within one area of Geneva, and because of this will include only brands exhibiting at the fair. Watch and jewellery stores in the city centre will be able to stage their own exhibitions, demonstrations, etc. Several Manufactures have agreed to host guided tours, which visitors can sign up for in advance. The full programme will be on the Watches & Wonders Geneva app.

  • Will these activities be open to retailers, journalists and the general public?

Everyone’s welcome, which obviously includes retailers and journalists. As part of the Discovery circuit we’re planning, there will also be a series of talks, introductions to mechanical watchmaking and the métiers d’art, a number of exhibitions, a careers fair, as well as museum tours. As you can see, In the City will offer numerous opportunities to learn more about fine watchmaking and meet the people and places behind it.

  • Do you intend to offer similar activities for brands based outside of Geneva?

Yes. Some of the exhibiting brands will organise activities at their Manufactures outside the Canton of Geneva.

In 2020, Watches and Wonders and Baselworld will run back to back. This certainly mitigates travel costs for those concerned. Do you envisage collaborating more closely with Baselworld in the future?

We’ve agreed to align our respective dates from 2020 to 2024, which we have done. Now it’s up to each event to adopt the format that is best suited to its size, exhibitors and concept.

As a self-confessed horophile, I adore seeing artisans at work, making hand-painted enamel dials, using a rose-engine lathe to create guilloché dials, gem-setting cases and embellishing movement parts using traditional finishing techniques. What is the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie doing to uphold these skills for future generations?

The métiers d’art is an essential component of fine watchmaking. Our job is therefore to create awareness of these unique skills. However, we cannot stand in for the brands whose role it is to uphold these techniques. One of the In the City events will be a special exhibition showcasing the métiers d’art in watchmaking.

I am always amazed at how SIHH / Watches and Wonders looks when I visit the fair each year. Each exhibition stand resembles a permanent structure and the overall ambience exudes luxury. How long does it take to erect all of the stands at the fair?

It takes three weeks to set up and ten days to take down, and involves hundreds of tradespeople such as carpenters, electricians, painters and decorators.

Closing remarks

The secret for any organisation to remain relevant and thrive is to reappraise what it is doing and look for new opportunities that better meet the needs of those it hopes to serve. Initially, Ms Lupo was responsible solely for SIHH, however, six years after her arrival, the FHH was formed and its remit encompassed an array of additional areas.

As a frequent visitor to the FHH website, I have seen more brands join its ranks and organisation’s sphere of the influence grow. This expansion has been to the betterment of the watch industry and those who derive their living from this particular sector.

The advent of Watches and Wonders Geneva recognises that for Swiss watchmaking to remain relevant it has to engage with those enthusiasts who crave information and, ultimately, spend money. Indeed, a healthy watchmaking industry is good for the many thousands of people who derive an income based on its continued success. But most of all, a buoyant industry is more likely to endure if traditions are respected and preserved for generations to come. Ms Lupo and the FHH clearly recognise this and should, therefore, be applauded.

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