GPHG 2015, the watch Oscars

GPHG, Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, is the closest thing to the Oscars in the world of watches, with prizes awarded for different categories towards the end of every year. It has to be said that the little hand-shaped trophies given to the winners don’t have the same visual power as the Oscar statues, and in addition, the competition is not truly representative because watch brands can decide whether or not to take part, and many don’t. I guess that Patek Philippe, Cartier or Jaeger-LeCoultre, to mention just two of the absentees this year, think of their marketing mix and consider all their options, what would happen if they won, but also if they didn’t win. But all the same, the competition provides an interesting overview of the year’s watchmaking highlights. I am very proud of the fact that I had included four of the prize-winners in my Baselworld highlights article back in March (the Fabergé Peacock egg watch, the Girard-Perregaux 1966 Minute Repeater, the Slim d’Hermès Perpetual Calendar, the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon). Independent watch designer Jean-Marc Wiederrecht from his company Agenhor is worthy of special mention, with his movements appearing in two prize-winning watches.

Aiguille d’Or: Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision

I must say I was a little surprised about the main prize, the Aiguille d’Or, which went to Greubel Forsey and their Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision which, though a beautiful watch, is a rather atypical piece in their range, a manually-wound tourbillon that lacks the profusion of indications and the bulging multi-lobed case that we have come to expect from the brand. The watch’s principal characteristics include a manually-wound movement providing 72 hours’ power reserve shown on a sectorial power reserve indicator, and the fast tourbillon in an inclined cage, with a rotation time of 24 seconds, visible from both front and back, with a small bulge in the sapphire caseback. The watch, reference 9100 5850, is a limited edition of 22 pieces, each costing 290,000 Swiss francs.

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Women’s watch prize: Hublot Big Bang Broderie

The distinctive feature of this watch by Hublot is that it incorporates embroidery by Swiss lingerie company Bischoff, which in this piece takes the form of St. Gallen stitched decoration on the canvas strap, and also on the dial and bezel, created by encapsulating the embroidered material into a carbon fibre base. Only after a second glance do you notice that the flowery pattern is actually in the form of a skull, a contrast with the romantic technique and with the 11 diamonds on the dial. The watch has a 41 mm steel case, 13.5 mm thick, waterproof to 100 metres, and a self-winding movement running at 28,800 vph (4 Hertz), providing a power reserve of 42 hours. The watch, reference 343.SX.6570.NR.0804, is a limited edition of 200 pieces, and costs 16,900 Swiss francs. Three versions are available: gold, silver or All Black, the latter with black diamonds.

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Women’s complication watch: Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock

The Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock has a domed, pebble-like shape that recalls the brand’s famous eggs. This watch has the sort of “poetic complication” typical of another familiar watch & jewellery brand, and this is not surprising because the complication was designed by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor, the Geneva company that in the past has worked on pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels. Hours are read from the external band of mother-of-pearl bearing the numerals, which rotates counter-clockwise, while minutes are shown by the peacock’s tail feathers, all of which are moving at different speeds, and which return back to zero at the end of an hour (retrograde action).

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The timepiece is sumptuously-jewelled, with 54 brilliant-cut diamonds on the bezel (1.83 carats), and a gold dial set with 127 brilliant-cut diamonds (0.38 carats), 31 Paraiba tourmalines (0.23 carats) and 57 tsavorites (0.27 carats). The manually-wound movement runs at 21,600 vph (3 Hertz), with a power reserve of 50 hours, housed in a 38-mm case in platinum, 12.8 mm thick, with sapphire caseback revealing the beautifully-finished movement. The watch is reference 797WA1542 and it costs 98,000 Swiss francs.

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Men’s watch: Voutilainen GMR

Independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen is a master of complications, and this piece is unusual for its design but also for its movement. It provides a 24-hour second time zone at 6 o’clock, on a subdial that has continuous seconds at the centre, and retrograde power reserve indicator at the top of the dial. The second time zone can be adjusted using the crown, changing it by one hour jumps so that you don’t lose the minutes setting. The watch’s appearance is dominated by the beautiful hand guilloché on the silver dial, which is given a dark grey finish contrasting with the white gold case. Touches of colour are provided by two of the smaller hands, on the the power reserve indicator and the second time zone; the main hands are attractive and original, the Breguet design blown up to outside proportions, which has the advantage of improving legibility. The sapphire caseback provides a view of the movement, with its Côtes de Genève decoration and hand chamfering. The watch has a 39 mm white gold case, 11.5 mm thick, while the manually-wound movement runs at 18,000 vph, 2.5 Hertz, providing a power reserve of 60 hours. A limited edition of 12 watches, reference Vingt-8 GMR, price 108,000 Swiss francs.

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Chronograph watch: Piaget Altiplano Chronograph

This lovely piece by Piaget set two new thinness records, a house speciality: world’s thinnest. chronograph movement at 4.65 mm, and world’s thinnest chronograph watch at 8.24 mm. It is a beautiful study in minimalism, with the white dial enhanced by the red gold case case. The manually-wound movement provides a power reserve of 50 hours, and in addition to the time and chronograph functions, it provides a second time zone on the subdial at 9 o’clock. It is reference G0A40030, and its cost is 26,800 Swiss francs.

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Tourbillon watch: Ulysse Nardin Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon

This watch by Ulysse Nardin looks great with its gold case and enamel dial, and it incorporates a lot of innovation, with the constant Ulysse Anchor escapement, made entirely of silicium, in which the pallet fork is mounted on two blade springs, each of thickness less than a tenth of that of a human hair, whose geometry keeps them in a bistable state. There is no pivot for the pallet fork, and this reduces friction. It represents the result of eight years’ research by the brand in cooperation with Sigatec, co-owned company specializing in the production of silicium micro-components. New escapements are few and far between and this piece is a truly worthy prize-winner, particularly as the escapement is presented as part of a tourbillon watch. There is a power reserve indicator just above the tourbillon window. The watch is reference 1780-133, price 88,000 Swiss francs.

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Calendar watch: Slim d’Hermès Perpetual Calendar

Slim is a watch series of beautiful design, with the simplicity of the case and lugs bearing the signature of Philippe Delhotal, Creative Director at La Montre Hermès, while the dial features an interesting new typography by Philippe Apeloig. The perpetual calendar version utilizes the H1950 movement to which a calendar module by Agenhor has been added, keeping track of date, months and the leap-year cycle, as well as a moon phase. In addition, there is a 12-hour subdial for a second time zone, with day/night indicator in a small window. The moon phase display is in natural mother-of-pearl on an aventurine glass sky. No small seconds indication. The automatic movement provides a 42-hour power reserve. The sapphire caseback reveals the oscillating weight with the maison’s characteristic “sprinkling of Hs” finish. The Slim d’Hermès Perpetual Calendar is reference CA3.870.220/MHA, and it has the exceptionally good-value price – considering the perpetual calendar function, one of the most complicated functions of all – of 32,600 Swiss francs.

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Striking watch: Girard-Perregaux Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges

The Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges by Girard-Perregaux is an exceptional minute repeater, because, like few others, you can hear it across a room, and the sound is louder when the watch is worn on the wrist. At the same time, an open architecture reveals the movement, with both the tourbillon and the striking mechanism visible from the dial side. According to Girard-Perregaux, the reasons for the exceptional acoustics are the position of the gongs and hammers, the relationship between the size of case and size of movement, the attention paid to keeping the inside of the case free from added structures, and the curved sapphire caseback. The link between the mainplate and the caseband has been reinforced to improve sound transmission from gongs to movement and on to the case. The case is in pink gold, 45 mm in diameter, containing the Girard-Perregaux GP09500-0002 manually-wound movement operating at 3 Hertz, with a power reserve of 58 hours. Reference 99820-52-000-BA6A, a limited edition of 10 pieces, price 375,000 Swiss francs.

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Exceptional mechanical watch: Jaquet Droz Charming Bird

The Charming Bird by Jaquet Droz was inspired by Pierre Jaquet-Droz’ automatons, and it is remarkable for its degree of miniaturization. The bird revolves, opens its beak, sings and flaps its wings, placed under a dome in the sapphire watchglass that also reveals the movement, which has three sapphire tubes with carbon pistons inside; the speed of the piston’s movement and the shape of the aperture for the air determines the sound produced. Other mechanisms control the bird’s rotation, the opening and closing of its beak, and the flapping of its wings and tail. The performance is activated by a pusher on the caseband. The Charming Bird by Jaquet Droz is reference J031533240 for the red gold version, and J031534240 for the white gold version. Each is a limited edition of 28 pieces; each watch costs 410,400 Swiss francs.

Watches costing under 8,000 Swiss francs: Habring2 Felix

This beautiful, minimalist timepiece by Austrian brand Habring2 has a 38.5 mm steel case, very slim at 7 mm thickness, mounted on a leather strap, containing the hand-wound A11B movement (the brand says that “B stands for Basis”) consisting of just 99 individual parts and 18 rubies. It runs at 28,800 vph, 4 Hertz, and is exceptional for its mechanical simplicity. Components are manufactured by Habring Uhrentechnik OG or small, specialized suppliers in Austria, Switzerland and Germany (of which 84 are different components). The watch costs 4,450 Swiss francs, a remarkable price for what can be considered as a manufacture (in-house) movement, with hand-finished parts and hand-blued screws. There are two dial variants, with the 12 o’clock hour indication in Roman or Arabic numerals. An excellent performance from a brand founded by Richard and Maria Habring just ten years ago, with watches powered by third-party movements, mainly ETA.

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Sports watch: Tudor Pelagos

Pelagos by Tudor is a lifestyle watch that also has impressive diver’s watch performance. Most importantly, Pelagos shares (with North Flag) the big Tudor news of 2015: the first in-house movement, the MT5612. The 42-mm titanium and steel case is waterproof to 500 metres and at 9 o’clock it has a helium escape valve, a feature of professional diving watches and useful only when a helium-oxygen mixture is used. The crown is screw-down, and the caseback is in 316L stainless steel. The dial is designed for legibility, with square hour-markers, and hour and second hands with the characteristic “snowflake” extremity, a feature of Tudor diving watches from 1969 on. The new calibre Tudor MT5612 has a power reserve of about 70 hours, a significant figure because it means that it keeps on going during the weekend: if you take it off on Friday evening and put it back on on Monday morning, it will still be running. The movement runs at 4 Hertz (28,800 vph), and it has a silicon balance spring for improved resistance to magnetic fields. It is COSC-certified, another first for Tudor watches. The certification guarantees a precision of +/- 5 secs per day, but in actual fact, says the brand, it reaches +/- 3 secs per day. The Tudor Pelagos is reference 25600TB, and it is aggressively priced at 4,200 Swiss francs.

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Jewellery watch: Audemars Piguet Diamond Punk

This piece of haute joaillerie has 7,848 snow-set diamonds on the geometrically-faceted cuff bracelet, which has a secret cover that slides back to reveal the dial, set with another 300 diamonds. The “punk” in the name refers to the stud-like looks of the pyramidal shapes. Each watch requires 1,440 hours of work by gem-setting specialists. The movement is quartz. The Diamond Punk is reference 79418BC.ZZ.9188BC.01, and it costs 702,000 Swiss francs. It is also available in a diamond and onyx version.

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Artistic crafts: Blancpain Villeret cadran Shakudō

The metiers d’art dial of the Blancpain Shakudō depicts Ganesh using the alloy shakudō, a technique of Japanese origin, based on an alloy that contains from 4 to 10 percent of gold, and the rest mostly copper. It acquires a dark patina through the application of a copper acetate solution – the more often the solution is applied, the darker the metal becomes. The final appearance also depends on the temperature of the liquid, and so each dial ends up different. The decoration around the central motif is in damascene, in which gold threads are inset into the dial surface and subsequently crafted. The watch is large at 45 mm. It has a red gold case, with a sapphire caseback that reveals the 15B movement with its Côtes de Genève decoration. The Blancpain Shakudō watch is reference 6615-3616-55B, and it costs 150,000 Swiss francs.

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Innovation watch prize: Antoine Preziuso, Tourbillon of Tourbillons

Without doubt an extraordinary watch, the Tourbillon of Tourbillons, designed by Antoine Preziuso with his son Florian, has three tourbillons, each of which rotates once every minute, mounted on a plate that itself revolves once every ten minutes. The tourbillon was originally invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet as a method of improving precision in mechanical watches, and with this piece, Preziuso further improves precision by adding the resonance principle. Each of the tourbillons tends to resonate with the others and so, according to this concept, reinforce each other’s regularity. A differential at the centre of the movement averages out any difference between the three rates of oscillation and transmits the final rate to the gear train, a system that is still capable of working in the event that one of the tourbillon balances stops, for whatever reason. Three patents were filed while designing the system. All components are finished and assembled by hand; the plate and tourbillon bridges are made from titanium; the support columns, crown and lugs of the 45 mm case (thickness 14 mm) are in solid gold. The watch is 39.8 mm in diameter and just 10.8 mm thick, and the movement has 65 bearing rubies and double barrels which provide a power reserve of 48 hours. The balances run at 21,600 vph, 3 Hertz. The watch is given a technical look by the 24 screws that hold the bezel onto the caseband. It is reference AFP-TTR-3X, and its price is 480,000 Swiss francs. This watch also won the “public prize” at GPHG, through onilne voting by the general public.

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Revival watch prize, Piaget Extremely Piaget Double Sided cuff watch

This piece dates back to the 1970s, when Piaget made some of their most daring cuff watches. It has a quartz movement, and its dual sides are a natural opal dial and diamond snow-setting on the bracelet on one side, and natural onyx dial with hammered gold on the other side. The piece is a one-off watch, reference G0A39223, price 250,000 Swiss francs.

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Horological revelation prize: Laurent Ferrier, Galet Square

Very beautiful, minimalist, with a cushion-shaped case that seen from the side has a graceful, flowing profile, an almost perfect ellipse that suggests a pebble (the meaning of the word “galet”). The lugs are particularly interesting, terminating in small circles that create a visual link with the crown.

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The Galet Square has a blue dial with vertical satin brushed finish, and this variant has 11 white gold hour markers. Galet is the name of the brand’s first collection, unveiled just five years ago in 2010. For the first time, Laurent Ferrier has presented a steel case, making this watch an entry-level timepiece for the brand. It is powered by the self-winding FBN 229.01 calibre, the brand’s third in-house movement, with a silicon escapement that is unusual because it provides a double direct impulse on the balance. A microscopic force is applied to the balance twice per oscillation, requiring two escape-wheels. The result is more efficient energy transfer and a high balance amplitude. The movement runs at 3 Hertz (21,600 vph) and provides a power reserve of 72 hours. All parts of the movement are beautifully finished, with Côtes de Genève on the bridges and circular graining on the mainplate, bevelled wheel spokes, and hand-finished interior angles. The sapphire crystal case-back provides a view of this workmanship. The watch is 41 x 41 mm in size, 11.1 mm thick, reference LCF013.AC.CG2, price 35,000 Swiss francs.

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