GPHG Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Génève 2019 – who is going to win?
This year’s edition of the “Watch Oscars” Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Génève comprises 14 categories, each with a small number of pre-selected watches. It remains an event providing only a partial view of watchmaking, because many brands – including names such as Rolex and Patek Philippe – choose not to take part. It’s not so much a question of costs – entry costs CHF 500, and then another CHF 5,500 if the watch is pre-selected and thus takes part in the travelling exhibition during the six weeks before the prize-giving ceremony on 7 November 2019 – but marketing. For a major brand, taking part and not winning would probably not be well received by management and shareholders.
The short list includes some interesting watches. Here is my selection which is of course entirely subjective.
The six finalists all feature a lot of diamonds, except for one watch, J24 by Chanel. I wrote about the restyled Chanel J24 here, and undoubtedly it’s my favourite. It is also by far the least expensive in this category at 5,650 Swiss francs.
Instead of conventional hands, Bulgari’s “Diva’s Dream the Roman Night” has two aventurine discs, each with a diamond, one for hours, the other for minutes. The specks in the aventurine symbolize the night sky, and there are two separate tracks for hours and minutes, in diamonds and sapphires. 39,000 Swiss francs.
Tambour Spin Time Air Pavé by Louis Vuitton is an original concept introduced ten years ago, presented here in a jewelled version. Instead of a central hour hand, there are twelve rotating cubes, so that every 60 minutes, two of them spin round, one returning to its neutral side, and the next taking on the distinctive colour (in this case black) to mark the hour. The hidden side of the cubes can be seen through the transparent caseback. 164,000 Swiss francs.
Cu29 is a rather strange concept, part of a range by the brand Alchemists Mechanical Healing. It is the inaugural piece of a trilogy dedicated to mechanical healing, and it is the assessment piece by Hervé Schlüchter. It’s not clear from the description how the watch can heal someone, but the case is made from a special copper alloy, Cuprum 479, which enables it to remain in contact with the skin. The watch is large and attractive, with an inverted movement structure so that the barrels are at the front, visible on the dial. The balance can also be seen, along with a power reserve indicator at 10.30, and a crown function selector indicator at 2.30. Price 214,107 Swiss francs (presumably this figure has some numerological significance).
Bridge One by Laurent Ferrier presents a new case shape, with angled lugs and a circular crown. The watch is powered by a specially-designed hand-wound movement, providing 80 hours power reserve. Price 33,000 Swiss francs.
Ulysse Nardin Freak X is the latest version of Freak, a brilliant concept invented by Ludwig Oechslin and first presented at Baselworld in 2001. Freak X has enough originality and great looks to make it the stand-out piece of this category, and it is also the most accessible even though still an expensive watch. Unlike the original, it has a crown for time correction. It is extraordinarily beautiful, with hands that recall boats, a reference to Ulysse Nardin’s long maritime traditions. The minute hand is formed by the baguette movement that rotates once per hour and so functions as a carrousel. One of the movement wheels indicates the hours. The large silicium balance wheel is visible through the caseback, as part of the new UN-230 movement. Price 21,000 Swiss francs.
This category is for watches from “an emblematic collection that has been exercising a lasting influence on watchmaking history and the watch market for more than 25 years.” The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Ultra Thin certainly fits the description, the Girard-Perregaux Quasar and the IWC Tribute to Pallweber seem more one-offs than members of a family. Hamilton and Zenith are competing with two revival pieces. My choice would be for the Tag Heuer Monaco Eighties, that has 50 years of tradition, and offers something new in the red livery.
The requirement here is for at least one complication designed to improve timekeeping precision. Six beautiful watches, with two – Antoine Preziuso and Armin Strom – featuring resonance systems, and two – IWC and Ferdinand Berthoud – with tourbillon and constant-force mechanisms. As is typical of the Swiss watchmaking industry, only one of the entrants actually gives an indication as to the precision attained by the watch, Tag Heuer with their Autavia Isograph, which is COSC chronometer-certified.. My choice here would be between the Zenith Defy Inventor and the TAG Heuer Autavia. The former is fitted with the innovative Zenith Oscillator balance running at 129,600 vibrations per hour, 18 Hertz, chronometer-certified and anti-magnetic. The case is in titanium, with a bezel in Aeronith, aluminium foam in which the holes are filled with a stabilizing polymer. There is lots of innovation in this watch, that costs 18,900 Swiss francs.
The Tag Heuer Autavia is a conventional watch with a special balance spring. In fact, TAG Heuer make their own balance-springs from carbon composite, a material of their own invention. These high-tech regulators can be used in standard movements to enhance precision. The TAG Heuer Autavia costs 3,500 Swiss francs.
Calendar and Astronomy
The most original watch in this category is the Arceau L’heure de la lune by Hermès, Two subdials for time and date rotate above two moons, showing the moon phase in the southern and northern hemispheres. This simple but original and ingenious idea is made more complex by the need to keep the two subdials horizontal at all times. This watch costs 26,000 Swiss francs which is relatively cheap when compared with the other entries in this category, costing several hundreds of thousands.
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar is interesting because it has something new: the possibility of choosing the rate of the oscillator, a fast 5-Hertz balance wheel or a slow 1.2-Hertz balance. When you choose the latter, you extend the power reserve, to a maximum of 65 days. It’s a brilliant idea, and particularly when used on a perpetual calendar watch which ideally should be kept running all the time if you don’t want to have to mess about with the settings. The watch looks more modern than most Vacheron Constantin timepieces, with a destructured dial, a large subdial for the two power reserve indications, and two subdials for date and month. The leap year cycle is shown in a window at 6 o’clock. The watch costs 283,000 Swiss francs.
Amidst the current trend towards aggressively skeletonized dials in which legibility is sacrificed in favour of a super-complicated appearance, the Octo Finisssimo Chronograph GMT Automatic by Bulgari is beautifully simple in its aesthetics, and adds the GMT function with a 24-hour dial at 3 o’clock. It has broken a world record, as the thinnest mechanical chronograph. The peripheral oscillating weight improves the view through the caseback. Price 16,500 Swiss francs.
This is a new category this year (replacing last year’s sports watch category won by a Seiko diver’s watch). The competition rules call for “watches linked to the world of diving, whose functions, materials and design are suited to this activity.” My preference for a diver’s watch would be a watch that would be useful to a diver, and so with all the characteristics that are now part of an ISO standard. The chosen entrants comprise just two watches of this type, the Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s, and the Longines Hydroconquest with ceramic case and bezel. I would choose the Seiko Prospex, with its hybrid Spring Drive movement, 72 hours power reserve with indicator on the dial, and steel bracelet.
All the categories are a difficult choice, but this one in particular. Bulgari, Chopard and Van Cleef & Arpels have opted for spectacular displays of gem-setting, with a quartz movement. Hublot have entered a rainbow-set watch. My personal choice would be between the Hermès Arceau H Déco, a refined, discreet, elegant watch with a black mother-of-pearl marquetry dial, and the unusual feature of the central part of the dial with a stylized H motif that spins with every movement of the wrist, and the Jacob&Co Mystery Tourbillon, an incredibly complex watch with two triple-axis tourbillons at the centre, and hour and minute indications in the form of rotating discs. The Hermès watch costs 58,000 Swiss francs, the Jacob&Co timepiece 1.4 million Swiss francs. My choice would be for Hermès. But the rules ask for “exceptional mastery of the art of jewellery and gemsetting, and also distinguished by the choice of stones”, so I guess that a piece like the Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani, with its 10-carat sapphire, could win. Price 1,771,000 Swiss francs.
In the watch Vita Vinum by Andersen Genève, hehind the blue gold dial showing the time, a painted disc shows scenes depicting the process of winemaking over the course of the year. This disc rotates once every 365 days, so that at any time of year, the appropriate phase of vineyard and cellar work is visible at the top of the dial. Price 42,800 Swiss francs.
This category is for watches (smartwatches are allowed) costing between 4,000 and 10,000 Swiss francs. All six of the shortlisted watches are interesting. Three are traditional watches but with an extra twist: the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Spitfire is exceptional for its movement, entirely in-house with column wheel, considering the price, 6,800 Swiss francs. The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Full Silver is different for the material used, silver, for case, dial and buckle. The Kudoke 2 by Stefan Kudoke has a manual movement of his own design, and a 24-hour indicator within a case that echoes the Breguet aesthetic.The other three are less conventional. The Aikon Mercury by Maurice Lacroix has hour and minute hands that show the time when the watch is vertical, but that spin freely in any other position, the movement assisted by the counterweights. Les Matinaux Sunray Grey by Trilobe shows the time on three rotating discs, a system engineered by Jean-François Mojon of Chronode (also involved in the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune by Hermès, and in the Legacy Machines by MB&F, both included in this year’s GPHG awards). Personally I am fascinated by the Streamline by David Ruttun Meteorite Watches, with a case casted from meteorite, a time display with jumping hours and rotating discs for minutes and seconds, a hand-wound movement providing 120 hours power reserve, and a subscription-based distribution model, so that you are entitled to a 10% discount if you pay for the watch before it has been built. Price 9,850 Swiss francs.
The Petite Aiguille category had many very interesting watches that were excluded from the final six preselected watches. The X41 by Code41, with a peripheral oscillating weight; the Solar Series by Memorigin Watch Company, a watch inspired by the solar system with a flying tourbillon at the price of 7,825 Swiss francs; a fine military-inspired column wheel chronograph by Patria at 4,320 Swiss francs, the Twenty-One GMT Blue Edition by Rebellion with time shown on two rotating discs, at 5,277 Swiss francs. All worthy of an article.
This category is for watches costing less than 4,000 Swiss francs, with smartwatches admissible. The Ciga Design Single-Hand Mechanical Wristwatch Series Globe is relatively expensive for this brand, part of Chinese company Xiaomi, best-known for its smartwatches but now marketing some interesting mechanical watches with Seagull movements and prices from €166. The Chinese seem to have one thing in common with the Swiss: they are better at making watches than writing about them. It is hard to fathom exactly how the display works from the description that they have provided. The globe rotates, the thin white marker line on the globe shows the minutes read off the external disc, while the red mark on the globe shows the hours. The minutes disc presumably remains fixed in position while the hours disc has to rotate. It is powered by a hand-wound movement. Price 3,500 Swiss francs.
Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix
My choice for the prize for the best watch in all the categories, and the most representative of the watch industry, wouild be the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar, a brilliant idea, beautifully executed- In a way it is representative of the watch industry in that it shows the extreme polarization in watchmakimg, greater today than ever before, between extremely expensive watches – generally Swiss – and the new generation of cheap mechanical watches. One gets the feeling that some of watchmaking’s ivory towers are looking increasingly fragile in a landscape busy with new players, energized by new business models, new manufacturing locations, a new approach to communications and – above all – good design.
So who is going to win the GPHG Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Génève 2019?
Here are my selections:
Ladies – J24 by Chanel
Ladies Complication – Tambour Spin Time Air Pavé by Louis Vuitton
Men’s – Bridge One by Laurent Ferrier
Mens complications – Ulysse Nardin Freak X
Iconic – Tag Heuer Monaco Eighties
Chronometry – Zenith Defy Inventor
Calendar and Astronomy – Arceau L’heure de la lune by Hermès
Mechanical Exception – Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar
Chronograph – Octo Finisssimo Chronograph GMT Automatic by Bulgari
Diver’s – Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s
Jewellery – Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani
Artistic Crafts – VIta Vinum by Andersen Genève
Petit Aiguille – Streamline by David Ruttun Meteorite Watches
Challenge – Ciga Design Single-Hand Mechanical Wristwatch Series Globe
Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix – Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar