The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG) is the most prestigious award ceremony in watchmaking – and we have an early first look at this year’s nominees.
Makers big and small submit their latest creations to a jury of experts (including celebrity guest judges who also happen to be watch nerds, like Kiss drummer Eric Singer) to be considered across 12 categories. At this stage there are 193 watches from 84 different brands that meet the criteria worth judging. Before the October 29 ceremony, a shortlist of finalists will be announced, clarifying things a little. Then the jury will huddle for two days in a Geneva hotel to debate each and every detail before voting on winners and crowning the watches of the year.
For now, the almost 200-strong list presents a macro look at the state of the industry in all its quirky glory. Here are my thoughts on what to, well, watch.
These are watches where the mechanism inside is less important than the ornate work put into the cases, dials, and jewels-they grab your attention immediately.When I first saw the watch a few months ago, I couldn’t stop playing with it. Enamel work and gem setting are in the field every year, but the layered metal Shakudo dial from Blancpain is truly unusual, and the sort of thing you could imagine yourself staring at for hours. It strikes the right balance between being a little over the top without going totally crazy.
Calendar watches come in many incarnations, and this is a tough field to judge. The Ulysse Nardin FreakLab isn’t a full perpetual calendar, but it does have a unique setting mechanism that makes it a real contender here. However, for my money, it’s all about that Hermes Slim d’Hermes perpetual calendar. It’s slim (duh), really easy to wear, and tracks a second time zone, too. It was one of my favorites at Baselworld 2015, and I’m still not over it.
Chronographs are extremely popular with collectors, so no matter which watches I tell you to pay attention to, someone is going to tell you I’m 100 per cent wrong and have terrible taste. But here goes anyway: The TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 18 isn’t the most mechanically impressive chronograph, but it’s the watch from this field I’d most want to wear, followed by the Piaget Altiplano Chrono, which is razor thin and incredibly made. The winner here, though, is an easy pick: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher. It’s one of the most flat-out impressive watches I’ve ever seen and a totally new vision of what a modern chronograph can be. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t take this category easily.
I mean, just look at what we’re dealing with here … if you asked me to judge this category, I think I’d struggle. It’s more about the creative ways that gems are set and strung together, the ways that mechanisms are miniaturised to fit the delicate bracelets, and the originality of the designs. I think Piaget’s large, multi-tier cuff and Faberge’s colorful bracelet watch are both finalists, but beyond that I’m stumped.
The diversity here is staggering. I think it might be a more diverse field overall than the men’s category. Sure, there are the usual suspects – adaptations of a men’s watch, only a few millimeters smaller and covered in diamonds – but there are also some truly ambitious pieces. The Chanel BoyFriend in beige gold is striking and elegant, while the Audemars Piguet Millenary shows off the escapement. Whatever watch ultimately takes the day, you can count on it being something interesting.
Watchmakers used to largely ignore the super-high end of the women’s watch market, preferring to inflate price tags with sparkles instead of extra engineering. Those days are long gone. Piaget’s highly skeletonized Altiplano has diamonds integrated into the structure of the movement, but Jaquet Droz’s Lady 8 Flower has a tiny bubble above the main watch dial that houses a mechanical flower that opens and closes on demand. It’s awesome, and when I first saw the watch a few months ago, I couldn’t stop playing with it.
If you’re looking for the crazy stuff, the Mechanical Exception category is it. The BrevaGenie 03 Anemometer has a wind speed calculator built in (that uses tiny metal cups that pop up from the dial), and the Hublot Key of Time lets you speed up or slow down the movement at will. Independent watchmaker Emmanuel Bouchet’s Complication One is beyond incredible with its oversized escapement on the dial, while the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird has a miniature bird perched inside that simulates the sound of chirping when you activate it. These are all serious competitors, and I can’t wait to see the short list for this category.
We might as well just call this category “watch”. The only requirement is that the watch be targeted toward men. That’s it. So there is a time-only watch made from fair-mined gold (thanks Chopard), the car engine-inspired MB&F HMX, a technicolor worldtimer from Louis Vuitton, and an everyday army green chronograph from Tudor. See what I mean? But for me, there’s a clear standout. It has a plain white dial, slim blue hands, and it’s not even Swiss. The Credor Eichi II comes from Seiko’s most prestigious workshop and might well be one of the best-finished watches of all time.
The “little hand” award is limited to watches that retail for less than 8000 CHF (about $12,500). The focus is on watches that offer a lot of value, which can come in a lot of different forms. Tudor’s North Flag has an in-house movement and a case that’s built like a tank, while the Montblanc Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum has a true worldtimer complication for a tiny fraction of the price of a comparable Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin. TAG Heuer’s new Heuer 01 chronograph is another notable entry, as it’s the first step in TAG’s new strategy of modular construction to keep prices down.
What makes a good sport watch is very different from what makes a great complicated watch. The finishing on the movement and the use of precious materials are superfluous (though sometimes nice). Instead, wearability, durability, and legibility are the real keys. The blue update to Tudor’s Pelagos has all of the above, plus the added bonus of an in-house movement. The Alpina Manufacture Flyback Chronograph is the kind of watch you could throw down a mountain and not worry about. Montblanc‘s decision to enter the TimeWalker Urban Speed Chronograph with e-Strap (Montblanc’s answer to the Apple Watch) might be the most interesting thing buried in this category and is worth keeping your eye on.
Chiming watches are one of the toughest things a watchmaker can try to produce, so the number of brands that can really do it right is pretty small. The coolest thing about the field here is that it’s not just jam-packed with traditional minute repeaters. Hublot’s alarm repeater is present, as is the Tourbillon Chiming Jump Hour from upstart Akrivia. The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is actually a decimal repeater, meaning it chimes hours, 10 minutes, and minutes, instead of hours, quarter-hours, and minutes. It might be the most restrained- ooking watch in this category, but it’s my No.1 pick.
The tourbillon is essentially the complication when it comes to high-end watchmaking, even if the spinning cage isn’t to everyone’s taste (mine included). Making a fancy, visually striking tourbillon feels old hat, and I think the winner here is going to win on the merits of something more subtle. H. Moser & Cie’s Venturer Tourbillon Dual Time has an interchangeable tourbillon module, making the watch much easier to service over time, and the Ulysse Nardin Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon has a constant force escapement and a slew of silicium parts for durability and accuracy. That said, counting out Greubel Forsey in this category is always a big, big mistake.