Artistic Crafts Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014
by Ian Skellern
All through October we will bring you round table discussions on the pre-selected wristwatches in each category of the 2014 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
This will give you the chance to listen to well-known tastemakers and journalists in the world of horology talking about their favorites in each category and the watches’ chances. And please don’t hesitate to let us know if you agree or not: taste is subjective.
Note: each contributor is responsible for his or her own opinion, and it may not reflect the stance of Quill & Pad.
Quill & Pad editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr may not participate in these round tables as she is one of the judges for the 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and must retain neutrality. In today’s edition you will read the following participants:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
JM Joshua Munchow, resident “nerdwriter” for Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector for Quill & Pad
MC Michael Clerizo, author and contributor to the Wall Street Journal
MG Martin Green, contributor to Revolution online and Troisanneaux
It should be noted that our panel members did not discuss their final choices with each other beforehand and chose their predicted winning watches individually, thereby emulating official jury circumstances.
IS: At first glance, this category looks to be another in which it is difficult to choose a winner because the pre-selected watches are so different. However, not only did I find it easy to pick a clear winner, I have also picked one that I’d most like to own, and another that I wished could win but I don’t think it will.
JM: This category is a tough one for me, for the simple reason that artistic crafts are extremely hard to quantify and compare to others.
MG: The biggest problem with this category is that the entries are so diverse. Nowadays there are so many different, and unique, techniques that are applied to watches…the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking only seems to heighten this.
IS: The Chanel Coromandel Twin Volute Enchantée is actually a pair of watches, both with stunning dials − one grand feu enamel, the other sculpted mother-of-pearl − and both in a circular snow-set frame of scintillating diamonds.
The back story of the Coromandel Twin Volute Enchantée is a nice one: the dials symbolizing ying/yang, light/dark, and man/woman were inspired by lacquered Coromandel screens from Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment. Nonetheless, I think other contenders in this category will be stronger.
MG: I fell in love with the idea of the Chaumet Precious Watch Attrape-Moi…Si Tu M’aimes, where you see a butterfly mature and eventually fly off into the world. Here it is the poetic beauty that makes your mind ignore the fact that it is in fact a very complicated marquetry dial incorporating a variety of different materials.
IS: I like the fact that watch’s name translates to “catch me . . .if you love me” and features six inlaid butterflies flying across a dial decorated with gem-set golden stems, all framed in a glittering diamond-set bezel.
Yet, the Jaquet Droz Petite Heure Minute Relief Saisons is a watch that I would like to see win. It is even a watch that I would expect to have an excellent chance of winning in nearly any other year . . . but unfortunately I don’t think it will take the honors this time.
The dial architecture and design is just a perfect juxtaposition of bright colors (blued hands, yellow-breasted song birds) against a relatively monochromatic backdrop, and the fine details in the feathers of avian sculptures are simply superb. Even with the diamond setting I really do like this piece.
JM: For me, what really stands out among the independents and the other, more classic pieces is the Hermès Arceau Millefiori. This collection is superbly beautiful and almost ethereal as the dials are made from carefully sliced glass that is made in the workshops of the fantastic Cristalleries de Saint-Louis.
Only the most perfect pieces of crystal survive the treacherous fabrication process and end up as transparent dials that one could stare into for hours. One simply needs to read about the process to make one of these pieces and they will see that this is truly a complex and dedicated art still alive for our pleasured viewing.
I cannot say that any of the pieces do not deserve tremendous praise for what they have accomplished. But when it comes down to it, the story behind the Millefiori dials is simply too intriguing to pass over, see How Hermès Transforms Crystal Into The Colorful Dial Of The Arceau Millefiori Watch.
IS: The first thing that catches the eye about the Hermès Arceau Millefiori is the fact that it catches the eye. The beautifully patterned cut-crystal dial is an homage to the talented glass blowers and cutters of the Cristalleries de Saint-Louis, which is now owned by Hermès.
The “millefiori” (Italian for “1,000 flowers”) crystal-blowing technique requires much skill and patience, but the colorful results speak for themselves and will look good for centuries.
JM: For me, the only thing that could unseat this bad boy would be the Voutilainen Hisui, which is second only due to the fact that it is a piece unique and not at least a numbered edition.
IS: If I could have any one of these watches to adorn my own wrist, it would be Kari Voutilainen’s Hisui. Traditional Japanese lacquering techniques have created an intricately-patterned, predominately green-colored dial that constantly shimmers in the light. The dial has to be sensational if it’s not going to be overshadowed by the beautifully lacquered and hand-finished movement visible through the display back. And that green cabochon in the crown is a nice touch.
Hisui is both technically and artistically superlative: the perfect time-only watch.
GG: Just take a look at the dial on that Voutilainen! One thousand hours of painstaking work by a Japanese master applying tiny fragments of gold, abalone shell, and the shell of another marine gastropod, the great green turban.
The work on the movement side is just as striking, in particular the pattern on the barrel wheel. Speaking of that pattern, do you notice anything familiar? To me, at least, the spiral arrangement of the mosaic is a wonderful reminder of Kari’s traditional spiral barrel-wheel finishing technique.
MG: I think Voutilainen has a very natural connection with the Japanese lacquer art, despite being from total opposite sides of the globe. The Unryuan creation for his Hisui really matches his natural style to such an extent that it seems that they have been working together for decades. Also, those familiar with Japanese lacquer techniques are bound to fall in love with it.
MC: Like the Greubel Forsey entry in this category, Kari makes his watch into a surface for another artist to perform. This is not unusual; other watchmakers have done the same thing, especially with dials. But Kari pushes things; he even makes the movement available to another artist.
I really think that is a great thing to do. You have to be very confident in the exercise of your own art to let another artist on to your patch, and I think confidence is something Kari has a lot of. He is being very generous.
And the Japanese lacquer work is just so beautiful and so appropriate; it fits the form and the function of the watch perfectly. I think any other year I might have picked this watch to win but this year the Greubel Forsey watch is so strong I don’t think it’s Kari’s time.
GG: There’s a great variety of artistic crafts represented in this year’s pre-selected watches, from nano-sculpture to inlay to micro-mosaic to painted miniature gold carvings. For me, however, this is really a two-horse race between the gorgeous and clever Voutilainen Hisui and the astonishing Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1.
JM: Voutilainen’s Hisui is jaw-droppingly luminous, featuring an exceedingly complex lacquered dial, rear bridge and a wheel. The effect takes well over one thousand hours of handwork to create and the result is obviously stunning. And it’s a Voutilainen, which is never a bad decision on any planet.
GG: I’m a patron of Kari’s work and I happen to love this particular watch, so the Hisui would be the one in this category I’d scrimp and save to take home. But I’d probably have to fight my wife for the opportunity to wear it, as she thinks it looks absolutely fantastic as well!
IS: There are six beautiful, artistic watches pre-selected in this category and five of them are the result of artwork being meticulously applied to the dial, movement, and/or case of an existing watch: the art is dictated by the watch.
Greubel Forsey’s Art Piece 1, on the other hand, began firstly with the art (or more precisely, the artist: miniaturest sculptor Willard Wigan). The whole watch, movement, case and dial architecture, was then designed and constructed specifically to showcase the art.
One of the many clever features of Art Piece 1 is the fact that it is the art that is front and center; this is a timepiece that doesn’t even tell the time, unless asked . . .the time is revealed by a pusher in the case band below the crown.
JM: The Art Piece 1 includes a ridiculously tiny sculpture handcrafted by the impressive Willard Wigan. Amazing to say the least!
IS: Wigan’s miniature sculptures are barely able to be seen, let alone appreciated with the naked eye, and the magnifying optic of Art Piece 1 is a tour de force by itself. Artificial lighting wasn’t an option Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey considered, so the integrated microscope has to both collect and magnify light. This is a timepiece that has to be handled in person to fully appreciate.
Art Piece 1 actually has two hand-polished bridges: one at 9 o’clock for the miniature sculpture and another at 1 o’clock for the Double Tourbillon 30° regulator, which is a work of art in itself.
GG: The other finalist for me is the Greubel Forsey – start with the really impressive GF double tourbillon and then add a miniature optical system that allows a clear view of the nano-sculpture of a sailing ship that measures no longer than 1.22 mm on any dimension.
The sculpture is so tiny that Willard’s technique involves slowing the beating of his heart and touching the sculpture only between heartbeats! This might not be the prettiest watch in the category when viewed from the front, but I believe that its sheer audacity and degree of difficulty in creation will prove compelling to the jury, and I’m predicting it to win.
MG: I, too, think our esteemed jury will be very tempted to let the Greubel Forsey win, and for good reason. Greubel Forsey keeps pushing the envelope in technical, aesthetical and artistic senses.
What I like especially about it is that it offers the owner a private pleasure. At a time in which many watches offer a strong visual impact, not only to its owner but often also to anybody who can see the watch, it is nice that there is a secret in a watch, an incredibly inventive and highly complicated micro-sculpture that is as unique and complicated as the rest of the watch.
This is also a new way of looking at watchmaking, and approaching it far more as an object of art rather then a timekeeper.
MC: When you look at the Greubel Forsey you just know it’s something special, something different. You want to pick it up and get close to it. I think that urge comes from the fact that you realize the watch is a work of art you can hold in your hands and explore. This is not something you can do with most paintings or sculptures but you can do it with a watch.
Then you find out that this work of art is also an art gallery that holds another work of art, the ship!
People often use the term architectural to describe Greubel Forsey movements and I think that is accurate. You can imagine one of their movements as a building that you can enter and walk around inside.
I also like the idea that a ship in a watch is completely incongruous. Ships are big, watches are small, but it’s not just the size thing, it’s also the water thing. Water is the great enemy of watches but with this watch it’s as though the oceans have been tamed and put inside a watch.
I also love the idea that the watch has a microscope inside so that you can see the ship.
This watch is all about the interplay of the unexpected: the size of the ship and the size of the watch; water and the need for watches to stay dry.
And, as you’d expect with Greubel Forsey, the movement is beautifully finished. For all those reasons I think this watch will win.
The results are in, with the panel seeing the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1 coming out the winner with four votes to one for the Hermès Arceau Millefiori.
Ian Skellern: Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1
Joshua Munchow: Hermès Arceau Millefiori
GaryG: Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1
Martin Green: Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1
Michael Clerizo: Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1
For more information on the pre-selected Artistic Crafts watches:
Chanel Coromandel Twin Volute Enchantée
Chaumet Precious Watch Attrape-Moi… Si Tu M’aimes
Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1
Hermès Arceau Millefiori
Jaquet Droz Petite Heure Minute Relief Saisons
You can partake in the fun as well by checking out the competition and voting for your favorite in the Public Prize category. If you vote, you will be in the running for a Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 XXL Petite Seconde model worth more than 10,000 Swiss francs. Note: you only have one vote in total, not one vote per category, so choose wisely!
Click here to vote ww.gphg.org/watches/en/grand-prix-dhorlogerie-de-geneve/2014/PRE.
For more information on this year’s GPHG, please read: New Jury And Categories At The 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.