Sports Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014
by Ian Skellern
From now until the end of this month, 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
MS Miguel Seabra, editor of Espiral do Tempo
JS James Stacey, contributor to aBlogtoWatch
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: The GPHG’s category rules state that this section is for “watches related to the world of sports,” which is pretty broad. So I’ll add a few more requirements of my own:
1. Water resistant to at least 100 meters
2. Highly legible indications
3. Mechanical movement (sorry, Tissot)
4. Chronograph (though not essential)
JM: The sports category is an interesting one for the simple fact in this category we find a digital watch in the competition in the form of the Tissot T-Touch. While I cannot call myself a WIS and vote for a digital timepiece, I feel it is important to note that the T-Touch is quite complicated in its actual function and, being the most inexpensive of the sports watches, provides the most bang for the buck.
The T-Touch was also a very cool concept when it came out and still has a strong following with its touch-activated, multi-function ability. In a category of very serious watches, the Tissot holds its own for the people who want a very functional tool on their wrists.
IS: The Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar is perhaps the best all-round sports watch in this category with a plethora of indications including chronograph, perpetual calendar, second time zone, altimeter, weather forecast, alarm and compass.
The only problem for me is that it is electronic, and if the Grand Prix really wants to allow electronic watches then they should be in their own category, as they cannot be compared and judged against mechanical watches.
I’d happily wear a Tissot T-Touch, but I don’t think that it should have been preselected in this category.
GG: Okay, I confess: I own a prior version of the T-Touch; not the Tissot, but the Hamilton version of the same piece with altimeter, thermometer, barometer, and other fun gizmos. It’s a great watch for hiking and sports, and ostensibly that is what this category is all about, right? That said, I don’t see the jury going for the Tissot.
MS: As a fan of both chronographs and re-editions/reinterpretations of iconic timepieces, this year’s selection is quite interesting – although there isn’t one timepiece among the six finalists really capable of blowing me away.
IS: The Heritage Ranger has been quite a success for Tudor, and with its minimalistic, high-legibility dial and hands it is easy to see why.
The Heritage Ranger looks like a perfect daily-wear wristwatch, but while I don’t consider a chronograph function to be essential in this category, I would expect to see something to relate the watch to the world of sports, and the Ranger is lacking that.
JS: I agree, Ian. If history is any indication, the Ranger is at a disadvantage simply because it’s not a chronograph: chronos have taken the sports category for the past five years.
MS: The Bell & Ross BR126 Vintage Sport Heritage GMT Flyback and the Tudor Heritage Sport boast “vintage features”: just take a look at the names of both timepieces – “Vintage” and “Heritage” stand out.
The Bell & Ross combines a useful GMT hand to the flyback chronograph (I’m one of those who actually uses the chronograph function – when I commentate tennis matches, for example!), whereas the Tudor is yet another cool timepiece issued by Rolex’s sister company. Plus, they’re both affordable, and I will always value a timepiece with an accessible price.
IS: I quite like the retro look of the Bell & Ross Vintage Sport Heritage, and the fact that it has both a flyback chronograph and GMT display are big bonuses in this category.
As good as the Bell & Ross Vintage Sport Heritage GMT Flyback is, though, I feel that there are stronger contenders in this category.
The Aerofusion Chronograph Pelé is a typical Hublot in that it is a very wearable, casual-looking, chronograph. And those characteristics would usually bode well in a sports watch, but the Hublot Aerofusion lets down by its low water resistance of just 50 meters and low display legibility, both of which are important for a sports watch.
GG: When the discussion gets serious, I think it’s going to be about the Blancpain and the Zenith. Both have high-beat movements; both make ample use of advanced materials, and each has a clear guiding theme behind its design.
For the Blancpain, it’s about making a dive watch that is also suitable for daily wear. For the Zenith, it’s about ultra-light weight, leading to the use of carbon fiber, aluminum, ceramic, and titanium as well as silicon components.
MS: I’ve always been a fan of the El Primero, and I like the direction Zenith has been taking (well, not the use of Sellita movements instead of its proprietary Elite caliber), but…for personal reasons the otherwise remarkable El Primero Lightweight doesn’t strike home – precisely because I do like to feel some weight on my wrist!
IS: What I particularly like about the Zenith El Primero Lightweight, Miguel, is that it uses high-tech, weight-saving materials consistently: i.e., both in the case (carbon fiber and aluminum case with titanium pushers and crown) and movement (titanium plates and bridges and non-magnetic silicon escapement).
When it comes to sport watches, nothing has as good a bloodline as the Zenith El Primero, and in the world of sports, light weight is generally a positive characteristic.
JM: The El Primero Lightweight happens to be one of the lightest chronographs I have ever seen. Weighing in at an astonishing 40 grams including the case, strap, and movement, the Lightweight has pushed the boundaries of what light and functional are.
It is made primarily out of titanium, carbon fiber, and ceramized aluminum with select components in silicon, something that a couple others can claim, but nothing to this level.
GG: If I were writing the check, I’d go for the Zenith! I love the single-minded devotion to light weight and the many technical, material and design choices that Zenith made to realize their aspiration; I’ve never owned an El Primero and would love to do so. I happen to also think that it’s a better looking piece than the Blancpain. I may not be in the majority on the latter point, but it is a matter of taste, right?
IS: In the El Primero Lightweight’s favor is the iconic El Primero chronograph movement and fast-beat balance enabling elapsed-time measurements down to 1/10th of a second. What lets the Lightweight down, in my opinion, for the Sports watch category is the poorer time-reading legibility caused by the busy open dial.
JM: It is a seriously light and fantastic timepiece that I will happily say should win the sports category, and would be my favorite followed by the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback.
MS: If we’re talking about a legend capable of capturing your imagination with a good set of technical features, my favorite would be Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape Chronographe Flyback. It has that retro feel that will always attract me but in a modern rendition with dark sophistication: ceramic case, LiquidMetal bezel, water-resistant chronograph pushers…and it is powered by a 36,000 vph column-wheel chronograph movement with flyback function and an anti-magnetic silicon balance wheel.
There’s a lot to like beside the traditional Fifty Fathoms aesthetic codes and it really caught my attention that a brand like Blancpain is also bringing NATO straps to the mainstream – since it provides a NATO fabric bracelet along with the sail canvas strap.
JS: Dive chronographs generally represent a compromise in utility, ergonomics or legibility, but Blancpain has delivered a stunning iteration of the Bathyscaphe that manages to match the charm of the original three-hander. In black ceramic with matching dial, it is easily one of my favorite sport watches from Baselworld this year, and I think it has earned a spot on the podium.
IS: At the start of this discussion, I set down my own list of the qualities I am looking for in a sports watch, and the Blancpain Bathyscaphe Chronographe ticks all the boxes and then some:
1. Water resistant to at least 100 meters: tick, and bonus 300 meters.
2. Highly legible indications: tick, and bonus wide Super-LumiNova-filled hands.
3. Mechanical movement: tick, and bonus silicon escapement.
4. Chronograph: tick, and bonus flyback mechanism.
Then there’s the scratch-resistant liquid metal, ceramic (uni-directional) bezel.
JM: Blancpain holds very high regard in my books as an in-house brand with serious history to draw from. The Bathyscaphe shows this with an impressive flyback chronograph and truly enjoyable style. The Fifty Fathoms is iconic, but the Bathyscaphe is the watch you wear. Plus, the fit and finish on the Bathyscaphe leaves nobody wanting and the option of a full ceramic case is hard to beat.
IS: The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph Flyback isn’t some look-at-me show pony, but a serious instrument suitable for extreme environments and use. It’s my pick for best Sports watch 2014.
GG: Ultimately, as you say, Ian, what may sway the jury is that the Blancpain is also a flyback chrono and that it has water-resistant chronograph pushers good to a claimed 300-meter depth. And, while it really shouldn’t matter, an El Primero took this category last year. So, I’m predicting that in a close contest, it’s the Blancpain for the win.
JS: My pick for the Sports category is the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback, a stunning watch with beautiful proportions, a rugged vibe and the seriously impressive new F385 automatic chronograph movement. Operating at 5Hz with a vertical clutch and column wheel, this flyback chronograph movement may seem uncommon in a dive watch but the pushers can actually be used while underwater, a rarity that confirms its rather toolish intentions. I think the 2013 Bathyscaphe forged a new path for the Fifty Fathoms line and the Chronograph, which is available in steel or full ceramic, takes the platform to the next level.
The results are in, with the panel seeing the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback coming out the winner with four votes to one for the Zenith El Primero Lightweight.
Ian Skellern: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback
Joshua Munchow: Zenith El Primero Lightweight
GaryG: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback
Miguel Seabra: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback
James Stacey: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback
For more information on the pre-selected Sports watches:
Bell & Ross BR126 Vintage Sport Heritage GMT Flyback
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback
Hublot Aerofusion Chronograph Pelé
Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar
Tudor Heritage Ranger
Zenith El Primero Lightweight
For more information on the Zenith El Primero Lightweight, please read Adventure, Adrenaline, And The Zenith El Primero Lightweight.
For more information on the newest edition of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph, please read Blancpain Takes To The Ocean With The Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph.
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.
To read other GPHG round table discussions, please click: