Reflections On The 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève
ED: Halloween night was not a scary one for anyone involved in the watch world: while there may have been a few “costumes” present (seeing people dressed to hilt that are generally more comfortable in sneakers and jeans is always fun), the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is an excellent opportunity to socialize and celebrate a year of grand watchmaking.
In this final round table discussion, my Quill & Pad colleagues Ian, Joshua, Gary and I discuss the amazing night that was. I am glad to talk about this incredible event and provide a few behind-the-scenes insights.
Being on the jury for the third time in a row this year, I have noticed that I now have the advantage of experience in terms of how things run and the best way to go about them. That made this year’s event so very enjoyable in that I knew what to expect and could relax enough to enjoy the discussions and preparations.
It is very nerve-wracking to get up in front of so many people.
IS: My first and foremost impression of the 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is that it was the best ever, both in terms of the winners, who were all generally deemed to be well-deserving, and the pace of the award ceremony itself. The elimination of mind-numbing speeches by Swiss politicians (hallelujah!) and enforcement of short speeches by the winners really made the whole evening advance at a good speed.
GG: Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it? Some very interesting choices by the jury and at the end of the day I have to say that I’m pretty content (not that my opinion matters) with the outcomes of the deliberations.
I didn’t prove myself to be much of an oracle! Looking across the categories we discussed here over the past several weeks, I predicted the jury’s choices (if we include my pick of the Aiguille d’Or winning Breguet in the Men’s category as a “win”) in four instances; the jury picked my “personal preferences” in three cases; and I was just dead wrong five times. Ah, well!
Having looked at my “misses,” I can take comfort that in a couple of instances I did mention the ultimate winner as a dark horse or honorable mention – those would be the Blancpain ladies’ piece and the Grönefeld Parallax in the Tourbillon category.
I hope that saying this doesn’t cut off my beer ration in Oldenzaal, but I didn’t see that one coming. Certainly my emotional sympathies were with the “boys” and I did use my online vote for the public prize on their watch, but as with some of last year’s winners, I was left with the feeling that the prize was as much for the makers as for the watch. A bad thing? Given that these are two princes of the independent industry, perhaps not!
ED: Not to burst your bubble on that last statement, Gary, I respectfully disagree. While you, Ian, Joshua and I are very well acquainted with the independent watchmakers both as people and as “brands,” the (watch) world at large is not. And it was certainly my impression that most of the jury did not know (of) the Grönefelds before last week.
This watch was chosen purely on its own merits. That I can guarantee. And that is a much better thing!
JM: Overall the winners were completely worthy and there were no true surprises for all of us here. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the winners awarded but I still feel that the GPHG needs some better planning and minor details to make the event appear smooth and truly high-end. Having the host ramble with his sexist comments really took away from the majesty the show could have had. (Note: the GPHG was broadcast online with English-language interpretation.)
Also, as has been mentioned elsewhere, there are some major brands missing from the GPHG as they can choose to take part or not. This limits the field and makes for winners where others may have taken the glory. Just a small note but this will have to be addressed in the future to make this event truly the crowning jewel of the industry.
ED: Joshua, that is a criticism that many like to express about the GPHG, but most people also don’t realize that while the Grand Prix Foundation is non-profit, it still needs to be financed (brands pay a fee to enter their watches).
Additionally, there is a second, bigger problem: if certain brands are entered not by volition, but rather by the foundation or jury, and they object to being part of it, they may not appear to receive a prize. That, in fact, happened two years ago with Cartier’s Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who did not appear to receive her Special Jury Prize. I personally found that extremely disappointing.
It is easy to criticize this, but without a viable solution, the criticism is quite empty. And while you are not alone in the observation, I cannot see a better way to do it than the way it is already done.
JM: The host is a bit of a misogynist, but maybe that is just Swiss humor. Misses the mark for me.
ED: Frédéric Beigbeider is French, not Swiss, Joshua. I don’t know about French humor, but it is certainly not Swiss humor. And that is a valid criticism!
JM: Like last year, the hosts are talkative yet not smooth, it makes the event seem a little hodge-podged together, including the lack of smooth music transitions.
ED: Ah, yes, and here is where the GPHG quite differs from the show that it is often compared to: the Oscars. Actually, considering all the background going on, the GPHG is very well put together, and I am continually amazed at how well it comes off in the end.
Do remember that these are real people you saw on stage, with the exception of Beigbeder and Miss Switzerland. These are people who all have other jobs and are fighting nervousness on stage and have no training in stage presence. Also, there are no rehearsals. This is real life. And I thought it went smashingly.
IS: Something else I thought was a good idea on the night was introducing all six pre-selected watches before announcing the winner. In past years they had already been reduced to the top three or even two on the evening and I felt that minimized the achievements of the preselected watches not mentioned.
In terms of the laureates of the evening, while not all were my first choices (though many were), I felt that none of the winners were undeserving.
The Special Jury Prize
IS: There can be few as deserving of the Special Jury Prize as Walter Lange. Lange not only revived A. Lange & Söhne 24 years ago as a watch brand that stands with the world’s very best, he restored the former East German city of Glashütte into a world-class center of watchmaking.
For more on this, please see some of our recent stories on A. Lange & Söhne’s anniversary year (20 years of the Lange 1):
The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst: Happy 20th Birthday To The Lange 1
A. Lange & Söhne Looks Back On 20 Years Of The Lange 1 And 25 Years Of German Reunification: Film Premiere
How The Wall Came Tumbling Down: Made In Germany
Happy 90th Birthday To Walter Lange With A Look Back At The Modern A. Lange & Söhne
GG: Herr Walter Lange! The jury is on a roll here, with Philippe Dufour last year and Lange this year, a true gentleman and a wonderful role model for what a “brand ambassador” should really be. Congratulations to Herr Lange.
JM: If we had guessed this category ahead of time like the others, my guess would have been Walter Lange. And who comes out the winner? Walter Lange!
This was almost obvious to me after everything the company has done and what it has achieved since returning to the world of watchmaking from a broken and healed country. A. Lange & Söhne and Walter Lange have carried the torch of high watchmaking in Deutschland. I have absolutely no clue what he said, though, as the translator provided by the English version of the video must not be fluent in German so he stopped talking, immediately!
ED: Joshua, he said how honored he was and why it was that he worked so hard at what normally would have been someone else’s retirement age (66) to rejuvenate the company: to bring work back to Glashütte.
What he said totally jibed with what I feel: that he restarted A. Lange & Söhne for all the right reasons, and not just those of “the brand” as such, and certainly not for money’s sake.
If there was ever going to be a year for Walter Lange to win this, it was this year of anniversaries and amazing events for A. Lange & Söhne. I could not have been happier to see him win this prize in this particular year.
IS: I like a good whine as much as anyone, but I couldn’t even find fault with the public’s choice of the Breguet Classique Dame. My wife wears one and loves it!
GG: Great to see that the public has such great taste!
JM: This watch was a surprise, and yet at the same time it wasn’t: many people did not realize you could only vote for one watch, not one for each category. For this reason I know many people chose female watches since they were listed at the top.
ED: This shocked the heck out of me, and made me so happy! Who would ever have thought that the public prize would go to a ladies’ watch?! Amazing!! But your explanation does sound plausible, Joshua.
IS: While I commend the decision of the Grand Prix organizers to create new categories, one I don’t agree with is the Revival Prize just because I don’t think brands need the slightest encouragement to revisit/reinterpret successful old models. Let’s make today’s (or tomorrow’s) watches not yesterday’s, please.
However, as the category exists, there isn’t a more popular revival model this year than the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon and it would have had my vote as well.
GG: We didn’t talk about the Revival category beforehand, but the Omega DSOTM seems a great choice to me and is already a core piece in many Omega enthusiasts’ collections.
JM: The Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon has instantly become one of the favorite Speedmasters among collectors, and as a fan of ceramic watches myself, not to mention the Daniels co-axial escapement, I am very happy to see it honored for this edition.
Ladies’ Watch Prize
IS: While Blancpain’s Women Off-Centered Hour wasn’t my first choice for the Ladies category (that was the Laurent Ferrier Lady F), there is no arguing with the fact that it is an absolutely stunning watch.
JM: We all voted on a sweep for the Laurent Ferrier Lady F. While the win for Blancpain isn’t a surprise, we were sure wrong with our love for the independent Laurent Ferrier. The Blancpain Off-Centered Hour is an incredible piece; I just spent a bit of time with one and I am very happy that this piece won.
ED: The Blancpain was one of the few ladies’ watches submitted that was purpose-built, which I absolutely love. But above and beyond that, it is simply gorgeous in every respect from the unique diamond setting on the case to the feminized automatic movement with its flower-petal-shaped rotor to the luscious dial. A true winner!
Ladies High-Mech Watch Prize
IS: If the Christophe Claret Margot hadn’t won this prize (or the Aiguille d’Or), I would have screamed for a recount. The watch was such a clear winner that I felt sorry for the other pre-selected watches in this category.
JM: We all voted for a sweep with the Claret Margot.
Oh, and there was our esteemed leader Elizabeth Doerr as the presenter! She had much better stage presence than the other presenters. Oh yeah, and of course we were all correct with the Margot, an amazing and female-only complication, simply wonderful.
ED: Aw, too kind, Joshua! I was actually terrified up there, but glad I managed to make a good impression nonetheless.
But the Margot. Yes, wow, what a piece! I would also have liked to have seen it take the Aiguille d’Or if not for any other reason (though there are many) than it was purpose-built for women. That would have been quite something! But, alas, I do not think my male counterparts were quite as taken with it as I was. In this case, I think its femininity may have been a detractor. What a shame.
IS: In our round table discussions of the pre-selected Grand Prix watches, I said, “Having avowed ‘Seikophile’ Philippe Dufour on the jury may help Seiko this year, but I doubt that will be enough, despite the fact that the Seiko Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT is probably the best value-for-money wristwatch on the market today.”
Hats off to the jury for choosing the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT and showing that the competition really is international. And what a serendipitous coincidence that Japan was the invited country this year.
ED: Was it? I hadn’t even noticed that fact! The Seiko was a lot of watch for the money, and I truly think that not only Dufour is a fan.
However, it still surprises me that there remains so much prejudice in Switzerland when it comes to Seiko. Some of the remarks I heard after the ceremony were mind-boggling. If you make a good watch, you make a good watch.
The fact that the jury chose this one underscores not only its own internationality, but the fact that it is able to choose a watch on its own merits and not the back story’s merits.
JM: This was a split category for us during our own round table, so the winner was probably somewhat of a surprise to many. The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT is probably the best watchmaking value in the competition at its price point, and it was also my choice as the winner. It definitely had some tough competition, but it does stand above the rest as a sublime piece of affordable high watchmaking affordable.
Artistic Crafts Watch Prize
IS: While I thought Greubel Forsey’s Art Piece 1 would take this category, the Voutilainen Hisui is the watch I would have wanted for myself, and I was very happy to see it win.
GG: I was pretty pleased to see that the jury confounded my predictions in few cases by picking not the watch I thought they would, but instead the one that I said that I would buy; those included the Seiko, the Zenith Lightweight, and the Voutilainen Hisui.
JM: I was the outlier for this category, going against the crowd who voted for the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1 while championing the Hermès Arceau Millefiori. And yet we were all wrong!
Voutilainen won with his Hisui, a piece that everyone loved but put aside simply for the reason it is a piece unique! And a hearty “here here!” to an independent for the amazing timepiece and the win!
ED: Hermès is unfortunately always a bit of an underdog to insiders when it comes to serious horology, Joshua, and that can be chalked up to its name, which attained fame in another industry. I feel that so often Hermès is simply overlooked, which is unfair when this brand is doing such fantastic work! And that is a shame.
That having been said, this was one of those categories whose outcome was unpredictable as the timepieces submitted were so incredible, each in their own way.
There is no doubt that the Voutilainen was a deserving winner, despite it being a unique piece. One thousand hours for that dial alone. And that doesn’t even include the movement, which is not only Voutilainen perfection, but also embellished with the same technique!
Sports Watch Prize
IS: What an evening Zenith had with an incredible four watches pre-selected. While I thought that its legibility wasn’t good enough for a true sports watch, my round table comment was, “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.” It looks like the jury agreed.
JM: The El Primero Lightweight was my guess and nobody else’s. I’m not going to brag, but I was right! (laughs) Great watch, super light, very cool and advanced. It is very cool to see Zenith win especially after the watch it just released for its anniversary.
ED: For more on this watch, see Joshua’s story Adventure, Adrenaline And The Zenith El Primero Lightweight.
Mechanical Exception Watch Prize
IS: I would have called foul if the Urwerk EMC hadn’t won this prize because it appeared to me to be so far ahead of its competitors. And while I wasn’t surprised by EMC winning, I was surprised to see (co-founder) Felix Baumgartner on stage with (co-founder) Martin Frei accepting the award because I know that Baumgartner is much more comfortable at a watchmaker’s bench than at podium speaking in public.
ED: Exactly, Ian, that was the surprising part! And then they called them up again – I’ve rarely laughed so hard. I’m sure that was difficult for Felix. And I loved his shoes!
JM: Urwerk won as Ian and I both predicted, though the outcome was never a sure thing for this category as there were many astounding pieces in it. Still, I am not surprised as the Urwerk EMC is an electro-mechanical marvel for certain!
ED: For more on this watch, please read: The Difference Between Urwerk’s EMC And A Toyota Prius (Not As Obvious As You May Think) and Back In Black: First Live Photos Of The ‘Smart’ Urwerk EMC Black.
Innovation Watch Prize
IS: While I wasn’t surprised to see the Urwerk EMC win the Mechanical Exception category, I was (though shouldn’t have been) surprised when it picked up a second prize for Innovation. While EMC certainly did deserve to take both categories, the Grand Prix organizers seriously have to look at whether the overlap between these categories (as they stand) makes one redundant.
ED: While I understand what you mean, Ian, I don’t think one makes the other redundant. I think this could just as easily have ended up with the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater taking the Mechanical Exception and Urwerk taking the Innovation categories. I think this means that the jury finds that the EMC embodies both.
GG: Joshua, I know that you’re in love with that Urwerk, and I suppose that you must have been right given that it went home with two trophies, but I have to say that I just don’t get it and that my probability of buying it is right around zero. But I guess that’s why there is more than one type of watch out there.
ED: There’s no arguing taste, Gary!
Men’s Watch Prize
IS: The Urban Jürgensen Central Second was my pick for this category and I was very happy to see that the jury agreed. This really is one of my favorite watches and I’d be very happy with one on my wrist.
GG: The UJ is a head-scratcher for me, which emerged as the “lucky loser” winning the Men’s category when the Breguet was promoted to the top prize. As I said earlier, this isn’t (to me) really a new watch, but just the addition of central seconds to a prior piece. So, a miss for the jury in my view.
ED: I wouldn’t be so sure that the Urban Jürgensen was the lucky loser, Gary. I think that in past years the other iterations were also close to winning: the movement is incredible, and the dial is a prime example of classicism mixed with an outstanding amount of attention to detail.
If you’re going to go so far to say that it isn’t new because something was just added, you could take out half the watches in this competition! The fact is that it hasn’t appeared in this variation yet. I think it is perfectly viable.
JM: No real surprise here, it is definitely an awesome piece. Ian’s pick, my second favorite piece in the category, I am in no way disappointed to see this watch win, it is great indeed.
Chronograph Watch Prize
IS: The De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon was another no-brainer for me and I think it would have been very difficult to justify another timepiece taking best chronograph this year. The Maxichrono Tourbillon has really set a very high bar for future chronographs.
JM: Almost everybody’s prediction and again no surprise. Simply an outstanding piece from De Bethune, it stands head and shoulders above the others, which were already exceptional.
Calendar Watch Prize
IS: No complaints from me with A. Lange & Söhne taking this prize. My thoughts in the round table discussion were, “The A. Lange & Söhne Terraluna has just about everything one could ask for in a calendar watch . . . and then some. Perpetual calendar: tick; large date: tick; moon phase: tick; long power reserve (an incredible 14 days): tick; impeccably hand-finished, in-house movement: check; power reserve indicator: check. And the icing on the Saxon cake: a constant force escapement. Check!”
GG: I predicted the Lange to win the Calendar category, but that still doesn’t mean I’d buy it. Having had it on my wrist, it’s simply too bulky in my opinion – and it wasn’t even my favorite new Lange watch this year. And, as a fan of astronomic complications I wasn’t bowled over by this particular back-of-watch implementation of sun, earth, and moon, either.
ED: While I agree with your observation that the watch was large, Gary, once I saw it on some of my male colleagues’ wrists, I changed my mind. As an innovative type of calendar, especially with its incredible Lange finishing, I felt there was little that could compete with it.
While I loved the Montblanc Heritage Meisterstück entry for its classicism and attention to affordability, and the discussions in the room all pointed this out, the Terraluna is so grand and imaginative, not to mention qualitative!
JM: A somewhat split category with a strong following for the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna. And not a big surprise again, the Terraluna has won, as it is pretty much a perfect watch. Look at it. Its perfection is undeniable.
Striking Watch Prize
IS: It is impossible to judge striking watches without hearing their chimes, so I can only assume that the Hublot Classic Fusion Cathedral Tourbillon Minute Repeater sounded fantastic to the jury. The fact that it has a titanium case, a metal that conducts sound much better than gold, platinum and even steel is sure to have helped.
GG: As for the Striking category, I have to confess that I find the pick a bit of a head-scratcher as the Hublot was not even in my consideration set. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it is the only winner that I didn’t mention at all, positively or negatively, during our round table conversations.
JM: The Hublot as a winner comes as a surprise to me and the rest of us in our predictions, but of course it is very deserving for many reasons. Like the jury said, integrating a minute repeater into a titanium case stays faithful to the brand but pushes boundaries as well. Congrats to Hublot for the win!
ED: I figured this would be a hard one for enthusiasts to understand, and perhaps even seem controversial to someone outside our discussion room. And this is why I am extremely glad to be able to shed a little light on the process. In order to judge all the watches in a category, we are given all of them at once at the table, which not only induces discussion, but also ensures that you have the direct comparison. Thus, we could play with and hear all six of the repeaters at the same time (or right after one another as it were).
I would like to point out that the Hublot repeater, which as we all know was masterminded by Mathias Buttet, formerly of BNB, but now working for Hublot, was the only repeater in this category submitted in a titanium case. The rest were in gold, and the Claret even had diamonds on the case! In essence, the other brands were pre-programming a subdued chime.
Enthusiasts know that stainless steel and titanium are the case materials that transport sound the best, and I can report that in this direct comparison, that was absolutely, unequivocally true! The Hublot chime was crystal clear and very loud. In my opinion, it had a lot of extraneous noise as well due to its governor, but the clarity and volume of the chime was overwhelming. I am hardly surprised that this clear chime convinced many jury members to vote for it.
Tourbillon Watch Prize
IS: This was a very hotly contested category and while the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon was my pick to win, that certainly wasn’t a given with such strong competition. So I was nearly as overjoyed as Bart and Tim Grönefeld when I heard their name announced. This really was well-deserved and it shows just how high a standard of quality small independents can achieve. The Parallax Tourbillon is another watch I would very much like to have on my wrist.
JM: Our discussion split between the Grönefeld and the TAG Heuer, so in our opinion it could have gone many ways. The not very surprising result is the Grönefeld! I loved it when I saw it in Basel and simply thought the jury would go another way, but I cannot be anything but happy for Tim and Bart! Another independent wins and for me that is a good day!
GG: I confessed my lack of jewelry knowledge, so I’ll just lick my wounds on this category and move on.
JM: Michael Clerizo had it right with the Bulgari Diva High Jewelry Emeralds. I will disagree but from the standpoint that I like clean lines over bling and so I would have liked to see the Hermès Arceau Temari win. That being said, the Bulgari piece is definitely a spectacle of stones and very impressive from that respect.
ED: Right here is where I’d like to mention the incredible Piaget jewels that I had the honor to wear during the ceremony. Though Piaget did not enter the GPHG this year, I pick my borrowed jewels as the winner in this category for the evening even if they don’t keep time! (laughs)
But, seriously, I think for just about all men this is an incredibly hard category to comment unless you are a gemologist, retailer or just interested in precious stones. Luckily for the jury, gemologist Claude Sfeir was present to give comments on the quality of the stones and the setting of the pieces we judged.
And that said, they were all incredible, beautiful works of art. But I think what may perhaps have won the majority of the jury over was the artistic use of the nearly flawless green emeralds in this piece. Colored stones always add so much personality and flair to high jewelry, and, naturally, Bulgari is a jeweler by trade.
However, I would like to add how impressed I personally was by the Hermès Arceau Temari in the metal. I think it garnered less attention with the jury because it lacked those big stones that are so impressive and so rarely seen in anyone’s day-to-day. The Temari is set with smaller diamonds in the difficult-to-master snow setting technique. The result in combination with the black lacquered portions is not of a “bling” impression, but rather of understated elegance. That is personally my style and perhaps why I liked the Hermès better. But I do understand the choice: the Bulgari piece was a knockout if you like bling.
IS: This was an extremely good year for wristwatches and I don’t envy the jury’s deliberations in having to decide the best of the best. But the Breguet Classique Chronométrie really is a good choice as it is a near perfect blend of classical watchmaking using the latest technology.
Other brands may be kicking and clawing to avoid being dragged into the 21st century, but Breguet (and other high-end Swatch Group brands) is embracing modern materials and techniques, and as such is putting distance between itself and its peers. A great choice.
GG: I was somewhat surprised to see the Breguet in the top spot, but in retrospect its combination of novel technology and classic watchmaking does make for a compelling mix; compelling enough, in fact, that I went out and bought one this weekend! Now that’s a true win…
JM: This category could very fittingly have gone many ways, and we voted as much between ourselves. And yet, the winner is none other than Breguet for the Classique Chronométrie! None of the panelists predicted this, but I can understand and agree that it is a very deserving timepiece! It looks as if the jury went classical with innovative and it shows. Congrats to Breguet for this win and the amazing piece!
ED: Breguet entered several truly amazing pieces in this year’s competition, and I feel that any one of them could have won their categories at any time – with the unfortunate exception of the Reine de Naples Jour/Nuit in the Ladies High Mech category. As truly amazing as that timepiece is – and it surely is – it was always going to be overshadowed by Christophe Claret’s daring and creative Margot.
As for the Classique Chronométrie Reference 7727, I picked this watch as one of my top 5 watches shown at Baselworld 2013 (see Top 5 Watches From Baselworld 2013), when it previewed there before going into production. The other watch previewed at the same time was the Extra-Thin Tourbillon, which was also entered here into the Tourbillon category.
Breguet has been killing it when it comes to innovation wrapped in classic watchmaking, and this example does not disappoint with its magnetic pivots, silicon escapement, and 10-Hertz frequency – though from the outside, you would never know that all of this was packed inside it, it is so classic in its appearance.
Funny enough, too, though this is not one of the main considerations when judging such timepieces, it retails for “only” 39,000 Swiss francs. Yes, it was a highly deserving winner no matter from which angle you choose to look at it.
Also, at this point I would like to say how fun it was to have Stefano Macaluso on the jury this year as the representative from Girard-Perregaux, the brand that won the Aiguille d’Or last year. The jury always includes the brand winning the Aiguille d’Or from the previous year.
Stefano contributed quite a bit to the discussions and brought a much different perspective that included the realities of manufacturing and running a brand. Additionally, he has an incredibly artistic eye.
I would like to thank the foundation and the creative forces behind the GPHG for once again allowing me to participate in such an instrumental way: Carlo Lamprecht (president), Carine Maillard (managing director), and Aurel Bacs (president of the jury), without whom we would not have this beautiful event every year.
And I already look forward to next year’s event! I wish everyone an excellent watchmaking year until then!Click here to add your own text