Quill & Pad’s Predictions In The Chronograph Category Of The 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2016 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why. Please enjoy the opinions of the following panelists:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Alex Ghotbi (AG), watch expert at Phillips and contributor
Ryan Schmidt (RS), author of The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches and contributor
As a jury member, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr is excluded from these early predictions.
Chronographs are clearly defined by the GPHG as: “mechanical watches comprising at least one chronograph indication. Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.”
AG: I’m a huge chronograph fan. I rarely use the function, but I love the look. I feel that perhaps I’m being somewhat of a complainer, but the chronographs shortlisted here don’t really do it for me. Well, that’s not quite true as I find the Louis Moinet rather attractive. But I can’t choose more than two, as I find the other chronographs uninspiring both in terms of movement and design: same old, same old.
GG: I get what you mean, Alex. The watch that I would have loved to see entered in this group is the new Breguet Type XXI with its brownish dial and chunky good looks. I saw it at Baselworld 2016 and loved it!
I, too, have to confess that while some of this year’s categories have me jumping with excitement and fretting about how to choose among the selection of brilliant options, this category just isn’t doing the same for me. And I’m a chronograph-loving guy on both the sport and dress chronograph sides of the equation!
JM: The Chronograph category surprisingly proved to be an easy decision for me, guys, even though I love each watch for different reasons. A couple of the entries stood out as fantastic pieces of engineering, artistic craft, and material exploration and – funnily enough – for me that detracted from their use as chronographs.
I am all for pushing the boundaries of what a watch can be, but for this category I felt that shifted what I believe deserves to win.
Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire
IS: How the watches in this category are judged really depends of how many members of the jury are looking for the most interesting chronograph and how many are voting on the best-looking watch with a chronograph.
My interpretation of the category is the former, so while the Unico Sapphire is a sensational sapphire crystal-encased watch with a chronograph, for me it’s just another Big Bang as far as the movement goes. And while there is nothing at all wrong with that, I’m looking for more interesting mechanical innovation in this category.
AG: My WIS friends often make fun of me because I actually like the Big Bang Unico chronographs; they’re brutal and playful. On the other hand, I’m not really attracted to the all-sapphire crystal case.
JM: I simply have to give props to any watchmaker that puts the time and effort into creating an entire watch made of sapphire crystal, but even more props go to a brand making a sapphire crystal watch not as a one-off, but as a series. Even more props if that series is limited to 500 pieces!
The Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire is such a watch. It is an incredible amount of machining that will go into just 500 watches, yet that number of watches alone is nearly 100 times the number of watches currently in existence that are made completely of sapphire crystal.
The watch is awesome to behold, but I also must wonder as to the longevity of such a piece since sapphire crystal, while being very hard, can also be very brittle; as such, a strong enough shock won’t just dent or gouge the watch, but shatter it. For this reason I can’t award it first place, but it definitely needs to be recognized as a massively bold move in the number of watches and this price point.
RS: I am very pleased to see Hublot responding to consumers’ demands for more transparency in the watch industry, but when you put the coat back on the invisible man, he becomes but a man again.
Quick Facts Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire
Case: 45 x 15.45 mm, sapphire crystal with transparent composite resin lugs, water-resistant to 50 m
Movement: automatic Caliber Unico HUB1242 with 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; flyback chronograph
Limitation: 500 pieces
Price: $57,900 / 55,000 Swiss francs
Zenith El Primero 36’000 VPH
IS: “Having earned fame thanks to its legendary El Primero caliber – an integrated automatic column-wheel chronograph movement launched in 1969 [ . . . ] – the Manufacture Zenith has since developed over 600 movement variations,” reads the GPHG description. And it feels to me that each and every one of those 600 variations has been pre-selected in the GPHG over the last decade. I would like to thank Zenith for giving us a truly superlative chronograph in the El Primero, but please: enough is enough here.
I do not blame Zenith (I’ll save that for the juries, who with mind-numbing regularity select one – and usually more – virtually indistinguishable El Primero models year after year). Although I’d happily own nearly any Zenith El Primero, I cannot encourage any more El Primero entries in the GPHG.
RS: The chronograph category has only been around since 2014, but the year before that Zenith took the crown in the Sports category with its highly impressive Stratos Flyback Striking 10th (for more on that see Felix Baumgartner Skydives From Space On Red Bull Stratos Mission With Zenith On Wrist).
From a technical standpoint, the Stratos was an easy choice with flyback functionality and the 5 Hz frequency of the movement allowing Zenith to deploy a foudroyante hand that provides readings to the nearest tenth of a second. This year’s El Primero is a more classic affair, executed with just the right amount of homage and adaptation in my opinion. It is a handsome watch, with a legendary movement.
I don’t personally have a problem with this, but I have to note that plenty do – the overlapping subdials make a simple chronograph reading that little bit more challenging, and even though the overlap can be traced back to some of the earliest models from the 1970s, the overlap on the 2016 El Primero is more pronounced.
The chronograph is one of the more scientific of complications, and legibility should always trump aesthetic balance on the dial. This is why the El Primero is a very good swing, but a miss for the title.
Quick Facts Zenith El Primero 36’000 VPH
Case: 42 x 12.75 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero beating at 5 Hz
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, 1/10th second chronograph with 12-hour and 30-minute counter
Price: 6,900 Swiss francs
Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition
IS: I like the dial layout and design of the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition and I like its fluted monopusher crown. But where the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter really excels is in its simply sensational movement, Caliber 16.29, with its architecture derived from a beautiful Minerva pocket watch movement from 1929 and impeccably executed hand-finishing.
While the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition isn’t my pick as the laureate of this category, I do rate it as a very strong contender for runner-up.
MG: Montblanc keeps surprising with utterly refined watches featuring manufacture calibers and the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited edition is perhaps the most charming. With its distinct hands, deep blue dial, and especially that oignon-style crown with integrated button for the monopusher chronograph it is a true time-traveler’s watch.
GG: The Montblanc is described as homage to historical Minerva chronograph movements and boasts the same v-shaped bridge, but for me a Minerva homage does not necessarily a Minerva movement make – and the price for this watch in steel seems out of line to me.
JM: For my first runner-up I chose a watch that gets back to what a chronograph is supposed to be: a functional and legible timing device. The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition is such a piece as the dial has only two subdials instead of the more typical three, it is a monopusher chronograph with button integrated into the crown for straightforward operation, and the design is extremely legible. The tachymeter scale goes down to 55 (compared to the 60 of most other chronographs) and feels more technical than many.
The bonus for the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition is the movement, which is beautifully constructed and finished Caliber MB M16.29. Based on the pocket watch movement layout as described above, it is pretty much what my mind first sees when I think of a manual-winding column wheel chronograph. So it sets the standard in my head. When the movement is combined with the no-nonsense design, it really stands out as a fantastic chronograph.
RS: The 1858 is a new and shiny slice of the Old World: large, legible numerals and cathedral hands, a fluted crown with integrated monopusher, and a highly useable and attractive chronograph with tachymeter. Massive hand-wound Caliber M16.29 fills the view of the sapphire crystal case back and is just what you might expect from a caliber modeled on a Minerva pocket watch movement but given the finishing treatment of something even more special.
I am a sucker for hand-wound chronographs with this sort of pedigree: the large 2.5 Hz balance wheel, Geneva stripes, gold chatons, the horizontal clutch and column wheel, the iconic v-shaped chronograph bridge and “Devil’s tail” lever – there’s too much to enjoy here; this is a purist’s chronograph.
I can think of only a handful of other chronographs that would give the 1858 a run for its money, but fortunately for Montblanc none of them are on the list this year. Wait . . . is that an eclipse? A red eclipse?
Quick Facts Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition
Case: 44 x 13.15 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Caliber M16.29 with column-wheel control of chronograph; 2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; monopusher chronograph, tachymeter
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 25,500 Swiss francs
Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar
GG: The Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar takes my vote for top watch in the category based on its use of the simple and elegant Ludwig Oeschlin annual calendar mechanism that is integrated with the chronograph movement. Perhaps not the best reason for choosing a stopwatch, but for me the combination of calendar and chronograph is a useful one, and this watch follows in the footsteps of a line of excellent annual calendars from UN over the years.
IS: While I understand that an in-house chronograph movement isn’t likely to be technically superior to an off-the-shelf movement made in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, when you spend upwards of $10,000 on a watch what you might hope to expect is some exclusivity. And the in-house full manufacture movement with silicon balance spring powering the Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar delivers exclusivity in spades.
A chronograph is considered a tool watch in that practically of use is likely to trump style, which is good because I do feel that the dial here isn’t too busy. Practicality is also a big plus when it comes to the annual calendar date complication, which recognizes and automatically corrects for months with either 30 or 31 days.
Ulysse Nardin is a master in simplifying mechanisms to improve reliability and affordability, and the annual calendar mechanism developed for this movement required just a fraction of the number of components as its competition.
MG: Chronographs with a combined annual calendar make for a very tempting and practical watch indeed, Ian. Ulysse Nardin provides this with its own spin using a unique design that combines classical elegance with some traits of a hardcore sports watch. The result is a design symbiosis that can only make it an Ulysse Nardin, and that is exactly what is so appealing in this watch.
JM: I realized while looking over the entries that the most functional, and by extension, least narrowly directed watch was the best choice to win the category. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar provides a great base for whatever activity you may choose, and without large pushers, an overly stylized aesthetic, or an incredibly complex construction it delivers a multifunctional timepiece that can fit almost anywhere.
The Zenith, Chopard, and Montblanc chronographs are all fantastic, but they are also aimed heavily at a specific consumer. The Hublot and the Louis Moinet are spectacular, but due to the complexity of design, materials, and presence, they detract from the purpose of a chronograph. The Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar combines an annual calendar (with only three additional components compared to a normal calendar thanks to legendary watchmaker Ludwig Oechslin), power reserve, and chronograph, more than any of the other watches. The layout is ultimately legible for the amount of information presented.
It was a close toss-up between the Montblanc and the Ulysse Nardin for me, but when it came down to it, I found the Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar to offer the most usability as a watch for people that may only own one watch. It comes out strong as an extremely solid contender, and in my book, a winner among other amazing pieces.
Further reading: Celebrating 20 Years Of Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Line.
Quick Facts Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar
Case: stainless steel, 43 x 14.8 mm, water-resistant to 100 meters
Movement: automatic Ulysse Nardin Caliber UN-153 with silicon escapement and balance spring
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; backward- and forward-setting annual calendar with date and month, chronograph
Price: $11,900 / €11,900 / 11,900 Swiss francs
Chopard Mille Miglia 2016 XL Race Edition
GG: The Chopard Mille Miglia 2016 XL Race Edition is an attractively packaged watch at an appealing price point, and boasts both a column-wheel chronograph and C.O.S.C. chronometer certification, lifting it to second in my ranking.
IS: With its new in-house, C.O.S.C. chronometer-certified Caliber 03.05-C movement, Chopard has really lifted the game for this Mille Miglia race-inspired watch. Its 46 mm case is likely to be perceived as too large by many (though it’s worth trying on before making that decision), but that large case diameter allows for a very legible dial full of neat references to Italy’s historic Mille Miglia road race . . . though I believe that “timed rally” not “race” is the correct term for the modern rendition of the annual event (if only the competitors understood that).
While I am not usually a fan of seeing subdials bunched near the center revealing a small chronograph movement in a large case, the tachymetric scale around the dial perimeter disguises that well. And in a nice touch, having the date ring match the dial makes its distance from the dial edge look less obvious (another element pointing to a small movement in a large case).
Chopard has a long history as sponsor of the Mille Miglia, and company co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s regular participation as a driver is even longer (see Reflecting On The 2014 Mille Miglia).
It’s also worth pointing out that at 9,800 Swiss francs, the Mille Miglia 2016 XL Race Edition is the second most affordable watch in this field. That’s a quite competitive price point for a high-quality, in-house chronograph.
Quick Facts Chopard Mille Miglia 2016 XL Race Edition
Case: stainless steel, 46 x 14.7 mm, water-resistant to 50 meters
Movement: automatic Caliber 03.05-C with column-wheel chronograph and official C.O.S.C. certification as a chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, flyback chronograph
Limitation: 1,000 pieces
Price: 9,800 Swiss francs
Louis Moinet Memoris Red Eclipse
MG: Nobody does chronographs like Louis Moinet. By giving the chronograph center stage and skeletonizing the movement, you get a unique connection with the complication. The execution of this Memoris Red Eclipse is flawless here, and even the subdial featuring the hours and minutes has a ton of character thanks to an enamel dial and oversized hands. And we haven’t even talked about the case, which is so intricate, providing so many details, yet perhaps the most unique feature is that they all come together in synergy.
AG: I like the dial layout and the steampunk attitude of this watch. It’s masculine, it has flair, and there is some thinking outside of the box. I’m not a fan of the case engraving, but to each his own.
IS: One tip for Louis Moinet: if you want to inspire people to read and learn about the many innovations in your innovative chronograph caliber, avoid the use of the yawn-inspiring word “educational” in the first sentence of your description: as in, “Memoris is the first educational chronograph in the history of watchmaking.”
Hopefully, though, the jury will get past that first line and learn just what it is that makes the Memoris Red Eclipse so special, and that is its movement, that topsy-turvy movement.
Despite their intricate complexity and engineering, with the vast majority of watch movements and complications it is very difficult for the owner to appreciate what the movement is doing . . . except for the tourbillon, which is probably the main reason for its modern popularity. The majority of components in a movement don’t move much, and when they do they are often hidden.
The chronograph is one of the few complications in which it is possible to see the mechanisms operate, however, when operating a chronograph, the user has to decide to either time an event by looking at the counters on the dial or turn the watch over to appreciate the movement operating from the back. The latter precludes not seeing what it’s measuring because the displays are on the front.
For the Memoris, Louis Moinet − a brand named for the man who invented the first chronograph 200 years ago this year − has developed an integrated column wheel chronograph movement (this is not a module) that fully displays the operation of the chronograph on the dial side. That column wheel rightly takes its pride-of-place at 12 o’clock.
This is a movement that excites rather than educates.
I could write another paragraph about the beautiful details in the dial decoration, but that’s not necessary as I feel that this watch is already so far above its competition in this category.
The Memoris Red Eclipse features a truly great and innovative (I don’t like the word, but it’s no exaggeration here) chronograph movement offered by a brand named for the inventor of the chronograph on the 200th anniversary of the invention of the chronograph. This is surely a no-brainer to win!
GG: The Louis Moinet gets points for showing the chronograph works on the dial side of the watch, but it is otherwise considerably too fussy for my tastes. I found Moinet’s claim that this is “the first educational chronograph in the history of watchmaking” to be contrived, to say the least (tip to you, Ian, for also seeing that).
RS: Another version of the Memoris was pre-selected last year, but was (understandably) overshadowed in the panel discussion by the overwhelming favorite, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher – only for the Piaget Altiplano to end up stealing the show at the November ceremony (see Reflections On The 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève)!
The essence of the Memoris range is in the dial-side display of the chronograph mechanism: simple observation will teach you exactly how a column wheel-actuated horizontal clutch chronograph works – and yet somehow this demystification removes none of the magic from the thing.
The Memoris is back in the 2016 edition of the competition, and like a good 1980s action movie, this time it’s personal. Picture the Memoris going through a montage of upgrades while Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” stirs your senses: grand feu enamel main dial: check; translucent chronograph subdials: check; blue painted plates with engraved constellations and a gold-leaf enamel red moon on the winding rotor: check, check, check.
To top it off, the 52-part case has received the “Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime treatment.” Actually, that last part may cause this watch to suffer the same mixed reactions as the Grandmaster Chime – the intricate engraving creates a kind of white noise that might prevent certain enthusiasts from fully enjoying the watch.
This is why I think that the Memoris may fall short again, and that’s a shame because on a different night it could have walked away with both the Artistic Craft AND the Chronograph trophies. Nevertheless, it is an absolute corker of a watch and I would love to be proved wrong.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/grand-prix-dhorlogerie-de-geneve/2016/PRE#2016_CHRONOGRAPHE.
Quick Facts Louis Moinet Memoris Red Eclipse
Case: 46 mm, white gold
Movement: automatic Caliber LM54 with dial-side visible chronograph assembly, 48 hours power reserve
Dial: blue enamel
Functions: off-centered hours and minutes, monopusher chronograph
Limitation: 12 examples
Price: 96,000 Swiss francs
Ian: Louis Moinet Memoris Red Eclipse
Martin: Louis Moinet Memoris Red Eclipse
Alex: Louis Moinet Memoris Red Eclipse
GaryG: Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar
Joshua: Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph Annual Calendar
Ryan: Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition
And the winner of best Chronograph watch at the 2016 GPHG went to the Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition.
For more of our predictions in the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), please see:
Ladies’ High-Mech Category
Artistic Crafts Category
Travel Time Category
Mechanical Exception Category
Also published on Medium.