Striking Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014
by Ian Skellern
From now until the end of 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
FG Frank Geelen, publisher and editor-in-chief at Monochrome
TM Tom Mulraney, CEO and editor at The Watch Lounge
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.
According to the GPHG’s rules, Striking timepieces must contain at least one acoustic indication or complication such as repeater, striking, musical or any other acoustic function. Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.
IS: This is the first category in which I think it might be impossible to give a fully informed opinion. When judging striking watches one of the – if not THE – most important criteria is the quality of the sound, which includes volume, tone, speed and persistence (meaning does the sound fade quickly or slowly) of chimes.
I have only heard two of the pre-selected watches − the Urban Jürgensen and Christophe Claret models − and I listened to them too far apart to make a fair comparison, so please bear that in mind when reading my comments.
JM: When it comes to striking watches I have a definite affinity, knowing full well how difficult it is to create such a masterpiece. But how to choose a favorite!?
First off, the Hublot Classic Fusion Cathedral Tourbillon Minute Repeater shows that true watchmaking expertise is highly valued from a brand that, honestly, has a reputation for going after the flashy and trendy side of life. I find the presentation subdued and clean yet still decidedly Hublot.
IS: I’ve said this before (and will no doubt say it again), but when judging these categories I am continually reminded how much preconceived subjective baggage I bring before I even look at the watches. Call me old-fashioned (stand in line), however, if a striking watch isn’t an elegant dress watch it had better have other very strong redeeming features, and I see few of those in the Hublot. That case shape may (no: it does) work with Hublot’s more casual fare, but it does nothing for me as the home of a tourbillon and minute repeater.
GG: Now this is an intriguing category! It looks as if some sort of wizardry is pretty much required, with the exception of the value-for-money Meylan five-minute repeater in steel that I also really like.
Aside from the Meylan, the watches have either fancy drive trains, have included tourbillons, have detent escapements and constant-force mechanisms in play, or in the case of the Breguet a music box complication with a magnetic governor.
And, in most cases we see cathedral gongs that wrap twice around the case for a richer sound, Westminster chimes that sound the Big Ben melody, or both. Very impressive indeed!
I’m also really pleased to see that in almost all cases (pun intended), these watches are based on materials that transmit sound: titanium, steel, and rose gold are very much in evidence.
FG: I also have much respect for Claude Meylan: his La Répétition 5 is within (financial) reach of many collectors.
JM: The Claude Meylan La Répétition 5 is a lovely skeleton watch with a classic style and simple, refined mechanism striking hours and five minutes. It also happens to be extremely affordable in price for a piece such as this.
IS:: While the other models in this collection are basically money-no-object-trying-to-be-best-in-class, at 16,500 Swiss francs (around $16,000) the Claude Meylan La Répétition 5 is a relatively affordable chiming watch.
Admittedly it is a five-minute rather than a minute repeater, but the tonal magic should still be there. My main concern for La Répétition 5 is for the quality of the chimes as getting the sound right takes time and that’s money. Until I get a chance to hear a La Répétition 5 for myself, I’ll have to hold judgment.
GG: The Meylan is almost too affordable not to buy; but the engraving on the openwork is way too aggressive for me, I’m afraid. My guess is that this watch will do well in the marketplace with buyers who have always wanted to own a striking watch but who have found the cost of doing so prohibitive.
IS: I think that the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is about selecting the best watches in class from watches available to the public, and while “public” may refer to a small number of (rich) people, with the exception of the artistic craft and jewelry categories, for me the watches need to be in an edition greater than one.
So, while the Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Tourbillon Minute Repeater Regulator is my personal favorite in this category, I will rule it out of (my) contention because it’s a unique piece.
TM: I don’t know if it’s got enough going for it to win, Ian, but it is definitely my wild card entry in this category!
IS: I had the very good fortune to handle and listen to the Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Tourbillon Minute Repeater Regulator and I was impressed on all counts: beautiful case with gorgeous teardrop lugs and an oven-fired enamel dial using the Geneva technique, aka fondant de Genève, which fuses layers of clear enamel on top of the colored enamel to provide more depth. Few enamellers today know how to do this type of enameling and even fewer are willing to do it as the risk of ruining dials is very high.
GG: If money were no object, I’d be very interested in the Urban Jürgensen. I love the look, and despite the use of sound-deadening platinum for the case, I’m won over by the Geneva-technique enamel dial, classic movement design, and absolutely gorgeous finishing.
JM: The Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Tourbillon Minute Repeater Regulator is such a beautiful and stunning piece with an incredible enamel dial, regulator layout, and quite a story behind the movement. The quality clearly shows, and many a WIS is drooling outright at this piece.
TM: Urban Jürgensen & Sonner, possibly one of the most historically significant brands you’ve never heard of. Able to trace its lineage all the back to eighteenth century, by the nineteenth century the timepieces produced by the small company were of such high quality that it was often said that any watch collector serious about his passion should have at least one in his collection.
In more recent times the firm was helmed by master watchmaker Peter Baumberger with highly respected English watchmaker Derek Pratt working by his side. Sadly, Pratt passed away in 2009, with Baumberger following soon after in 2010.
IS: The movement itself is finished to an extremely high standard and is a one-off. And therein lies the rub: while being a unique piece makes this watch extremely desirable from a collector’s point of view, that fact rules it out of the running for me.
GG: The highest-firepower entrants in this category, in my view, are the Bulgari and the Claret: two Westminster-chime watches, one with detent escapement plus constant-force mechanism and the other with tourbillon and cathedral gongs.
Both very impressive; but the Claret, like the Jürgensen, is a unique piece, which may decrease its relevance as seen by the jury. And with Claret’s Margot quite likely to take the prize in the Ladies’ High-Mech category, jury members may be keen to spread the glory around.
IS: I have heard the Christophe Claret Soprano and, not surprisingly from a watchmaker with so much experience in creating chiming watches, it sounds absolutely superb. And no wonder with its musically accurate (Claret takes sound seriously) four-note minute repeater striking Westminster quarters on cathedral gongs.
While I question the brand’s reasoning for entering the diamond-set model in the Striking category (I would have thought that the sparklers deaden sound), I do like the open dial and the view through to the movement is stunning.
An interesting thing to note regarding the Soprano is that, even though the case is nominally in red gold, Claret sandwiches in a titanium case band because titanium transmits sound better than gold.
JM: The Christophe Claret Soprano and the Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo both feature four gongs and hammers striking the Westminster chimes, a notoriously hard sound to emulate with four musically accurate cathedral gongs. The added complexity cannot be overlooked.
TM: Bulgari’s incredibly impressive (not to mention difficult to pronounce!) Ammiraglio Del Tempo is my pick to win the Striking category. Hailing from the Daniel Roth collection, the Ammiraglio Del Tempo – or “Admiral of Time” for us English-speakers – is as mechanically complex as it is aesthetically beautiful.
As you’ve already guessed from its inclusion in this category it is a chiming watch (the exposed hammers and gongs may have also given it away) with a Westminster minute repeater that is capable of faithfully reproducing the tune of London’s world-famous Big Ben clock (one bar of four notes for each quarter and all four bars on the hour).
FG: While the competition is very impressive and diverse, for me the Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo is the most impressive. Like the Claret, it features a four-tone Westminster repeater, which can be considered the pinnacle among chiming watches. However the Bulgari, part of the Daniel Roth line, also features a detent escapement and a constant force device beating at a rhythm of 14,000 vph (2 Hz).
There are so many horological treats in this timepiece that it simply has to win.
IS: I quite like the look of the Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo, and the Daniel Roth case shape gives it a distinctive style, but at 50 mm, that’s a very big watch. Too big for me, Frank, though I have no doubt that the sheer size of the case optimizes the volume and richness of the superb movement.
When it comes to minute repeaters, they don’t come much better than four hammers and gongs striking Westminster chimes, and for movement aficionados, a detent escapement with a remontoire d’egalité providing constant force are icing on the cake.
TM: For me, it is the ingenuity of the Ammiraglio Del Tempo that really gives it the edge. For example, to activate the minute repeater you don’t use a slide set into the side of the case or press a button incorporated into the crown like we’ve seen on so many countless pieces before. Rather, you simply slide the bottom left lug of the watch clockwise from 7 to 8 o’clock.
Not only does this remove any unnecessary bulkiness from the watch case it also makes for a very cool party trick! Throw in a detent escapement and a constant-force regulation system and you have got one seriously impressive timepiece. And to think, Bulgari is still best known for being a jeweler!
JM: It is, however for me, surpassed by a much less common striking watch, the Breguet Classique La Musicale. A music box for the wrist, it is clearly the front runner for the simple reason that it plays a song, not just a couple notes, thanks to the fifteen blades of the musical keyboard inside this piece.
A new version of an already successful movement, the Classique La Musicale plays Bach’s Badinerie from the final movement of the orchestral suite N°2 in B minor. This is possible thanks to a rotating disc (which doubles as the dial) that holds tiny pins to catch the blades of the keyboard.
But what is better is the added technology of an engine-turned, metallic-glass membrane that amplifies the sound and maintains respectable water resistance coupled with a magnetic governor that controls tempo while reducing the friction and wear of the standard centrifugal governors.
This technology combines to make this piece stand out from the rest, as it does not rest on the laurels of simply producing the best repeater possible, but instead pushing the envelope to create something even more unique and technologically advanced at the same time. This will be a close race like many of these, but my money would be on Breguet for this one.
FG: I do like the Breguet Classique La Musicale a lot, although it is rather large, the complication is very charming and for sure a talking piece. Christophe Claret has done an amazing job on the Soprano, which sounds just brilliant. Claret has created many striking mechanisms, which are also often used by other watch brands and I think his role in popularizing the striking mechanism is an important one.
However, in the end I’d have to choose the Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo because of all the magnificent horological treats inside. I can’t let a minute repeater with a detent escapement and a constant force device end anywhere else than first place.
GG: I’ve handled the prior version of this year’s Breguet, and I felt that the tune is barely audible, even with the watch on its wooden sounding box. Too bad, as it’s a really cool idea for a watch. So, I’m going with the Bulgari as the jury choice in this category.
IS: When it comes to Breguet (like much else in my life), I like the traditional look. The unusual, but admittedly eye-catching, circular guilloche pattern on the La Musicale dial unsettled me at first. But I then appreciated how it fit with the visually balanced four pushers and crowns, and it reminds me of a 1970s disco light pattern when rotating.
With its silicon escapement and balance spring, the Classique La Musicale highlights just how mainstream silicon components are becoming. And another high-tech mechanism I like is the silent magnetic governor that regulates the tempo of the chimes.
While I’d never heard of a Helmholtz resonator before, a little research has convinced me that it’s a good thing that can only make the melody sound better and louder.
I like the fact that La Musicale is a bit different: it’s not a repeater, but plays the Badinerie by Johann Sebastian Bach on demand with a music-box-type rotating cylinder, and has an alarm function as well.
So I think I have to pick La Musicale as my winner of the Striking category.
The results are in, and the panel’s split decision comes out at two for the Breguet Classique La Musicale and three for the Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo:
Ian Skellern: Breguet Classique La Musicale
Joshua Munchow: Breguet Classique La Musicale
GaryG: Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo
Frank Geelen: Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo
Tom Mulraney: Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo
For more information on the pre-selected Striking watches:
Breguet Classique La Musicale
Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Tourbillon Minute Repeater Regulator
Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo
Christophe Claret Soprano
Claude Meylan: his La Répétition 5
Hublot Classic Fusion Cathedral Tourbillon Minute Repeater
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 find out more about the Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Tourbillon Minute Repeater Regulator, please read Simply Divine: The Urban Jürgensen Unique Piece Tourbillon Minute Repeater Regulator.
To read other GPHG round table discussions, please click:
Ladies’ Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Ladies’ High-Mech Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Men’s Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Chronograph Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Calendar Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Mechanical Exception Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Also published on Medium.