Petite Aiguille 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.
The Petite Aiguille category pits watches against each other with a retail price of less than 8,000 Swiss francs.
JM: This is a tough category for me to call because I feel each watch doesn’t scream “Me, Me, ME” but instead acts as the possession each owner is proud of without having to tell everyone about it. These are everyday-wear watches. And because of that, each one could win for a specific style or function.
GG: Tough category! If I set aside my personal biases, I can imagine the jury members being pulled in any of a variety of directions. There’s the Zenith Synopsis with its great El Primero movement, now enhanced with silicon components.
MS: Regarding Zenith’s El Primero Synopsis, what I have to say is this: how infuriating is it to reduce a legendary chronograph caliber to an hour-minutes-seconds timepiece? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Beside that, the open-heart dial reminds me of the Thierry Nataf era that sent Zenith into travesty mode for a while.
IS: Zenith is certainly having a good Grand Prix as this is the brand’s fourth preselected watch. The El Primero Synopsis in this category is accompanied by the El Primero 410 in the Chronograph category, the Captain Winsor Annual in the Calendar category and the El Primero Lightweight in the Sports category. The El Primero movement is a gift that keeps on giving!
GG: At the end of the day, I see this as a race to the finish between the Montblanc and the Zenith, with the Zenith winning by a nose.
IS: What I really like about the El Primero Synopsis is that for “only” 6,000 Swiss francs (approx. $6,500), which is comfortably under the retail price limit in this category of 8,000 Swiss francs, you get a legendary movement, automatic winding, fast beat 5Hz/ 36,000 vph balance and no-lube-required silicon escapement. But while I have no doubt that this is a new model, I just can’t help feeling that I’ve seen this before.
GG: The TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 Chronographe “Racing” even has an ultra-light black titanium case.
IS: TAG Heuer Carreras are among the world’s most recognizable watch models. But while it is full of colors and codes from the world of motorsports, the dial of the Carrera Calibre 1887 Chronographe “Racing” is just to busy for my taste. It’s nice to have a chronograph function in this category and the case and dial design work well with the red accents on the hands and pushers, but where’s the innovation?
MS: I do like the operating smoothness of TAG Heuer’s Calibre 1887, but I prefer the 41 mm to the 43 mm Carrera case and never really fancied the 60-second scale on the 43 mm Carreras.
IS: One thing that Bell & Ross does so well, by the way, and something that so few brands don’t seem to offer at all, is identity . . . a crystal clear identity. You can recognize that dark, square Bell & Ross case on a wrist from across a room.
Despite being priced very accessibly at just 3,700 Swiss francs (approx. $4,000), Bell & Ross has imbued the BR03-92 Ceramic Black Matte with a scratch-resistant ceramic case, which is both lightweight and (for the pilots and drivers out there) glare-proof matte black. When it comes to maximum legibility, Bell & Ross has few competitors. The BR03-92 Ceramic Black Matte is a watch I’d happily wear, but I don’t think that it is strong enough to take the prize in this category.
JM: Two of these pieces do stand out to me if only for their refusal to be anything other than themselves. First off, the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase, a no-nonsense dress watch with date and moonphase and the evolved dignity to leave it at that. The case and presentation are clean and simple, understated and pristine. This watch will look this good and seem timeless a hundred years from now.
MS: This is also one of my two favorite timepieces in the Petite Aiguille category.
IS: The Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage collection has really made the horological world sit up and pay attention to Montblanc because of the extremely competitive quality/cost ratio of the pieces. And the Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase is no exception: at 4,100 Swiss francs (approx. $4,400), it retails for nearly half as much as it could to qualify in this category.
GG: This watch is symbolic of the very rapid progress that new CEO Jérôme Lambert has made upon taking over the brand. It’s a great value-for-money watch: looks great on the wrist, has some nice touches like the applied markers and attractive moon phase dial, and elevates the positioning of the entry-level portion of the Montblanc line without taking the price point into the stratosphere.
IS: I also like the clean dial of the Heritage Moonphase and feel that the choice to eliminate the second hand was a good one. The moon phase indicator and date around its perimeter visually balance the large “XII” and “Montblanc automatic” at the top of the dial.
MS: The Montblanc exudes a lot of “Jaeger-LeCoultreness” – and I’m not underscoring that just because the brand’s CEO used to head Jaeger-LeCoultre…I guess everyone among the specialized media sees some kind of connection there. It’s only natural.
I’ll say the launch of the Meisterstück collection by Jérôme Lambert was pure genius: he not only brought the legendary Meisterstück label from the pen collection to the watch catalogue, but also used it in a clean, pure, timeless range of timepieces that is experiencing huge success while being accepted by more demanding customers even though some of the calibers used do this lack a bit of pedigree. The Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase is an elegant, well-balanced watch at 39 mm and a price tag of around 3,500 euros makes it even more interesting.
IS: It’s also nice to see that there are new watches still being made under 40 mm (the Heritage Moonphase is 39 mm). While there is no doubt that the fashion for large watches is more than a trend, there are still a great many people who prefer their time to come in a small, elegant package. I think that the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase will be a strong contender in this category.
JS: While the competition is fierce, I think the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase will take the prize. Montblanc seems to have hit a stride as of late and the Heritage Moonphase is a gorgeous design that is refreshingly reserved and wisely rendered in both gold and steel.
Like many of the watches in this category it uses a third-party movement, in this case a Selitta with a Dubois Depraz module. With that in mind, Montblanc has made the Heritage Moonphase all its own and has succeeded in offering a beautiful, balanced and charming watch at a competitive price. This wouldn’t be Montblanc’s first win in the Petite Aiguille category; it took the 2011 prize with the Star World-Time GMT Auto.
GG: If the jury is looking for simplicity then the Montblanc has a very solid chance, but I think they might be looking for the truest value and quality rolled into one timepiece. Plus, as you say, Montblanc won the Petite Aiguille back in 2011 so I feel it’s high time that the Grand Seiko took its appropriate place among the other “small hands” the GPHG has chosen to honor.
IS: I would give Seiko a prize for having the persistence to keep entering the Grand Prix, even though their watches are lacking an important (unstated) feature in this open-to-all-comers competition: Seiko watches are not Swiss, or even European. I can’t help but feel if there was a “Swissier” name on the dial instead of Seiko that the brand would have a string of Grand Prix trophies in its Shokkitana.
MS: I also love the Grand Seiko and its technological features – probably among the very best in the category. Yet…there are intangible reasons for me not to choose it over the above-mentioned two.
GG: The classy Grand Seiko, in addition to being a well-turned out watch, gives the jury an opportunity to reach out to the leading Japanese manufacturer.
IS: 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 (perhaps aside from Nomos –ed.).
The golden color of the anodized titanium winding rotor is a nice touch. The Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT is yet another watch in this category that I would be happy to wear every day.
GG: Me too, Ian. As for my personal taste, I would be tempted to add the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMT to my collection.
JS: While I don’t think the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT will win, this is definitely my favorite for the category. I think it’s an excellent example of what Grand Seiko does best: functional complications, excellent movements and exemplary finishing.
Seiko’s combined its 5Hz high-beat movement with the GMT functionality of the SBGM line to make for a very appealing and practical watch. Consider the functionality alongside Grand Seiko’s legendary case and dial finishing and you’ve got a watch that is highly competitive within this category and punches well above its weight class in the open market.
I see the fight between the Meisterstück and the Grand Seiko as being very close, but I think the Montblanc simply has a wider appeal and it’s hard to argue with its effortlessly classic aesthetic.
JM: The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT is a hotly debated and passionately loved piece. Many watch aficionados will claim to their deaths that a Grand Seiko is one of the best buys in the horological world. And yet others will claim that without Swiss provenance and the insane beauty that many much more expensive golden creations inherently have, it will always be a second-tier watch as it doesn’t inspire like its Swiss counterparts.
I am firmly entrenched in the first camp and believe the Grand Seiko to be, sadly, the hidden gem in high-end watchmaking. The Japanese engineering and commitment to quality ensure that not only are you getting a finely crafted watch, but it will also run for years to come and be serviced with a smile and a thank you. Plus it’s a sleeper in the looks category. It does not draw eyes like some other pieces, and yet it holds the apex of Japanese watchmaking passion.
MS: My two favorite timepieces in the Petite Aiguille category are quite different, one a sports timepiece, the other an elegant watch: the Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chronograph and the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase.
IS: I have an admission to make: I’m not generally a fan of Chopard’s non-L.U.C. models. But sometimes the smallest of details can make all the difference, and everything seems to come together in the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono. And then there’s the fact that I quite like yellow.
GG: The Montblanc and Chopard are great, honest pieces, but they wouldn’t fill a hole in my assortment. And while I’ve always admired the El Primero, that hole in the Zenith’s dial just puts me off.
IS: The Chopard’s dial is well laid-out and cleverly avoids looking too busy despite the fact that there is quite a lot going on. I put that down to the bright yellow attracting the eye so strongly.
MS: Regarding the Chopard, I liked it so much that I even told (co-president) Karl-Friedrich Scheufele that “from all the car-related and motorsports-inspired timepieces you have issued and helped design in these past decades, this is to me the best-looking ever.” The chromatic combination/contrast between silver, grey, black and yellow is perfectly balanced, the size is perfect (although some might think it’s a bit big at 44,5mm) for a watch of such features. The finishing of the dial is also great, the titanium case is the most adequate and the choice of straps will satisfy the most demanding strapaholic (like myself) – a perforated racing calf strap and – oh la la! – a NATO strap with colors to match!
The heavyweights of watchmaking are definitely paying attention to the NATO strap cool, casual style! I only wish Chopard would use its proprietary Fleurier Ebauches chrono caliber instead of the COSC certified Valjoux 7750 powerhorse – but I can live with that.
IS: I am disappointed, though, by the fact that the text Chopard supplied to the jury is about the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique collection in general rather than focusing on more specific features and details of the chronograph.
This has been a difficult category to choose a winner in, but I’ll cast my vote for the bright-yellow-liveried Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono.
The results are in, and our panel does not reach a consensus for the first time! Only if we count two votes for Miguel as he requested would the Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono or the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase take the win by a hair (each with two votes).
Ian Skellern: Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono
Joshua Munchow: Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 GMT
GaryG: Zenith El Primero Synopsis
Miguel Seabra: Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono and Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase
James Stacey: Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase
For more information on the pre-selected Sports watches:
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Ceramic Black Matte
Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono
Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase
Seiko Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 Chronographe “Racing”
Zenith El Primero Synopsis
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:
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.
Striking Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Tourbillon Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Jewellery Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Artistic Crafts Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Sports Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.