Aiguille d’Or: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014
by Ian Skellern
For the past month, we have brought 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 gave 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. Of course, it is important to remember that taste is subjective.
Now we get to the real nitty-gritty: the Aiguille d’Or. There are no ifs, and or buts any more, just a decision on which of the 72 pre-selected watches is the best overall timepiece of the year. It is the most prestigious of the awards given.
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
JF Jack Forster, editor-in-chief of Revolution USA
LN Louis Nardin, editor-in-chief of The Watches TV
AF Alexander Friedman, co-founder of Watchonista
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: Here are the winners I’ve predicted to date: Laurent Ferrier Lady F, Christophe Claret Margot, Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Central Second, De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon, Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon (while the TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon is also strong in the tourbillon category), Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar (among the calendars the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna is also strong), Breguet Classique La Musicale (I find the Bulgari Ammiraglio Del Tempo also strong in the Striking category), Urwerk EMC (with the TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon also a contender), Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback, Graff Luxury Watches Multi-Colored Butterfly and the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1.
While trying to choose the best of 72 exceptional watches is a herculean task, we can make things easier for ourselves by eliminating a few categories. The Aiguille d’Or is historically awarded to a mechanical wristwatch with exceptional mechanics, not exceptional artistic features, so I think we can take Jewellery and Artistic crafts out.
And a watch under 8,000 Swiss francs is unlikely to be as exceptional as one costing upwards of 10 times as much, so that’s the Petite Aiguille out of the running as well. That’s whittled the contenders from 72 watches down to 54.
Then I think we can delete the Ladies’ category, just because there is less space to put an exceptional mechanism/movement in a ladies watch than a generally larger man’s. So that leaves us with 48 watches from the following categories: Ladies’ High-Mech, Men’s, Chronograph, Tourbillon, Calendar, Striking, Mechanical Exception and Sports.
JM: Oh lord, the Aiguille d’Or. How can I choose, how will I score? All of these pieces are outstanding in their categories and among them stands a second crowd that is the best of the best. The Voutilainen Hisui, the De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon, and the Hermès Arceau Millefiori all make my heart pound faster and my knees buckle.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planetarium is a solar system on your wrist…on your wrist! The Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle is the most accurate moon phase ever, and the Zenith El Primero Lightweight is the lightest chronograph movement ever made. The MB&F Legacy Machine 2 is a watch I want to wear every day, and the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna could be considered an almost perfect timepiece.
GG: For this final prize, I went back to all of my earlier comments on both my views of the jury’s likely choices and my own personal preferences as well, guys. After some considerable pondering I came down to one watch for them, and one for me.
The way that I approached predicting the jury’s final call was to look at my predictions for the jury’s choice in each of the other categories and then cut that down to watches that I thought might have a chance at the highest award. That still left a lot of watches!
My semi-finalists for the jury’s choice included the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna, Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater, Bulgari Ammiraglio, and Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1. I ultimately scratched each of those off the finalist list, though, which left me with three watches: the Christophe Claret Margot, TAG Heuer Carrera MikroPendulum Tourbillon, and DeBethune DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon.
IS: Well, Gary, this may be the dog that bites me, but I’m going to take out the Mechanical Exception category in my reckonings as well. While I think that Urwerk’s EMC should win this category, I’m not sure that’s its refined enough to take the big prize (too “out there”) and the technology behind my other possibility, the TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon, has been around too long now to generate enough awe.
So I’m down to 42 watches, or if I’m thinking about just the best in each category, I’m down to six.
JF: This is the first time I’ve ever been asked to publicly express a preference for the GPHG, and after considerable sifting through all the entrants, I’m happy to say that it’s an impossible task. Even if I abandon any pretense of objectivity, there are too many watches I think are drop-dead gorgeous choices for me to be happy with any one as the best watch.
LN: Watchmaking is not far away from astrology here, serving as an indispensable base for interpretation. Made by experienced people, such interpretations are shared publicly. The verdict, however, comes from the final customer – who likes or not, and chooses to buy or not (here the GPGH jury stands in for the consumer).
Subjectivity is clearly an important factor for evaluating watches. That said, all subjectivities are not equal. Indeed, experience, knowledge, creativity, intuition, political sense, sensitivity to trends, and business flair are key factors. I used them to establish my selection, in fact, and, more importantly, to provide you with one interpretation based on chosen facts at a particular moment.
GG: It seems that throughout this great series of discussions, my choices for the watches I would buy with my own money have differed quite a bit from my predictions of the jury’s final choices! Some of this comes down to money, as I did try to use the screen of “my own money” pretty rigorously and that doesn’t flow in infinite supply; but the usual collectors’ criteria of consistency with one’s personal tastes, relative value for the price asked, and ability to fill a hole in an existing collection also came into play.
JM: Not a single one of my above-mentioned favorites is going to win the Aiguille d’Or, yet all could if they had been in a different competing field. All of them are that strong and push the boundaries of what watchmaking can be. But to win the Aiguille d’Or you need something really special, something that nobody could have even seen coming.
You need to be the first mechanical watch to have a digital timing machine embedded in the movement so anybody can accurately time and adjust their watch based on their own wearing habits, leading to a watch that could be one of the most consistent watches on the market (Urwerk EMC).
Or you need to be the first watch to ever create an ultra complication specifically for women. Not a complication that you put into a women’s watch for the first time, no, something designed with women in mind so that men are jealous they don’t get to play with it unless their wife has one (Christophe Claret Margot).
GG: My semi-finalists, all drawn from my prior picks, include the Strehler Sauterelle à Lune Perpetuelle, Breguet Classique Chronométrie, Montblanc TimeWalker 100, and Voutilainen Hisui.
Each of these five occupies a distinct price point, from 17,500 Swiss francs for the Zenith all the way up to a “sell-off-a-bunch-of-the-current-collection-and-keep-saving” 225,000 Swiss francs for the Voutilainen, which made it harder to do direct comparisons.
To be honest, I’d love one of each; but as I consider my current inventory, in the real world the Strehler (perhaps one of the earlier, less complicated watches in his same line) would be most likely to come home with the El Primero Lightweight quietly calling my name from display cases as I walked by the shops of Zenith’s authorized retailers.
JF: I think one of the most compelling is from a company that doesn’t get much media exposure in the USA (yet): Urban Jürgensen. This brand has two watches competing: a minute repeater and a watch with the center seconds version of the detent chronometer wristwatch movement.
It’s the latter – the Central Second – that I find really captivating. Not that the repeater isn’t, but the Central Second has all the aesthetics one loves about UJ nailed: the dial is beautifully organized and executed, the hands are – well, they’re the kind of hands you get from UJ – and you couldn’t ask for a more interesting movement. It’s a time-only watch, but one done with such attention to detail and with so many interesting technical aspects that you can’t help but love it – I can’t, anyway – and it’s devoid of some of the grandiosity that plagues some of the other entrants.
A wonderfully clear, aesthetically and technically harmonious example of just how good it can get when you set out to simply make a really, really good watch.
IS: I’m with you regarding the Urban Jürgensen Central Second Jack. If there was a category for what “Would you like to wear on your wrist”? that UJS is everything I like in a wristwatch.
LN: I like a few different contenders including the Villeret ExoTourbillon Rattrapante. Step by step, Montblanc has been building its legitimacy in luxury watchmaking, which includes a very high-end section. Since the brand’s integration of the Villeret manufacture in 2007, Montblanc has regularly launched creatively complex pieces.
The ExoTourbillon line is special because of the particular construction of the tourbillon with the balance wheel outside the cage. The second main feature is an 8-shaped tourbillon bridge, which is tremendously difficult to decorate.
In addition, this model integrates a monopusher chronograph – the überchic declination of this complication – whose shape, visible from the back, is a testimony to the fine art of designing refined, traditional calibers. The Aiguille d’Or would sound like official recognition for the work done by Montblanc for years now in high-end watchmaking, and would be totally legitimate concerning the watch in question.
AF: My personal favorite is the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon. Wow, what an evolution of the legendary Speedmaster! Probably the most surprising timepiece by Omega in years. This watch has impeccable finish: no PVD or DLC coatings or other bizarre customizations here! The black ceramic components are just amazing and give a unique look to the watch.
I also find the Omega co-axial Caliber 9300, first imagined by George Daniels, attractive. In few words, it is the fiercest competitor to the Rolex Daytona! It was presented to the world during Baselworld 2013 and delivered to first clients just about a year ago. Its power of attraction and sexiness are still very strong. Probably not enough to compete with other major timepieces pre-selected this year, though…
GG: To be clear, the TAG Heuer Carrera Tourbillon is very much not to my personal taste, but we’re talking about the jury’s choice here, not mine, and past juries have seemed to place a very high value on whiz-bang features. With the advent this year of some fairly compelling smart phone appliances, might we see the jury following this past pattern once again with the additional impetus of trying to show that the mechanical watch industry is deeply technically innovative?
LN: The Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna by A. Lange & Söhne is a delicate union of dreams and science. Let’s start with the dreams, because they are hidden on this watch: the moon phase display on the back is as innovative as it is precise and clear to understand. The motion of the moon around the earth is actually visible, including the moon’s phases.
The scientific side is visible on the dial. Three different circles display the main indications of this complex perpetual calendar reminding us of the origins of timekeeping when watches were scientific instruments. Indeed, the city of Dresden has been an epicenter for academic research in mathematics and physics. This watch pays an honorable tribute to prestigious regional history. And no need to mention the pure design and the amazing technical complexity of the caliber, which includes a constant force system for a power reserve of 14 days, for instance.
AF: I would pick the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon as my winner, even though it is quite difficult to choose among the pre-selected watches this year. There are different timepieces that are interesting from a mechanical point of view or with an attractive design.
The Finissimo Tourbillon was my coup de coeur (heartbeat) at Baselworld 2014: elegant, modern, ultra-thin, light, technically impressive and very comfortable to wear.
It is not a revolution but it surely underscores the position of Bulgari as watchmaker, bringing legitimacy to the brand. Among the ultra-thin pieces seen these last two years, the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon is by far the most desirable. Of course the Piaget P900 is also an incredible watch and the brand has a longstanding experience the ultra-thin, but Bulgari came out with something really amazing.
LN: Breguet’s Classic Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is also worth considering. I compare it to Schubert’s creations, which continue to be played all the time, everywhere on earth. His Ave Maria remains one of the most emotional pieces of music you will listen to in your life.
The Breguet Classic Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar is almost the same. It incarnates the essence of classic watchmaking without being a copy of an old watch. It’s contemporary because of the modern take implemented in the design of the movement with its various layers and perspective plays.
And, finally, it would be a legitimate reward for Breguet considering the serious work the brand has completed since belonging to the Swatch Group.
GG: At the end of the day, I’m hoping for a focus on pyrotechnics within the realm of traditional watchmaking arts, and I see the Christophe Claret Margot and the De Bethune DB29 each delivering plenty in this dimension. Forced to make a single prediction, I’m going with the DeBethune as the jury’s pick, although my personal vote would probably go to the Margot.
IS: Margot by Christophe Claret and the DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon by De Bethune…I think either would well deserve the big prize.
Margot was my favorite watch from Baselworld and it has the following going for it:
1. Completely new complication.
2. Very wearable watch.
3. Extremely well executed and finished (Margot is a tactile pleasure to operate).
4. It’s a ladies’ watch, and what better way for the jury of the Grand Prix to acknowledge that we really are now in a horological era in which a ladies’ watch is more than just man’s watch with a moon phase and a sprinkling of diamonds?
JM: The Urwerk EMC and the Christophe Claret Margot are two watches that I believe have what it takes to stand above the rest not because they are the best examples of their kind, but because they have created a new category in which they are the pioneers. Their makers did not listen to clients who wanted this or that in this metal or with that shape. These creators have opinions based on what they have seen: Urwerk and Christophe Claret both have left the known and ventured into the imagined. And for me, this is where the battle lies.
IS: Choosing Margot would make a strong political statement about the ever-increasing importance of high-end mechanical watches for ladies.
However, if Margot is a step too far, then De Bethune’s DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon ticks all of the technical boxes and has the Goldilocks advantage of being innovative enough, but not so much so that it should scare anyone off.
If either the Margot or Maxichrono Tourbillon doesn’t win its own category then my money’s on that watch taking the Aiguille d’Or.
And not to cop out by hedging my bets with two possible winners, my final vote has to go to the Christophe Claret Margot.
JM: The category of the Aiguille d’Or is for the best overall watch and a separate category is listed for the Innovation Watch prize, but I personally cannot separate the two. The best watch has to be the most innovative and the most unique and that is why I am proposing that either of these two deserves to win.
But if I am honest, I would actually place my own money on the fact that the winner will be none other than the Christophe Claret Margot. It holds no equal in this competition: the sound of its chime is beautiful, the game played on the dial is superb, and the function is, of course, second to none.
With the right suit, I might even be tempted to just wear the Margot because it is so incredible. And because of all that, I will add that the Urwerk EMC is probably destined to win the Innovation Watch prize if the Margot wins the Aiguille d’Or, which will be a very deserved “almost.”
LN: The EMC from Urwerk: “the science of timekeeping”…what a slogan! All of the high-end watch industry’s communication revolves around it, but a normal mechanical movement can be off its game by around 30 seconds per day! Is this precision at a time when humankind considers sending astronauts to Mars?
Additionally, working on the interaction between the owner and his or her watch – great concept! – Urwerk allows the owner to check accuracy on demand and with precision to 10 microseconds thank to a micro capacitor integrated into the watch. The EMC is indisputable: it is a luxurious, innovative, visually disruptive, yet traditionally made watch with incredible precision. What else?
GG: This series of discussions has been a delight for me; many thanks both to my Quill & Pad colleagues and to the distinguished guest panelists who gave generously of their time. I’m certainly looking forward to the jury’s choices, and to discussing the winners later with Ian, Joshua and Elizabeth!
Our panel’s predicted Aiguille d’Or winners look like this:
Ian Skellern: Christophe Claret Margot
Joshua Munchow: Christophe Claret Margot
GaryG: De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon
Jack Forster: Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Central Second
Louis Nardin: Breguet Classic Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar
Alexander Friedman: Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon
For more on the Christophe Claret Margot, please read Christophe Claret In Bloom: Introducing Margot, His First Ladies Watch.
For more on the Urwerk EMC, 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.
For more on the De Bethune DB 29 Maxichrono Tourbillon, please read Two Very Different Chronographs Launch At Baselworld: Glashütte Original And De Bethune.
For more on the Andreas Strehler Sauterelle à Lune Perpetuelle, please read Blood Moons, Lunar Tetrads, And The Andreas Strehler Sauterelle À Lune Perpétuelle.
For more on the Zenith El Primero Lightweight, please read Adventure, Adrenaline, And The Zenith El Primero Lightweight.
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.
Petite Aiguille Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
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In my eyes, the Margot of Christophe Claret is by far the most amazing piece of all these timepieces. I loved to play with it. The chime is complementing it. Just one of the most impressive timepieces I saw at last Baselworld.
Thanks for your comments, Boris!