Reflections On The 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève
In this final round table discussion, my Quill & Pad colleagues Ian, Joshua, Gary, Amr, and I discuss the amazing evening of October 29, 2015 at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva. Our participants are:
Elizabeth Doerr (ED), co-founder and editor-in-chief
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Amr Sindi (AS), resident horophile
JM: The GPHG ceremony was greatly successful this year with the hosts keeping it from running long with windy speeches and comedy routines in the middle. While I still think it carried on a little long, it did feel faster paced and more efficient than normal.
And the hosts were full of typical Swiss humor which seemed to hit and miss with the audience. Granted, I could only hear what the audio picks up since I watched it online, but there were laughs and there were moments of hesitation as well.
ED: Once again, it was overall an amazing night, Joshua! And while I’m not a huge fan of Frédéric Beigbeder – this was his third time as emcee of the GPHG – I thought the presentation was much better this year than in the recent past. And there was one parody quote I appreciated immensely, which caused huge amounts of laughter in the audience, particularly with the man sitting next to me: “In Japan, ‘Philippe Dufour’ is a synonym for ‘orgasm’.” (Yes, you guessed it: I was seated next to him.)
AS: It’s funny, I usually leave the GPHG with a bit of discontentment toward some of the winners, but this year I was quite satisfied with just about all the award winners. Overall, it was a good mix of independents and established brands.
With a few exceptions, to me the choices reflect the state of the industry, where things are shifting back from loud, daring concepts to more timeless designs and executions.
Mechanical Exception: The Jaquet Droz Charming Bird
JM: Out of the thirteen categories I helped predict, I accurately chose six and missed on seven others. The most surprising for me was the choice for the Mechanical Exception category with the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird. The watch is fantastic, the mechanism incredible, and the brand is consistently among my favorites for style and innovation.
But The Charming Bird debuted back in 2013. It just seemed like it should have been entered previously and seemed out of place this year to me . . . so I would like to pose the question as to what the rule is on what can be entered. Must the watch must be in production?
ED: I’m glad you asked that, Joshua, as it is an oft-confused point. In fact, if you read the rules section on the GPHG’s website, you’ll find in section 1.2 that the watch must be “commercialized” (Swiss speak for “in production and distribution”) within a certain time frame in order to be entered.
While The Charming Bird was first offered to the press for preview at Baselworld 2013, it was only at Baselworld 2015 that we saw production pieces. This sort of thing is quite confusing for consumers, and I’m not quite sure why brands choose to do things this way sometimes. Your question illustrates that perfectly.
IS: While I did not predict that The Charming Bird would win this category, it was in my top three and I described it like this, “It’s a fantastic bit of technology, and I would neither be surprised or disappointed if the very aptly named Charming Bird takes the prize.”
I’d be happy to watch and listen to the little automaton all day long and I’m happy to learn that the GPHG jury feels the same way.
GG: The jury and I definitely agreed on the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird!
AS: A bit predictable, but well deserved nonetheless. The Charming Bird is hands-down one of the greatest feats of miniaturization I’ve ever seen (and heard) in a modern watch. This is precisely the kind of mechanical art that goes beyond just chronometry. It makes Jaquet Droz stand out from other historical watchmaking names.
For more on this watch, see The Whimsical Song Of Jaquet Droz’s Charming Bird.
Ladies: Hublot Big Bang Broderie
IS: This was the biggest surprise for me as the Hublot Big Bang Broderie was neither in my top three nor the top three of anybody (both male and female) that I spoke to. While I can appreciate the (mainly male) jury thinking that embroidery is a nice feminine craft, I just don’t see how the Big Bang case can be considered feminine by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly not more feminine than any of the other contenders in this strongly contested category.
I can only assume that the jury’s votes were so split among the other watches that the Big Bang Broderie was able to slip past and win by the law of averages. And admittedly the predicted winner from own panel of four was split between three different watches (though none mentioned the Hublot). This was a disappointing result for me − I had picked the DeLaneau Rondo 42 Peony − though it was certainly a very happy result for Hublot.
GG: I also felt that Audemars Piguet Millenary was hard done by in the Ladies category, in which the jury selected the Hublot watch that received exactly zero mentions in the top three from our four Q&P panelists. Best Ladies watch? Sorry, but I’m a big “no” on that one.
ED: This category is a perfect example of why more women are needed on the GPHG jury. Neither the Big Bang Broderie nor the DeLaneau Rondo 42 Peony are very wearable on a typical feminine wrist with their dimensions. In fact, both of these timepieces are typical men’s watches that have been given some sort of embellishment to turn them into “ladies’ watches” – according to men.
While I truly love and admire the artful embellishments on both of these timepieces, I personally would never choose to wear them. There were timepieces in this category perfectly suited to the female wrist because they were purpose-built for exactly that purpose. Unfortunately, however, this aspect is often lost on the male-dominated watch industry.
AS: I can see why this one surprised more than a few people. The problem with Hublot is that it’s doing some pretty innovative things with materials, but sadly that often goes unnoticed with all the noise surrounding the various partnerships and consequent limited editions.
Beyond the polarizing aesthetics on this watch, applying embroidery right into the case and bezel elements is pretty spectacular to see in the metal (and carbon fiber).
Ladies’ High-Mech: Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock
IS: The Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock was a well-expected and very popular winner. Not only was our panel unanimous in predicting that the Lady Compliquée Peacock would take this prize, it was also a crowd favorite at the event if the clapping and cheers were any indication.
I also thought that it was nice of Fabergé’s CEO to credit the design and watchmaking team as well as Agenhor, which developed the whole movement and complication from scratch.
AS: Fabergé really hit it out of the park with the Lady Compliquée Peacock. Sure, this kind of original display has Agenhor’s Jean-Marc Wiederrecht written all over it. And it brings a certain jeweler-turned-watchmaker to mind, but the result is distinctive enough for Fabergé to mark its territory.
ED: I can only concur on every single point mentioned here. This timepiece is an exceptional instance of mechanical art and has deserved every single accolade attributed to it since Baselworld 2015.
For more on this stunning timepiece, please see Fabergé Inaugurates Rebirth With Exceptional Lady Compliquée.
Men’s: Voutilainen GMR + Revelation: Laurent Ferrier Galet Square
IS: Kari Voutilainen should think about getting his own box at the Grand Théâtre, where the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is held each year. He has become − for very good reasons − a regular winner: Best Men’s watch in 2013, best Artistic watch in 2014, and now again best Men’s watch in 2015.
However, because I thought that the jury would want to spread the love, I expected it to select another watch in this category, the Laurent Ferrier Galet Square. But as Laurent Ferrier picked up another prize, and I’m a big fan of Voutilainen’s work, I’m very pleased with this result.
GG: In the Men’s category I felt that the Laurent Ferrier watch was one of the pieces of the year, and despite my love for Kari Voutilainen and his work, as well as ownership of one of his watches, I just didn’t see the logic to bestow an award on another variant of his Vingt-8. Perhaps views were also divided among the jury members as the brand received what I might consider a “consolation” prize in the form of the Revelation award.
IS: The Revelation is another prize awarded at the discretion of the jury for brands that are a maximum of ten years old. While I’m always happy to see small independent brands getting any recognition at all, I don’t understand the criteria for this prize well enough to comment. But well done to Laurent Ferrier for making beautiful classic wristwatches.
AS: It’s always great to see Laurent Ferrier get the recognition he deserves. While the micro rotor movement in the Galet Square isn’t exactly new, coming out with a more contemporary case and relatively attractive price tag makes this one pretty hard not to love.
I’m still disappointed that Voutilainen’s fellow Finn Stepan Sarpaneva’s Northern Lights didn’t make it to the final six in the same category, though. But no hard feelings.
Chronograph: Piaget Altiplano Chrono
IS: I did not expect the Piaget Altiplano Chrono to win this category; my money was on the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher because to my thinking, a chronograph is more of a sports or tool watch than a dress watch. However, the Altiplano Chrono did make my top three because of its sheer elegance.
As the world’s thinnest chronograph, the Piaget Altiplano Chrono wins for both its technical prowess and unparalleled comfort on the wrist. Yet another good choice.
GG: However, I’d love to hear the rationale put forward for selecting the Piaget chronograph over the others in the category – particularly the Audemars Piguet Michael Schumacher watch that our entire Q&P panel selected. The Piaget received exactly one third-place vote from our group (from Ian), and in his rationale even he pointed out some of the obvious issues with the watch, including the crowded subdials.
AS: You’ve got to love how Piaget does ultra thin, Gary. While the 900P was quickly surpassed as the thinnest mechanical watch, I think the Altiplano Chronograph will keep the title of thinnest chronograph for some years to come.
And even if it doesn’t, it’s got a minimalistic charm that will last a lifetime.
Tourbillon: Ulysse Nardin Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon
IS: While I predicted that the Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision would win the Tourbillon category − and technically it would have won here except that it was promoted to Aiguille d’Or champion − the Ulysse Nardin Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon made my top three in the category and is very worthy of the prize. It’s not often we see a completely new escapement.
And hats off to Ulysse Nardin for placing its new Ulysse Anchor Escapement in such a well-executed package.
GG: How about my complete misses? As for the Tourbillon category, I frankly think I initially under-appreciated the technical advances in the Ulysse Nardin piece that took home the trophy, so see it as a very worthy “lucky loser” in that group to the Greubel Forsey, which took the night’s big prize.
AS: This was definitely one of the watches I was rooting for in the pre-selected Tourbillon category, and it wasn’t an easy choice!
The Ulysse Anchor Escapement is a significant milestone piece for Ulysse Nardin, one that the late Rolf Schnyder would certainly have been proud of. After all, Ulysse Nardin was the pioneer of silicon in the watch movement, and in many ways this is the culmination of a decade’s worth of research and fine-tuning.
I see this piece as a “back to basics” exercise for Ulysse Nardin, foregoing some of the edgier designs the brand has been coming out with in the past couple of years for something much more classical and reminiscent of its marine chronometer origins. I just love how unassuming it looks.
ED: You’ve just said everything I feel about this piece, Amr. The connection to previous owner Rolf Schnyder, the incredible yet understated technical excellence in that “anchor” tourbillon escapement, and the beautiful marine-chronometer visuals of the enamel dial.
This is a timepiece for eternity despite its forward-thinking silicon elements.
For more on the Ulysse Nardin Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon, please see The Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon By Ulysse Nardin.
Calendar: Hermès Slim d’Hermès QP
IS: I predicted that the Hermès Slim d’Hermès QP would win this category because, “Not only is it the only perpetual calendar among the pre-selected watches, but it is one of the most legible perpetual calendars on the market. And legibility is often a big issue with perpetual calendars as there are so many indications to fit in the limited real estate available on a watch dial.”
ED: This timepiece was a fairly clear front-runner in this category: if for nothing else than the svelte, timeless visuals resulting from both Agenhor’s clever mechanics paired with the appealing new look of the whole Slim d’Hermès collection. And then there is the more than fair retail price of 35,000 Swiss francs in red gold.
AS: Overall it was a pretty slow year for calendars, so I would also say that Hermès’ seriously stylish Slim d’Hermès was an easy choice. The Philippe Apeloig-designed numeral font alone deserves an award!
For more, please see Introducing Slim d’Hermès: The Elegant New Backbone Of The Hermès Collection.
Striking: Girard-Perregaux Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges
IS: I can’t stress enough what a crapshoot it is trying to judge watches from photos as most look quite different in reality. And watches are incredibly tactile, which is another sensation you do not get from photos.
But when it comes to chiming watches, sound is everything. While I predicted that the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater would win, I later had a chance to listen to all of the pre-selected Striking watches (well, at least those that were working) and the Girard-Perregaux Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges clearly sounded much better than the others here. Great job, GP.
GG: I had the Girard-Perregaux Minute Repeater as the bronze medalist in its category, but felt that the top three Striking watches were almost too close to call, so could have just as easily picked the jury’s preference.
ED: This Girard-Perregaux not only looks fantastic and beautifully fits in with the historical cohesiveness of this brand, but it also sounds amazing.
AS: It really isn’t fair to judge a minute repeater or striking watch without ever handling it – or, more importantly, hearing it.
For more, please see Girard-Perregaux Minute Repeater Tourbillon With Gold Bridges.
Petite Aiguille: Habring2 Felix
IS: Well, it just goes to show how much salt readers should take (spoiler alert: lots and lots of it) with our predictions as our panel of three − which includes me − each predicted a different winner for this category . . . none of which was the excellent Felix by Habring2.
I thought that the jury would pass over the Felix because Habring2 had won exactly the same prize two years ago at the 2013 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for the Jumping Second Pilot. (See Emotions Run High At Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, The ‘Oscars’ Of Watchmaking.)
This well-merited prize for the Habring2 Felix again highlights that the jury is focusing solely on judging the present year’s pre-selected watches on their merit without consideration for past results. And rightly so!
JM: Something that I was not expecting was the real show of emotion from Maria and Richard Habring. They were the most “real” winners, revealing a bit about their own world and how much the prize means to them at this time in their lives. Humbling, kind, and true people.
ED: Some of the most “real” people you’re likely to ever meet, Joshua. And some of the most “real” watches, too. This is certainly why Habring2 could win the GPHG Petite Aiguille time and again: a timepiece by Habring2 is so much watch for the money! And the Felix is a fantastic example of this, containing Austria’s very first manufacture movement and retailing for just €4,450. This price is jaw-dropping, particularly when you consider both the rarity of the watch and brand and the amount of work done by hand in the movement.
For the full story on Habring2’s Felix, please see Habring2 Gets Happy (And Serious) With Felix, Featuring First Austrian Movement.
Sports: Tudor Pelagos
IS: Well, this is one choice that I can’t claim shock or surprise at as I predicted the Tudor Pelagos to win here. And it did. My reason for choosing this watch was, “I’ve picked the Tudor Pelagos for the number one slot because it’s the sports watch I would buy for myself in this category; at around $4,500, it is easily the most affordable as well.” In fact, I went one further than that and suggested that the Tudor Pelagos might even take the Aiguille d’Or.
AS: I’ve always had a soft spot for Tudor’s Pelagos as a more serious dive watch compared to the stylish fan favorite Black Bay, but this year’s new blue dial version and the addition of an in-house movement really makes it hard to beat in terms of both form and function, as well as what I consider an excellent value for money.
Jewellery: Audemars Piguet Diamond Punk + Revival: Piaget Extremely Piaget Double Sided Cuff Watch
IS: While the Audemars Piguet Diamond Punk wasn’t in my top three predictions for this category − I went for the Piaget Extremely Piaget Double Sided Cuff Watch, which ended up taking the Revival prize − after having had a chance to handle the Diamond Punk a couple of weeks ago I can see the attraction.
The Revival prize was optional for the jury and is only given if a suitable candidate exists. In 2015 a suitable candidate was found in the form of the very convolutedly named Piaget Extremely Piaget Double Sided Cuff Watch. I’m happy to see that Piaget didn’t go home empty-handed.
The chunky, square lines may not be to everyone’s taste, but the Diamond Punk is beautifully made and seriously eye-catching. Congratulations to Audemars Piguet for undertaking such a bold development, as we don’t tend to associate this brand with high-end jewelry. I wonder if that may change in the not-too-distant future?
ED: I highly doubt it, Ian, though it wasn’t all that far back in the past that AP was regularly bringing out unique highly jeweled delicacies for women. These were just so few and far between that most people tend to forget they existed. They have also largely been discontinued in the modern era of Royal Oak Offshores and beefy concept watches at the brand.
The design of the Diamond Punk was overseen by former artistic director Octavio García, who departed Audemars Piguet in January 2015. I had the distinct feeling it might have been a pet project of his.
Artistic Crafts: Blancpain Villeret Shakudō
IS: The Blancpain Villeret Shakudō didn’t make my top three mainly because the aesthetics just didn’t float my boat, but there is no denying the skill that went into creating the meticulously crafted dial. My vote would still go to the Romain Gauthier Logical One Secret Kakau Höfke for this category, but I can’t say that the Villeret Shakudō is a surprising winner. The prize is well merited.
JM: To throw in a little bit of my own randomness in here, I would like to say that if I had to choose just one of the watches that won to be my own personal watch, this would be a very hard choice indeed. But I was the most happy to see Blancpain win the Artistic Crafts category with the Shakudō.
It isn’t the most complicated watch or the most decorated, and in any normal circumstance it wouldn’t be the one I consider most “increditastic” among some of the superwatches that won. But this piece touches my inner core for complexity of design and my eyes could never get tired of looking at it! If Blancpain wants to send it my way, even for a day, I would be incredibly happy to strap that watch on my wrist and fall in love all over again!
GG: In the Artistic Crafts group, two of my esteemed colleagues predicted the winning Blancpain, so I guess I will just have to admit I’m wrong on that one!
Innovation + Public: Antoine Preziuso Tourbillon of Tourbillons
IS: While neither the Innovation nor the Public prize were part of our GPHG predictions as there was no list of pre-selected candidates, it would be remiss not to mention what a fantastic night it was for Antoine Preziuso and his Tourbillon of Tourbillons. This incredible watch with three tourbillons connected by a specially developed differential took both the Public prize (voted directly by the public) and the prize for technical innovation.
Take a bow, Antoine Preziuso. You deserve it.
JM: Antoine Prezuiso won twice, showing that this watch stands out among its peers for things that are harder to categorize and quantify.
AS: I couldn’t be happier for the Preziuso family’s double win this year. The Tourbillon of Tourbillons is a watch worthy of its name, and definitely the best surprise from an A.H.C.I. watchmaker in a while.
Three tourbillons working together on a revolving plate is a sight to behold. You can actually feel the tourbillons interaction happening on your wrist! I also love the fact that Antoine Preziuso worked with his son Florian to make this watch a reality. As mesmerizing as the watch is, to me it’s really this human element that makes it that much more appealing.
Independent watchmaking is alive and well!
For more on this watch, see Antoine Preziuso Tourbillon Of Tourbillons: Fractals Meet ‘Inception.’
Special Prize of the Jury: Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260
JM: It was great to see the Special Jury award for the watchmakers responsible for the Vacheron Constantin 57260; three men who labored for eight years together to create one amazing timepiece.
GG: The Special Jury award for the Vacheron Constantin wizards who built the world’s most complicated watch was, in my view, inspired.
IS: It’s hard to see how anybody could disagree with this special prize: three watchmakers, eight years work and the world’s most complicated watch. This prize ws a well-deserved tip of the hat to Vacheron Constantin.
ED: I couldn’t be happier about this particular prize, Gary!
As readers may know, a brand must enter its own watches into the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Which means that the jury may only vote on timepieces that the brands themselves put forth. This special prize is the only way for the jury to recognize something special in the world of watchmaking upon our own nomination.
As Vacheron Constantin chose not to take part in the 2015 edition of the GPHG, despite the fact that it had presented so very many worthy timepieces in its 260th anniversary year, I will admit to having felt a slight tinge of disappointment.
So I felt a great deal of personal satisfaction by helping to award this prize to the trio of brilliant watchmakers in charge of bringing this specially commissioned timepiece to life: Jean-Luc Perrin and brothers Micke and Yannick Pintus. They worked on this timepiece for a full eight years under the direction of Dominique Bernaz (head of Vacheron Constantin’s Atelier Cabinotiers division) and artistic director Christian Selmoni.
And I hope that this prize sufficiently inspired Vacheron Constantin to enter some watches into next year’s competition!
For more on the most complicated portable watch in the world, please see Vacheron Constantin’s Reference 57260 Is The Most Complicated Portable Watch In The World.
Aiguille d’Or: Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision
GG: Overall, this year’s jury certainly saw things very differently than I did! Of the winners in the 12 main categories, only two were my first picks, another two my second picks, and three were watches that I placed third.
That means that in a full five categories, the jury picks were not even on my top three list! And the Aiguille d’Or winner from Greubel Forsey was a watch that I placed third within the Tourbillon category.
IS: I thought that the Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision was a very deserving winner of the big best-of-the-best Aiguille d’Or prize as it has no weak points. The Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision features clean design, an interesting bubble window on the back, impeccable hand finishing, and well thought-out movement architecture.
While I chose the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision as a winner of the Tourbillon category, I didn’t pick it for the Aiguille d’Or as Greubel Forsey won the big prize five years ago for the Double Tourbillon 30° Edition Historique and I thought that the jury might think it too early for another Aiguille d’Or. But I am pleased to have been proved wrong.
JM: While Greubel Forsey was not who I originally predicted, the result was definitely awesome. This boutique brand always pushes the edges of horology and no argument can ever truly be made against its work!
AS: This is probably the one that escapes me a bit, but don’t bring the pitchforks out just yet! I can totally see the appeal in a minimalist Greubel Forsey and have the utmost respect and admiration for what this brand does.
In its own right, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision is a stupendous watch. But I feel like this was more of an award for Greubel Forsey and all that the Naissance d’une Montre project represents rather than the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision itself. But that’s just me.
GG: Even Stephen Forsey confessed that he was surprised that the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision was the night’s champion, Amr! I love pretty much everything about GF and, as an owner of one of the brand’s watches, have put my money where my mouth is. But I didn’t have this one as the winner in its category, let alone the top watch of the year.
For more on this timepiece, please see SIHH 2015 Photo Essay: Greubel Forsey.
That completes our coverage of the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Now I admit to already wondering what’s in store for next year!