Quill & Pad’s Predictions In The Ladies’ High-Mech Category Of The 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve
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. Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr, as a jury member, is excluded from these early predictions, so you’re reading the opinions of the following panelists:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Nancy Olson (NO), resident pen expert and watch writer
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
IS: The GPHG 2016 defines the Ladies’ High-Mech category as for: “women’s watches that are remarkable in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity. These watches may feature all kinds of classic and/or innovative complications and indications and do not fit the definition of the Ladies’ category.”
Credit where credit is due: a tip of the hat to the committee of the GPHG for providing such clear guidelines for the Ladies’ High-Mech category. While the definitions in some of the other categories can be nebulous, here we have a clear, concise, and simple statement as to what the jury should be basing their judgment on: “women’s watches that are remarkable in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity.”
This category isn’t demanding a watch to be pretty − unless we think that a watch must be pretty to count as a watch for women . . . and the choice of an Hublot Big Bang last year as best Ladies’ watch definitively negates that supposition in my opinion − but it does ask that the timepiece be suitable for a woman, and I’ll take that to mean “comfortably wearable on a smaller wrist.”
But I do see what I feel is a serious flaw in the definitions of both the Men’s Watch and Ladies’ Watch categories, which today read as follows:
“Women’s watches comprising two at most of the following indications: date, power reserve, classic moon phase, second time zone.”
“Men’s watches comprising two at most of the following indications: date, power reserve, classic moon phase.”
This means that any otherwise relatively simple watch with a tourbillon (for example) cannot be entered in either the Men’s or Ladies’ category, so for some of these models it means that the only other option is the Mechanical Exception category, while the some could have gone into the Tourbillon category.
And let’s not even get into the debate as to whether a tourbillon is actually a complication or not.
Yes, there is a dedicated Tourbillon category, but there is a huge difference between a fantastic ladies’ or men’s watch that happens to have a tourbillon and an exceptional tourbillon watch (think Greubel Forsey).
Now, 100, 50, or even 20 years ago, a “simple” one-minute tourbillon might well have been considered exceptional. But today?
Don’t get me wrong, I like tourbillons, I like looking at them, and I’m even fortunate to own one. I especially appreciate a tourbillon used in a quest for higher precision (thank you again, Greubel Forsey), but there are now thousands of tourbillons created each year; the vast majority is rarely exceptional simply due to the rotating escapement (though they may well be exceptional in other ways).
I would suggest that in the future the category rules for Men’s and Ladies’ watches should not attempt to dictate what complications are allowable or not or even strictly limit the number of complications for that matter; the rules just need to state that the complexity or number of complications should not be taken into account in selecting the winner of the best Ladies’ or Men’s watch.
There is not one watch in this Ladies High-Mech category that I wouldn’t be happy and proud for my wife to wear − okay, to be honest I’m not personally too keen on the bulky look of the Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Lumière, but I’m sure many women would love it on their wrists. However, a full 50 percent of the watches in this category are not here because they are mechanically or creatively exceptional (as the rules clearly dictate), but simply because their tourbillons exclude them from the Ladies’ watch category. These are fantastic ladies watches, not really fantastic tourbillons or mechanically exceptional. And that’s a shame.
Therefore, I’ll rate these watches as I see them as ” . . . remarkable in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity” with just a soupçon of flexibility if I feel it’s justified according to my own prejudices and biases.
And my first bias is placing a higher importance on mechanical creativity than mechanical complexity because the latter is likely to encourage supercomplication monstrosities not conducive to watches sized for women’s wrists.
Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Lumière
NO: This watch gets my vote for first place in the Ladies’ High-Mech category, both for its mechanics and also for what it represents for the Serpenti, a well-loved and long-lived line.
I appreciate that the Serpenti’s evolution includes not only its appearance, but also its substance, and this mechanical addition to the overwhelmingly quartz line is a testament to Bulgari’s commitment to the art of Swiss watchmaking. Also, this skeletonized watch is a nice metaphor for the transparency of the company’s goal of being understood as a serious watchmaker, evidenced by the innovative assortment of new watches – mostly for men – that have been introduced of late.
The tourbillon movement here is beautifully decorated, and I like the use of pink and red gold PVD, since it adds interest and dimension. As for the case aesthetics, I believe this change from the Tubogas style – it is always a risk to mess with a classic – was artfully executed: it feels very fresh and modern, but its romantic Italian family roots are unmistakable. (For more on the history of the Bulgari Serpenti and its evolution, see Bulgari’s Beloved Serpenti: A Brief History.)
IS: While the Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Lumière is too flamboyant for my personal tastes in a ladies’ watch, I appreciate that it is Bulgari’s style and that many women are likely to love it.
And I do like the clever way the serpent’s head has been incorporated into the gem-set bezel with an appropriately sharp rubellite at 6 o’clock. The movement case and gem setting all look first class, but none of those are what we are judging on here. Traditional hours, minutes, and a power reserve don’t add much to mechanical creativity and complexity.
GG: The skeletonized Serpenti and its serpentine bezel especially caught my eye.
Quick Facts Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Lumière
Movement: manually winding Bulgari Caliber 208, skeletonized, with one-minute tourbillon
Case: 41 x 8.9 mm, pink gold set with 209 brilliant-cut diamonds (2.15 ct) and 2 rubellites (1.9 ct);
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve indication
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: 180,000 Swiss francs
Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Tourbillon with Gold Bridge
IS: I do like the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye models and have come very close on a couple of occasions to buying one for my wife. The Cat’s Eye Tourbillon with Gold Bridge displays hours, minutes, seconds, is very artistically executed, and to my eyes the mother-of-pearl dial and leaf hands are simply beautiful; it’s a watch that I would happily recommend for any woman appreciating a fine timepiece.
But, I see nothing either mechanically creative or complex enough for it to be a contender in this category.
NO: I’m embarrassed to admit it, but at first I first dismissed this watch as just another addition to the continuing saga of the Cat’s Eye line. But upon a closer look, I think I was wr-r-r-r-ong.
The carving of the pearl dial is really exquisite, as is the engraving on the iconic gold bridge. Girard-Perregaux has been a pioneer in creating beautiful mechanical timepieces for women, and this watch is no exception, so of course I gave the brand – and this timepiece in particular – extra points for that.
In my book, the Cat’s Eye Tourbillon with Gold Bridge is just about a perfect melding of fine watchmaking and gorgeous design.
Quick Facts Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Tourbillon with Gold Bridge
Case: 32.3 x 37.3 x 11.64 mm, white gold set with 50 brilliant-cut diamonds (1.25 ct)
Movement: manually wound Girard-Perregaux Caliber GP09700-0012 with one-minute tourbillon and 70-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 132,000 Swiss francs
Ulysse Nardin Skeleton Tourbillon Pearl
IS: I’m a sucker for a beautifully executed skeleton watch and the Skeleton Tourbillon Pearl is a stunner. It’s a little on the large side for a ladies’ watch, but I had the good fortune to see a similar case on a woman’s wrist recently and it looked just fine.
The generous diameter visually slims the already svelte height. But displaying hours and minutes, even with skeletonization and scintillating gem setting, have little to do with “mechanical creativity and complexity.”
NO: My choice for runner-up in this category is purely an emotional one, since I just love the look of this watch. I think the skeletonized movement using fine mother-of-pearl inlays and diamonds in its décor is really stunning.
This decoration adds additional airiness to the overall impression of the white gold-encased timepiece, and since mother-of-pearl is so fragile, I wonder how many pieces found their way to the reject pile. I think the shell motif on the tourbillon cage is a nice touch. Seven days of power reserve for what’s billed as a jewelry watch is impressive as well.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Skeleton Tourbillon Pearl
Case: 44 x 11.4 mm, white gold set with 133 diamonds (2.345 ct)
Movement: manually wound Caliber UN-170 Manufacture with balance spring and escape wheel in silicon; 170-hour power reserve and one-minute tourbillon; bridges decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay and 108 diamonds (0.208 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 8 pieces
Price: 88,000 Swiss francs
Christophe Claret Marguerite
IS: I thought that the Christophe Claret Margot, big sister of the Marguerite, was one of, if not THE best, creatively complicated ladies watches I’ve ever seen. And apparently, I wasn’t alone because it won the GPHG’s Ladies’ High-Mech award in 2014.
GG: If anything, Ian, I like this piece even better than the Margot that took the honors in this category two years ago. To my eye, this simpler embodiment of the “true love” theme with its clever (and luminous) butterflies showing the hours and minutes, is prettier than that prior watch.
IS: Marguerite is simpler, but with automatic winding (often appreciated by women), hours, minutes, power reserve and a creatively playful optical effect on the dial, this is a watch that I feel offers more than “simply” making a man’s watch pretty. Pressing the case band pusher at 2 o’clock reveals the usually hidden romantic text “He loves me passionately” (or any other short phrase). To my mind Marguerite is both aesthetically and mechanically creative.
MG: Few watchmakers are as clever as Christophe Claret. And I am not only talking about the ingenious dial on the Marguerite, but also about small details like how the flower has twelve petals, making reading the time with two butterflies a breeze!
Perfection presented in a very romantic way!
GG: My inner feminist also likes that the owner can select whatever message she wishes to appear magically at the push of a button rather than entering a miniature mechanized lottery as with the Margot to learn whether “he” loves her or not, and if so how much!
JM: In second place I have chosen a past champion watchmaker and his very playful timepiece: the Marguerite. The Marguerite incorporates a customizable display that is activated by a pusher at 2 o’clock to reveal a hidden message around the perimeter of the dial.
This watch is the descendent of a previous winner, the Margot, and is a less complicated but still just-as-fun watch that allows the wearer to play the game “he loves me, he loves me not.” The time is indicated by two butterflies flittering around the dial and a center flower decorated with a variety of diamonds and jewels to sparkle on the wrist.
Further reading: Marguerite By Christophe Claret: A Daisy By Any Other Name.
Quick Facts Christophe Claret Marguerite
Case: 42.5 x 12.07 mm, red gold with champagne- or flake-set diamonds
Movement: automatic winding, twin-barrel Blancpain caliber with Christophe Claret module and rotor, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; dial complication, game with winding rotor
Limitation: 30 pieces each of the champagne-set and flake-set diamond cases
Price: 69,000 Swiss francs
Louis Vuitton Tambour Color Blossom Spin Time
IS: As beautiful as this wristwatch is with automatic winding and display of just hours and minutes (the description mentions a power reserve, but it must be on the back), the Tambour Color Blossom Spin Time doesn’t read as though it might be a strong contender – but it’s the way those hours are displayed that makes this timepiece so special.
A series of 12 rotating diamond-studded cubes are placed around the central flower to indicate the hours, and they rotate in turn so that the present hour displays as a strongly contrasting color.
The Louis Vuitton Tambour Color Blossom Spin Time looks like a sensational ladies watch, but even more importantly in this category it displays both mechanical creativity and complexity by the truckload. I pick it as my runner up.
MG: Louis Vuitton is on a roll with the brand’s charming complications combined with a very distinct look – keeping a tradition alive started with the Monterey I and II designed by Gae Aulenti.
The Spin Time complication is completely revamped and utterly feminine thanks to its color theme. Louis Vuitton gives the design more depth thanks to the use of different shades of mother-of-pearl in the center, framed by stunning snow setting.
GG: The Louis Vuitton is quite attractive to my eye, and I also like the spinning cubes that display the passage of the hours by snapping over from white to black and then back again at the next hour – a feature that reminds me more than a bit of the Upside Down, another contender in this category.
JM: As my winner for the Ladies High-Mech category, I chose something that evolved from a men’s watch into a clearly all-woman’s watch: the Louis Vuitton Tambour Color Blossom Spin Time.
It starts off with a center monogram flower in triple-layered mother-of-pearl that has been hand-colored and -shaped. The dial is a broad expanse of diamonds with 12 squares circling the dial. A single hand indicates minutes while the squares indicate hours in a unique way. Each square is a double-sided cube featuring white and black diamonds on opposing sides.
When the hour changes, the current hour square and the next hour square rotate 180 degrees front to back, changing color and indicating a new hour.
The jumping hour mechanism has always been one of my favorite mechanisms, so it comes as no surprise that this watch gets my vote for winner. It has a very “Legally Blonde” feel about it with so much pink and sparkles, but just like the main protagonist in that film, Elle Woods, the mechanism behind it is clever and remarkable.
Quick Facts Louis Vuitton Tambour Color Blossom Spin Time
Case: 39.5 x 11.9 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic movement (caliber not specified) with Spin Time complication by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton
Functions: hours shown by spinning cubes, minutes
Price: 83,000 Swiss francs
Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down Art Deco
IS: Art Deco can be a very polarizing style. And when I first saw the dial of the Upside Down Art Deco, I thought, “ugh.”
But as is so often the case, the closer and more carefully I examined the finer details – and Art Deco is all about the finer details – I began to not only like, but to enjoy and appreciate the dial more and more.
But to be honest, this watch is so clearly head and shoulders above the others here by the rules of the category that Ballouard could have coated the dial in pig swill and I would still have selected it as a winner.
Complexity: A+. Just look at the back of the movement. Phenomenal!
Creativity A+. Indicating the hour by means of having all of the numerals upside except the present time. Sheer genius.
And I’d like to award another A+ to Ludovic Ballouard for the idea of reimagining this Upside Down as a woman’s watch, doing it so superbly and entering in the Ladies’ High-Mech category, where it is just heads and shoulders above a very strong field. Brilliant decision.
MG: Ballouard keeps surprising me with the versatility of his Upside Down. Every time I think I have a favorite model, he comes out with another one that takes my breath away.
With the Upside Down Art Deco he succeeds in making a strong statement with elegance. I especially like the way he uses diamonds because they are only used here where they have a function, as in being part of the Art Deco image.
He refrained from adding them to the case, and I think that that makes the design so much stronger. Combined with the fun yet practical complication, he succeeded in making a complicated ladies’ watch that is perfect for everyday wear!
GG: As an owner (see Why I Bought It: Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down), I’m of course a big fan of the Upside Down, but the clever complication it contains dates back to 2010 and I’m not so enthusiastic about considering this version to be a truly “new” watch in the same way that others in the category are.
I do, however, quite like what Ludovic has done to combine diamonds, feathers, and mother of pearl into an attractive dial-side display as well as the use of a revolving disk to show the passage of seconds.
JM: For the Ladies High-Mech category I’ll always be torn between pure mechanics and lovely timepieces, but luckily there are a lot of great choices that cover both the bases.
Coming in as my second runner-up, is the Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down Art Deco, a new female-oriented version of the watchmaker’s popular Upside Down.
Using a variety of finishes, materials, and textures, the Upside Down Art Deco creates a tapestry of early Art Deco design across the middle of the dial. Combined with the mother-of-pearl outer ring and rotating blued numerals, this ladies’ version definitely stands apart.
But what really gives it the extra something is the incredible movement hidden underneath: only alluded to by the unique rotating numerals, the movement is a thing of beauty in its own right, making this watch a very solid choice.
Further reading: When Confusion Paves The Way To Awe: The Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down.
Quick Facts Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down Art Deco
Case: platinum, 41 x 11 mm
Movement: manual winding Ballouard Caliber B01, based on the Peseux 7001 gear train and barrel geometry with patented jumping hours complication; 21,600 vph, 36-hour power reserve
Functions: hours (indicated by jumping rotating disks), minutes, subsidiary seconds
Price: 85,000 Swiss francs
GaryG: Christophe Claret Marguerite
And the winner of best Ladies’ High-Mech watch at the 2016 GPHG went to the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Tourbillon with Gold Bridge.
For more of our predictions in the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), please see:
Artistic Crafts Category
Travel Time Category
Mechanical Exception Category