Quill & Pad’s Predictions In The Petite Aiguille Category Of The 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève
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. Please enjoy the opinions of the following panelists:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Ryan Schmidt (RS), author of The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches and contributor
As a jury member, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr is excluded from these early predictions.
The Petite Aiguille category is defined by the GPHG as, “watches with a retail price of under CHF 8,000.” That’s around $8,000.
IS: I can remember an interview with a CEO of a supercar brand on the launch of its latest model. The car was faster, sleeker, sexier, and more expensive than the competition, and the press and public loved it. He was asked how difficult it was to create a new supercar to compete with the world’s best and replied that it was certainly a challenge, but nowhere near as difficult as developing a car to compete with a small Toyota or Volkswagen Golf, where the customers were much more price sensitive but still demanded high quality.
I suspect that the same applies with these watches, and I have enormous respect for the value for money that the watches pre-selected here offer. They are not cheap by any means, but they do offer a lot of bang for the buck.
JM: The Petite Aiguille category is another category that presents selection issues as the competing watches are simple, straightforward, solid timepieces. The goal of these watches isn’t bold innovation, extreme engineering, or avant-garde design, but instead the most wearable everyday watch possible. They are, in short, everyman’s (or everywoman’s) watch. And there are some great choices. But I find that one does stand above the rest, simply for the use of a complication rarely seen in watches anymore.
IS: It’s worth noting that both Hermès and Tudor have variations of the models pre-selected here also preselected in the Men’s category.
IS: I like to see brands doing something different, and the unusual configuration of the Tiffany East West certainly draws the eye. (Although East West? Surely that should be North South?)
The problem for me, though, is that while it’s one thing to do something different, ideally that difference should be for the better (not worse), and this dial layout makes the time a bit harder to read. Quirky, yes, but not a contender here.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/tiffany-east-westr-automatic.
Quick Facts Tiffany & Co. East West Automatic
Case: 27.5 x 46.5 x 10.75 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic, unspecified movement
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds
Price: 5,100 Swiss francs
IS: This Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze, in fact any Tudor Black Bay, is for me not only the best watch in this category, but also many other categories as well. And I’m not alone in thinking that: in 2013 the Heritage Black Bay was awarded best Revival watch, in 2015 the Black Bay Pelagos won best Sport’s watch, and this year the Heritage Black Bay is in the running for best Men’s watch as well as the Black Bay Bronze in this Petite Aiguille category.
I love the Black Bay, I want a Black Bay, and I think it is the best watch here, but . . . this is 2016 and I’m looking for the best watch under 8,000 Swiss francs over the last year. For me, a new coat of paint on a watch from 2013 isn’t enough to win against the tough competition here, even if it’s enough to make me want to buy one.
Further reading: Give Me Five! Bronze Watches At Baselworld 2016 From Hautlence, Urwerk, Bell & Ross, Tudor, And Oris and Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze: An Attractive Diver’s Watch At Just The Right Price.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/heritage-black-bay-bronze.
Quick Facts Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze
Case: 43 x 13.4 mm, bronze with anodized aluminum bezel
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5601 with silicon balance spring and official C.O.S.C. certification; 70 hours power reserve; water-resistant to 200 meters
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 3,800 Swiss francs
Remark: additional textile strap with a bronze buckle included in the set
RS: On first impression the Slim appears perfectly attractive, but some of the others are more obviously complicated and subsequently they are more obviously worthy of the title. But this is an ultra-thin watch, the movement has a micro rotor, and you know that strap will be lovely.
The dial has also got the balance right between simplicity and identity – that’s the key to the longterm success of a watch, and I expect the Slim d’Hermes to be a lasting model. Indeed, Hermès could be forgiven for saddling up for victory, but in a twist at the final furlong, I am backing another horse.
IS: I am a big fan of the Hermès Slim d’Hermès, but I can’t rate it as a contender here for one main reason: it just looks too good. I think that the jury will want something more casual in this category. I rate the Slim d’Hermès highly in the Men’s category, but even though that just reinforces the value-for-money proposition it offers, I can’t see it taking the prize here. Especially as others offer more complications (though with less elegance).
MG: With its contemporary class and elegance this might be the best dress watch for men currently on the market. It’s understated, but against a background of technical accomplishments and refined design. With this watch Hermès proves once again that it deserves to be named in the same breath as its Parisian competitors Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
JM: I still can’t get enough of the aesthetic of the Slim d’Hermès; it is such a unique and modern watch that features great proportions and a clean and legible dial. The stencil-esque numeral design that Hermès instituted with this collection is superb, and I think that this collection will become an icon for the brand. It checks every box you want for a great everyday watch: automatic, 39.5 mm diameter, thin, legible, an all-around great timepiece. The only place that it is lacking is in added features, which is not a prerequisite but helps other watches in the category edge this one out.
For more information, please visit http://www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/slim-dhermes.
Quick Facts Hermès Slim d’Hermès
Case: 39.5 x 9.6 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber H1950, ultra-flat at 2.6 mm in height; micro rotor; 3 Hz balance; very fine finishing
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Price: 6,400 Swiss francs
RS: I really like the Pilot range and was quite surprised to try one on and discover that it was not absurd looking. The size of the thing allows you to take in the vast cake-icing lume on the numerals and it makes for a great bedside clock, too! But here’s my problem: I don’t like chronographs on a vintage-style pilot and I don’t like my pilot to be motorcycle inspired! There are too many degrees of separation here to get my vote.
GG: Finally, while I appreciated each and every one of the entrants in this category, the El Primero-equipped Zenith was more “novel” to me in its presentation than the slightly updated versions of the Hermès and Tudor in this year’s competition, and as a result won my third-place vote.
IS: I didn’t expect to like the Zenith Pilot Ton-Up as much as I do, but it just sends too many mixed messages for me and I just don’t get the pilot’s watch inspired by motorbikes story. As a pure pilot’s watch, the dial works very well as it is large, legible, and good looking. I’m not usually a fan of small movements in large cases as evidenced by the chronograph counters well inside the periphery of the dial, but the big bold numerals disguise that well.
And there’s the perennially popular, and deservedly so, El Primero 4069 movement that is sure to add to the model’s popularity. But while 45 mm may not be considered too big for some, my feeling is that the popular taste in watch diameters is slowly moving in favor of small sizes, and the Ton-Up is too much too late. A nice watch but not the winner in my book.
For more information, please visit http://www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/pilot-ton.
Quick Facts Zenith Pilot Ton-Up
Case: 45 x 14.25 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 4069
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Price: 7,400 Swiss francs
GG: Okay, let’s see: a limited-edition, automatic-winding chronograph inspired by Seiko’s very first wristwatch with attractive aesthetics, and a fired enamel dial, all for 2,800 CHF. Any questions?
In this category that, for me, is all about maximizing fun per Franc spent, the Seiko is an obvious winner. Yes, it would be great if the edge of the opening for the date were cleaner and more uniformly enameled, and I would have preferred a solid case back rather than the clear one displaying an almost unfinished movement inside; but for me, this year the Seiko meets the criteria for this category better than any of the other pre-selected pieces.
IS: I agree with you, Gary, on nearly every point, except your final conclusion that the Seiko Presage Automatic Chronograph Enamel Dial will take the prize here. It has absolutely everything going for it, including excellent value for money, but I just cannot like the dial design. The Presage design looks very dated to me, but not in a good way. I feel that Seiko has perhaps been too faithful to the original design, and this watch would have benefited if the brand had taken just the best aspects of the original dial design rather than all of them.
If the Presage Automatic Chronograph Enamel Dial had been just a little better looking it would have been a clear winner for me. I know that this isn’t a pure beauty contest, but looks still play a big role, if not a decisive role, for many. And Seiko hasn’t quite cracked it in that regard.
RS: This is a very attractive chronograph, and at 2,800 CHF it’s an extremely attractive price for those wanting to venture into the world of the column wheel, the vertical clutch, and enamel dials. The pricing of the Presage is so impressive that you would be able to buy one for each wrist and still have enough left over for a weekend away.
But instead of awarding Seiko bonus points for over-delivering, I am left with two niggling thoughts: first, I find myself wondering what else they might have been able to throw at the watch without breaching the price limit: a micro rotor or an alarm perhaps? Second, with such a handsome design brief I can only imagine what kind of a masterpiece the chaps at Grand Seiko or Credor might have been able to pull off here!
MG: Why do we immediately think Swiss or German when it comes to fine watches? Seiko has proven over and over again that it belongs in the same league, sometimes even by redefining that league. With the Presage Automatic Chronograph, the Japanese brand not only presents its technical business card, but also shows that traditions like enamel dials are as much Japanese as they are European. And all that even for such a modest price!
JM: The best part of a super wearable everyday watch is when it does more than just tell the time. Having a calendar or being able to time events is such a great bonus that it helps make the Seiko Presage Automatic Chronograph Enamel Dial my first runner-up for the Petite Aiguille. It has a beautiful white enamel dial with a vintage look thanks to classic numerals and blued hands.
It features, obviously, a chronograph with the column wheel, vertical clutch Caliber 8R48 inside, and a small window for the date, making this watch an extremely functional and classic everyday watch. It will never look out of style and thanks to Seiko quality will last and last. It represents a great prospect for the everyday watch and only misses the top spot by a slim margin.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/presage-automatic-chronograph-enamel-dial.
Quick Facts Seiko Presage Automatic Chronograph Enamel Dial
Case: 42 x 15.2 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 8R48
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Limitation: 1,000 pieces
Price: 2,800 Swiss francs
IS: The Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition is my pick for the best watch here, but I wasn’t expecting it to be with its uninspiring vintage-style dial, a movement that’s been around since well before I was born, and a complication that’s about as useful today as . . . well, as useful as a mechanical watch, I suppose.
But the retro dial design actually looks timeless: you would have a lot of difficulty dating the 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition, and the movement has been significantly upgraded. And then there’s the fact that the name Vulcain Cricket is certain to put a smile on any watch aficionado’s face. The art of great cooking is to start with superb ingredients and not screw them up, and I think Vulcain may have done just that.
RS: I do love an alarm complication, it’s about the most joyous mechanical experience one can have without having to lay down sonnerie-levels of consideration; and Vulcain is the mechanical alarm maestro. The Cricket has adorned the wrist of several former presidents including Lyndon B. Johnson, who gave so many as gifts that he could have been described as “the president and Vulcain distributer of the United States.”
This particular model is lovely, the dauphine hands and warmly toned dial provide plenty of vintage aesthetic with not a hint of “fauxtina” lume. The subdial for the alarm indication is a great touch, and the movement has huge character. My only misgiving is that the movement is dwarfed by the case – it might have been nicer to have the dimensions meet somewhere in the middle, but when you chime at me, little Cricket, all is forgiven.
GG: I appreciate the Vulcain as well: the classic Cricket alarm watch has received a number of updates including an extended power reserve and conversion of the seconds and alarm indications from the central axis of the dial to small subdials, while still looking as “vintage” as any current production watch I can recollect.
MG: Revamping a historical watch like the Vulcain Cricket, with its annoyingly loud alarm, is always a good idea, especially when it is as good-looking as the 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition. It has its rivals, but the Cricket alarm complication has steadily held its ground for decades and in this watch it offers a vintage appeal without going overboard straight into retro. A very balanced watch.
JM: When unique or rare complications make their way into Petite Aiguille category, it is almost impossible to pass them up. With the Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition we find the only “chiming” watch in the category thanks to its iconic alarm function. Less complicated and revered when compared to a minute repeater, the alarm function is, nevertheless, much more functional in today’s world.
Vulcain has always been the name synonymous with the mechanical alarm, and this edition of the Cricket is fantastic. The styling is top-notch, understated yet distinct, and provides a vintage feel with a modern movement. It is also the most interesting to look at from the rear, and provides a level of horological cred that some of the other watches lack. It exudes a sense of fun and history while acting as a very useful tool.
I definitely think this watch should win the Petite Aiguille category, if not for the fact it is a chiming watch with a lot of usefulness, then for its classic and modern style all rolled into one. This category provided some excellent watches, and this one, I believe, stands above the rest.
For more information, please visit http://www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/50s-presidents-watch-tradition.
Quick Facts Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition
Case: 42 x 12.4 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually winding Cricket V-10
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; alarm
Price: 6,150 Swiss francs
Ryan: Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition
Martin: Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition
Joshua: Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition
Gary: Seiko Presage Automatic Chronograph Enamel Dial
Ian: Seiko Presage Automatic Chronograph Enamel Dial: I changed my mind two hours before the presentation from Vulcain 50s Presidents’ Watch Tradition
And the winner of the “Petite Aiguille” went to the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze.
For more of our predictions in the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), please see:
Ladies’ High-Mech Category
Artistic Crafts Category
Travel Time Category
Mechanical Exception Category