Our Predictions In The Tourbillon And Escapement Category Of The 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève And We Are Split Over 3 Watches
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2017 edition of Quill & Pad’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why.
The panelists are:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Ryan Schmidt (RS), author of The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches and contributor
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Note: as a jury member, Quill & Pad editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr is excluded from this panel.
The GPHG foundation describes the Tourbillon Escapement category for watches entered as “mechanical watches comprising at least one tourbillon and/or a special escapement. Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.”
JM: The tourbillon category is always a fun one to judge because the entries are usually very different and only share one thing in common: the implementation of a tourbillon. This year it is no different, however the category has been expanded to include a worthy distinction that, instead of a tourbillon, has created something equally special and worthy of recognition. I’m finding myself going back and forth much more than usual as I try to discern which would take my vote as the best of the category.
RS: This year’s selection is pretty decent, but why did Arnold & Son miss the cut? First the Nebula gets the snub in the Men’s category, and now the Tourbillon Chronometer in this one? Is this the tip of an anti-Citizen Group conspiracy (laughs)?
Also the Kerbadanz Maximus; has ever a watch been more destined to win this category aside from Antoine Preziuso’s Tourbillon of Tourbillons? It is a real shame the Kerbedanz did not make it through as I think it would have been a really (literally) big talking point among the jury.
MG: This is another very interesting category and I am pleased to see that the contestants in it all bring something unique to the table. I remember that when I was first introduced to the watch world a tourbillon was something precious and rare, but now they are almost common. I also like that there is more and more interest in alternative escapements, which I often find even more interesting than “just” a tourbillon.
Haldimann Central Balance Pure
IS: Never has a book been so betrayed by its cover as the Haldimann Central Balance Pure H12 by its dial and case: both are absolutely flawlessly and elegantly executed, but in the most nondescript way possible. If you did not know that the alluring sheen of the dial is obtained by engraving the indexes and logo on a silver dial and then filling with lacquer before frosting by applying a fine silver powder over the dial, then you would not know that under that dial is a beautifully finished, handmade (no CNC machines) manufacture movement by one of Switzerland’s greatest independent watchmakers, Beat Haldimann.
All this houses a movement designed by Haldimann that features his patented Haldimann escapement. And while at 31,000 Swiss francs the price isn’t affordable for most, the H12 does offer very good value for the craftwork and inventiveness involved and the low numbers produced.
Developing a new movement is such a rare accomplishment that even the biggest of brands celebrate this achievement, but developing a completely new escapement that improves isochronism, and therefore precision, is in the realm of once in a blue moon. Haldimann’s patented detached escapement also features his proprietary shock absorption system, which allows the balance to adjust more rapidly following a shock.
The escapement takes the simplicity of the Graham escapement and adds the Strasser concept. Haldimann explains that the principle is based on having the impulse and the locking function free from the direct influence of the driver, so the regulator has less influence over the oscillator, and higher precision can be achieved.
I really like the Haldimann Central Balance Pure H12 but think that the jury will go for a more classical tourbillon in this category.
JM: I don’t know about that, Ian. With the new variation in this category (the addition of “escapement”), it is already very hard to pick one watch above another given they are so awesome in their own ways. I ended up with a tie for my third-place pick between the Haldiman Central Balance Pure H12 and the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon.
The Haldimann Central Balance Pure H12 is an incredibly deceptive watch, as you say, looking clean and simple from the front and hiding a very technical secret in the back. This is actually the norm for Haldimann that the watches should look unassuming yet house something extraordinary.
The H12 features a centrally mounted balance that drives the centrally mounted hands. As any movement designer (or anyone with spatial understanding) knows, creating a movement with a central balance and centrally mounted hands in a watch that isn’t especially thick is no easy feat. Combine that with the fact that Haldimann watches are made without the use of CNC machines – instead being made entirely manually – puts this movement into a new level. The technical skill is definitely there, and this is a top-notch example of watchmaking; it deserves recognition.
RS: As a supporter of Beat Haldimann, I was delighted when I saw this watch presented in steel and with that lovely dial. While his more complicated central tourbillon or flying resonance watches would be an easier win in this category, I specifically like what is going on here: a price that provides a stronger bridge to support the entry of a wider customer base, and a movement with a simple but unique aesthetic.
With the category expanding beyond the tourbillon and to the wider “escapement,” it would be fantastic to see a non-tourbillon win, cementing a broader category that should long have replaced the exclusivity of the tourbillon. Let’s hope that in 2017 the jury recognizes the deft positioning and shock absorbing properties of this escapement over the seductive dance of a more obvious tourbillon.
GG: It’s great to see Haldimann getting some acclaim this year through the pre-selection of the Central Balance, and this watch is my personal pick to win the category. While the H12 was previously shown with a silver dial, this is one of those cases in which a new dial/case combination transforms a watch: I saw this piece in the metal at Baselworld and thought it was breathtaking.
There’s also the method of construction to consider: unlike virtually everyone else in the craft, Haldimann handmakes – literally – all of the significant parts of the watch by carving them from solid pieces of metal, eschewing CNC machines and other modern technology.
Finally, the very traditional method of fabrication is complemented by real innovation, including not only the central location of the balance in the movement but also proprietary lever escapement and shock absorption systems.
MG: Can pure be too pure? For me, yes; the H12 is too strong of a reduction for me. While I love the front of the watch, the back lacks appeal for me. Maybe that is also because I was so spoiled with the H1 and H2, which I consider amazing.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/central-balance-pure-h12.
Beat Haldimann Introduces H11 & H12, His First Stainless Steel (Relatively Affordable) Wristwatches
http://www.clock-watch.de/index.html?html/tec/hem/hal.htm (technical explanation of Haldimann’s detached escapement)
Quick Facts Haldimann H12
Case: 39 x 10.8 mm, stainless steel
Dial: hand-frosted solid silver in midnight blue with handmade stainless steel hands
Movement: manually wound Caliber H12 with 38-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph, modified Swiss lever escapement with Haldimann shock absorber; frosted finish
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 31,000 Swiss francs
Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon
IS: The Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon is a tourbillon with silicon escapement, 60-hour power reserve, and automatic winding. It is rated at 100-meters water resistance and boasts a near-eternal white oven-fired enamel dial. And all this for 28,000 Swiss francs?
I know price isn’t supposed to be taken into account, but should value for money be considered? I don’t know, that’s a question the jury has to ask itself; and if the answer is yes, then the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon is the unbeatable winner for me.
GG: I know that price isn’t a formal criterion per se, but I have to hand it to Ulysse Nardin for creating an attractive watch with a flying tourbillon and fired enamel dial that are both produced in-house and then offering it for 28,000 CHF!
Further reading: Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon: The Evolution Of Classic (And An Unbelievable Price)
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/marine-tourbillon and/or www.ulysse-nardin.com/news/marine-tourbillon.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon
Case: 43 mm, stainless steel, screw-down rubber-coated security crown with crown guards
Dial: grand feu (high-fire oven) enamel by Donzé Cadrans
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-128 with flying one-minute tourbillon and silicon spring and escapement technology; 60-hour power reserve; officially C.O.S.C. certified
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication
Price: $28,000 / 28,000 Swiss francs / €28,000
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph
RS: This Royal Oak Offshore is very good looking in my opinion. But I feel in this category you need more than just good looks to make the cut.
IS: How incredible is it that an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore featuring an excellent manufacture tourbillon chronograph caliber doesn’t make the cut into my top three? I just can’t imagine really using this watch as it’s capable of being used, but with its 100-meter water resistance this really could be the perfect beater for the seriously well-heeled.
But I’m after more innovation than complication from the winner in this category and I think the jury will be too.
MG: What happens when a brand gives the watch case too many steroids but not the movement? You get this Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph! Especially since the movement is skeletonized, it just doesn’t look right to me. The subdials are too close to the center of the dial, and the hands look large enough to obscure a good portion of them at any given time. Such a pity, because this is an amazing movement!
GG: It was hard to figure out what to make of the Audemars Piguet: it’s certainly an attractive watch and I’m sure an excellent one, but the write-up provided by the brand on the GPHG website gave me no reason to view this piece as anything novel or even particularly interesting!
For more information, please visit http://www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/royal-oak-offshore-tourbillon-chronograph and/or https://www.audemarspiguet.com/en/watch-collection/royal-oak-offshore.
Quick Facts Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph
Case: 44 x 14.43 mm, titanium, screw-down ceramic crown with crown guards
Movement: manually wound skeletonized Caliber 2943 with one-minute tourbillon; 3 Hz/21,600 vph, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Price: 250,000 Swiss francs
Louis Moinet Mobilis
IS: When Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon more than 200 years ago, it was to average out errors caused by gravity distorting the pure spiral form of the vertically aligned balance spring of a pocket watch in a gentleman’s fob pocket.
But times have changed, and unless you are prepared to invest Greubel Forsey-like resources into highly developed high-precision tourbillons, it’s unlikely today’s tourbillon owner is searching for high precision as the beautiful ballet of the constantly orbiting tourbillon (or two).
The Louis Moinet Mobilis features two large-diameter (14.9 mm) flying tourbillons that are totally open to view, while a kaleidoscope effect on the dial adds even more visual drama and entertainment, although after two flying tourbillons anything else is superfluous. I love that you can see all of the movement and how much empty space there is as well as the funky bright blue hands on an otherwise fairly monochrome case and dial.
The Mobilis delivers exactly what modern tourbillon collectors are after: delight!
MG: I am a big fan of Louis Moinet, and the Mobilis is a great watch, but . . . it is not enough Louis Moinet for me. I like it when this brand goes all the way to the extreme, which is why I prefer the Sideralis Evo over this model.
GG: The Louis Moinet pieces are usually a bit florid for my tastes, and the brand’s marketing prose in past years has been pretty laughable, but I do admire this year’s offering with its two delicate tourbillons suspended in space powering a small kaleidoscope display at 12 o’clock.
RS: This Louis Moinet is lovely looking, but it’s essentially the same as last year’s entry: two tourbillon cages that drive an additional set of disks to produce a whimsical visual complication. I like it, but it doesn’t make my shortlist.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/mobilis.
Quick Facts Louis Moinet Mobilis
Case: 47.4 x 14.92 mm, white gold
Movement: manually wound skeletonized Caliber LM-53 with two one-minute flying tourbillons; 3 Hz/21,600 vph, 52-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 12 pieces
Price: 225,400 Swiss francs
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton
MG: What is not to like about this watch? The design approach and chosen finish of the movement complements the case perfectly. As it is more complicated and comes with a much higher price tag than the automatic version, I find it less revolutionary, yet it remains a significant act of prowess by Bulgari.
IS: Bulgari has really been on a roll over the last few years with its world-record-breaking ultra-thin watches, and the Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton is nothing less than the world’s thinnest tourbillon. Being ultra thin makes any watch more comfortable to wear in a wider range of activities from the most casual to the most formal.
So Bulgari should be hitting GPHG awards out of the ballpark year after year, but is not. So whether it’s because the broad square case isn’t broadly appealing enough or that the brand still isn’t synonymous with haute horlogerie, or something else entirely, I don’t know but as far as technical achievements for tourbillons go, Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton rates at the top.
GG: It was hard to leave the Bulgari off my top three list as every excuse I made to do so (including it being based on a prior year’s watch) was one that I ignored for at least one of the other watches that I did select! I could pretty easily be convinced to move it up, perhaps even displacing the Louis Moinet on a day when I arise feeling less whimsical.
JM: My runner-up is the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton, at the time of its original introduction in 2014 the world’s thinnest tourbillon watch with a newly skeletonized movement. I love when skeletonization is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel delicate or fragile, but instead minimal and industrial – which might be the source of the reasoning you were looking for, Ian?
The Octo Finissimo doesn’t win for me because the case metal chosen was platinum, which makes an ultra-thin watch heavy, and it technically is a variation of a previous model (though mostly different due to movement changes). While it is awesome, I must reserve my winning position for something as new as can be.
RS: I don’t care much for ultra-slim watches; there is something about their visual fragility that makes me feel uneasy, and it’s a race that I don’t really understand.
That said, when an ultra-slim movement is displayed via an open dial and it contains a repeater or a tourbillon – even a simple micro rotor – my personal preferences buckle under the sheer impressiveness of the thing. The Bulgari Octo range is among the most handsome of ultra-thins on the market, and in this Tourbillon Skeleton it is an aesthetic that doesn’t just have me forgiving its profile, it has me rethinking my preconceptions. Super stuff.
For more information, please visit http://www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/octo-finissimo-tourbillon-skeleton and/or www.bulgari.com/en-au/products.
Quick Facts Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton
Case: 42.57 x 46 x 5 mm, platinum
Movement: manually wound skeletonized Caliber BVL 268 with sapphire crystal base plate and one-minute flying tourbillon; 3 Hz/21,600 vph, 52-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 135,000 Swiss francs
D. Candaux 1740 – The First 8
IS: I should like the D. Candaux 1740 -The First 8 more because it has so much that I find appealing in a watch including: a movement by a gifted independent watchmaker, interesting complication (constant force), and a strong, but not too strong, visual presence.
But The First 8 just doesn’t work for me, largely I think because it reminds me of what an F.P. Journe concept watch might look like. But that is a purely subjective comment, and there is little to dispute the technical achievement. The jury is surely likely to contain less Journe-tinted glasses than mine, and it would not surprise me if it was popular, though there is a dark cloud over whether it will be working properly or not.
GG: As for the D. Candaux watch, while there are certain elements of the piece that I quite like including the spring-loaded crown that may not be to everyone’s taste, overall the watch leaves me cold. The positioning of the tourbillon and subdial give a beady-eyed impression to the viewer, and the angled tourbillon approach brings to mind a poor man’s Greubel Forsey.
In addition, according to an Instagram post made by the independent watchmaker it seems that at least as of July 13, 2017 the remontoir and five-second jumping function of the central second hand touted in the GPHG website description have no longer been incorporated into the watch, and a video of it posted at that time shows a smoothly sweeping indication of seconds rather than a jumping one. It will be interesting to see whether Candaux has managed to reincorporate those elements into the final watch he has sent to the jury and if so whether they will function adequately.
RS: My first impressions of this watch were mixed. I find the case and crown to be very unusual, and I am primarily quite a conservative-case kind of guy.
But the dial is really intriguing, and upon reading the specs I was hooked: a gold grand feu dial with white gold markers between the pad-printed numerals, blued gold dagger-shaped hands, an inclined flying tourbillon, and an unusual five-second remontoir with deadbeat seconds to hit the five-second markings around the periphery of the central dial.
At this stage, my thoughts moved to selecting The First 8 as my first choice, on the assumption that the piece would operate as described. However, as per the information Gary describes above that the remontoir has been removed since the Baselworld showing of the watch, I have reluctantly bumped this watch to my second place in this category.
It will still be a lovely piece, but a fraction less characterful without the five-second jump. I do hope the new dial has full increments if a regular hand will be sweeping past it.
JM: A lot of us here on the journalism side of the industry will probably know this watch created quite a stir and a bit of controversy when it was launched. It is amazing, but to some it was a bit familiar in some ways as Ian and Gary have mentioned.
I look at this and say that the design and construction is amazing, the inspiration for the 1740 comes from watchmaking as a whole, and therefore it is a great piece that deserves to be given its due. The inclined tourbillon is fantastic, and the asymmetrical dial is beautifully rendered in gold and grand feu enamel. The sloped case is terrifically organic, providing the feeling that the watch is a part of you instead of something mechanical strapped to your wrist.
Naturally, too, the actual mechanics of it, as Ryan and Gary have described, look different from what the whispered issues at Baselworld seemed to be.
So while controversy may swirl the watch seems to stand on its own, and in this category it stands pretty tall. This might be the toughest to judge for the jury, as many on the jury will know enough to bring these issues up to the other members.
I will be interested to see where the jury goes on this category.
MG: How much of a watch geek do you need to be for this watch? I am still in awe of it. The effort, craftsmanship, and thought that went into this watch is mind-boggling. The crown alone is a mechanical masterpiece consisting of 31 parts and activated by pressure. I also love the unusual choice of materials: a steel case, hand-frosted 18-karat pink gold dial, and movement plates and bridges in untreated titanium! This one is my absolute favorite in this category.
For more information, please visit http://www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/1740-first-8 and/or www.dcandaux.ch/timepiece-collections/the-first-8.
Quick Facts D. Candaux 1740 – The First 8
Case: 43 x 12.65 mm, stainless steel, retractable crown
Movement: manually wound caliber with three-degree inclined bi-plan one-minute flying tourbillon with constant force; variable inertia balance; steel and titanium plate and bridges; 3 Hz/21,600 vph, 52-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication
Limitation: 8 pieces
Price: 216,800 Swiss francs
Ian: Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon
Ryan: Haldimann Central Balance Pure H12
GaryG: Haldimann Central Balance Pure H12
Martin: David Candaux 1740 – The First 8
Joshua: David Candaux 1740 – The First 8
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I get attracted by watch brands that do not perforate the dial to display the tourbillon.
So Haldimann would be my choice.