Our Predictions In The Ladies’ High-Mech Category Of The 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève: The Panel Is Unanimous
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 Ladies High-Mech category for watches entered as “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.”
RS: The air is a little thin up here in the Ladies High-Mech category; it’s making me feel rather disorientated and I keep thinking we are in the Ladies or Artistic Crafts category. Take the Chaumet, for example: it’s a stunning watch with a beautiful dial and a high concentration of poetry – but it is essentially a two-handed watch with disks instead of hands. It might make my top three in those other categories but not this one.
IS: What a paucity of qualified talent we have in the 2017 Ladies High-Mech category, Ryan! And that’s not a reflection of the quality and beauty of the watches shortlisted here, but even with an unbelievably broad definition of “high-mech,” more than half of the shortlisted watches here should be in the Ladies category
I’m gurêssing that reason that so many relatively complication-lite watches made it onto the Ladies’ High-Mech top-six shortlist is because so few truly high-mech ladies models were entered.
Watches can already qualify for the much simpler Ladies category even with two complications that include moon phase, date, power reserve, and second time zone. By that definition, all but two models in this shortlist qualify for the Ladies category, most with a complication to spare! I find it a pity that this category wasn’t withdrawn through lack of qualified entries rather than be diluted so much it’s basically a second Ladies category.
In the GPHG’s own rules, the Ladies’ High-Mech category is for “women’s watches that are remarkable regarding their mechanical creativity and complexity.” By that definition, I think that only one (three at a stretch) of the watches in this category qualify.
I hope that the obvious unsuitability of the majority of watches in this category encourages both the GPHG committee to filter the nominees in each category with more diligence in the future, and that members of the jury pay more attention to the definitions of each category and challenge or ignore unsuitable watches. To say that I am disappointed in how this category has been managed is an understatement, and if any of the non-qualifying brands below were recommended to enter this category by the GPHG then I suggest that they demand a refund.
JM: The Ladies High-Mech category is a bit of a head scratcher for me this year, I don’t know if it really displays all the best high-mech ladies watches that were available for judging in the competition, especially when considering the Ladies category.
I think the Urwerk UR-106 Flower Power and perhaps even the Fiona Krüger Petit Skull Celebration should have switched places with the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Celestial or the Claude Meylan Tortue Petite Fleur.
I agree, Ian, that some of these watches feel out of place. Don’t get me wrong, they all are pretty fantastic watches in and of themselves, but to be placed in the High-Mech category feels a bit forced.
This makes me wonder if there are enough watches to have another category for ladies’ calendar and/or moon phase watches (of which there are four between the two categories), opening both of those categories up for watches that fit better. I know there were plenty of entrants, so perhaps this mishmash of a category will both push watchmakers to create more high-mech women’s watches and the GPHG to expand and cater more toward the finer gender.
There are some great watches in this category, however, and at least two that are battling for the best of the year.
MG: Complications have become more and more common in ladies’ watches, and that is a good thing. What is even better is that they are not blindly copied, or at least for the most part no longer blindly copied from men’s watches. Creativity runs wild with some brands, and I love it!
A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 Moonphase
IS: This is one of the rare watches here that is too complicated to qualify for the Ladies category, which requires a watch to have two or less additional complications that include date, moon phase, and power reserve: the A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 Moonphase has all three.
Neat and clean, the iconic Lange 1 design remains impeccable, and this model is likely to make a lot of women (and men with small wrists) very happy. I don’t think that there’s anything particularly remarkable about the creativity or complexity of the mechanics in this variation, but as one of the few watches that officially merits inclusion in this category it qualifies as one of my podium placements.
GG: This and the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Celestial are in my opinion very much girls among women in this set, I’m afraid. Had the Little Lange 1 Moonphase included the day/night complication of the brand’s entry into the Men’s category it might have merited a mention, but even with the addition of the power reserve and big date I didn’t see the Lange as a “high-mech” contender. And the Girard-Perregaux with its big moon phase isn’t up to the competition, at least in my view.
JM: When a watch by A. Lange & Söhne is in a category, it better be up against some stiff competition to take anything other than top honors. This time around it happens to be true, but the Little Lange 1 Moonphase still rings as a fantastic competitor in the High-Mech category. A. Lange & Söhne knows how to make a watch look good; the brand has been doing it for years. And each new watch begets a new movement, something any hardcore watch enthusiast can appreciate.
The main reason it comes in third for me, however, is that while it is incredible, I don’t know if it truly exhibits mechanical creativity or innovative complication. Compared to the watches I didn’t choose, yes it does. Though as A. Lange & Söhne goes, it is fairly middle of the road, displaying the quality of this brand’s watches. Does it stand out as the best High-Mech watch of 2017? I have to say, sadly, not this time.
RS: It’s not every day that I dismiss an A. Lange & Söhne, but with a format and movement template that is more than 20 years old now, I’m not going to be in a hurry to let some guilloché take the crown in this category. But it’s a great watch and one that I would be delighted to see in the wild nonetheless.
MG: My big question is: what is not to like about the Little Lange 1 Moonphase? (In fact, I wonder if Elizabeth already has it on order.) This is the perfect everyday watch, combining some of the brand’s signature complications and presenting them on that stunning dial with an unusual and decorative guilloché motif. It could easily be a jury favorite, although for me in this competition it has to settle for a shared second place.
For more information, please see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/little-lange-1-moonphase and/or www.alange-soehne.com/en/news-and-more/little-lange-1-moon-phase.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 Moonphase
Case: 36.8 x 9.5 mm, pink gold
Movement: manually winding A. Lange & Söhne Caliber L.121.2; 72-hour power reserve, twin spring barrels, 21,600/3 Hz frequency, 8 screw-mounted gold chatons
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; large date, moon phase, power reserve
Artistic techniques: guilloché
Price: 39,300 Swiss francs
Chaumet Creative Complication Colombes
GG: I pretty much tossed a coin to split the second-place tie between the Mastergraff Floral Tourbillon and this Chaumet; the Graff has a bit of an edge due to its tourbillon, but the Chaumet impresses with its creative display of hours and minutes and the whimsical joining of the two rings in the birds’ beaks once each hour to form either the number eight or the infinity symbol, depending on how one wishes to see it.
And both the Chaumet and the Graff look to be beautifully made from the descriptions and images; I know that the jury will have a closer look!
IS: When I first saw the flying dove indications, I thought this was a Van Cleef & Arpels Poetic Complication. And then I thought (not for the first or last time), what on earth is this watch doing in the Ladies’ High-Mech category at all? Again, is a power reserve indicator is all it takes to be considered one of the top six Ladies’ High-Mech creations of 2017?
The Chaumet Creative Complication Colombes is a beautifully bejeweled and poetic ladies’ wristwatch, but replacing two hands (hour and minutes) with two disks (each bearing a dove) cannot possibly meet even a very broad definition of “high-mech.”
“Here, the dial doesn’t just tell the time, it tells a story.” That press release snippet may be true, but in this category the Chaumet is telling a story in the wrong language: the Complication Colombes is complication in name only.
MG: This is one of the most beautiful watches I have seen in a while, yet there are several things that profoundly disturb me. While masterly crafted, this watch just doesn’t say “Chaumet” to me as distinctly as a Dandy or a Class One model would. In fact, I feel this watch could have been made by several other brands. Aside from that, it seems to be lost in this category as it is in the end not that complicated. In the Artistic Crafts category I might have even made it a winner, but in this category it is simply not “high-mech” enough for me.
For more information, please see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/creative-complication-colombes.
Quick Facts Chaumet Creative Complication Colombes
Case: 41 x 14.5 mm, white gold set with 300 brilliant-cut diamonds (2.54 ct) and cabochon sapphire in crown
Movement: automatic Caliber CP12V-XII
Functions: hours, minutes
Artistic techniques: guilloché, enamel, engraving, gems
Limitation: 12 pieces
Price: 113,000 Swiss francs
Mastergraff Floral Tourbillon
MG: I am always impressed with Graff, and the Floral Tourbillon is no exception. Every detail seems to be thought out to the extreme; there is quite a bit to look at, and the majority of it moves. The tourbillon is there, but merely a player contributing to the watch as a whole and not claiming center stage. The beauty of the handcrafted flowers was a big draw for me personally, yet two points keep this from being the winner in my book: there is not another straight line in this beautiful watch, yet straight lines dominate the unattractive lugs. I am obviously not a fan of these lugs, which seem to have come right from the Corum Bubble.
JM: The Graff Mastergraff Floral Tourbillon is an incredible watch to hold and admire. Witnessing it at Baselworld 2017 definitely made an impression on me, and I was happy to see it in this category. The gold and enamel flowers are tremendous and beautiful, and adding them to the wheels is a lovely touch.
The tourbillon and rest of the movement are superb, and overall this watch makes a great statement about producing interesting mechanical pieces for women. Though the model is a stylistic refresh of an earlier model, it still is something worth taking note of. Yet the mechanical creativity and complexity weren’t up to par with my winner, so it safely became my second-place pick.
IS: The Mastergraff Floral Tourbillon is a stunning ladies’ watch. From what I saw at Baselworld, this watch includes a tourbillon and two rotating roses, which is a simple, but category-qualifying, automate. The regular rotation takes place in tune with the timekeeping, so the revolutions of the roses are nearly invisible like constantly rotating seconds, but make for great animation on the dial nonetheless with the changing positions of the decorative plants.
Do a tourbillon and two rotating roses on the dial demonstrate remarkable mechanical creativity and complexity? Not to my mind, but in this shortlist it’s more than enough for a podium place.
For more information, please see www.graffdiamonds.com/watches/watch/mastergraff-floral-tourbillon-38mm and/or www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/mastergraff-floral-tourbillon.
Quick Facts Mastergraff Floral Tourbillon
Case: 38 x 10.73 mm, white gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds
Movement: unspecified manually winding caliber with one-minute tourbillon; 68-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Artistic techniques: enamel
Price: 195,000 Swiss francs
Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Celestial
IS: Hours, minutes, moon phase? I had to check the category again: a moon phase is “high-mech” now? Add a date and it will be a grande complication!
RS: This is a very attractive watch. And I wanted to dismiss this as not “high-mech” enough as well, Ian, but after reading that the moon phase gears are driven directly from the barrel I acknowledge that this is more then just an enlarged moon phase; it’s a reconfigured one. I still think this belongs in the Ladies category but I like it enough not to write a letter of complaint to the GPHG. In fact I like it enough to make it my third pick.
IS: As beautiful as I find the Cat’s Eye Celestial, I’d still rate “over-large moon phase indicator” as more artistically executed than mechanically remarkable. But don’t take my word for that: in Girard-Perregaux’s text describing the Cat’s Eye Celestial on the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève website, there is not one word in the full text either claiming or highlighting the technical or mechanically creativity in the watch. The Celestial is many things, but it is certainly not high-mech in my opinion.
Regardless of how or why, the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Celestial made the GPHG shortlist, and I like it. I love the way that the moon phase indication takes up so much of the dial; I love the judicious use − enough, but not too much − of sparklers, and my wife (to whose taste I bow) is a big fan of the Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye. I think “Celestial” is quite a lofty name for a moon phase complication, but it may well have helped get this model onto the shortlist. But like so many others in this category, this Cat’s Eye qualifies in the GPHG Ladies watches category with a complication to spare.
MG: Only a few brands can create magnificent watches based on an oval shape: Piaget comes to mind, as does Parmigiani and Audemars Piguet’s Millenary, but also Girard-Perregaux. The Celestial is, in my opinion, the best Cat’s Eye yet; the design is completely harmonious, and that is quite a feat when dealing with such a precarious shape. The moon phase is not only oversized, but also astronomical, only requiring correcting once every 360 years. A very solid third place for me.
Quick Facts Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye Celestial
Case: 35.4 x 30.4 x 11.4 mm, pink gold set with 62 brilliant-cut diamonds (.80 ct)
Movement: automatic Girard-Perregaux Caliber GP3300-0125; 46-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; moon phase
Artistic techniques: guilloché
Price: 28,520 Swiss francs
Claude Meylan Tortue Petite Fleur
RS: My second choice is the Claude Meylan Tortue Petit Fleur. Well, I guess you could dispute how “high-mech” a micro rotor really is, but there is something mechanically complex in the aesthetic and overall balance of this piece that captivates me. I love the way the movement is structured, and the cutouts on the dial are really unusual.
My only criticism is that the text ought to have been more discreetly set onto the timekeeping dial and not across the view of the rotor. Actually reading the time might be a write-off come dusk, but I can’t imagine that causing any regret to its wearer!
GG: The Claude Meylan is a pleasant-looking timepiece in photos, and I do like the dial-side winding rotor and exposed escapement, but it falls short for me relative to my top three picks.
MG: For me this stunning-looking Claude Meylan seems to be just as lost as the Chaumet in this category. Again, it is a stunning watch with an innovative approach to design, and here at a relatively affordable price (in comparison). But to me, it is simply not complicated enough to be taken seriously in this category.
IS: Please, Claude Meylan, do not take this personally and note that I do think that the Tortue Petite Fleur is a beautiful ladies’ watch, but surely skeletonization is an art or craft (when done by hand) rather than being remarkably mechanically creative or mechanically complex: so that leaves the front-view micro rotor as the high-mech element here? So is automatic winding now High-Mech as well?
For more information, please see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/tortue-petite-fleur.
Quick Facts Claude Meylan Tortue Petite Fleur
Case: 31 x 31 x 11 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic skeletonized Caliber 7.75CM17 with micro rotor; 38-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Artistic techniques: gems
Price: 6,980 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
GG: This latest Poetic Complication from Van Cleef & Arpels is the clear winner for me in this category, as it combines true “high-mech” wizardry with creativity and beautiful craftsmanship. I love that the butterfly automaton operates both on demand and on a random basis dictated by the underlying mechanism informed by the activity level of the wearer. It’s a beautiful piece, and I’m sure it will bring endless hours of pleasure to each of its owners.
In past years, I’ve wished that some of the pieces in this category revealed a bit less of their mechanical details through the case back; this Van Cleef & Arpels is also very much to my taste in that regard as the view of the reverse shows a lovely bas relief engraving and a tantalizing view of the weighted automatic rotor, but nothing more.
IS: The Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate is an easy clear-cut winner for me because it is the only watch here that so obviously demonstrates what the category definition stipulates: remarkable mechanical creativity and complexity.
At 290,260 Swiss francs the price is as impressive as the spectacle: what makes this watch a worthy winner is that the butterfly automaton in which the colorful butterfly on the dial opens and closes its wings in an irregular or apparently random number of times from one to four and every two to four minutes depending whether the watch is being worn or not. This uncertainty regarding when and for how long is likely to generate long-term interest in the automaton, and for those that don’t like waiting, the butterfly can be activated by a pusher.
That automaton has the “high-mech” covered, while the “Ladies” part of the category is taken care of by a lot of artistic bling including a diamond-set bezel and diamond-set crown. But it’s the dial that really comes alive with a panoply of snow-set diamonds, colorful sapphires, mother-of-pearl, champlevé, paillonné, plique-à-jour and curved plique-à-jour enamel as well as miniature painting. It’s like having the Louvre on your wrist!
RS: Having seen a brief video of this watch before and on first inspection of the High-Mech pre-selection, I was convinced that this was the clear winner. On further reviewing of the specifications I have become a fanatical supporter of this watch and only more convinced of its merit.
Van Cleef & Arpels has hit so many home runs with its fine mix of artistic craft and mechanical whimsy, the latter often masterfully delivered by the likes of Agenhor. This one is a particularly excellent example, and in my mind it’s the only watch in the category to really nail the “remarkable in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity” brief.
At once a power reserve indicator and a poetic automaton, I am hungry to learn more about this watch and very much hope to handle one soon. I love the idea that the wings flutter in varying speeds depending on the reserve, and the “random” frequency by which the butterfly activates is determined by the movement of its wearer: once every four minutes for low activity, once every two minutes for high, I believe. This is my favorite watch in the category by a long shot, and among my favorites from the whole show.
JM: I have to say that Van Cleef & Arpels has been killing it in recent years as it has paid more attention to high-mech and horological creativity than many other brands with horological reputations to protect. The Lady Arpels Papillon Automate is a stellar example of providing something that very few watch brands have: extreme mechanical creativity directed solely toward women.
The small butterfly automaton is spectacular, and from what I gleaned when our esteemed editor-in-chief first spied this watch, it is literally breathtaking. The response this watch gets is exactly why it was created.
Needless to say, the mechanics behind it are top notch, and the artistic execution of the design is bold without being too much. The choices of jewels and the wide variety of enamel styles (champlevé, paillonné, plique-à-jour, and curved plique-à-jour) combined with miniature painting make this watch simply stunning.
While I don’t think I would wear one (even though I would totally rock many women’s watches), I would be glad to have one perched on my desk as a miniature clock because it is too incredible to ignore. In the field of High-Mech watches this year, the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate stands head and shoulders above the rest as a clear winner.
MG: Oh my, have you seen the wings on that butterfly? Translucent, yet full of color and fluttering so naturally? Van Cleef & Arpels does it again, even creating the most perfect backdrop for this complication. Breathtakingly beautiful, a perfect combination of complicated, micromechanical art, and the winner in this category if it were up to me!
For more information, please see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/lady-arpels-papillon-automate.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Case: white gold, 40 x 16.6 mm
Movement: unspecified automatic movement with a random automaton and on-demand animation module
Functions: hours, minutes; on-demand and en passant automaton
Gem setting: round and pear-shaped diamonds, snow-set diamonds; blue, mauve, and violet sapphires
Artistic techniques: champlevé, paillonné, plique-à-jour and curved plique-à-jour enamel, miniature painting
Price: $290,000/€260,000/290,260 Swiss francs
Ian: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Gary: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Joshua: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Ryan: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Martin: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Also published on Medium.