Our Predictions In The Petite Aiguille Category Of The 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève
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 Petite Aiguille category for watches entered as, “watches with a retail price of under CHF 8,000. Smartwatches are admissible in this category.”
JM: Petite Aiguille is an interesting category that feels similar to the men’s category in that it is missing a firm direction, resulting in a diverse set of entrants that are harder to compare. Its only rule is that the watches have a retail price below CHF 8,000, which means that anything under the sun that is relatively affordable can be entered into this category.
Of course, the pre-selected watches are all pretty great, but they each have different markets and different purposes. Included are a chronograph, a diver, a GMT, a jumping seconds, and two fashion-oriented pieces with date. These timepieces are barely related to each other except by price, so choosing one as the best accessible watch is a tough prospect.
GG: Finally, a category in which I don’t have to worry about whether to ignore the prohibition against considering price! The great news is that the finalists this year are wonderful examples of how great watches are being made at all price points.
IS: In one sense having the limit on price helps structure the decision, but the wide variety of models here really does make it like comparing (similarly priced) apples and oranges.
Bulgari Octo Roma
MG: Where I find the Octo Finissimo tantalizing in its design, the Octo Roma doesn’t achieve the same with me. Without the ultra-slim or skeletonized tourbillon movement, part of the magic is gone. The unusual array of shapes that are combined in the case also look much better in titanium then steel, as it now looks just plain weird instead of weird exotic.
IS: While a nice enough watch, the Octa Roma appears to be one of the money-making pieces in Bulgari’s haute horlogerie strategy: the world-record-setting ultra thins generate the press (haute couture), while watches like the Roma sell in the shops (ready-to-wear). While the octagonal case might work in the high-quality/low-volume end of the market, I don’t think it works as well in the relative mass market of the Petite Aiguille pricing.
GG: I would have picked the Bulgari for third as it’s a distinctive-looking piece and a worthy entry-level representative of the Octa line, but that teeny-tiny date aperture spoiled it for me, I’m afraid.
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/octo-roma.
Quick Facts Bulgari Octo Roma
Case: 41 x 46 mm, stainless steel
Movement: unspecified automatic caliber with 42-hour power reserve; 4 Hz
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 5,600 Swiss francs
Seiko First Diver’s Re-Creation Limited Edition
MG: I do wonder who at Seiko is in charge of naming watches, but I guess it is a good thing if this is my major objection to a watch. The quality of Seiko has always been exceptional, almost to the point that it is scary.
Re-creations never seem to elevate my pulse, though, as it means that there is always an original out there, and that is the one I would rather have.
IS: I’m with you on not valuing re-creations highly, Martin, but I find the Seiko First Diver’s Re-Creation Limited Edition to be an excellent watch, especially an excellent sports watch, in its own right. Top brand, first-rate quality, good looks, and 200-meter water resistance for around $3,500, which will be a winning combination for some (but not for me).
JM: Seiko will always have a place in my heart, and its classic Japanese divers are at the top of my list of favorite Seikos. For second place I would choose the new First Diver’s Re-Creation Limited Edition, mainly due to its faithfulness to the original while still feeling like a new and tool-oriented diver.
Seiko has a solid reputation for making affordable, tough diving watches, helping to direct ISO standards over the years, and the new re-creation of the original honors that past. While it may not be as flashy as some of its Swiss counterparts, it truly looks and feels like a top-notch timepiece. The dial is clean with bold markers, but lacks the standout minute hands of other diver’s watches from, say, Blancpain or Rolex.
Still, the Seiko First Diver’s Recreation is a super piece of nearly NOS glory, and as an everyday watch that doubles as a sports watch with vintage pedigree, it could easily take the competition if the jury is feeling the vintage direction. And, yes, that is even over the Tudor Black Bay Chrono, which feels like it lacks a cohesiveness that the Seiko maintains.
GG: Third on my list went to the Seiko; I picked another Seiko as my winner in this category last year, and this year’s updated re-creation of its First Diver’s Watch with improved water resistance, larger case size, and hardened coating to protect the steel case is a strong contender in my view. It’s good to see tribute pieces that go beyond slavish replication of the original, and Seiko has given some clear thought to serving both tradition and improvement with this watch.
RS: I love this watch: the price and the look of it. I could see this being the filler watch for every space in between “occasions,” a great beater watch from a reliable brand. If I could make one change it would be to kill the date. I don’t want a date on my beater, it needs to be awoken from its slumber on short notice, no time for funny business! It is my third place pick.
Further reading: Grand Seiko: A New Direction With New Models For 2017.
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/first-divers-re-creation-limited-edition.
Quick Facts Seiko First Diver’s Re-Creation Limited Edition
Case: 39.9 x 14.1 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 8L35; 50-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 3,450 Swiss francs
Hermès Arceau TGM Manufacture
MG: Hermès has been doing what it has been doing so well for such a long time: making elegant watches for elegant people. And this Arceau TGM Manufacture is no exception.
The design created by Henri d’Origny in 1978 still looks fresh, and both the blue and hazelnut brown dial look stunning. What I like is the attention to detail: the date ring, which has the same background color as the dial, and a font that matches that of the numerals.
GG: The Hermès is a perfectly nice watch, and the asymmetric Arceau case is an interesting touch, but it fell below several of the other pieces in the pre-selection for me. Maybe I’m just not into brown dials!
IS: When Hermès does anything it does it exceptionally well, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Arceau TGM Manufacture is such an excellent daily wear dress watch that’s both classic enough to fit in nearly any setting and distinctive enough to stand out (but not too much). Manufacture automatic movement beneath, harmonious dial above, and I like the nice touch of the date ring being the same color as the dial as well.
RS: I don’t think this watch is my personal style, but I’ve got to say I think Hermès has created something really interesting here with those asymmetric lugs. I can see this being quite popular in the metal. It’s my second place vote.
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/arceau-tgm-manufacture.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau TGM Manufacture
Case: 40 x 9.3 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Hermès Caliber H1837; 50-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; date
Price: 4,630 Swiss francs
Tudor Black Bay Chrono
RS: With ceramic, bronze, gold, and titanium permeating the sports watch sector it’s a refreshing sight to see some familiar formats come out with an unabashedly steel-looking steel watch! This might be my favorite modern Tudor to date, which is odd because I have a phobia of losing ink from these sorts of bezels!
MG: A diving chronograph with screw-down pushers and without a diving bezel: I find this Black Bay Chrono a hot mess. Hot because it will without doubt sell fine given the current popularity of Tudor. But also a mess because this watch is supposed to be a marriage between the heritage the brand has with its chronographs, tied to the world of motorsports and its first diving watches. The result is a watch that isn’t particularly good at performing in either environment.
IS: While the Tudor Black Bay Chrono was a hit at Baselworld earlier this year, I just couldn’t grow to like it and still haven’t, largely for two reasons: for one, it dilutes and weakens the Black Bay collection rather than strengthens it (it just doesn’t look like a Black Bay); and two, I fear that combining aquatic and motor sport heritages has made for a less impactful design than might have been the case. Still, for $4,200 you get Tudor (which is on a roll), chronograph, in-house movement, and silicon escapement; that’s a pretty attractive package and is enough to earn my number three pick.
GG: I wasn’t really a fan of the Tudor when it was introduced and that hasn’t changed; the tiny subdials are very much not to my taste, and it’s one of those rare pieces that looks less good in real life than in photos.
Further reading: Tudor And Breitling: Two Sports Watch Manufacturers Unexpectedly – But Not For The First time – Sharing Movements In 2017
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/black-bay-chrono.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay Chrono
Case: 41 x 14.9 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Tudor Caliber MT5813 with silicon escapement; 70-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: 4,167 Swiss francs
Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon GMT Black
MG: It is interesting that on the GPHG website Louis Vuitton’s text says, “Created in 2002, the Tambour marked Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking debut.” The brand (who is responsible for writing this text) obviously is ignoring the Monterey we discussed in Monterey I & II: The (Almost Forgotten First Watches Of Louis Vuitton. Has the brand itself forgotten these watches??
That doesn’t take away from the fact that I find the Tambour a very nice and, above all, original design. In this version, it is a nice travel companion for people who want a GMT watch that matches their luggage, yet blends in a bit more than the Escale Time Zone would.
GG: Using the criterion of useful complication, I put the Louis Vuitton with its GMT display into second place. It took me a while to figure out that the “Moon” in the name refers to the crescent-shaped sides of the case rather than a moon phase display, but once I got my brain unscrambled I appreciated its aesthetics as well.
JM: The Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon GMT is a very clean and modern design for a rather useful complication. A GMT is one of the more convenient complications for travelers or those who do business in more than one time zone. Making the GMT hand clear and easy to read is the most important design decision for a GMT watch.
The Tambour Moon GMT does just that, and combined with the high-contrast hour indications plus the sweet-looking case and dial (angled shots of the watch do much more justice), this is a very solid piece of wristwear for the price. Some may find it a bit bold, and given the current vintage trend it does visually play very current and modern, so this might take it down a peg or two. But the handy quick-change straps (no tools needed to change between 100 strap choices) and the unique design help the LV Tambour Moon GMT stand out as a contender.
It actually made the list of one of my favorite GMT watches in recent memory, so I could easily vote for it as the best Petite Aiguille watch if I didn’t like my other two choices even better!
IS: I’m still scratching my head at the words I’m about to type, but there’s no getting around it or putting it off any longer: the Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon GMT Black is my pick for best watch in the Petite Aiguille category (priced under 8,000 Swiss francs). Petite Aiguille watches are likely to be worn regularly, and at 41.5 mm in diameter and under 10 mm in height, the Tambour Moon GMT Black will be easy to wear for most people (women and men) in most situations, while the GMT indication will be useful for frequent travellers. But the main reason I chose the Louis Vuitton is its striking good looks; the clean technical look of the hands and dial complement the Tambour case perfectly.
The only detail that I don’t like is the little date at 3 o’clock, but it was probably deemed useful/necessary with the GMT. I do also like the quick-change straps, which I think will end up coming fairly ubiquitous. The bright sunflower yellow highlights against the black dial is a winning combination for me, and I expect/hope to see the Tambour Moon GMT Black above the podium when the winner is announced on the big night.
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/tambour-moon-gmt-black.
Quick Facts Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon GMT Black
Case: 41.5 x 9.93 mm, stainless steel
Movement: unspecified automatic; 42-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, second time zone
Price: 3,882 Swiss francs
JM: When it comes to what should win the Petite Aiguille, I can’t help but root for the great people behind the great watches. All of the watches in this category aside from the Habring are from brands that are much, much larger and less personally invested in the success of the watch. Since all the watches are objectively great on their own, and the rules for the category gave no direction, I want to give the bump to a fantastic watch with a fantastic set of people behind it.
I love the simplicity of Habring watches: they are clean, straightforward timepieces that always have a touch of class and haute horlogerie. The Erwin features an Austrian movement and case, a sweet jumping second complication (a fun complication that often flies under the radar), and the knowledge that it was actually made with care by people that simply want to make great products. Plus, the Erwin is the cleanest watch in the category: when others go for overly detailed design cues and heritage brownie points, Habring goes for a well-made timepiece you can be proud of. I think it holds the bar high for an affordable, fantastic watch that others can look up to.
GG: With such an attractive set of timepieces from which to choose, the margins between watches were slim indeed. Ultimately, at the top of my list I opted in favor of the pieces that included an intriguing or useful complication, and with its jumping seconds display (a long-time favorite of mine) the Habring convinced me that it deserves the win. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it is a watch by an independent maker and that I’m a confessed fan of the Habrings!
In addition to the fun of the deadbeat seconds, the Habring also impresses with the other hallmarks of the brand, including clean lines and wonderfully attractive dial finish.
MG: An exquisite manufacture movement, deadbeat seconds, perfect size, and beautiful dial: it actually makes you wonder what more can you ask for in a watch? What more do you need?
This is one of those watches that ticks all the boxes, yet remains modest about it. For me the absolute winner of this category.
IS: Habring2 has been on a well-deserved roll at the GPHG over the last few years with one superb and relatively affordable watch after another, and the Erwin is no exception. However it only gets my vote for number two because this list of six preselected watches of a similar price highlights the relative lack of sophistication in the Erwin’s case and dial design, especially compared with the watches by Louis Vuitton and Hermès. And I’m taking the jumping seconds into account, which is one of my favorite complications.
Yes, I understand that looks unfair to compare an independent watchmaker making a couple of hundred watches a year to giant brands making tens of thousands, but in the GPHG, size doesn’t count, just like price in all other categories. That means that we are voting purely for the best watch here with no bias towards independents (my normal SOP), and the Erwin is held back by its dated design. On the other hand you do get a great watch by a great independent watchmaker and help support independent watchmaking.
RS: A modulated manual wind jumping seconds from Austria for less than $6,000? Yes, please! Habring2 is such a great brand, good honest complications delivered with transparency and a personable charm. I would love to see it pick this prize up. I also want to demand that the Habrings put their sector dial version into unlimited production! First place pick for me.
Further reading: In Praise Of Habring2: A Collector’s View.
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/erwin.
Quick Facts Habring2 Erwin
Case: 38.5 x 9 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually winding Habring Caliber A11S; 48-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 5,950 Swiss francs
Gary: Habring2 Erwin
Joshua: Habring2 Erwin
Martin: Habring2 Erwin
Ryan: Habring2 Erwin
Ian: Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon GMT Black
Also published on Medium.