Our Predictions In The Artistic Crafts Category Of The 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève And Our 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 Artistic Crafts category for watches entered as, “watches demonstrating exceptional mastery of one or several artistic techniques such as enamelling, lacquering, engraving, guilloché (engine-turning), skeleton-working, etc.”
JM: Artistic Crafts is a category for beauty, simple as that. Mastery of techniques is the only requirement, and the results are always stunning. It is also a great place to see some unique applications of skills rarely seen, allowing us to view just what artists can imagine when given such a small canvas.
This year we have a bit of an outlier from Konstantin Chaykin, the watch that charmed Baselworld 2017 and became a surprise hit. It is a great example of using guilloche and finishing techniques not simply to add detail but enhance an idea. While I’m not sure it can win against the competition, I nominate it for an honorable mention since it realizes that art can be fun and doesn’t need to be too serious, hence the name Joker!
IS: The Artistic Craft category is for watches demonstrating exceptional mastery of one or several artistic techniques such as enameling, lacquering, engraving, guilloche (engine-turning), skeleton-working, etc. There is no mention of watchmaking, so that levels the playing field at least a little.
GG: Once again this year I was deeply impressed with the quality and variety of artistic crafts displayed in the finalist watches in this category. While for me there was one very clear winner, the pack behind was very closely bunched, and comparisons were difficult due to the wide variety of techniques used – from relief engraving to feather “marquetry” to etching to micro-painting on a camel-bone composite.
MG: In no other category is there such a thin line between timekeeping and art as in that of Artistic Crafts. That makes it also more difficult to determine a winner as each piece has its own complexity and artistic value.
Konstantin Chaykin Joker
GG: The “final finalist” in this group is one that I love and that I will own, but I’m not quite sure what it is doing in this category! Konstantin Chaykin’s Joker is absolutely one of the watches of the year 2017. I hope that the jury avoids the urge to award the Innovation Prize to the loser of the “Battle of the AgenGraphes” between Singer and Fabergé and instead gives it to this wonderfully inventive watch that among other things brought the “innovation” of fun back to the watch industry!
I might have picked the Joker as the winner of the Men’s category had it been entered there, and it would have been tough to vote against it in the Petite Aiguille, but as an Artistic Crafts piece it trails home an adorable last place.
IS: This is the watch I’d love to win as paradoxically for a watch with no hands at all it single-handedly brightened up my week at Baselworld in March 2017 every time I saw it or looked at a photo. I can see that some – perhaps most – may dismiss the Joker as an amusement, not considering it art. However, if you agree that one of the primary roles of art is to generate emotion in the viewer, Chaykin has nailed it as the Joker makes me happy every time I see it. I do not think the jury will reward it here, but I consider the Konstantin Chaykin Joker to be one of the most significant watches of the year.
But, we go back to the recurrent issue of a high number of non-qualifying watches being pre-selected in this year’s Grand Prix. I like the Joker as much as anyone; however, I am curious as to what the GPHG committee and jury saw in it in the way of, “. . . exceptional mastery of one or several artistic techniques such as enamelling, lacquering, engraving, guilloche (engine-turning), skeleton-working, etc.” I see zero indication of anything like that and Chaykin makes no mention of any hidden artist treasures in the press release. The Joker would have been a real contender in the Petite Aiguille category (watches under 8,000 francs), but (once again) I can’t see how it even qualifies in the Artistic Crafts.
MG: Funny and artistic in the same breath, I love the creativity that went into this watch: it is a clever play of re-imagining the display time, and perfectly executed. This is for sure a timepiece that will put Konstantin Chaykin even firmer on the map of modern-day watchmaking.
RS: I really enjoy Chaykin’s creations. The Joker is a ridiculous watch, to be honest; it’s hard to describe, but it’s a mix between pure comedy and something that horologically “clicks” in terms of balance and use of indications. Here the craft element of the watch is focused on the execution and overall composition more than virtuoso technique.
I have to say that, while I’m not sure I would sport this watch, and while the competition here is too strong, I am compelled to shout about this watch. That price! I know it’s powered by an ETA movement but to get this sort of casework, dial decoration, and bespoke configuration it’s a refreshing shock to see the $7,550 price tag. To be honest I feel for Chaykin because I see the Joker failing to land his punch line in this category, but it would have blown the house down in the Petite Aiguille category! Such a missed opportunity it saddens me.
Quick Facts Konstantin Chaykin Joker
Case: 42 x 12.9 mm, stainless steel
Special crafts: guilloche or imagination?
Movement: automatic Caliber K07-0 (base ETA 2824-2) with Chaykin module; 28,800 vph / 4 Hz frequency
Functions: regulator-style hours and minutes; moon phase
Limitation: 99 pieces
Price: 7,500 Swiss francs
Hermès Slim d’Hermès Promenade de Longchamp
MG: When your ingredient list for a miniature painting on a watch starts off with camel bone powder and also includes saffron, walnuts, henna, and pomegranate, you know you have something special going on! This rare art of Persian miniature painting is captivating; I only wish that Hermès selected a different motif. In the case of Hermès it makes sense, but a gentleman on horseback greeting a lady riding in a carriage is simply not the image I can see myself happily staring at when it is on my wrist.
IS: I’ve had the pleasure of examining a few of these Hermès miniature masterpieces, and the incredibly fine detail never ceases to amaze me. The Slim d’Hermès Promenade de Longchamp, however, doesn’t just surprise with an exceptional miniature painting, but also in the unusual nature of the painter’s canvas and inks. The artist first creates the dial “canvas” from camel bone powder mixed with resin, which is then polished to make a slightly porous surface. Using all-natural pigments for the paint with ingredients including saffron, walnuts, henna, pomegranate, crushed lapis lazuli, turquoise, gold and silver leaf, the artist recreates on the dial the equine-themed motif by Philippe Ledoux for an Hermès silk scarf.
I also give Hermès extra kudos for offering this as a limited edition of 12 as compared to many of the unique pieces here. The Hermès Slim d’Hermès Promenade de Longchamp has everything it takes to be a winner in this category, but, unfortunately, most likely not this year.
GG: The Hermès, which features a micro-painting of a scene from one of the brand’s scarves applied on a porous surface and then sealed, is to my eye a lovely watch indeed.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/slim-dhermes-promenade-de-longchamp.
Quick Facts Hermès Slim d’Hermès Promenade de Longchamp
Case: 39.5 x 7.4 mm, white gold
Special crafts: dial cut from camel bone powder mixed with resin; painted with dyes made from plants, crushed semiprecious gemstones, and gold and silver
Movement: automatic ultra-thin Caliber H1950
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 12 pieces
Price: 60,200 Swiss francs
Piaget Altiplano Art & Excellence Feather Marquetry
GG: In a very close race, I place the Piaget second. I very much like the look of the watch, and while feather “marquetry” is likely not the insane challenge that true wood marquetry as practiced by Patek Philippe or the work in shell on this year’s Voutilainen, I am sure that it still requires a deft hand and good eye.
IS: I’m a big fan of the effervescent beauty of feathered dials, and this kaleidoscope of blues and greens framed by a diamond-set bezel is exemplary. But as good as it is, we have seen beautifully executed feather dials before, and I and looking for something newer in this field.
MG: Feathers on watch dials is not a new phenomenon, Ian, you’re right. Corum kicked it off using part of a peacock feather as a dial for a watch, and in more recent years we saw Hermès, Harry Winston, and Dior use feathers as well. Piaget, however, has mastered this craft thanks to Emilie Moutard-Martin. This is my favorite feather marquetry watch ever as the colors are so vibrant that it almost looks likes firework. There is even a good amount of play when the light changes. No wonder that Piaget highlighted it with the diamond-set bezel.
JM: My third place choice is the Piaget Altiplano Art & Excellence Feather Marquetry as it is a beautiful specimen of the delicate craft of feather marquetry. Anyone that has handled a feather knows that it is very easy to disturb the feather barbs and change the light reflection permanently. Very gentle hands are required to cut, shape, and apply the feathers as well as individually relocate barbs should they move. The patience is astounding and the result is too.
The designs created with the feathers are also difficult to create, and the practice as a whole is not for the faint of heart. It may not win the category, but it definitely deserves recognition for its natural beauty!
RS: There is so much in this category to gawp at, I barely noticed this rare bird. But you cannot ignore feather marquetry! It is a beautiful watch with a beautiful dial, a bird of paradise for the wrist.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/altiplano-art-excellence-feather-marquetry.
Quick Facts Piaget Altiplano Art & Excellence Feather Marquetry
Case: 38 x 8.6 mm, white gold
Special crafts: feather marquetry of duck, peacock, and rooster feathers with silver leaf
Movement: manually winding Caliber 430P; 21,600 vph / 3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 38 pieces
Price: 47,000 Swiss francs
Chopard L.U.C XP Esprit de Fleurier Peony
JM: In second place I choose the Chopard L.U.C XP Esprit de Fleurier Peony, whose engraving is fantastic, celebrating the art of hand-engraving like few other pieces have recently done. The softness of the designs, in contrast to the usual hard edges and sharp lines of engravings, adds a bit of impressionistic flair that instantly melts any stress you may have.
Better yet, the engraving is continued all the way through the piece to the movement, with plates, balance cock, and micro rotor all bearing the floral relief engravings. On top of that still, the engravings on the front and back are gilt with the areas between finely grained. It truly epitomizes the quality engraving that is required to be considered a master of the art. If it weren’t for the tight competition this year, it could easily win, but I think there is one that stands above.
MG: The Fleurisanne engraving on this Chopard is so stunning, it leaves me puzzled as to why they felt the need to add diamonds to it. This not only takes away from the craft on which this watch focuses, but also makes the watch look gaudy. The back of the watch is fortunately unadorned with diamonds, showing us a glimpse of how great this watch could have actually looked. Less is so often more . . .
RS: A lovely looking watch with a really interesting dial. But that movement! This watch bursts into life on the flip side. The micro rotor, the hand stippling, the gilded Fleurisanne engraved flowers and vines – it’s one of the best-looking and artistic movements I have seen. The barrel jewel at the center of the large flower is superb. Hats off to you, Chopard, it pains me only to hand you a third place, please forgive me.
GG: The Chopard has lovely engraving front and back, but as a matter of personal taste the peony motif and colors used didn’t really speak to me (not their fault, really!).
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/luc-xp-esprit-de-fleurier-peony.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C XP Esprit de Fleurier Peony
Case: 35 x 7.7 mm, pink gold
Special crafts: Fleurisanne engraving, gem setting
Movement: automatic Caliber L.U.C 96.23-L with micro rotor, 65-hour power reserve, twin spring barrels, two-tone movement in white and pink gold, 28,800 vph / 4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 8 pieces, exclusively available in Chopard boutiques
Price: 130,000 Swiss francs
Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Copernicus Celestial Spheres 2460RT
MG: How amazing was it to see Vacheron Constantin do not one, but three different versions of the Copernicus Celestial Spheres! This was my favorite, as I love that milky look of the Zodiac signs, which reminds me of delicate cameos. It makes for a very intricate watch, technically as well as visually.
GG: I would have pulled the Vacheron Constantin higher, but the use of laser etching on the sapphire crystal containing the constellations (even if touched up by the engraver) made it seem a bit less “artistic” to me.
IS: I do think the earth orbiting the sun complication is an interesting one, but the main artistic craft involved here is engraving, and while I’ve no doubt that the quality of the art of a human engraver is not likely to be diminished due to the initial engraving being carried out by laser engraving, it just doesn’t feel right. But my main reason for not placing the Copernicus Celestial Spheres higher is the relatively wide slot-car looking track on the dial around which the earth rotates. There is surely a technical reason for the wide track, but I’m now used to much tighter tolerances and less obtrusive visual baggage on complicated dials and can’t help but feel this could have been done better somehow.
RS: For me, it was immediately clear that the real battle would be between this watch and the Voutilainen. What a truly gorgeous and unusually presented watch this is. It is art: captivating visually, it immediately challenges you to understand it; and there is a deeper angle, the Copernican heliocentric angle. This is not just art but a monument to science, to a revolution in thought that cost lives to convey beyond the secret musings of great minds.
When you are not seeking the time, the peripheral hour and minute indicators disappear and give center stage to the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun and those beautiful constellations. It’s so lovely, I can feel the balance tipping against the Voutilainen!
But let’s just be clear about something here: this watch dial is not 100 percent handmade nor traditional. Instead, it is a fusion between modern laser etching and traditional hand finishing and engraving. For me it’s the perfect marriage, delivering the precision needed to capture the detail in the constellations, but with hand-finishing to insert the soul and human accent into the overall effect.
If I’m going to be brutal, really brutal, in the spirit of honoring my favorite, I might say that a manual caliber would be more suitable for this piece, and I would prefer one that expanded further into the periphery of the case. It’s an extremely strong second pick for me.
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/metiers-dart-copernicus-celestial-spheres-2460rt.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Copernicus Celestial Spheres 2460RT
Case: 43 x 12.9 mm, white gold
Special crafts: hand-engraving, hand-painting, engraving on sapphire crystal
Movement: automatic Vacheron Constantin Caliber 2460 RT; 36-hour power reserve, Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 97,778 Swiss francs
Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
GG: Kari is going to need a new trophy case pretty soon! I was tempted to name my first three choices in this category as the inside case back, dial, and movement decoration of this single watch; it is that phenomenal. More than 1,000 hours spent on the decorations, and as far as I can tell not a single moment wasted.
I don’t always pick a Voutilainen watch as number one in this category (last year’s Triton et Sirène – see our predictions for the 2016 Artistic Crafts – was my number three pick), but this one is just too good.
MG: As a fountain pen connoisseur I love lacquer, and this watch by Voutilainen shows exactly why! That magical use of color, the mysterious depth that it gives a flat (or in the case of a fountain pen, round) object, is just mesmerizing. I think that this version is even better than the previous watches that have come out of this collaboration, mainly because of the dynamic, yet not too colorful pattern on the dial as well as that celestial dragonfly inside the hinged case back. Brilliant piece, and my personal favorite in this category, yet it does feel the breath of both the Vacheron Constantin and the Piaget pieces down its neck.
JM: It’s hard, every year, to pick anything other than the latest Voutilainen in the Artistic Crafts category. It’s as if he sits down to plan on how to win this category, so he at least wins one Golden Hand every year!
The Aki-No-Kure is an absolutely ridiculous and stunning piece of marquetry, lacquer, and gold leaf craftsmanship. The application took much more than a thousand hours, in the end creating the stunning wave design on the front, the celestial-esque rear of the movement, and the breathtaking dragonfly on the inside of the hunter case back.
Before I saw this piece I was actually becoming a bit oversaturated with the amazing works from Voutilainen, in that I was always impressed to the point of not being surprised. When something is so consistently good, the rush of surprise can be lost. But this piece blew me away – so much I became enamored with Voutilainen in an entirely new way.
The competing pieces in the Artistic Crafts category are all amazing, but this piece transcends art and craft in a way rarely seen anywhere. It definitely deserves the win this year, and I would be surprised if anyone said otherwise. I understand tastes are always a factor, but when it comes to mastery of techniques, nothing stands close to the Aki-No-Kure.
RS: This is the watch my eyes are drawn to first; the one that starts as an assumed winner, and it’s then a question of “which watches come close to this?”
The Vingt-8 is a superb canvas for artistic crafts: a large, clean dial space but the teardrop lugs and the exaggerated Breguet numerals are a flash of character that invites whatever expression it bears on the dial.
In this piece unique, the lacquer work of Mr. T. Kitamura is a perfect synergy – handmade craft with a flash of warm personality. There are more than a thousand hours put into the decorating of this watch and it shows. On its own, the dial is a front runner in this group, but then you flip the watch over and wow: a hinged case back, exquisitely decorated. If you aren’t already won over, just take a look at the raw materials used by Kitamura: kinpun (gold dust), jyunkin-itakane (gold leaf), yakou-gai (shell of great green turban), and awabi-gai (abalone shell from New Zealand).
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Kari is a horological cake maker of the highest order; yet again he has created something that delights my eyes and makes my mouth water. First pick for me!
IS: If you have read more than a couple of our GPHG predictions, you are likely to be well aware of my strong preference for innovation over repetition. The reason I bring that up again here is that Kari Voutilainen won the 2014 GPHG Artistic Crafts category with Hisui, which was created by the same Japanese lacquer studio (one of the world’s best) that created the Aki-No-Kure, and so I’ve savagely deducted points for lack of originality and then knocked a few more points off because it’s a unique piece (I think it’s harder making art in a limited series than a unique piece).
However, even that hasn’t been enough to knock Voutilainen’s Aki-No-Kure from the number one spot. While there are other watches in this category, “. . . demonstrating exceptional mastery of an artistic technique,” none show as much mastery of so many artistic techniques as the Aki-No-Kure.
The three-dimensional autumn-leaf-themed lacquer dial looks more to me like rough ocean waves and is all the more vibrant for that, however it’s the back of the watch where the artistry explodes: the movement bridge is exquisitely decorated in an outburst of color, which is complemented by the galactic patterns and hues on the inside cover of the back dial. Each of the three canvases – dial, movement bridge, and back cover – has a different artwork created using a different technique. Plus, there’s the additional exceptional artistry in Voutilainen’s sensational hand-finishing and elegant movement architecture. The Aki-No-Kure is a true masterpiece.
Quick Facts Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
Case: 39 x 12.3 mm, white gold, case back cover
Special crafts: lacquer made of gold dust, gold leaf, great green turban shell, and New Zealand abalone from Unryuan in Wajima, Japan
Movement: manually winding Voutilainen caliber with new direct impulse escapement and two escape wheels; free-sprung balance with Grossmann interior curve and Philips exterior curve; gold wheels, German silver and titanium main plate and bridges decorated with Japanese lacquer; 65-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 350,000 Swiss francs
Ian: Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
Gary: Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
Joshua: Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
Martin: Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
Ryan: Kari Voutilainen Aki-No-Kure
Also published on Medium.