Quill & Pad’s Predictions In The Sports Category Of The 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve
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 Sports category for watches entered as, “watches linked to the field of sports, whose functions, materials, and design are suited to physical activities. Smartwatches are admissible in this category.”
MG: A lot of great sports watches came out this year, many of which were able to break the mold of what a sports watch should look like or can do. This is vital for the industry as it retains the attention of potential buyers and shows that there is still creativity in one of the most popular watch segments.
JM: The Sports category is a bit of a two sided category. On one side, you have some very practical and well-made watches dedicated to being excellent tools for use in a variety of sport settings. On the other side, you have some very incredible mechanical marvels that, while alluding to diving or racing, do more to inspire imaginations than assist in athletic excellence. Both sides have their place, and neither diminishes the other. But for me, it is becoming harder to choose the extravagant over the practical in a category like this. A link (however loose) does not a sport watch make; the best among them should straddle both sides with ease – providing mechanical awesomeness while proving to be entirely useful and practical. That is what should win in this category.
IS: I quite like the Sports category because the watches have a fairly clearly defined purpose in being suitable for strenuous activity and that (usually) makes for easier judgments than in the more artistic categories.
RS: This is always an interesting category as genuine sports watches are something of a tightrope walk for haute horlogerie brands; it’s hard to capture luxury and sports in the same vehicle. Side note, apparently “smartwatches are admissible” in the sports category. But, incidentally, there is not a single integrated circuit among all six pre-selected watches, not even Grand Seiko ran with a Spring Drive movement. Frankly, this pleases me!
Tudor Pelagos LHD
RS: The Pelagos LHD is well priced and nails the sports remit. Placing the crown on the left to allow it to be worn on the right wrist is a niche move, and while it’s a move that will delight lefthanders, it’s one that offers little to the sports category beyond the original re-launched Pelagos. I am strict when it comes to separating genuinely new watches from echoes of previous iterations; and in this category I have to be strict in order to thin the field.
IS: A beautiful blue-dialed Tudor Pelagos won the GPHG Sport category in 2015, and I still want one. That was then and this is now: a change of color and a left-handed crown and it’s back for dessert? A truly phenomenal sports watch, yes, but one that’s already been recognized as that by the GPHG.
MG: Maybe you have to be a diver to get excited about this Tudor, but it does very little for me. I do appreciate a watch with the crown on the left side, especially when that crown is rather large, because it wears more comfortably – and I would still wear it on my left wrist. Other then that, this Tudor is a very capable watch, but the position of the crown and the titanium it is crafted from is not enough to make me say, “Wow, we have a winner!”
GG: Does flipping a Tudor movement around so the crown can be on the left make the resulting watch a prize winner? I think not.
For more information see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/pelagos-lhd.
Quick Facts Tudor Pelagos LHD
Case: 42 x 14.3 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Tudor Caliber MT5612-LHD with winding stem on left; silicon balance spring, 70-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, C.O.S.C certified, water-resistant to 500 meters, automatic helium escape valve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 3,889 Swiss francs
Hublot Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph
RS: This watch was apparently designed by Ferrari and crafted by Hublot. There is something undeniably sporty about the watch, but I also think it lacks some of the visual finesse of the Italian supercars. Starting with what I like, the red monopusher is outstanding, the skeletonized framework of the case is very aggressive, and the movement view from the back is really cool.
Rather than picking at what I don’t think works, these are the tweaks I would have suggested during the design stage: the dial needs to be cleaner and more legible; the chronograph minutes should have marked increments; and I would not display the tourbillon on the dial, but I would place it on the movement side. The only mechanism that I would grant a dial-side aperture would be the column wheel, and I would anodize it in red to play off the pusher. That would be something I would place a vote for!
MG: I am very impressed with the Techframe! This is the very first time that I have ever seen the “DNA” of both the car company and the watch manufacture so well combined, which actually achieves synergy and it is not just another “watch brand with a cool partnership with a car brand” kind-of-watch.
Combine that with a monopusher tourbillon chronograph and the modest use of both brand names, and we finally have a benchmark to which all “car partnership watches” should be measured against.
IS: A chronograph tourbillon rated to 30 meters’ water resistance entered into the Sports category is surprising; a chronograph tourbillon rated to 30 meters’ water resistance being pre-selected in the (suitable for) Sports category is once again stretching the category definition.
I can see how the Ferrari association implies motor sport, and the PEEK carbon case is light and strong so might be considered sporty, but come on: the complex movement, the same that powers less sporty versions of the same watch, does not appear to have been given any extra shock absorbing or beefed up water resistance for those after-game showers and magnums of champagne on the top step of the podium. According to the GPHG’s rules for this category, watches should be “suited to physical activities.” The Hublot TechFrame Ferrari Tourbillon is a sporty watch, but it’s not a sports watch.
JM: The Hublot TechFrame Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph is an advanced tourbillon chronograph developed from the ground up with some pretty awesome features. The case is a minimalistic lattice frame design that, when in titanium, should be a very light and strong case that looks incredible.
The case is also available in King Gold and PEEK Carbon, opposite directions for an ultra-advanced sports watch. The gold version seems out of place for something so high-tech, and while the PEEK Carbon is the most futuristic, having had experience with carbon fiber, the design could spell trouble with the thin sections being prone to cracking under impact. Any thin, fiber-based composite will be susceptible to this, so I personally might shy away from that case if the watch is to be used like intended at high speeds and in extreme situations. Also, tourbillons in extreme sports watches are a tricky task, and so far few have made truly stout examples besides perhaps Richard Mille (see Richard Mille RM 27-02 For Rafael Nadal: The Quintessential Sports Tourbillon).
GG: Yes, once again I am including an Hublot in a top three list! I was tempted to disqualify this watch for including a tourbillon, but finally concluded that the use of a tourbillon mechanism doesn’t necessarily mean that a watch can’t be used for sports (witness the Nadal watch from Richard Mille, as pointed out above). The Ferrari-developed styling of the frame-based case is quite to my taste, and the use of the composite matches the Ferrari theme as well.
For more information see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/techframe-ferrari-tourbillon-chronograph
Quick Facts Hublot Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph
Case: 45 x 14.8 mm, PEEK Carbon (Polyether Ether Ketone)
Movement: manual winding Hublot Caliber HUB6311 with one-minute tourbillon and column wheel chronograph, 115-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Limitation: 70 pieces
Price: 120,370 Swiss francs
Grand Seiko The Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver’s
MG: While I can appreciate the movement in this watch, the packaging is not my cup of tea. The main issue is that Seiko makes so many good diving watches, that this one has trouble standing out among the brand’s own.
JM: In second place I choose the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver because it is a great example of a purpose-built, practical watch made to the highest standards and perfectly in line with its intended use. I choose the Grand Seiko over other pieces because, like pretty much every Seiko, the actual use of the piece was taken into consideration for every detail instead of half-heartedly creating something that might not live up to its purpose.
The first fully mechanical Grand Seiko diving watch, the Hi-Beat 36000 Professional Diver utilizes titanium for its strength and lightness, uses an iron dial for its anti-magnetic shielding capabilities, and focuses the details on what is required for a good diving watch. And like the Japanese so often do, special attention was paid to the construction of the watch with the case, crown, stem, and bezel being designed with ease of service in mind. This Grand Seiko is arguably the best diver’s watch in the category, nudging out the Tudor Pelagos LHD (also a very capable dive watch) and only losing the top spot thanks to some very useful and clever mechanics inside the winner.
IS: The Grand Seiko The Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver is an excellent diver’s watch and the best in this list, however, especially among these pre-selected watches, the overall design of the 600m Diver looks very dated, and that’s not all down to this being a supposed “tool watch.”
RS: Now here is a watch that delivers sportiness and forgoes none of its quality in execution. It’s the watch for the guy who catches his lunch with a spear among the submerged rocks of the Adriatic coastline; the same guy that returns home to finish his still-life oil painting.
Okay, look, I’m just going to cut to the chase here: the Seiko is my first pick. It’s far too much of a home run in this category for me to play silly games with anything else. This is the watch I would want to wear in any occasion, rain or shine, and I know it would reward me with undying accuracy. Nothing is perfect, and the yellow gold marker frames and second hand are a small clash for the titanium case, but it’s not enough of a knock to derail this winner for me.
GG: The high-beat movement and other technical features of the Seiko make it an interesting watch, but the visual styling – including the gold-meets-steel elements, marker sizes, and hand shapes – are not for me. That’s a matter of personal taste, though, so I can certainly imagine that others might have this one on their lists like Ryan.
For more information see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/hi-beat-36000-professional-600m-divers
Quick Facts Grand Seiko The Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver’s
Case: 46.9 x 17 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 9S; 55-hour power reserve; 36,600 vph/5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 10,990 Swiss francs
Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100
JM: The Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter is another watch that has a ton of potential but shortcomings that keep it from being my winner. The positives must be mentioned like its historic inspiration and the clean design. Also, the multi-use functionality with the ability to be a desk timer, dash- or steering wheel-mounted timer, as well as a wrist timer and even a pocket watch. Of course, there is also the fantastic vintage inspired movement finished to the Minerva standards.
I liked this watch so much that when I was writing my story about it I was inspired to purchase an original Minerva stopwatch just to own a little piece of Minerva history. But, sadly, that historic inspiration is also its downfall as the movement uses a balance with a frequency of 2.5 Hz. While historically accurate, it is also the frequency most prone to timing errors due to sudden jostling or extreme forces, like would be seen racing around a track at 120 miles per hour. It is a great piece, but with a movement better suited to leisure than sport in an age of high-beat movements; it is not the best watch for its intended purpose.
IS: I was fortunate in first seeing the Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter with its inspirational rally counter at SalonQP in London around a year ago and I thought it fantastic. The vintage look of the dial hasn’t impaired its legibility, and you really can use this chronograph as a rally timer. This is a watch that I still appreciate after a year so would like to rate it higher, but I think that the jury will go for something looking a bit more mainstream.
GG: The Montblanc is a quite inventive piece that at the same time harks back to the design codes of the Minerva rally timer. I love the way that it can be used as a wristwatch, pocket watch, or even table clock! At 50 mm in diameter it may not be a daily wearer as a wristwatch, however, which plays a role in keeping it from challenging the top spot in my ranking.
MG: It always sounds so nice: watches that you can take from the dashboard of your car and put on your wrist. But in practice, it never works out.
On the dashboard, it needs to be of a certain size, otherwise, you cannot read it. On the wrist it must need to be below a certain size otherwise it is unwearable. While this Rally Timer can be a charming addition to your (vintage) car, you do not want to have a watch with a diameter of 50 mm around your wrist when you get out of your car.
Yes, you can also wear it as a pocket watch, but the fact of the matter is that hardly anybody wears pocket watches anymore due to a lack of suitable pockets in modern clothing.
For more information see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/timewalker-chronograph-rally-timer-counter-limited-edition-100
Quick Facts Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100
Case: 50 x 15.2 mm, titanium with satin knurling and black DLC case band
Movement: manually winding Caliber MB M16.29 with monopusher column wheel chronograph, red gold-plated German silver plates and bridges, 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph)
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; monopusher chronograph
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 37,000 Swiss francs / €37,000 (including tax)
MB&F Horological Machine No. 7 Aquapod
MG: Did MB&F just reinvent the diving watch? Yes, it did!
I can’t say it is very functional for that purpose, but it is COOL in capital letters! I love it that the brand completely re-imagined the concept of the diving watch with that flying tourbillon in the middle and the hour and minute ring completely circling the dome.
The watch is organic, almost in an alien kind of way, especially thanks to its case back. I do think that this watch should trigger two things: first, MB&F should make this watch without a tourbillon as well so its coolness can spread a little wider through the watch world. Second, the GPHG should consider starting a design category so we can truly appreciate watches like this MB&F and others in their own category, because I think that a sports watch should have emphasis on being perfectly functional for the activity it is created for. And that is about the only thing the Aquapod is not.
JM: For the same reasons, I had to forgo an incredibly awesome watch that I personally want because when I was honest with myself, I didn’t feel like it was the best sport watch. The MB&F HM7 Aquapod is an astonishing piece and would deservedly be a strong contender in the Mechanical Exception category, or even the Tourbillon category. But in the Sports category, even though it is a sea-life inspired watch with 50 meters of water resistance, it is not a diving watch, and therefore not really a sports watch.
GG: Total agreement, Joshua! While it has some aspects of the appearance of a diving watch, founder Maximilian Büsser and his gang freely admit that it lacks the water resistance to go underwater. I love the watch, and for “desk diving” it could be ideal, but I’m afraid I had to knock it out of consideration for this category.
IS: I’d like to see the MB&F Horological Machine No. 7 Aquapod win here simply for the sheer audacity of its entry in the Sports category. Sheer audacity but perfectly appropriately, in my opinion: I’ve whined in these 2017 GPHG predictions about the appropriateness (or not) of many of the pre-selected watches, but the Aquapod is, in the words of the GPHG rules, “. . . suited to physical activities.” Especially physical activities around the pool and on the beach.
Büsser created the HM7 Aquapod as an “aquatic watch” rather than a “diver’s watch,” but with 50-meter water resistance and a unidirectional bezel, Aquapod is as at home in the water (as long as it’s not too deep) as it is playing Ultimate Frisbee on the beach (though highly recommended not to wear a watch on the throwing wrist) as it is skim boarding in the shallow. I’d like to pick the MB&F Horological Machine No. 7 Aquapod as my number one, but I think there’s a better sports watch this year so it’s my number two pick.
RS: As with any other Horological Machine that Maximilian Büsser and his Friends create, the Aquapod is not so much a diving watch as it is a micro mechanical sculpture contemplating the nature of the diving watch. Yes, we have a rotating bezel, rubber strap, luminescence, and one could even argue that the flying tourbillon meets the ISO requirement by doubling as a running indicator.
Sure, 50 meters is more than even a regular recreational diver might need, but let’s be honest, this is not going to be the watch of choice for a mechanical backup to a diver, nor is it going to be the desk diver’s choice of tool watch. Long story short, this is NOT a sports watch.
Now that I have got that out of the way, let me tell you that I don’t care that it is not a sports watch; I love the Aquapod! If there is anything I have learned from my time on the panel here, it’s that the GPHG doesn’t get too caught up in the scientific/objective approach to its competition. While I personally feel it could do with much more rigor behind the categories, and while I tend to stick to what I think is the “correct” approach to judging for myself, today I am considering throwing all that out of the window and giving my first place pick to this crazy horological jellyfish for the wrist.
Side note: who else wants to see a Terrapod? Picture this thing without the bezel . . .
For more information see gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/horological-machine-ndeg7-aquapod
Quick Facts MB&F Horological Machine No. 7 Aquapod
Case: 53.8 x 21.3 mm, titanium with blue ceramic bezel
Movement: in-house developed automatic Caliber HM7 with one-minute flying tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 33 pieces
Price: titanium (blue) 98,000 Swiss francs (excluding tax)
Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
GG: I handled this watch at the SIHH and was greatly impressed! The whole idea of making a chronograph that counts backward to zero and then instantaneously turns around and begins to track elapsed time in the forward direction is mind-bending, and executing it must have been quite a challenge.
JM: My winner is, arguably, the best regatta timer ever made thanks to a new take on the starting countdown. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta is an innovative regatta timer that, instead of simply making a chronograph that counts down or counts to a limited number of minutes, allows you to set a specific number of minutes (1-10) to count down and then, when the timer reaches zero, automatically reverses its movement and starts timing the race and counting back up.
The unique mechanism makes the Marine Regatta the first fully functional mechanical regatta timer and allows the racer to focus on the race instead of starting a different chronograph to record the actual race time. Out of all the watches in this category, it is the only one to consider its intended use and go above and beyond to create something totally new and useful. It is well made and mechanically brilliant, but it isn’t inaccessible and unusable for the very thing it was designed for. The Grand Seiko was surely the best purpose-built diving watch in the category, but the Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta is the best regatta timer, and also most mechanically innovative.
It really straddles the line between being a practical, dedicated tool and a mechanical marvel. Out of this group of watches, the Marine Regatta exemplifies what I think the category is all about, creating the most useful, practical, and functional watch for its intended athletic purpose. That is why I think it deserves the win.
IS: The Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta is my pick as the number one Sports watch of 2017. It isn’t just an excellent regatta countdown timer (timing the start of a regatta is critical), it pushes the technology and functionality of regatta countdown timers in that you can use it to both count down the start and then time the actual race once the gun is fired. The countdown second hand counts down backward to the start and then runs forward once the race has begun.
Ulysse Nardin has a strong and longstanding relationship with sailing and the sea since the company was known for its marine chronometers, so the complication fits perfectly with the brand’s ethos. One hundred-meter water resistance, big chunky pushers (essential with light sailing gloves), and even on land you still have full use of a split-second flyback chronograph.
MG: Mesmerizing to see the second hand countdown running counterclockwise, only to become clockwise as soon as zero has been reached. And that in a mechanical movement!
With a sports watch as important as the function is how easy it is to read – and Ulysse Nardin nails that one as well without making any compromises to their own “DNA.” This is a major achievement, and for me the winner in this category.
RS: The “two-way count-up/count-down system” on this watch deserves consideration for the Mechanical Exception award. It’s a fantastic complication that is as technically impressive to deliver as it is intuitively experienced on the dial. Bravo, Ulysse Nardin!
In addition, the watch has many of the hallmarks of a true sports watch, but just falls short of a pure sports watch on account of the design language of the brand’s “Marine” line: it’s the Roman numerals and the hand set. I am nitpicking, but they take away from the Sports remit if you ask me. An extremely well deserved second choice for me, and one that I would be happy to be wrong about.
Further reading: Flying With The Wind In Its Sails: Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
For more information see www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/marine-regatta
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
Case: 44 x 14.9 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-155 with 72-hour power reserve, silicon escapement
Functions: hours, minutes; date, bi-directional regatta timer with countdown minutes, standard chronograph minutes and hours
Price: 15,900 Swiss francs
Ian: Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
Gary: Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
Joshua: Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
Martin: Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
Ryan: Grand Seiko The Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver’s
Also published on Medium.