Our Predictions For Best Chronograph At The 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève: Our Panel Is Not Unanimous But A Clear Favorite Emerges
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2018 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
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Alex Ghotbi (AG), vintage watch expert at Phillips
Ashton Tracy (AT), contributor, watchmaker, and blogger
Note: as jury members, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr and resident collector GaryG do not take part in these early predictions.
The GPHG foundation describes the Chronograph category for watches entered as: “mechanical watches comprising at least one chronograph indication. Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.”
JM: This week we consider chronographs, which may actually be one of the easier categories of the GPHG because it is inherently clear what the goal of the category is: to pick the best chronograph timepiece. Nothing is more important than the function of the chronograph, and the result should always be an ultimately useful complication. This means technical excellence and creativity take center stage since all are judged by approximately the same criteria.
Of course personal preference always plays a role, but unlike the Men’s or Petite Aiguille categories, there is something specific to consider first for each watch. I had an easy time picking those at the top of my list, but again I would gladly take pretty much every example in the running so they are all winners in my book.
MG: What diversity in the chronograph category this year! Unfortunately, despite this, I find very little to my liking. Granted, the chronograph has never been my favorite complication, and I might be too critical, which is a common side effect of handling vast amounts of different watches throughout the year.
AT: This is definitely not my favorite lineup of chronographs, but there are some solid offerings at the table.
IS: While not as strong a lineup as a few of the other categories, I still feel that there are three contenders, six chronographs I’d be happy to wear, but only one clear winner.
AG: This is a very strange situation for me. I love chronographs, but none of the models selected really rocks my boat either, Ashton, and to be honest none of these are actually new but just tweaked versions of existing models. If I really had to choose it would be the Singer just because of its amazing Agenhor movement.
MG : I love Czapek, and I think that this brand has a solid lineup. But I feel a little less love for this chronograph. It is a nice watch, but for some reason I think that the tri-compax layout with the date makes it look too modern and takes away from the exquisite look upon which Czapek has made a name for itself in a relatively short period of time.
AT: The Czapek features a striking dial, which I am an admirer of, and the hands are fairly impressive. I really like the style of crystal used, too. I don’t like the way the pushers have been integrated with the case, the watch seems to lack something because of it, but I can’t put my finger on it. Individually I like most of the elements, but when combined I’m not sure it works for me.
IS: Czapek does not appear to have made a false step since the brand’s birth in 2012, and L’Heure Bleue is yet another great addition to the collection. The intricate hand-guilloche blue dial covers an exclusively configured Vaucher integrated column-wheel chronograph movement featuring stop seconds and a semi-instantaneous date.
The 41.5 mm case is a perfect size, and I’m giving the Czapek L’Heure Bleue my number three position in this class.
JM: Also my third-place choice, Ian, this is a watch that I absolutely love style wise from a young brand that has been doing things right since it was born. Czapek is a brand that wants to make fantastic watches without pulling the wool over its clients eyes. It proudly discusses the suppliers creating all the components from the cases to dials to movements, even the metal suppliers for its unique steel.
L’Heure Bleue continues this tradition while making a beautiful and perfectly proportioned chronograph that features an awesome bespoke Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier caliber, the SXH3. The design is flawless as a modern classic that features a stunning guilloche dial highlighting the chronograph subdials, something I haven’t seen used like this. The movement runs at ten beats per second (36,000 beats per hour), making the high-frequency chronograph more precise than every other watch here save one.
The only thing keeping it from taking the top spot as the best chronograph is its competition; it does everything it needs to in order to be a strong competitor and a fantastic chronograph option.
For more information please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/lheure-bleue.
Quick Facts Faubourg de Cravovie Czapek L’Heure Bleue
Case: 41.5 x 13.8 mm, stainless steel
Dial: “Ricochet” guilloche
Movement: automatic Caliber SXH3 (Vaucher Manufacture) with 65-hour power reserve, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, day, power reserve indication, chronograph
Limitation: 18 pieces
Price: 24,000 Swiss francs
AT: This is an unmistakable chronograph and has been for many years. I have always liked the Laureato, but I don’t feel this one brings much new to the table. I am fan of traditional designs, but I don’t see why this one should win.
JM: This is a watch that by all definitions should be a solid choice for any collector: it checks a lot of the boxes anyone would look for in a sporty chronograph that could be worn in classy situations. And, yet, when compared to the competition it fails to inspire the same zest that the others do. So even though it is a great watch, it doesn’t stack up here.
IS: The Girard-Perregaux Laureato Chronograph is another excellent watch I would be happy to wear regularly. I like the design and style of the dial and the case (date window aside) and the movement is excellent. But best chronograph for 2018? Not for me.
MG: I have a bit of difficulty rating this blast from the past against the other watches here. Yes, there are no rules in the GPHG that dictate all watches entering must be new models, but usually they are – or at least “newish.” This Laureato Chronograph is that of course also, but as a model it has been on the market (with a few absences) for quite some time. It is a solid stainless steel chronograph with a recognizable design that somehow never has been able to steal the show from those other stainless steel powerhouses.
I think that the same goes for the Chronograph category: it is a good watch, but hardly stands out among the rest.
For more information please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/laureato-chronograph.
Quick Facts Girard-Perregaux Laureato Chronograph
Case: 42 x 12.01 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber GP03300-0134/0136/0137with 46-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: 14,400 Swiss francs
IS: The power of the black may be a big draw, but as popular as the TAG Heuer Monaco Bamford is likely to be it’s going to take more than a carbon fiber case to win best chronograph 2018: I’m looking for something more chronographically innovative in my top three.
JM: The Monaco Bamford is the most anachronistic watch in this category, being the “most vintage” in style with the most modern of finishes. The forged carbon is ultra-high tech, and when combined with the Monaco – the epitome of 1970s racing style – it makes for a very interesting and rather exciting watch. The collaboration with the king of aftermarket modification is interesting, and it remains to be seen how this type of partnership will work out in the long run.
I love the watch, but I feel it falls squarely in the realm of “that’s cool,” failing to have enough to make it a clear winner here.
MG: Who knew that the iconic Monaco could be turned into such a different watch that is still the same? I was actually very surprised by myself when I examined this watch at Baselworld 2018 in that I liked it. In some crazy way the colors and the materials really work, providing the Monaco with a new dimension and a significantly more modern appearance yet without leaving behind its former flair.
This is a case in which a collaboration gains real synergy, and I have to give it my personal vote for the win in this category.
For more information please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/monaco-bamford.
Quick Facts TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph Forged Carbon Bamford Edition
Case: 39 mm, forged carbon fiber case
Movement: automatic Caliber 11 (base Sellita SW-300 with Dubois Dépraz chronograph module)
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Limitation: 500 pieces
Price: $8,100 / 7,900 Swiss francs
IS: I have written more than once over the last few years that I would not vote for another El Primero watch in any category because there seems to be an El Primero movement every year. It appears the Zenith El Primero has an automatic pass for pre-selection each year, and everyone else is vying for the five empty slots left.
And yet: while the El Primero 21 didn’t quite make my top three pre-selected chronographs, it only missed the cut by a hair. It’s not the same old movement we have seen year after year, decade after decade; the 21 – “21” standing for “21st century” – is an all-new El Primero, and it has an impressive list of credentials: a 50 Hz silicon balance, a column wheel chronograph, and those eye-catching blue bridges make the indications much more legible than is typical with an open dial and skeleton movement.
The Zenith Defy El Primero 21 surprised me; I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do.
AT: The Defy El Primero is a truly impressive watch. It is a technical feat I admire, and I think it is an all-around amazing watch. It’s not a practical watch, but that is the best part. The chronograph second hand makes one full revolution in one second! I mean, come on!
The chronograph complication is so all-consuming that it requires its own escapement and power reserve. Despite the fact that it can only run for 50 minutes continuously, Zenith has made one great watch.
There is a lot going on with the dial, and legibility isn’t too high on the list of priorities, but I truly admire the impracticality of it all. A clear winner for me in this year’s category.
MG: I have been a fan of the Defy El Primero 21 since its introduction. Some say that its case is a bit too “Hublotesque,” but I don’t think that this is true at all. Like all brands Zenith also has to move into the future, and I believe that the Defy El Primero 21 is one of the watches with which the brand will achieve this.
It is progressive and modern, yet not overly so, which allows Zenith to stay connected to its original clients but also attract new ones. The movement is a work of art, and I like it how Zenith decides to show this through the dial, yet without compromising functionality. A very strong second place.
JM: The Defy El Primero 21 is a fantastic piece of engineering from a brand that is synonymous with high-frequency chronographs: Zenith released the 36,000 vph El Primero in 1969 and changed the game for chronographs. Since then the name El Primero has meant something to chronograph connoisseurs.
The new Defy El Primero 21 creates a chronograph with a separate chronograph balance wheel/escapement that oscillates at a superhuman 100 vph, making it the most precise chronograph in the competition this year. The separation of the chronograph function from the time gear train is awesome and drastically improves the long-term stability of the rate since activation of the chronograph doesn’t alter the operation of the regular balance.
This is probably one of the best solutions for chronograph and time-rate performance ever, and making the chronograph balance oscillate so quickly is a huge bonus for timing accuracy as well (if you ignore average human reaction times, which out of necessity we do). The mechanism looks incredible, and coming from Zenith we know the build quality will definitely be up to scratch.
The biggest downside is legibility with a skeletonized dial and movement making for a less-than-clear reading of the dial. Personally this isn’t a deal breaker for me, but when considering what makes the best chronograph, ease of reading must be important criteria. That is why it comes in second place, even though it is an awesomazing timepiece.
For more information please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/defy-el-primero-21-0.
Quick Facts Zenith Defy El Primero 21
Case: 44 x 14.5 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 9004, 5 Hz/36,600 vph frequency, silicon escapement, blue base plate, skeletonized, 50-hour power reserve, chronometer certified
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication, chronograph with ability to measure 1/100th of second
Price: 12,900 Swiss francs
JM: This is a fantastic watch with an awesome vintage-inspired movement. The style is cool, and a monopusher is always classic. It works from a vintage and military perspective, and has the Minerva heritage to back it up.
But a chronograph beating at 18,000 vph based on older mechanics doesn’t seem up to the challenge of being called the best chronograph of 2018. I love the look and the vibe it gives off – and especially the movement – but I can’t bring myself to vote for it this time.
AT: I was first introduced to the Minerva movement as a young watchmaking student. Attending the British Horological Institute’s 150th anniversary, the team from Minerva gave a presentation. A book with beautiful images of the chronograph movement was handed out, and I instantly fell in love. It is such a classic chronograph movement, and I still love it today.
Do I love monopusher chronographs? No. Do I think this Montblanc looks particularly special? Not really. For me, this one is all about what’s under the hood, and it doesn’t disappoint. However, I don’t think that will get it over the line.
IS: If you were to describe the Montblanc1858 Monopusher Chronograph Limited Edition 100 to me – no matter how much I loved the movement – I would swear that I could not like a watch with an olive-green dial. But it works beautifully.
And look at that Minerva monopusher movement!
The Montblanc1858 Monopusher Chronograph Limited Edition 100 is my number-two pick here (by a whisker).
MG: The devil is in the details, and for me this Montblanc exhibits that in the crown and chronograph pusher. Compared to the beautiful hands and dial they almost seem like afterthoughts – which unfortunately spoils the party for me. I would have loved for this watch to be a little bit more extroverted like the Zenith Pilot Chronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback competing in the sports category.
For more information please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/1858-monopusher-chronograph-limited-edition-100.
Quick Facts Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph Limited Edition 100
Case: 40 x 12.15 mm, stainless steel
Movement: hand-wound manufacture Caliber MB M13.21 with monopusher column wheel chronograph, 2,5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency; power reserve 55 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; monopusher chronograph, tachymeter scale
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 30,300 Swiss francs / $28,000
MG: While I enjoy what Singer does with cars, I am not a big fan of the watch. First of all, I feel that it gives off a different vibe than what Singer presents with its cars. And, secondly, I find the “fuzz” distracting from what it is supposed to do: tell time at a glance. Perhaps this is because I am too set in the traditional layout of the chronograph. Or maybe I prefer the Fabergé version based on the same movement as this Singer. It might prove to be a favorite of the jury, but I’ll pass on it.
AT: As soon as I read a press release that opens with the words, “It’s super black case,” I can guarantee it won’t be a watch I like. The movement used is certainly one I like, though. I don’t think it is substantially more legible than a traditional chronograph, but that is personal opinion. The main issue I have with this new movement is the lack of subdials, which I realize is the whole point of it, but I believe that to be the very heart and soul of the chronograph.
JM: The prodigal son hath returned! Well sort of. Regular readers know that last year I felt we witnessed the greatest tragedy in the industry when the most innovative movement released that year failed to be recognized in any category of the GPHG. I understand why and won’t fault the jurors, but the process failed the Singer Track 1, the Fabergé Visionnaire Chronograph, and the innovative AgenGraphe movement inside.
This was largely due to the ease at which the jury could fail to understand a highly technical movement and the ergonomic benefit of a new display style as it probably wasn’t explained well enough through the provided documentation.
Hopefully this year the Track 1 Hong Kong Edition included adequate and easily understandable support materials so every juror could fully grasp why this caliber STILL is one of the most innovative movements in a long time. It changes how chronographs function, are read, and what safety measures provide protection from damage and mechanism failure. And once it is understood that this watch isn’t supposed to be read in a traditional way and that its display is actually functionally easier and more intuitive to understand, the benefits and importance should become clear.
This watch is doing things that no other chronographs have successfully done in history (aside from the aforementioned Fabergé) and it stands again as the best and most functional chronograph in the category.
IS: Thank you, Hong Kong, for giving the Singer Reimagined Track 1 another chance after the surprise (for many) when it was not selected as the GPHG’s Best Chronograph for 2017. In making last year’s predictions for Quill & Pad, three of us (including myself) thought that the only reason the Track 1 wouldn’t win best Chronograph would be because it would win the top Aiguille d’Or prize.
The Singer Reimagined Singer Track1 Hong Kong Edition is everything I thought it was when I wrote Track 1 By Singer Reimagined Is The World’s Most Advanced ‘Flat 6’ Chronograph: It Might Not Sounds Like An Air-Cooled 911, But It Sure Laps Like One!, but if anything it is even better looking. The Track 1 is the most innovative chronograph, it’s the most legible chronograph, and it’s a time counter first and a timekeeper second. That’s why it’s my pick for best chronograph of 2018.
For more information please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/singer-track1-hong-kong-edition.
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Quick Facts Singer Reimagined Track 1 Hong Kong Edition
Case: 43 x 15 mm, ceramic
Movement: AgenGraphe column wheel chronograph, 60-hour power reserve, automatic winding with peripheral rotor under the dial; 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours and minutes on disks; central coaxial chronograph displaying jumping hours (to 60 hours), jumping minutes and seconds
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: 47,927 Swiss francs
Ian: Singer Reimagined Track 1 Hong Kong Edition
Alex: Singer Reimagined Track 1 Hong Kong Edition
Joshua: Singer Reimagined Track 1 Hong Kong Edition
Martin: TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph Forged Carbon Bamford Edition
Ashton: Zenith Defy El Primero 21
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