Our Predictions In The Challenge Category Of The 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie De Genève: No Clear Consensus And Quite A Few Surprises
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
Ryan Schmidt (RS), contributor and author of The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches
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 Challenge category for watches entered as: “offered for a retail price under 4,000 Swiss francs.”
JM: I like that the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève basically split up the Petite Aiguille category and added the Challenge category as it more closely resembles many collectors’ purchasing decisions based on price range. Above CHF 4,000 is entering pretty serious territory for many (lest we forget, most people don’t even make six digits), while below that is still what I would consider an accessible timepiece. The separation also allows more watches that are true values to be judged accordingly as the higher price bracket affords options just not possible for so little cost.
This new category also allows me to let go of some personal rules that I might have required for the old Petite Aiguille category and let me have more fun with it.
AT: A solid offering in the Challenge category. I really like a lot of what is on offer, but the winner is pretty clear for me.
MG: This is fun judging watches that are indeed challenging the industry to become a better version of itself. Clever watches, beautiful watches, but most of all great talking pieces!
IS: While I congratulate the GPHG on creating this more accessible and more influential (due to the numbers) price range of under CHF 4,000, I do however hope this is the limit and we do not see an even lower category in future.
RS: For such an unusual case and an accessible and quirky Vaucher-executed wandering hours complication, this is a fun watch. It’s arguably got the strongest presence out of the group. However, I haven’t yet bought into this brand and I am certain that several judges will not have either. New brands have to work hard for the affections of an ageing watch enthusiast, and brands called “Gorilla” have even more work to do.
AT: There is no denying this watch is bang for your buck. It features a solid movement and an interesting complication at a low price. It just doesn’t have the class or style of many others in the lineup.
MG: I think few of the judges will be able to withstand the appeal of the Fastback Drift by Gorilla, who has integrated the wandering hours very nicely and naturally into its concept. Yet for some reason I am not hooked. That is probably the “dress watch guy” in me who still dreams of an Audemars Piguet Star Wheel. Not to worry, I am professional enough to set that aside and realize that especially at the price level of the Gorilla, it is a watch that will make a lot of people very happy and rightfully so!
JM: People might be starting to understand by now that I love Gorilla and what this micro-brand is doing, so it won’t come as any surprise that I can’t get over its latest model. The Drift is a huge step up from a brand that already punches well above its weight class.
Gorilla already shocked many with a ceramic, forged carbon, and titanium watch priced at under CHF 1,000, and it has done it again with this latest collaboration with movement maker Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. The wandering hours complication, or star wheel if you are an Audemars Piguet fan, is a rarely seen display that usually fetches higher prices. That is because it has been notoriously difficult to adjust for perfect alignment and proper activation while maintaining a low influence on the movement’s rate. Urwerk specifically built its brand around the concept, and only a handful of other brands have ever even tried to create their own versions.
Finding a Vaucher module available in such a distinctive watch and at a price point that is over 1,000 CHF under the price cutoff for this category is unheard of, making this one of the most surprising watches of the year regardless of price. I can’t imagine a watch deserving to win this category any more than the Gorilla Fastback Drift as it continues to break boundaries in affordable horology. Other watches have more prestige or brand awareness, but this watch is just too awesomazing to ignore.
IS: I’ll award the Gorilla Watches Fastback Drift a bonus point for having the edgiest design, and wandering hours is an interesting complication, especially at this price point. The Vaucher movement is a big bonus, too. But the problem with edgy designs is that they don’t work for many, and I’m one of those.
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/fastback-drift.
Further reading: Gorilla Fastback GT Mirage, Bandit, And Drift: Racing Forward
Quick Facts Gorilla Watches Fastback Drift
Case: 44 x 44 x 14 mm; ceramic, carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824-2 with Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier module G-5238
Functions: wandering hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $2,850/2,970 Swiss francs
AT: This Longines is a good-looking, solid offering, which I’m sure will sell well.
MG: This watch makes it evident why Longines is the third Swiss watch brand in the world in terms of volume: a clever integration of modern-day technology in an analog watch. I think that this will especially appeal to a younger group of consumers, which so many brands are trying too hard to include as new client groups. I don’t think that this Longines will be able to secure the win – it is quartz, after all: a kick-ass, affordable, innovative and very precise quartz watch. But passion in watchmaking rarely runs on a battery, and in this case that is a pity!
JM: Longines’ watches could easily be considered “safe” from a design standpoint. That is why I am glad to see this model featured in this category – and with a rather cool-looking GMT piece featuring the V.H.P. quartz movement that has been doing well for the brand.
With an accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per year, the movement also has a system that automatically adjusts and resets the hands in the case of an extreme impact that jostles the gearing. It also has a perpetual calendar that only needs its next adjustment in the year 2399, something still difficult to do even at this price point. This watch is quartz, and that takes it off the table as the winner for me, but it definitely represents a great value in precision watchmaking.
IS: I know there isn’t anything in the category rules about mechanical watches only, but as much as I like the look of it I’m ruling the Longines Conquest V.H.P. GMT flash setting out for me here just because it’s quartz.
RS: The VHP flash setting complication is very fun. The time can be set using your phone, but not via wifi or Bluetooth; instead an app emits bursts of light from the phone’s flash and a tiny aperture in the “12” numeral translates that into an instruction to change the time. It’s a great balance between high tech and over-engineered. Ultimately, I just don’t buy it, though. The part of me that fell in love with mechanical watches enjoys the pleasure of manually setting my watch when I am mid-flight. It’s a meditation that brings me close to the watch. So it’s a no for me. Also, what happens with this thing in a nightclub???
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/conquest-vhp-gmt-flash-setting.
Quick Facts Longines Conquest V.H.P. GMT Flash Setting
Case: 43 x 12.85 mm, stainless steel
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, second time zone, perpetual calendar, swap functions, flash setting
Movement: ETA quartz
Price: 1,290 Swiss francs
MG: This is a great example of what Nomos does best: a beautiful integration of design and practicality powered by a mechanical movement. I think that the main issue with this watch is that Nomos has done this so well with so many different watches that the Tangente Neomatik 41 Update doesn’t stand out enough among its peers and might therefore also be a bit lost in the Challenge category.
RS: Although Nomos refers to this as “just 41 mm,” I’m more inclined to be thankful it’s “no more than 41 mm.” Regardless, this is clean, legible, and has the design signatures of a company that can make more than just dials for cheap movements.
This is one of my favorites from the brand. That bi-directional, quick-set date with the apertures on either side of the reference date is an absolute dream for a guy like me (I really don’t like basic date windows).
IS: I’m another fan of Nomos Glashütte, and the Tangente neomatik 41 Update is another winner for the brand in my book. That discreet date indication around the periphery of the minimalistic dial is a touch of design genius. With its in-house movement and Swing System escapement this is a Nomos I would be happy to own, but I cannot see it being strong enough to dominate here.
JM: I love Nomos; it is always in my top watches of Baselworld, and this update to the Tangente Neomatik is simple yet awesome. Following the path of many of the new Nomos pieces it features the fully in-house caliber with the Nomos Swing System, presented at a great price (if a bit on the higher side for Nomos).
I can really never say anything negative about a Nomos as it is one of my favorite brands in the industry. But saying all that does not change this category, and a couple other pieces are much stronger this year. And so the Nomos has to remain a favorite that didn’t win.
AT: I am a huge fan of Nomos as a company; I love everything it is about, and the Nomos Encyclopaedia is one of the funniest books to be offered by a watch brand. The Neomatik, like most other models, doesn’t disappoint.
The date display is simple, stylish, and original. I think it’s a great-looking watch with an innovative design. Whether or not it will win is another matter. It is up against some pretty stiff competition, and I don’t think it will quite make it.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/tangente-neomatik-41-update.
Quick Facts Nomos Glashütte Tangente Neomatik 41 Update
Case: 40.5 x 7.9 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber DUW 6101, 42-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, Nomos Swing System escapement, Glashütte three-quarter plate
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; date
Price: 3,520 Swiss francs
JM: When I first saw the Reservoir jump hour popping up on social media over the last year, I knew this was going to be a cool watch, based as it was on old measuring instruments, in this case, a dashboard of an old racecar. The design is top notch, and the display is always going to win my heart. Jump hour watches, especially those with retrograde minutes are awesome, and usually found in the much higher price ranges, so the Reservoir Longbridge British Racing makes accessible something that most would love but cannot afford.
The power reserve looks exactly like a gas gauge, a perfect execution in this style, and the central minute hand definitely feels like a sturdy old gauge hand instead of a delicate watch hand. Overall the watch is successful in the execution of its design. However, I think that the only thing keeping the Reservoir British Racing from winning that one other watch in the category has something rarely seen in the watch world, let alone at an affordable price. The Reservoir will win a lot of hearts, as it should, but I am not convinced that it will take the top spot this year.
RS: I expect this to go into the same box as the Gorilla, but it’s actually my favorite. So many racing or flying inspired dials have been executed in the last 15 years, but this must be one of the best executions. The retrograde minutes are perfect for a speedometer aesthetic, as is the large aperture for the jumping numeral. But it’s the “fuel gauge” that elevates this particular model from the other time-only offerings that Reservoir has made. This is one of the best power reserve indicators I have seen on a sub-4,000 Swiss franc watch before. This is the watch I would walk away with.
AT: The British racing green, Swiss made, French watch. Jumping hours, retrograde minutes, engine light, and a 37-hour power reserve. What a mess.
IS: I also noted the “British racing green, Swiss made, French watch, jumping hours, retrograde minutes, engine light, and a 37-hour power reserve,” Ashton, but my conclusion was that that look and those indications work for me.
The Reservoir Longbridge British Racing is my number-three pick, and only reason I’m not ranking it higher is that I haven’t handled the watch nor do I know the base movement.
MG: There are so many of these “inspired-by-a car-speedometer” type of watches that I have lost count. Kickstarter in particular is plastered with them. However, among them the Reservoir Longbridge represents the best execution of the theme and should, in my opinion, be the one to get.
I love the green dial and I do think that the execution is spot on! Do I want it on my wrist next time I pick up my new shirts in Jermyn Street? No, but that says more about me then about the qualities of this Reservoir. Although I have another favorite in the lineup, I think that this Longbridge might be lined up to take the win in the Challenge category!
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/longbridge-british-racing.
Quick Facts Reservoir Longbridge British Racing
Case: 39 x 11.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: unspecified automatic movement; 37-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: jumping hours, retrograde minutes; power reserve indication
Price: 3,780 Swiss francs
MG: My winner in the Challenge category has to be this Seiko! I thought it was the best introduction by the brand this year, even better than the Grand Seikos, and I love the combination of the well-executed movement and the beautiful enamel dial with the offset power reserve indicator adding a little bit of disruption on an otherwise perfect watch.
I know that price is not a concern when judging the GPHG contesters, yet in this case I do think that the Seiko deserves a bonus point for its competitive price point. This will make an enamel dial in a watch from a major brand more easily accessible to a larger group of consumers, therefore contributing to the continuation of the crafts needed to make this Seiko.
IS: For its impeccable build quality, graceful hands, blue enamel, guilloche dial, date display (though I would have prefered small seconds), power reserve indicator, and being priced under CHF 2,000, the Seiko Presage Shippo Enamel is my choice for second place. I might have placed it even higher, but the overall design just didn’t work for me. It’s a bit too busy for me and I even think that it might have been better without the guilloche.
RS: This is a pretty watch. The color is lovely, too. But on closer inspection certain elements just don’t do it for me. I don’t like the taper on the crown, and the reserve indicator is in too much conflict with the numerals. I also would prefer if the brand kept the “Presage” wording to the back of the watch or the brochure. And then there is the date wheel, which disappointed me as soon as I found out it wasn’t a seconds subdial. So in summary, it’s a pretty watch, but there are “buts.”
JM: As my second runnerup I chose a watch from the Far East that, like the brand, will always represent an amazing value within the industry. The Seiko Presage has always been a class above the regular Seiko offerings and a great stepping stone to the Grand Seiko standalone brand.
This entry, the Shippo Enamel version, features a stunning guilloche dial with translucent enamel mixed with a fairly modern dial layout. The Roman numerals lean more to the classic, but the rest of the watch is squarely in the modern sport/dress style. With power reserve and date placed very proportionately on the dial and the price coming in at under half of the cutoff price for the category, this watch definitely looks like an attractive and well deserving prospect.
Combine that with Seiko’s watchmaking heritage in Japan and this is one great piece. Alas, even with all the great things a Seiko Presage has to offer, there are some truly awesome pieces in this new category, and I think as a standout piece, the Presage Shippo Enamel has some hard competition.
AT: The Presage is a great entrant from Seiko, but I feel the dial has too much going on.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/seiko-presage-shippo-enamel.
Quick Facts Seiko Presage Shippo Enamel
Case: 40.6 x 14.1 mm, stainless steel
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve indication
Movement: automatic Caliber 6R27, 45-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Limitation: 2,500 pieces
Price: 1,950 Swiss francs
MG: The GMT craziness of Baselworld 2018 was completely lost on me. The stainless steel GMT-Master II is a clever addition to the Rolex lineup, and so is the Black Bay GMT to that of Tudor. It is a nicely executed, vintage-inspired watch whose white date wheel annoys me significantly. A solid product, commercially smart, but coming up short in the GPHG in terms of the competition.
AT: The Black Bay is the obvious winner for me as Tudor has hit it out of the park with this one, Martin. It’s no secret that I love what Tudor is coming up with these days, and the GMT is no exception. An in-house movement, silicon balance spring, and 70-hour power reserve are packed into a watch that just looks stylish. These new in-house calibers keep incredible time and are a wonderful movement. Tudor seems to do no wrong lately.
RS: While it has the ability to polarize, I think this one might just win the category; it wouldn’t get my vote, though. I am not a fan of riveted bracelets or guardless crowns – especially on a new watch. Sure, it’s one of the better alternatives to the Rolex GMT-Master II, but I’ll be honest with you: the Tudor just isn’t a Pepsi. If I’m going to drink something that dissolves my teeth, I will pick the brand that dissolves teeth the best.
JM: What can I say about the Tudor Black Bay that hasn’t already been said . . . and now there is a Pepsi GMT version of the Black Bay that everyone can drool over. It’s an awesome watch and presents a tremendous value for a timepiece. Yet there is a Black Bay in the GPHG every year, and it’s starting to feel like this brand – which does everything well and has no negative argument against it – doesn’t get me as excited as other brands.
I understand the model, and Tudor is absolutely rocking it. I can’t argue against this watch, it is fantastic, but I can argue for other pieces as more realistic winners for this category.
IS: The Tudor Black Bay GMT is the second pre-selected watch I’ve seen this year that I thought that I would never consider again because they keep popping up year after year in slightly different guises and different categories. The first was the Zenith El Primero preselected in the Chronograph category and now the Tudor Black Bay in GMT guise in this category.
In-house movement, silicon balance spring, 70-hour power reserve, and Tudor quality in a practical watch that will be worn and enjoyed for decades. I’m not so into Rolex that Pepsi means anything to me but as a color combination, and it works for me on this GMT just as the Pepsi combination works on big brother Rolex.
I never thought I’d be writing this but the Tudor Black Bay GMT in my pick as the winner of the Challenge category.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/black-bay-gmt.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay GMT
Case: 41 x 14.6 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5652, 70-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, silicon escapement
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, second time zone
Price: 3,700 Swiss francs
Ashton: Tudor Black Bay GMT
Ian: Tudor Black Bay GMT
Joshua: Gorilla Watches Fastback Drift
Martin: Seiko Presage Shippo Enamel
Ryan: Reservoir Longbridge British Racing
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Gorilla Fastback GT Mirage, Bandit, And Drift: Racing Forward
The Jump Hour: A Love Story
Our Predictions For Best Men’s Complication Watch At The 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (Spoiler Alert! Panel Is Divided, But Has Clear Favorites)