Our Predictions In The Artistic Crafts Category Of The 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie De Genève And Our Panel Is Divided (Again!)
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 expert at Phillips
Ryan Schmidt (RS), contributor and author of The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches
Ashton Tracy (AT), contributor, watchmaker, and blogger at Horological Insider
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 Artistic Crafts category for watches entered as: “demonstrating exceptional mastery of one or several artistic techniques such as enameling, lacquering, engraving, guilloche (engine-turning), skeletonizing, and more.”
AT: When I saw the lineup of artistic crafts, I knew I had a difficult job ahead of me. I think most of the watches offered are extremely beautiful and picking the winner was not easy.
IS: I find the Artistic Crafts and Jewelry categories to be the two most difficult — if not impossible — to judge on images alone: these are timepieces that demand to be held and felt as well as seen under different lights and angles. What I will do is weigh artistic craft and craftwork higher than interesting complications, finishing, and other criteria I might normally favor.
JM: I agree, Ian, that aside from the Jewelry category, Artistic Crafts is by far one of the most subjective in the GPHG. Due to the fact that so many of the crafts involved require such incredible skill and patience that might look similar but is so specialized to each process, it is always hard to adequately compare the pieces. When you bring in the fact that, at least this year, one artist worked on two different pieces for different brands, it becomes harder still to judge which one might display that skill more accurately. So I am left choosing based on how hard it appears to have been and which one I just enjoy more.
I am not convinced that this will be an easy category for the jury this year as so many of the pieces are so amazing.
MG: Nothing stirs opinions like art, and in artistic watches that is no different. Sometimes you immediately fall in love with artistic pieces, other times not so much. The jury, who pre-selected these competing watches, sure has very traditional taste as all of the more modern creations have been filtered out through the selection. I personally find this a pity as the lineup would have been even stronger if there had been more diversity in the conceptual approach. But there is still enough left to warrant strong opinions.
IS: The Fabergé Dalliance Clover might be a strong contender in this category, but the colors just don’t work for me (not that I’m the likely target client, either). I would also have liked to know more details about the artistic crafts involved, but aside from a sentence revealing a cloisonné grand feu enamel painting of a four-leaved clover in the center of the dial by Anita Porchet, the text concentrates on the movement and jewelry. Is the whole dial cloisonné enamel or are those little squares tiles?
MG: Some of the watches in this category are so well made with so much expertise, yet fail to grab me. This Fabergé is not doing it for me, also because apart from the clover theme it doesn’t look much like the famous egg I associate with this brand. Perhaps you have to be Irish or Russian to appreciate this watch more then I do, but I actually find it a pity because of all the craftsmanship that went into it.
JM: The Fabergé Clover features an example of Anita Porchet enamel – like the Van’t hoff – but this time it is in a non-limited piece with an Agenhor movement (a big favorite of mine) that has a unique display. The style definitely won’t be for everyone, and the color choices for the enamel squares are a bit harsh on the eyes compared to other entries. It is definitely a bold choice, but I feel (sadly) that it missed the vibe to win this category.
RS: Finally, something to wear on St Patrick’s Day! I like more than I dislike about this watch: the Agenhor movement and the egg shape, which is perfect for this brand. And I absolutely adore that cloisonné checkerboard. It’s the clover at the center that has me feeling a little odd. I’m not sure what should be there instead: maybe some waves? A landscape? A unicorn?
AT: The Clover is a very delicate-looking piece. The dragonflies displaying the time is a nice touch, and the clover in the center has been tastefully rendered. Not my pick for the win, though.
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/clover.
Further reading on the movement: Fabergé’s Lady Levity Combines Original Mechanics With Unique Design
Quick Facts Fabergé Dalliance Clover
Case: 31 x 39 mm, white gold with 36 baguette-cut diamonds (8.91 ct) on bezel and one (.10 ct) in the crown
Dial: enamel, 50 brilliant-cut diamonds (0.26 ct)
Movement: manually winding Agenhor Caliber AGH 6911 with 50-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 183,090 Swiss francs
MG: Louis Vuitton now makes these horrible bags on which are shown famous paintings by equally famous artists with their names in very large font. While significantly better executed than these bags, am I no fan of this Chaumet watch, which looks rather like something picked up from the gift shop of the Louvre than Place Vendôme. I also think that the brand needs to be careful about using the Vendôme-style lugs so generously as people might start to mistake its watches for those of Van Cleef & Arpels.
JM: The Chaumet Ecritures de Chaumet is a piece that sounds good on paper, but I feel falls short of the results the other watches have achieved. It doesn’t feel like it is self-aware enough to truly wow with the miniature painting (which is a bit hard to understand thanks to the inspiration) and the case style doesn’t do it any favors. I think it looks like a very impressive example of Renoir-style painting on a miniature scale, but it lacks cohesiveness that I think a second pass through a designer’s eye could have given it. It may even be due to the stone setting, which doesn’t seem to fit as well as it could.
RS: While I am genuinely impressed with this oil-on-canvas dial, and I’m prepared to assume that Chaumet has investigated the impact of any residual moisture on the movement, impressionist art was never destined for such a small window. It requires distance so that the viewer can, well, get the impression. Contained by this dial I can’t help but feel somewhat claustrophobic!
AT: This is a remarkable dial showcased by a classically beautiful timepiece; the attention to detail that has gone into it is just outstanding. I personally think this is the most beautiful piece, but I don’t know if it will take the top spot.
IS: I like the stealthiness of the Chaumet Ecritures de Chaumet. Sure, that dial may be framed by an unstealthy-looking, yet scintillating ring of brilliant-cut diamonds, but that’s just the distraction. It looks just like a nice ladies’ evening watch with a pleasing abstract dial. It’s a secret pleasure for insider art aficionados to know that the exquisite miniature painting on the dial was inspired by Renoir’s painting, “Woman with a Parasol in a Garden.”
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/ecritures-de-chaumet-limited-edition-inspired-renoirs-work.
Quick Facts Chaumet Ecritures de Chaumet
Case: 35 x 10 mm, pink gold with brilliant-cut diamonds
Dial: miniature oil painting
Movement: unspecified automatic Swiss movement, 42-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 5 pieces
Price: 91,200 Swiss francs
MG: Get your 1970s swagger on! At least that is the thought that goes through my head when I see this Piaget. While the brand is close to my heart and I absolutely adore stone dials, I think that this Piaget is lacking in real life. I believe the design would have been much stronger had the brand’s designers used two complementary but different types of stone, which would amplify the design of the dial some more, a technique that the brand actually utilized during that time. It is an example of a great watch that I think could have been even better!
JM: Piaget is the king of thin, and in combining that with a tourbillon and malachite marquetry, it is dang impressive. The swirling stone pattern is pretty awesome and a good touch to have it spiral in toward the tourbillon opening. But for the Artistic Crafts category, I feel it doesn’t go far enough to show the mastery with the stone, even though it is incredibly difficult to work with. The result is very cool, but among its peers it seems a bit less impressive. I would love to have this piece, but I don’t know if it has what it takes for the top spot.
RS: The dial is striking, yet my first glance completely underestimated the complexity of the malachite marquetry. I wonder if this will blow the jury away in the metal/stone. Hang on a minute: it’s another St Patrick’s Day watch!
AT: I can admire the fact it is a tourbillon, but it as an artistic piece I don’t really get it. I can see that effort has been put forth to craft the dial, but ultimately it falls short. My biggest issue is the figure 8 that the dial and tourbillon are supposed to form as it is not evenly spaced from the edge of the dial and I just can’t get on board with that.
IS: I don’t get that figure eight on the dial of the Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon Malachite either, Ashton. That reads to me as added-on marketing fluff that just dilutes the real story. However, while I love the way the tourbillon pops from the malachite marquetry dial, it’s the dial itself that holds the artistry flag. And the question remains: is that dial enough compared to the competition here? Tourbillon and malachite are distinctive, and I’ve no doubt well done. Its appeal lies in how much you like the color green.
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/altiplano-tourbillon-malachite.
Quick Facts Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon Malachite
Case: 41 x 7.4 mm, red gold
Dial: malachite marquetry
Movement: ultra-thin manual-winding Caliber 670P (4.6 mm high) with one-minute ultra-thin tourbillon, 48-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 4 pieces
Price: 114,000 Swiss francs
AT: My two top contenders were the Chaumet and the Hermès, but the Hermès just wins out. The way this mosaic dial is put together is just remarkable, such a painstaking process. The effort that goes into creating this work of art and achieving such a beautiful result is what makes it the winner for me.
MG: Hermès always knows how to strike the right note, Ashton! This Arceau case is perfect to highlight the mosaic of small leather squares. As it also displays a horse, it perfectly brings together the “DNA” of the iconic French brand. To love the piece you need to like the design of the horse, which I consider spot on. For me, it would win this category if it weren’t for the Vacheron Constantin!
JM: The Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir is unlike anything I have seen before, and for me it takes the top spot due to the insane mosaic work with leather that looks like it should actually be found in a Greek temple. The 3,500 tiny leather squares that were cut prior to shaping and arranging approximately 2,200 of them into an intricate horse head proves that someone somewhere has the patience of a Buddhist monk.
The result is gorgeous and extremely impressive, but still allows easy reading of the time. Also, save one other competitor that is non-limited, this watch sees the most examples made with 12, creating the most accessible watch that also happens to be the lowest priced. Still not cheap by anyone’s definition at 52,000 Swiss francs, it beats its closest competitor by CHF 22,000 and provides an amazing and unique example of the fine leatherwork that Hermès is known for. I won’t say I think everyone will agree, and I would understand why, but this piece is the one that speaks to me the most here.
RS: A very close second place for the Arceau Robe du Soir in my books. What an incredible mosaic of 2,200 tiny pieces of leather! Such a stunning dial. The color is wonderful too. I don’t want to sound spoiled, and I appreciate that this is a perfectly apt material for the saddlers, but I must admit that I felt a small pang of disappointment when I found out that this was not a stone mosaic.
IS: When it comes to world-class execution of artistic crafts in watches, Hermès is an old master (see Roaring Into Life At Full Gallop: Hermès Arceau Tigre Email Ombrant). As I literally live with horses (three at present) and am married to a dressage rider, the theme is close to my heart. From a dressage perspective I’d like to see the horse’s head carried more vertically but can see that this over-bent angle allows for a larger head. And that’s to be appreciated.
The Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir is my number-two pick with its 2,200 miniscule leather squares making up the motif inspired by the “Robe du Soir” silk scarf designed by Florence Manlik. The whole concept works very nicely for me.
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/arceau-robe-du-soir.
You might also enjoy Roaring Into Life At Full Gallop: Hermès Arceau Tigre Email Ombrant.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir
Case: 41 x 9.6 mm; pink gold
Dial: 2,200 leather squares in a mosaic
Movement: automatic Hermès Caliber H1837, 50-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 12 pieces
Price: 52,000 Swiss francs
RS: This watch is as beautiful as it is hard to read the time! Not quite as ornate as a Breguet Reine de Naples and not as animated as an Agenhor-powered Van Cleef & Arpels, it is an exquisite piece of eye candy all the same.
AT: The watch component of this seems to be a little lacking. I know it is the artistic category, but you have to look a little too hard to see this is actually a watch at all.
MG: I had to double check whether this watch was not part of the jewelry category, Ashton! It makes no difference, though, as it is a beautiful creation. While Anita Porchet is credited for the enamel on this piece – I love the addition of the silver flakes – the equally gifted engraver who created the scene unfortunately remains anonymous. Both crafts truly take this creation to the next level, showing why it belongs so much more in this category than in that of jewelry watches. I also like that Van’t hoff opted for an oval-shaped case, which gives it that little bit extra. Overall a beautiful creation.
JM: My second-place choice is the Ballet In Blue by Van’t hoff, and it pains me not to pick it as a winner. The application of enamel, engraving, and stone setting is spectacular. The artist behind the enamel, Anita Porchet, is a master among masters and has truly displayed some of the most subtle and beautiful work on the butterflies. The entire package is marvelous, and I actually want to just stare at its beauty for hours.
Contrary to the Vacheron Constantin, it truly feels like putting this on the wrist is a sacrilege; it is too beautiful to be limited to just one wrist. And being a piece unique, it is limited to one wrist unlike all the other pieces, which allow at least for more than one person to enjoy it. For that reason and for the very difficult-to-read time display, I can’t give this piece the winning spot. But those are just my arbitrary rules for picking a winner.
IS: Even though this is the artistic crafts category, my clear preference for mechanical movements was highlighted when I came close to deleting the Van’t hoff Ballet in Blue from consideration on the basis of its quartz movement alone. This is a competitive field and I have to filter somehow.
But those butterflies. Those butterflies and that dial. If the small electronic movement was the price to pay for those exquisitely sculptured butterflies and ephemeral ivory-colored flowers on the dial, then I’ll buy the battery!
Anita Porchet (in her second appearance in this category) has topped herself with these white gold butterflies with fired enamel wings glinting with silver flakes. The center butterfly looks ready to fly away. The dial is hand-engraved mother-of-pearl revealing a meadow of flowers.
With no crown and barely perceptible time display, the Van’t hoff Ballet in Blue 100 percent focuses on the artistic craftwork. And it shows: the Ballet in Blue is my predicted winner of 2018 GPHG Artistic Crafts category.
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/ballet-blue.
Further reading: Give Me Five! The 5 Best Things I Saw At SalonQP 2016
Quick Facts Van’t hoff Ballet in Blue
Case: 30.7 x 9.9 mm, white gold with snow-set diamonds and blue sapphires
Dial: hand-engraved mother-of-pearl, enamel, diamond setting
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 74,000 Swiss francs
JM: In my third place is a piece that, if it were among a different set of competitors, I would probably pick to win. The Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers is an awesome series based on historical hot air balloons from the pioneering days of air travel. The translucent plique-à-jour enamel and the incredible engravings on the balloon are stunning, not to mention the way the jumping hours, minutes, and calendar are displayed.
It is a truly artistically complicated watch and incredibly wearable. I cannot say the techniques do not show mastery in any way, I can only say that it feels a bit too wearable in that it is very artistic, but doesn’t feel like a painting on the wrist. Not that that is what the category is about, but if a watch doesn’t feel like putting it on the wrist is almost sacrilege, then it didn’t go far enough in my opinion. Vacheron Constantin made a fantastic and artistically integrated watch, and did it so well that it actually takes away from the pure artistry on display.
AT: The three-dimensional aspect of the dial is what captures me here. The engraving looks superb; a real mastery of the craft is required to produce this.
IS: The Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection was one of highlights for me of this year’s SIHH. To do well at this level the watch should feature both an interesting craft or crafts and impeccable execution of said craft/s. The Bagnols 1785 has both in spades. And there’s the interesting time displays around the periphery plus a power reserve indicator. And let’s not forget that manufacture movement with Geneva Seal.
I thought that the Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers would be my hands-down winner in this category, but another tugged my emotional strings too strongly to ignore.
AG: This watch is it hands down for me, Ian: it speaks to the child in me, extending an invitation to go back in time where there was so much of the world to discover and travelling was synonymous with adventure. The time and day-date indications are discreet, leaving center stage to the beautiful enamel and engraving. If I had the money I would buy this watch in a heartbeat.
MG: This was one of my highlights of the 2018 SIHH too, Ian – what a stunning watch! The details of the hot air balloons are unbelievable, and the translucent enamel making up the sky is divine as is the movement underneath it. The way Vacheron Constantin brings together watchmaking and fine crafts in its artistic way is exemplary. Apart from that, the theme also highly original.
This is one of those watches (along with its limited siblings from the same series) that is simply perfect – and my winner in this category.
RS: As soon as I saw this watch in the pre-selection I knew it would be my favorite. Vacheron’s “Métiers d’Art” offerings always impress me, and this is no exception. I love the dimension of that hand-engraved gold balloon and the translucence of the plique-à-jour enamel in the background, revealing the dial side of the movement.
I love it. It’s my top pick.
For more information please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/metiers-dart-les-aerostiers-bagnols-1785.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Bagnols 1785
Case: 40 x 13.3 mm, white gold
Dial: plique-à-jour enamel, engraving
Functions: hours, minutes; day, date displayed digitally by 4 disks
Movement: automatic Caliber 2460 G4/1, 40-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, Seal of Geneva
Limitation: 5 pieces
Price: 159,000 Swiss francs
Alex: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Bagnols 1785
Martin: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Bagnols 1785
Ryan: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Bagnols 1785
Joshua: Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir
Ashton: Hermès Arceau Robe du Soir
Ian: Van’t hoff Ballet in Blue
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Also published on Medium.