Quill & Pad’s Predictions For The Aiguille d’Or Of The 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, And We Have 4 Winners
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2018 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why. Please enjoy the opinions of the following panelists:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Ryan Schmidt (RS), author of The Wristwatch Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Mechanical Wristwatches and contributor
Note: as jury members, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr and resident collector GaryG do not take part in these early predictions.
The GPHG defines the Aiguille d’Or category as, “a prize rewarding the best overall watch among all categories and is the most prestigious award.”
IS: First of all it’s worth noting that last year none of our panel members, including myself, predicted the winner of the 2017 GPHG Aiguille d’Or, the Chopard L.U.C. Full Strike, so our experienced guesses are obviously more stabs in the dark. And 2018 is an especially difficult year as there are quite a few watches in the running I feel well deserve the top accolade and whittling those down to one is painful.
JM: The Aiguille d’Or is consistently the hardest to predict and the most troublesome prize as it takes all pre-selected watches into consideration, not just category winners. No specific rule states that this is the case, but it tends to work this way so that more watches can be honored during the competition. So, many times a watch that was “overlooked” in its category could have been overlooked as it was in the running for the grand prize if you will.
This makes predicting this category extremely difficult, especially when taking into consideration the innovation and audacity prizes that are up to the discretion of the jury and have no selected category. So while we all will make some choices among the amazing watches, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have no consensus or don’t even end up picking the eventual winner this year, either, Ian.
MG: I have no idea which watch could take the Aiguille d’Or home this year. I am stuck between quite a few watches, and probably the jury will be too!
RS: What a gorgeous selection of watches, but when I consider the top prize I find it quite easy to eliminate a large number of them either for not being special enough or for being a variant of a previous year’s entry. I know it’s not a rule for the GPHG, but in my opinion if we are going to allow a new dial to be entered into a category, at the very least the top prize should be reserved for something entirely fresh.
And that has led me to two finalists. Two very different watches, although both with an independent spirit and a focus on excellence. I can’t describe what it would be like to have both of these in my collection.
Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain
MG: I can see the Akrivia taking it home . . .
RS: What this relatively young brand has achieved through a small, devoted, and highly talented team, is remarkable. Akrivia has forged a strong identity that combines something unique with something familiar. There are small cues confirming the classic watchmaking training that Rexhep Rexhepi received through his apprenticeship with Patek Philippe, such as the materials and movement finishing. But it’s the way that Akrivia has forged its own identity through its devotion to movement symmetry, its cases, and its dials that has cemented its work in the collective minds of the collector community.
The Chronomètre Contemporain is almost an island within the brand with a more personal logo adorning the dial and a remarkably clean time-only dial. The framing of the numerals is about the only quirk on an otherwise sober piece of understatement.
But that movement . . . wow. Mirroring the third and balance wheels is a masterstroke. I’m blown away by how clean and symmetrical this watch is. This is the architecture that you want to build around a watch that has the simple brief of telling the time clearly and accurately. This is my choice.
IS: I’m also a big fan of Akrivia, Ryan, and I agree that the movement of the Chronomètre Contemporain is sensational, but if the jury didn’t even pick the Akrivia AK-06 for the 2017 shortlist (a travesty IMHO), I can’t see it proclaiming the Chronomètre Contemporain as best of the best 2018.
MG: I would also find it very cool, and well deserved, if Seiko took the award to Japan for its Presage Shippo Enamel, but that might be a bit too entry level for many members of the jury. The Chaykin/Andersen Joker Automaton is also a contender for me.
But the fact that I don’t think that there is a single watch that stands out enough to warrant a bet is very good news for the industry as this means that there are not only a lot of incredible watches, but also divided among nearly all price categories.
JM: In third place I choose the Ming 19.01, the cheapest in price of my picks and one of the most surprising debuts from a brand-new independent brand in a long time. It represents the collective opinions of a group of serious collectors that wanted to create a watch that checked a lot of boxes while remaining something attainable by many among the collecting community. The style is seriously fantastic and might be one of the coolest uses of sapphire crystal in a while.
Since it is so affordable and yet so visually groundbreaking, it stands out as a true value in the industry that often plays it safe and misses opportunities to build amazing watches that the common man or woman could strive to own. I look at the Ming 19.01 as a new kind of entry-level watch, one that could redefine what is expected of the sub-$10,000 watch. I don’t know if it will impress upon the jury enough to win the coveted Aiguille d’Or, but it definitely is in the running in my mind.
MG: If you press me I would vote for the Doppel-Felix by Habring2, but only because I want one myself so badly!
IS: While it would be nice if the GPHG rules offered some guidelines on taking price into account, I can’t see these more affordable offerings, as good as they are, competing with watches costing hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
IS: Like Martin, I have a few strong contenders for the 2018 GPHG Aiguille d’Or, including the Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie, Bovet 1822 Récital 22 Grand Récital, Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision, and Singer Reimagined Singer Track1 Hong Kong Edition (a variation of which I feel should have taken this prize last year). If the jury selects the Track 1 Hong Kong Edition I will give it a standing ovation and consider it some recompense for not at least winning the 2017 Chronograph category.
JM: While I absolutely love the Singer Track 1 and think it still represents some of the best innovation in the last few years (or decades), Ian, I am not sure if it has what it takes to win the Aiguille d’Or considering it has been hard to describe to non-horology geeks just why it is so incredible.
I really want it to be recognized, along with the Fabergé Visionnaire Chronograph, but I fear it just may get overlooked for the top spot.
JM: Greubel Forsey is a powerhouse and no stranger to the Aiguille d’Or. The Grande Sonnerie is a watch almost designed to win the award while helping to tackle functional problems inherent with chiming watches. The presentation is actually reserved for a Greubel Forsey timepiece, but that doesn’t mean it is a timid contender. With its very atypical bulging case and layout, it stands out among nearly any peers as a stunning piece. And the finishing that you get from Greubel Forsey always takes something that is already the best in many ways and makes it so much greater than before.
A grande sonnerie is worthy of winning the top prize, but for me it is missing the pure boundary-pushing innovation that I want to see in the best watches every year. But the Aiguille d’Or doesn’t necessarily mean most innovative. I think it could easily win, but I chose it as my first runner-up.
IS: The Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie is also my pick for silver, Joshua. It isn’t just a sensational grande sonnerie, a complication that by itself puts this timepiece on a pedestal, but what really impresses me is just how much it improves on the existing technology of sonneries and chiming watches. And all of that in a relatively svelte (for what’s inside) 43.5 mm case. The sound of the Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie has to be heard to be believed (which puts it in good stead in the jury room). I would not at all be surprised if it did take the top award, but I’m tipping another.
RS: This is the one watch that I would grab in the event of a fire: I would run to a secluded location and don’t expect that I would ever emerge. I would live off the grid and gladly sacrifice my future in watch collecting: what more could I possibly seek in a watch with its 935 superlatively finished parts? It is a visual feast that captures the core identity of Greubel Forsey but presents a sonnerie and a rotor for the first time in the brand’s 17-year history.
The dial is a dashboard if readings and the high-speed tilted tourbillon provides a constant kinetic dance that the hammers will occasionally join. Turn it over and you have everything: that large eccentric rotor, views of the sonnerie mechanism, and a feast of polish and relief engraving. I love that this is still a manually wound movement, but that the sonnerie can remain charged through the rotor, and I equally love that you can steal glimpses of the cathedral gongs through the tourbillon’s lateral window. All of this, yet I am compelled to give the award to something far simpler . . .
JM: The Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision is as groundbreaking as every other Freak in history, and while it strays a bit stylistically from previous Freak models it is still the wildest watch in the GPHG this year, and that is saying a lot.
The hardest battle the Freak Vision has to undertake is getting people to overlook the extremely avant-garde style and focus on what it brings to watchmaking. I know this is a tough sell for people in the collecting community or from the fashion/marketing side, so the discussion will certainly be difficult. But I think it is hard pressed to be bested this year as any Freak is the year it comes out. I personally would push hard for this watch to win the Aiguille d’Or simply from its continuing pursuit of excellence.
I don’t know what the outcome will be, and I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t take the top spot, but I honestly feel it shines this year even with the incredible competition.
IS: I agree, Joshua. As far as I’m concerned, the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision would be a well-deserved winner of the 2018 Aiguille d’Or and I’d be cheering if it did win. But I can’t help feel that it’s more Mechanical Exception than Aiguille d’Or as the latter tends to be awarded to seemingly more mainstream models.
JM: The Krayon Everywhere Horizon is a spectacular piece of horological engineering that definitely deserves some praise. It accomplishes something believed to be nearly impossible and in a package that isn’t unwieldy or gaudy. It looks fantastic and is extremely legible, and if the jury is properly educated about its magnificence it could stand a chance to be in the running.
But again, it could go the same way a lot of incredibly technical watches go and be overlooked because it is hard to convey brilliance if it isn’t immediately obvious. It very well might be on the top roster, but I am hesitant to say it will take the top spot even though it deserves some accolades for certain.
IS: Krayon has really excelled with the Everywhere Horizon and it shows how horological innovation can come from unlikely sources. But even though it is much easier to use that it looks, I suspect that the apparent complexity of the Everywhere Horizon will dissuade the less technical jury members.
JM: I love De Bethune and I love the DB25 Starry Varius Chronomètre Tourbillon. It has everything I look for in a watch: beauty, innovation, unique style, and incredible craftsmanship. The precision of the movement is outstanding, and the look makes me melt. I think it is a top-notch watch that definitely could be in the running thanks to its stunning visage. It may not have the widespread appeal to win, but it may very well be on many jury members’ shortlists.
IS: This is perhaps the most difficult selection I’ve had to make in this competition as there were so many truly exceptional watches this year; however, I have to commit: my prediction for the 2018 GPHG Aiguille d’Or is the De Bethune DB25 Starry Varius Chronomètre Tourbillon.
I love the juxtaposition of the poetic night sky covering a high precision jewel of micro-engineering, featuring a new chronometric escapement. Nothing fancy or ostentatious, but the De Bethune DB25 Starry Varius Chronomètre Tourbillon has everything I want in a wristwatch.
Ian: De Bethune DB25 Starry Varius Chronomètre Tourbillon
Joshua: Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision
Martin: Habring2 Doppel-Felix
Ryan: Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain
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Also published on Medium.