Our Predictions In The Men’s Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): A Split Decision
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2019 edition of Quill & Pad’s early 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
Sean Li (SL), editorial director of Blackbird Watch Manual
Tim Mosso (TM), watch specialist and media director of pre-owned watch retailer Watchbox
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 Men’s category for watches entered as “comprising the following indications only: hours, minutes, seconds, simple date (day of the month), power reserve, classic moon phases; may be adorned with a maximum 5-carat gemsetting.”
JM: Ahh, the Men’s category, one of the toughest to win as it has no clear distinction for what should take priority. So within the meager limitations in the rules, anything goes.
That is why this category has six watches that are dramatically different from each other, and all are fantastically awesome in their own way. The only problem is trying to pick what makes the best men’s watch, which can be different to everyone.
I choose for quality and craftsmanship second (let’s be honest, all of these watches are great) and focus on versatility and broad appeal first. A great men’s watch will be the one that can be worn by the most people in the most situations, so that is how I will narrow down my choices.
SL: This is probably one of the most difficult categories to evaluate as there’s very little quantifiable or technical criteria to go on. As a result, it’s probably going to be one of the most polarizing and unpredictable categories as it will be highly dependent on personal tastes. Here goes nothing . . .
TM: This category might be the toughest call of the 2019 event, guys. Three of the watches are serious contenders. At face value, only the De Bethune – a minimal modification of an existing watch – can be discarded out of hand as an award contender.
IS: I found the 2019 GPHG Men’s pre-selected watches an extremely tough choice as I’d be happy with any of them on my wrist.
Alchemists Mechanical Healing Cu29
SL: This is a curious watch from a new brand, which got a lot of attention at its launch during Baselworld because its makers somehow got anointed by Philippe Dufour. It’s borderline as I think it really stretches the boundaries of the Men’s category. I think the name is cool and I understand how it relates to this cuprum alloy they’re touting as beneficial for health; the jury might still be out on it. I would have liked to see the brand launch without this aspect: the movement and construction are interesting enough that they could stand on their own.
IS: Alchemists Mechanical Healing Cu29 with its patented copper alloy is a very interesting watch that is superbly hand-finished (garnering Philippe Dufour’s approval – high praise indeed). However, the open dial makes it look more complicated than it actually is, which, while no bad thing in itself (and a plus in my eyes), is likely to count against it in this category as the GPHG jury has historically tended to prefer more traditional-looking wristwatches in the Men’s category.
JM: The Alchemists Mechanical Healing Cu29 is an extremely cool watch, a bit of a surprise, and clearly well received if Philippe Dufour is a fan. But this watch falls into the area of bold and eye-catching, something that makes it a piece of wrist candy that I think takes it out of the realm of a versatile men’s watch. It could be, but given what I think are the true tenets of a category searching for the best men’s watch, this watch is not an everyday wearer. For that reason, I think it loses out on the top spot and demonstrates that there should possibly be a clearer defined purpose to this category.
MG: The Alchemists certainly figured out how to impress with their very first watch. Yet just when I got excited by the unique alloy they used to craft the case, the movement bridges, and base plate – as well as how they “composed” the movement – I became turned off by the enormous 44 mm case. It also lacks a bezel, so it wears even more substantially on the wrist.
And if I get to nitpick, why does it say “Made in Switzerland” on the dial? With a watch like this, I want that in French! Yes, I know that I am being extremely strict on such a stunning watch (have you seen how they “sculpted” the sapphire crystal?), but sometimes one needs to be because the devil is in the details and a bit of constructive criticism can only make them even better.
And then perhaps they can also drop the corny reference to Marvin Gaye’s most well-known song; the watch most certainly doesn’t need it.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/cu29.
Quick Facts Alchemists Mechanical Healing Cu29
Case: 44 x 15.40 mm, Cuprum 479 (copper, gold, and silver alloy)
Movement: manual winding caliber, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 72-hour power reserve, variable inertia balance
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve display, crown function selector (W or S) display
Price: 214,107 Swiss francs
De Bethune DB28 Yellow Tones
MG: When a brand known for blue goes yellow, you get an eye-catching watch but also simultaneous proof that it can be too much of a good thing. De Bethune has achieved something extraordinary, being able to heat-treat titanium to arrive at consistent yellow gold tone using oxidation alone. Yet where the blue looks exotic and out of this world, the yellow tones look to me like a whole lot of gold, and that’s why I find it a little less successful.
IS: I’ve taken the De Bethune DB28 Yellow Tones out of my reckoning (and I’m the fortunate owner of a DB28 and a big fan) because, no matter how good it is, in my eyes it will take more than a new color (no matter how difficult to achieve) on an “old” former GPHG winning model to win this category.
SL: I’m going to be a little harsh here: the watch in itself is pretty cool and it does represent a radical change in terms of color for the team at De Bethune. However, it’s more or less the same watch that won the Aiguille d’Or in 2011. I’d rather see something more innovative from the brand.
JM: De Bethune is always a winner in my eyes for avant-garde design. The DB28 has won awards, including past GPHG categories, so I will always find it hard not to absolutely jump to the DB28 for any category it’s entered into. The Men’s category is appropriate, though it still seems less like the best “men’s watch” and more like the “best futuristic men’s watch.”
Thanks to its gold tones it is also the flashiest piece in this category, which helps it stand out in many ways, but perhaps not how it should in this category. Sadly, I feel it falls short in the men’s category for all the reasons I absolutely love it.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/db28-yellow-tones.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28 Yellow Tones
Case: 42.6 x 9.3 mm, naturally heat-oxidized titanium
Movement: manual winding Caliber DB2115V4 with proprietary silicon escape wheel, 144-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, titanium-white gold balance wheel, Triple Pare-Chute shock protection with Incabloc
Functions: hours, minutes; moon phase, power reserve indicator
Limitation: 25 pieces
Retail price: CHF 102,000
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Manual-Winding Platinum
MG: Grand Seiko is one of the top runners in this category for me because the brand is finally are taking precious metal seriously – and on an impressive scale. This model was one of my personal favorites from the 2019 edition of Baselworld, and I know for sure that I will be dreaming about it occasionally in the upcoming years. Despite this, I don’t think it can beat the 28ti from Voutilainen . ..
IS: And out goes the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Manual-Winding Platinum because it will take more than a platinum case paired with a Spring Drive movement to win this category for me.
SL: I know a lot of my Swiss friends will sneer at this watch simply because of the Spring Drive movement. I wish it were different, because it’s an ingenious approach that Seiko is justifiably proud of. It also highlights the skills of the company’s craftsmen with the hand-finished platinum case. I’d like to see it do well.
TM: Grand Seiko deserves to take this category, Sean. By measures of creativity, attention to detail, whole-concept realization, and technical mastery, the SBGZ001 should be the winner of the Men’s prize.
Succeeding with a “more is more” approach takes virtuosity; working with less is easy. Consider the easy plaudits that photographers can earn from black-and-white images of almost anything. Now try the same with color, and the sheer number of variables can overload even a master’s eye. Grand Seiko chose the challenging road of embellishing until the last square micrometer of this case, dial, and movement had felt the touch of an artisan’s hand. Sometimes, as with the Fugaku Tourbillon, the effect can be impressive but not classically beautiful. On the SBGZ001, beauty and ambition go hand in hand.
Grand Seiko supercharges its much-loved “Snowflake” snowdrift dial concept and extends it by mechanical means across the entire visible timepiece. If the Shinshu, Japan-inspired Snowflake was a brand-defining product for Grand Seiko, this 30-piece platinum limited edition is the showcase for the absolute potential of the company’s imagination and capability. The ties to local landscapes, proprietary drive technology, and a willingness to alienate a few potential clients speaks to bold confidence; this is proudly a Japanese watch, not a Japanese version of a Swiss watch.
Finally, the 9R02 Spring Drive caliber would do Voutilainen – or even Dufour – proud. More precisely, this is Credor finish on a Grand Seiko watch. I have never seen a broader set of chamfers, a sharper bridge interior angle, or wider jewel countersinks on any watch, ever. The Spring Drive concept remains an engineering masterpiece, and the underlying technology deserves to be ennobled as it is here.
JM: Grand Seiko is consistently one of the leading men’s watchmakers because, unlike the Swiss, the Japanese often take a very practical and honest approach to creating a masterpiece of engineering. The Spring Drive fills that description yet competes on every level with the best of the Swiss and German brands. This piece is clearly a subdued men’s watch when you compare it to the likes of the Alchemist or De Bethune, yet for a Grand Seiko it is a bit flashy with the hand-carved platinum case and dial. That flashiness, as well as the use of platinum, elevate this piece above the level of an all-around man’s watch. For that reason, it just misses the top position for me, coming in second, even though I do adore this edition!
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/spring-drive-manual-winding-platinum.
Quick Facts Grand Seiko Spring Drive Manual-Winding Platinum
Case: 38.5 x 9.8 mm, platinum
Movement: Spring Drive Caliber 9R02, 84-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve display
Limitation: 30 pieces
Price: 88,000 Swiss francs
Grönefeld 1941 Principia Automatic
IS: My predicted winner of the GPHG’s best men’s watch of 2019 is the Grönefeld 1941 Principia Automatic. Traditional looking but with an eye-catching salmon dial coupled with an outstanding in-house automatic movement make this watch my pick and I hope that the jury will agree.
MG: The Grönefeld brothers pleasantly surprised with their 1941 Principia automatic, which is as well made as it is well proportioned, but the two top runners in this category are for me the Grand Seiko and the Voutilainen.
SL: Although I don’t have a Grönefeld in my collection (their aesthetics aren’t my cup of tea – yet), I admire what the brothers are doing and their approach, which feels truly driven by respect and knowledge of classical watchmaking. Combined with their signature bonhomie, it’s always fun to see the good humor they bring whenever they’ve been called to the stage to receive a prize.
In any case, this particular watch is an excellent example of independent watchmaking at its best. I hope the jury will consider it in its proper context: that the example they will have on hand is only one example of a model that can be ordered to the collector’s specifications.
TM: Every Voutilainen and Grönefeld watch is thoughtfully composed, imaginatively engineered, and immaculately finished. Choosing between the two is a tough call by itself.
The 1941 Principia Automatic reflects the uncompromising standards of the Grönefelds – finished steel bridges! – and a flair for adding beauty to the normally sterile case back vista of an automatic watch. Center rotor automatics from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin are made to appear insipid by comparison.
JM: My winner for this category has to be the Grönefeld 1941 Principia Automatic as to me it represents a beautiful and solid choice for any man in nearly any situation.
The white gold case elevates it for a fancy evening but the similar-to-stainless-steel appearance keeps it from being overly flashy like a yellow or red gold case (steel and red gold cases are available should that be your preference, though).
The dial is classic, easy to read, and while very beautiful, takes an understated approach that cannot be said of three of the six competitors in this category. And when you flip it over it truly astonishes with one of the most amazing-looking movements in this category (and that’s saying something).
Grönefeld has the incredible ability to create watches that speak to a variety of collectors, and I think this watch stands out as the best all-around men’s watch in this category.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/1941-principia-automatic.
Quick Facts Grönefeld 1941 Principia Automatic
Case: 39.5 x 10.5 mm, white gold
Movement: automatic caliber, power reserve 56 hours; 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, variable-inertia balance wheel, free-sprung balance spring
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 36,850 Swiss francs/€38,750
Laurent Ferrier Bridge One
JM: Laurent Ferrier makes some very incredible watches that often fall squarely in the center of the Men’s Watch category: simple, classic, with broad appeal and impeccable craftsmanship.
The Bridge One is definitely fantastic – even as the collaboration piece Arpal One with avant-garde watchmaker Urwerk for Only Watch 2017. But it also is very unique in its design.
When shapes like the Bridge One’s case appear, people often have strong reactions of love or hate. A divisive watch shows that the brand is taking a risk and trying something new, which I hold as a core value to my entire life. But it also means that the watch has a narrow appeal and possibly narrower use, so I feel it falls a bit short of the best Men’s watch this year.
IS: The Laurent Ferrier Bridge One stands out in this group thanks to its elegantly shaped case (and movement to match), but I suspect that the jury will go for a more traditional round case. If the Bridge One does win, though, I’ll be applauding enthusiastically.
MG: In all honesty, I wasn’t so taken by Laurent Ferrier’s Bridge One. It looks so beautiful on photos, but on the wrist I felt that it wasn’t as convincing and looked a bit awkward with its flared lugs.
SL: Ah, Laurent Ferrier! Unfortunately, I think that the brand is trying to find its footing design-wise with too many different iterations trying to appeal to a wider demographic. I actually had high hopes for this one until I saw it in person as it’s considerably larger than I expected (and I’m not one to shy away from large watches, but not with this case).
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/bridge-one.
Quick Facts Laurent Ferrier Bridge One
Case: 30 x 44 x x 12.2 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Caliber LF107.01, 80-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 33,000 Swiss francs/$37,000
Kari Voutilainen 28ti
IS: The Voutilainen 28ti is a dream watch for me (along with the Akrivia AK-06) that ticks all of the boxes. Clean, well-executed design and a sensational inverted movement enabling a full view to the superbly hand-finished mechanics. If the Voutilainen 28ti won best Men’s watch 2019 I’d be overjoyed, but I suspect that what makes this model so appealing to me – its open dial – will count against it among the more conservative members of the GPHG jury.
SL: This watch reminds me of a comment that’s occasionally made where those who truly appreciate the finer arts of watchmaking might want to wear the watch backward so that they can look at the movement and its finishing. Voutilainen caters specifically to that crowd, and the 28ti does have a certain appeal, but I find it unbalanced. I’d almost prefer that he flip this one around again as the back of it is more aesthetically appealing to me.
MG: This watch brings drama and beauty so perfectly together with its large balance wheel with a bold and prominent bridge over it. Even its diameter of 39 mm is spot on. A technical delight that looks good. Even in the densely populated watch world that is still a rarity.
TM: Kari Voutilainen matches the aesthetic chops of the Horological Grönefeld Brothers with his signature giant balance, mirrored chamfers fat enough to read without a loupe, and a judicious blend of frosted and black-polished surfaces. Compared to Grönefeld, Voutilainen took a greater chance with a full inverse movement. The aesthetic success of the 28ti is a testament both to the watchmaker’s audacity and his sheer range of competence. Voutilainen is the quietest man in the room at any watch event, but his latest watch is loud, proud, and convincing.
JM: The new 28ti from Voutilainen is literally a fantasy come true for many fans of Voutilainen, who admire the design and finishing of the movements. I know that I have heard on many occasions that people want to wear his watches backward because the movements are so incredible.
So I can understand the excitement and passion behind this watch, and since Voutilainen regularly makes watches that are arguably some of the best all-around men’s watches out there this one could have a great chance. But an inverse movement with no dial does limit its versatility. And, to me, its chances in this category.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/28ti.
Quick Facts Kari Voutilainen 28ti
Case: 39 x 13.4 mm, titanium, platinum or tantalum
Movement: in-house manual winding 28ti caliber with Voutilainen direct-impulse escapement with two escape wheels, German silver base plate and bridges, white gold wheels, 299 components, 65-hour power reserve, free-sprung balance with pink gold timing weights, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds: power reserve indication
Limitation: 8 in titanium, 8 in platinum, and 10 in tantalum
Price: 86,000 CHF in titanium, 98,000 CHF in platinum, 118,000 CHF in tantalum
Ian: Grönefeld 1941 Principia Automatic
Joshua: Grönefeld 1941 Principia Automatic
Martin: Voutilainen 28ti
Sean: Grand Seiko Spring Drive Manual-Winding Platinum
Tim: Grand Seiko Spring Drive Manual-Winding Platinum