Our Predictions In The Men’s Complication Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): It’s Complicated
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 Complication category for watches entered as “men’s watches that are remarkable in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity. These watches may feature all kinds of classic and/or innovative complications and indications (e.g., world time, dual time, or other types of models and do not fit the definition of the Men’s and Mechanical Exception categories.”
JM: Today we come to the Men’s Complication category, always a solid group of watches that, along with Mechanical Exception, often fall right in my horological sweet spot. This also makes it a tough category since the goals are still largely undefined aside from seeking watches that are “remarkable” for their mechanical creativity and complexity. Still, the entries in this category are similar enough that some clear distinctions can be made.
SL: Again, that dreaded word “complication.” If you apply it strictly, several of these watches would be better suited in other categories. Admittedly, it’s ultimately a strategic choice for these brands, if they feel that they have a few timepieces they want to enter but can only present one watch per category. I feel that overall, this year, the watches in this category are representative of an industry that sometimes shoots for the moon when all we really want is considerably more down to earth, and that perhaps the jury could have considered the exact requirements of this category more literally before making their selection. There are quite a few watches that seemed to have slipped through the net on this shortlist.
TM: There’s a ton of repackaged content here. Every single watch is an iteration of a previous product!
IS: The 2019 GPHG Men’s Complication category is a difficult one to pick a winner, but once again I’m going for interesting new complications rather than a variation on a theme we’ve seen before.
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Supersonnerie
SL: Ah, the Code 11.59, the collection that requires an entire dissertation in order to get a customer to fully understand its complexity. All kidding aside, there is certainly a lot more than meets the eye for any Code 11.59 watch, let alone the Supersonnerie. It gives me a sense of déjà vu, though, given that it was preceded by a Jules Audemars version not that long ago in 2017. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m in total admiration of the Supersonnerie in all its forms. I think striking watches in general are fascinating anachronisms and great technical masterpieces. For the AP, though, it’s overkill for this particular category.
TM: The AP is a facile attempt to dignify the questionable Code 11.59 collection by association with Audemars Piguet’s own 2016 GPHG Mechanical Exception prize winner, the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie.
Unless we’re talking The Godfather, sequels don’t win awards. That said, the discretion and stealth factor of this watch deserve mention in a category of brash extroverts. AP’s smoked enamel gradient dial genuinely is beautiful, and this particular “Code” variant suggests what the collection might become with time and refinement.
IS: In terms of complications, it doesn’t get much better than a minute repeater, and few repeaters sound better than the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie. But while AP’s sensationally sonorous movement is new to the Code 11.59 collection, it would normally be not “new enough” to be my pick here. But it’s a sensational minute repeater in a new collection and that’s not to be sneezed at. I’d like to pick the Code 11.59 Supersonnerie as tied for my winner for this category, but feel that’s a bit of a cop out so it becomes my choice for runner-up.
JM: The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 is tough for me to say great things about as even getting a chance to see these new watches at the 2019 SIHH was like pulling teeth, and I never saw any versions other than the time only.
So while I am sure that the Minute Repeater Supersonnerie sounds incredible and the movement is beautiful, I wouldn’t personally know. The styling is divisive at best, and the launch left some with bad tastes in their mouths for the brand, so I don’t think this watch will make the goal of victor in this category. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if it did since it still is, at the end of the day, a super watch from Audemars Piguet.
MG: Old wine in new bottles: that is the Code 11.59 Supersonnerie to me. Technically an imposing watch, only unfortunately placed in the wrong case. Yes, even after letting this new model sink in after being introduced earlier this year to less-than-stellar reviews it still doesn’t hit home for me.
It would be so great if this movement were presented in that classic Jules Audemars case. Oh wait, it was. And it was a finalist in the Mechanical Exception category of the 2017 edition of the GPHG.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/code-1159-audemars-piguet-minute-repeater-supersonnerie.
Quick Facts Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Supersonnerie
Case: 41 x 13.5 mm, white gold
Movement: manual winding caliber, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; minute repeater
Price: 317,800 Swiss francs
Czapek Genève Place Vendôme Ombres
SL: I’m still on the fence regarding this particular brand: I think the watches are cool, but I’m wondering if I wouldn’t have preferred that they pick a different name rather than one that was dusted off from the history books.
Be that as it may, this watch certainly fits the bill as a men’s complication and has the quirk of having a titanium case, which is very unusual with a tourbillon. Given that titanium is one of my favorite case materials, and the watch’s overall aesthetic does speak to me, I’ll give it a thumbs up.
TM: Czapek impresses with a travel-friendly tourbillon dual time. Whether keeping in touch with friends and relations or staying abreast of business partners, travel time functions are ideal for almost all watch enthusiasts.
And given that the movement of the Place Vendôme has been engineered and built by Chronode, this likely is the most reliable and wearable tourbillon you’ll find from an eight-year-old independent brand. All that said, we saw the same basic watch in 2017 and there’s no meaningful novelty here.
JM: For my third-place pick it was easy to go with Czapek because everything this relatively new brand does is interesting and provides a bit of perspective shift. The Place Vendôme Ombres is certainly not a classical watch and that is why it stands out so much.
The goal of mechanical creativity is clearly in play with the implementation of the second time zone dial, day/night indicator, and the layout across the board. That said, it still plays it a bit too safe to take the top spot so I have to go with a different piece.
IS: While I applaud Czapek for the brand’s most complicated watch to date – the Genève Place Vendôme Ombres featuring hours, minutes, seconds, power reserve indicator, second time zone, tourbillon, and day/night indicator – there’s a couple more watches here that I think are competitively stronger.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/place-vendome-ombres.
Quick Facts Czapek Genève Place Vendôme Ombres
Case: 43.5 x 13.6 mm, titanium
Movement: manual winding Caliber SXH2 (made by Chronode) with one-minute tourbillon, 60-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; second time zone, power reserve indication, day/night indication
Limitation: 25 pieces
Retail price: CHF 88,000
SL: See my comments above on category choices; this watch has “chronometry” written all over it. I mean, the description provided on the website is more than 1,800 words! I’d really like to rate it higher, and I probably would if it were entered in one of the other categories, but as a “Men’s Complication” it’s also excessive.
IS: Despite its good looks, flying tourbillon, three-degree inclined gear train, power reserve, in-house escapement, and recessed crown, I think that there are couple of other watches in this category a bit stronger than the DC6-Solstice. It’s tough at the top!
JM: The DC6-Solstice is by no means a subtle watch, and it is a good thing when aesthetic risks are taken. But even given the unique crown placement, function, and the overall appearance, the DC6-Solstice will have as many fans as detractors. And since the watch has no secondary indications other than a power reserve indicator, it feels as if the purpose for the watch wasn’t supported by this category.
That isn’t to say I don’t think it deserves mad recognition for what it is, but like others here it might be better suited to a different category.
TM: David Candaux is a name to know for the future. I’ve been a fan of his since his JLC days, and I’ve followed his independent work from Fonderie 47 to Badollet to MB&F to his current farmhouse manufacture. I’ve met him, and he’s a cool dude.
His work deserves recognition, and you should probably consider a purchase if you have a penchant for patronizing up-and-coming masters. That said, I thought he had a better shot at the win with his 2018 nomination for the Chronometry prize, and I can’t see how minor aesthetic refinements could put him over the top in Men’s Complication for 2019.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/dc6-solstice.
Quick Facts D. Candaux DC6-Solstice
Case: 43 x 12.5 mm, titanium
Movement: manually winding Caliber 1740 with biaxial one-minute flying tourbillon, 55-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, balance with 30-degree inclination, inclined caliber construction
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve display
Limitation: 8 pieces
Price: 273,000 Swiss francs
Ulysse Nardin Freak X
IS: This version of the Freak is actually the brand’s least complicated (and most affordable) variation on the groundbreaking watch. Completely new for 2019, the Freak X features a flying carrousel movement rotating around its own axis to indicate the time and a super-light silicon escapement with stabilizing micro blades. While it might not be the most complicated watch in this group, the Freak X pushes technical and aesthetic boundaries further than the competition here, and I feel it well deserves this prize.
If the jury values creativity over complexity, then then the Freak X has a good chance to come out on top. It’s my pick for best Men’s Complication 2019.
MG: Ulysse Nardin outdid itself with the new Freak X, which now has a more traditional look, a case with a wearable diameter of 43 mm, and even a crown.
Has this watch gone soft on us? No, Ulysse Nardin simply took the best from its amazing Freak legacy and turned it into a watch that even less eccentric people can wear daily – even to work, and even if the wearer is an accountant. Perhaps especially an accountant because Ulysse Nardin also made the price more bearable for a larger group of people. I didn’t take that last thing into account when making my deliberations (as price is not to be taken into account when judging at the GPHG), yet the Freak X still came out on top for me.
SL: Another conundrum for the Freak X: at its core, I would also consider the original Freak to be mismatched for this category. However, Ulysse Nardin has done an amazing job of making the Freak X a clear part of the Freak lineage, but much more accessible. There is, again, not a complication per se, although you could argue that the watch is “creative and complex” as per the category definition. I’ll give it a chance, although I think that the jury will find other watches more dazzling.
TM: Ulysse Nardin’s new Freak X is a friendly and digestible take on the company’s outré icon. And, yes, the transformation has robbed the original of certain signature features including exclusivity, a degree of individuality, bezel-based setting, and most importantly, weirdness.
I suspect that casting a wider net is a smart commercial move, but in its defense UN just increased the appeal of an important and historically innovative model family. More people will be out and about wearing interesting watches thanks to a more accessible Freak, and that’s laudable. Most importantly a new movement, case, and model make the Freak X the only truly new watch among the pre-selections for this award. This is the watch that I expect to score the Men’s Complication award in November.
JM: This watch is the definition of mechanical creativity and complexity as is every one of its “freaky” predecessors. The Freak X also has the added bonus of being the more affordable baby brother, which helps it garner excitement from more collectors. And that is to be expected: a slightly pared-down yet still incredible version of the Freak available starting for just a hair over $20,000 is hard to keep calm about. But since this is the complication category, and it is technically is a time-only watch, this too feels like it can’t take the top spot even though it is ridiculously awesome.
Further reading: Ulysse Nardin Freak X: The ‘Affordable’ Freak
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/freak-x.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Freak X
Case: 43 x 13.5 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-230, silicon balance wheel with nickel flyweights, flying carrousel movement, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 72-hour power reserve, silicon escapement
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 18 pieces
Price: $21,000/21,000 Swiss francs
Remark: 5-year warranty
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon
JM: What can I say about a lovely watch with a great movement that simply feels underwhelming as an entrant in the complication category? In typical Vacheron style, the Overseas Tourbillon is top of the line and has a gorgeous movement with peripheral rotor, but given the competition this year the Overseas Tourbillon unfortunately falls a bit short.
IS: As I’m going for interesting new complications rather than a variation on a theme we’ve seen before, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon won’t take my top spot. As nice as it is, a tourbillon and peripheral winding rotor just isn’t complicated enough in this category.
TM: Vacheron Constantin offers a rarity here: this is a practical tourbillon. In stainless steel, it is automatic, swimmable, and amply lumed. All of the underlying advantages of the third-generation Overseas, including handsome caliber finish and quick-release lugs, are present here. Holding the case thickness to 10.39 mm deserves plaudits. But adding a tourbillon to an already large sports watch feels so 2008.
SL: In the interest of fairness – and it pains me to do so because I like the Overseas collection and I applaud the fact that there is a tourbillon in a steel case, which goes against the traditional grain for such a classical brand, and I really like blue dials – but again, the tourbillon is not a complication in itself.
It’s certainly well executed with a peripheral rotor that ensures that the tourbillon cage is never hidden either front or back. Similar to the Freak X, the jury might overlook it as it’s a little too squarely in the Goldilocks zone and might not be “remarkable” enough in the current company.
For more information, information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/overseas-tourbillon.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon
Case: 42.5 x 10.39 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 2160 with peripheral rotor and one-minute tourbillon, 80-hour power reserve, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, Geneva Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 116,000 Swiss francs
Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon
SL: Hey, another tourbillon! But seriously, it’s a very cool and ingenious one, above and beyond the fact that it has a double tourbillon, any movement that can time 1/100th of a second reliably is a significant achievement.
The skeletonization gives it an interesting and appropriate aesthetic as well. Plus, there’s some blue in it, and a chronograph is certainly a worthy complication. So it’s not difficult to guess that this would be my personal pick in this category.
JM: In my top spot I have to put the one piece that not only takes the cake on the complexity and mechanical creativity front, but also provides a rather rare complication: the hundredth-of-a-second chronograph. An evolution from the original movement found at sister brand TAG Heuer, the Zenith Defy Double Tourbillon is a work of mastery and precision measurement.
Not to mention that double tourbillons rotating at different rates is a wicked visual when the fast balance is compared to the traditional balance speeds. The styling might be a bit messy or visually hard to follow, but the moment anyone sees that tourbillon racing around measuring elapsed time it will be hard to look away. I think the Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon has a solid shot at the top spot given that it legitimately does something nearly no other watch can do, and that is crucial.
MG: Seeing Zenith’s Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon in action is still one of my highlights of Baselworld 2019: a tourbillon running at 360,000 vph is just incredible! Not sure how much it actually contributes to making the chronograph run more accurately, but the cool factor of just doing it is good enough for me in this watch.
TM: Zenith’s cross-pollination with TAG Heuer and Hublot is, for better or worse, a fact of the moment and the foreseeable future.
“Open” dials, bombastic color schemes, huge cases, and inheritance from LVMH research division head Guy Sémon’s late, great TAG Heuer high-mech projects have become routine in Le Locle. Add a 46 mm case, and it’s clear that no particular miniaturization or packaging wizardry has been accomplished while grafting these elements together.
With so much of the Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon’s appearance and engineering established on other models under other names, the watch doesn’t feel innovative enough to me to take this title.
IS: The Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon with its two dedicated barrels – one each powering the time and the chronograph mechanism – is certainly complicated, but it just isn’t strong enough for me in this lineup to take the checkered flag.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/defy-el-primero-double-tourbillon.
Quick Facts Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon
Case: 46 x 14.5 mm, platinum
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 9020 with two independent tourbillons, one revolving at 5 Hz and one at 50 Hz, 5 Hz/36,000 vph and 50 Hz/360,000 vph frequencies, 50-hour and 50-minute power reserves, officially certified as a chronometer by Timelab
Functions: hours, minutes; chronograph showing seconds and minutes to 1/100th of a second; chronograph power reserve
Limitation: 10 pieces in platinum
Price: $141,000/149,900 Swiss francs
Joshua: Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon
Sean: Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon
Tim: Ulysse Nardin Freak X
Ian: Ulysse Nardin Freak X
Martin: Ulysse Nardin Freak X