Our Predictions In The Calendar And Astronomy Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): And The Moon Takes It
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 Calendar and Astronomy category for watches entered as “mechanical watches comprising at least one calendar and/or astronomical complication (i.e., date, annual calendar, perpetual calendar, equation of time, complex moon phases). Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.”
IS: The six contenders for best Calendar and Astronomy watch 2019 make this the strongest category I’ve had to judge to date. What a lineup: I would not find fault with the jury’s decision no matter which watch won.
JM: Oh boy (he says slyly, rubbing his hands together mischievously) do I like this category! It’s almost as if the people in charge of the GPHG categories got together and said, “What can we do to make that weird guy from Quill & Pad happy?” The answer should be obvious: make a category filled with moon phase watches!
Okay, only five out of the six watches feature a moon phase, but three of them feature domed or spherical astronomical displays, one is the third most accurate moon phase watch in existence, and nearly all of them are incredibly unique showstoppers in their own right. I have my favorites, but in my eyes this is a heartbreaking category because I just want to throw a party and let them all be winners!
MG: Another tough category with a very strong lineup. What makes this category so strong is that all the watches have such a unique way to relate to the heavens.
SL: I’m fond of this category because of its inherent quirkiness, which reflects how our forefathers have tried to apply a structure to time on an astronomical scale. Ultimately, these are some of the purest expressions of horology and its quest for precision, but rather than looking at it on a daily basis it’s over decades if not centuries.
TM: The watches in this category are a blast. All are extravagant, brash, and fascinating fusions of design and science. Even better, these whimsical watches have been conceived to serve the most poetic, romantic, and peripheral of timekeeping esoterica: celestial bodies.
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar
SL: On its own this AP is certainly impressive, and I’m told it’s also doing well at the boutiques. In present company, though, its calendar complication is already present in some of the other models and doesn’t bring any inherent innovation outside of the Code 11.59 design. As such, it’s a tad generic given how rich the entries are for this category.
TM: The Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar by Audemars Piguet is the crown jewel and saving grace of its beleaguered line.
This aventurine dial is magical and should have been at least an option on the automatic and chronograph models. AP’s overpowering case and lugs might be debated, but they work better alongside an imposing dial with the presence to match its vessel. Of all the Code 11.59 offerings, the Perpetual Calendar alone achieves balance, coherence, and beauty.
The AP should be considered one of the best calendar watches of 2019, and I would have picked it for the win had the movement matched the novelty of its packaging. Awards aside, I find this to be the most electrifying design among the Calendar and Astronomy pre-selections.
JM: I’m starting to feel bad not putting the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 in my top positions – but it’s just hard as for me it kind of blends into the background, the exact opposite (I’m sure) of what the brand hoped when it launched the new collection.
The style and details of the collection are starting to grow on me, and I think it is a funky new take on some of the key geometric details so familiar to the brand. And how could a perpetual calendar with moon phase not make it into my top three for a category named “Calendar and Astronomy”!? Probably because the Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar is a pretty great watch but lacks any truly defining characteristic to makes it stand out (aside from the controversial new design).
The movement is top notch, and in a straight battle over indications the AP takes it, but that isn’t the only thing that it takes to win a category. Soul needs to be there, and a hook, and for some reason I am struggling to feel that from Audemars Piguet with this collection, which stinks because it is objectively an awesome watch.
MG: The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 is the most traditional here with its classic dial layout. However, I feel like the full aventurine dial is overkill and the case is still not doing it for me.
IS: If there’s a better color combination for a wristwatch than blue and pink or red gold, I’ve yet to see it. And there’s no better dial material for an astronomical or calendar watch than aventurine. The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 is a beautiful perpetual calendar, perfectly sized at 41 mm, with a clear dial layout with highly legible indications. That it’s an excellent classic perpetual calendar is also its weakness here: too classical, not enough innovation. The Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar is a watch I’d be happy to have on my wrist, but not on the winner’s podium.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/code-1159-audemars-piguet-perpetual-calendar.
Quick Facts Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Perpetual Calendar
Case: 41 x 10.9 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 5134, 40-hour power reserve, 2.75 Hz/19,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; perpetual calendar with date, day, month, leap year, moon phase
Price: 74,900 Swiss francs
Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud Far Side of the Moon
SL: I was quite taken with this watch when I saw it in person: I find it quite aesthetically balanced and intellectually interesting because of its unusual interpretation of a moon display. I’m not sure if there have been historic pocket watches that used this age of the moon display, but it’s only a minor query. All in all, one of my favorite timepieces from this year, although again I’m not sure how will it will resonate with the jury.
TM: All versions of the Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud FB1 series are impressive, but each modification of the original feels like a dilution of the initial design. From regulator dials to bronze cases to the new moon phase, the modifications feel like inorganic fiddling.
There’s nothing material to fault in the FB 1L.4 Far Side of the Moon. Omega-like nomenclature aside, the fusée-and-chain tourbillon chronometer caliber remains a tour de force, and Ferdinand Berthoud’s lug-less octagonal case remains the most wearable 44 mm in the business.
The overall package is an appealing celestial slant on the basic product for a client who is more enthused about complications than design purity. It’s a solid offering, but a mild variation shouldn’t triumph over the robust battery of originals in this category.
JM: The 1L.4 Far Side of The Moon might be one of the biggest sleeper moon phase watches of the year as it takes a much different tack than most and so may be less immediately “familiar.”
Tracking the age of the moon phases with a very interesting mechanism, the Far Side of the Moon capitalizes on the incredible base movement mechanics found in Ferdinand Berthoud pieces and the ample dial space that the regulator display allows. The moon phase age mechanism is technically entirely visible, at the least the critical bits that provide the function. A unique spin on the moon phase combined with the highly droolworthy Ferdinand Berthoud aesthetic, the Far Side of the Moon may capture the hearts and minds of the judges. The biggest thing keeping it from my top spot is the lack of precise indication for the moon phase age and the requirement to actually see the moon to verify if it is waxing or waning based on the scale. But these are rather minor, though with so many favorites I need to find ways to pick the winners!
IS: After continually harping on about my preference for recent innovation and ideally totally new movements, I’m going to contradict myself here by selecting the Ferdinand Berthoud Far Side of the Moon as my runner-up of this category, despite sporting a four-year-old movement (with new module) and looking very similar to previous Ferdinand Berthoud models.
The fusée-and-chain constant force tourbillon base movement is sensational, displaying the age of the moon in days as well as its phases is (just) innovative enough, but to be totally honest I’m simply won over by its looks and the complete coherence of the indications alongside what the brand stands for.
I’ve got no excuses. I just love it!
MG: The Ferdinand Berthoud makes a big impression on me. I think that Chopard is very clever about how to build up the collection for its niche brand, and this has to be my favorite one yet (but I always say that when a new model is released). Because of the way that it shows the age of the moon, I would vote for this watch to win if I were part of the jury.
Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1L: When History Has A Date With Progress
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/far-side-moon.
Quick Facts Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud Far Side of the Moon
Case: 44 x 13.95 mm, anthracite-colored ceramized titanium
Movement: in-house manual winding Caliber FB-T.FC.L with fusée and chain with one-minute tourbillon, officially C.O.S.C. chronometer certified, pillar-style architecture, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication, age of the moon, moon phases
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: $262,500/250,000 Swiss francs
SL: While I’m still on the fence relative to GP’s most recent aesthetics, there is something very innovative and almost sculptural about this piece that I find appealing. I could easily see this displayed in a museum for future generations as an example of the creativity of today’s watchmakers. It’s a watch that begs to be taken off the wrist and examined closer. And I can imagine the wearers of the watch turning out the lights just to see the luminous displays. In any case, I do find it’s a good idea to include such displays on watches that you might ostensibly be wearing when looking at the night sky.
IS: For an astronomical watch it doesn’t get much better than having rotating three-dimensional spheres depicting the earth and the constellations in our night sky. And the fact that spheres glow in the dark adds to the pleasure. With its spherical displays, day/night indicator and tourbillon, the Girard-Perregaux Cosmos is the epitome of the type of timepiece this category professes to promote and I’m sure that it will attract votes from the jury. However, one thing holding it back for me is the size: at 47 mm it is surely only as large as it needs to be, but that’s too large in my eyes for most wrists.
JM: For my second runner-up I’m choosing the stately Girard-Perregaux Cosmos: a watch that features two massive spherical indications and a stunning presentation is easily one of the most poetic yet industrial explorations of the night sky in a long time.
The globes represent the earth as it rotates during the day and the night sky as it passes by to display constellations (and the zodiac signs). The aesthetic design of this watch is undeniably bold and given its large size on the wrist, it is unlikely this watch would go unnoticed. I love the mechanics, but mostly I love the entire package as it seems very well considered. It definitely provides astronomical indications, but they lack the connection to real measurements (and a calendar) that take the others to the next level.
TM: Girard-Perregaux’s new-for-2019 products were a mixed bag, but the Bridges Cosmos impressed. This is a huge watch at 47 mm in diameter and 22 mm thick, but the size is purposeful. A tourbillon, a globe-shaped sky chart, and a spherical earth-as-GMT pack this monster machine.
For good measure, all of the above react with explosive effect under a blacklight. Case back setting and winding keep the profile clean. Dial depth is a strong point, and the details of the globes reward loupe use. This is a concept car for your wrist – with all the expense, impracticality, and instant celebrity that analogy entails.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/cosmos.
Quick Facts Girard-Perregaux Bridges Cosmos
Case: 47 x 22.2 mm, titanium
Movement: manually winding Caliber GP09320-1098 with one-minute tourbillon, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; day/night indication, zodiac constellations sky chart, second time zone
Limitation: 18 pieces
Price: 295,000 Swiss francs
Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
IS: The Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune was at standout for me earlier this year at the SIHH, and time hasn’t diminished its appeal. The way the floating subdials rotate around the dial to cover the photorealistic mother-of-pearl moon disks is extremely clever, and what better dial for an astronomical watch than meteorite (olay, there’s aventurine too). I’m surprised we haven’t seen more meteorite dials in this group.
And then there’s the subtle Hermès horse etched on one of the moon phase disks. Plus, as someone coming from the land down under, I appreciate the fact that the moon phase display works equally well in both northern and southern hemispheres. I’d like it to have a box crystal though as I feel that would both minimize the visual height of the case and let in more light under those floating subdials, making them float even higher.
But what makes the Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune my pick for best 2019 GPHG Calendar and Astronomy watch is that while it’s quite complicated and distinctive, it looks very simple.
SL: I remember this watch being one of the highlights at this year’s SIHH (one of those watches that people would bring up in the “have you seen . . . ?” conversations). I think it struck a chord because it’s certainly different, and in an odd way it is quite typical of Hermès. It brings to mind the Arceau Le Temps Suspendu as an artistic interpretation of time itself. Perhaps my only minor quibble is that I’d almost prefer this as a wall or desk clock.
TM: Hermès flat out connected with its Arceau L’Heure de la Lune; only Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionnelle Twin Beat rivaled this moon phase-date for word-of-mouth excitement at SIHH 2019. There’s not much to the Arceau aside from its brilliant orbital dials and a handsome base below. When the effect is this special, no embellishment is necessary.
Chronode handled engineering of the orbital module, and the effect of its collaboration with Hermès is ethereal: the date and time dials appear to float over a base of optional meteorite (or aventurine). The latter material, which comes paired with white lacquer subdials, is the more striking of the two dial options. Hermès’ designers also conquered the challenge of negative space; this dial matches the depth of the Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin without the cartoonish bombast of those watches.
Every other candidate in this award class groans with embellishment. Sometimes less is more. That’s why I see the Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune as the winner of this category. It’s bold, original, and a triumph; few new watches stood out as much as this Arceau in 2019.
MG: The visual impact of the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune is undeniable. What a gorgeous creation it is! Absolutely perfect in every detail, but mostly because Hermès decided not to show off how it works. Toss in those highly detailed moons against a backdrop of meteorite, and I believe that you have a winner on your hands that most people would love to have on their wrists.
JM: Of course, I would have a tie! How could I honestly pick my favorite to win this category when I could easily see many winning for different reasons? Well, at least I had to narrow it down to two, and I picked both the Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune and the Sarpaneva Lunations as equal contenders for the top spot.
The Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune is quite possibly one of the most beautiful moon phase watches I’ve seen in a long time. When it comes to design Hermès doesn’t mess around, understanding that if the watch isn’t instantly an object of desire, its function and purpose is stunted. But using two subdials to slowly orbit the dial and create the moon phase function isn’t even the best part; that would be the mechanism itself.
Extremely complicated and magical once you see that there are no screws holding the dials onto their respective arms, the moon phase, calendar, and time display mechanism was a dramatic undertaking that resulted in one of the most impressive mechanisms I’ve seen that was meant to be hidden from the get go. That is why Hermès is poetic: the engineering that went into this complicated planetary gear system is kept invisible, so the effect is what shines. Since this might be the best-looking piece in the category, combined with its impressive mechanics, it will give the Sarpaneva Lunations a run for its money. I personally will cheer and at the same time be sad if either wins because it means a truly worthy timepiece didn’t. I guess that’s what I get for having a category full of favorites competing!
Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune: And Pegasus Flies On The Moon
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/arceau-lheure-de-la-lune.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune
Case: 43 x 13.27 mm, white gold
Dial: meteorite with grey lacquered subdials and mother-of-pearl moons; blued hands
Movement: automatic Hermès Caliber H1837 with Chronode module; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; date, double moon phase as seen from both the northern and southern hemispheres
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 26,000 Swiss francs
JM: The Sarpaneva Lunations is an incredibly strong contender to win as it features the third most accurate moon phase to date (thanks to help from Andreas Strehler, the reigning king of moon phases) and the only optical fiber moon phase display ever. Accurate to 14,000 years before deviating by a single day, the moon phase is displayed via a cutout in the dial that features a machined block of optical fibers in the shape of the (pretty much iconic) Sarpaneva moon face.
The “moon” is a glowing disk that rotates past the cutout and can be set via a precise scale on the case back. As would be expected, the watch is made in Sarpaneva’s heavily notched case style with an extensively pierced and layered dial. It is definitely a bold watch and coming in at the most precise indication in the category, it could be a shoo-in for the top spot.
TM: Stepan Sarpaneva is an easy underdog to cheer. His designs are idiosyncratic, original, and distinctive. And as a moon phase superfan, Sarpaneva’s authentic enthusiasm for the subject matter should endear him to any watch collector. The 2019 Lunations is a riot of color, depth, texture, and imagination.
Ironically, the back of Sarpaneva’s watch resembles the dial of the Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune competing for the same prize. However, the Hermès is a minimalist statement; Sarpaneva embellishes until every square millimeter of the case and caliber have felt the burn of his gaze. Even the bespoke crown carries the likeness of the master’s face.
The Lunations’ skeletonized dial showcases the brand’s first manufacture caliber. The free-sprung architecture is appropriate for a modern movement, and the 60-hour power reserve is solid. Thanks to a 14,000-year interval of adjustment, Sarpaneva’s fiber optic-enhanced moon phase sits in pole position behind only Andreas Strehler’s Guinness-world-record-certified device. If the Lunations were to win, it would be a worthy champion.
SL: Stepan Sarpaneva’s obsession with the moon is taken to an entirely new level with this watch. His overall aesthetic may be considered an acquired taste, but it’s certainly distinctive. I really like that he’s sought to not only elevate the precision of his moon phase display to an extreme (seriously, a single day over 14,000 years will only cater to the most obsessive-compulsive of moon watchers). It’s also the creativity applied to make this visually the most like seeing the moon itself, and the lateral thinking that motivated him to develop an app to ensure that you’re setting said moon phase as accurately as possible.
IS: In the horological cosmos, Stepan Sarpaneva is synonymous with moon phases, and Lunations is his best to date. Completely new in-house movement on view through the cutaway dial, distinctive case, and an incredibly accurate moon phase indication that glows thanks to back-lit optical fiber. And it can be easily and accurately set for both northern and southern hemispheres. I’d love Sarpaneva to win this category.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/lunations.
Quick Facts Sarpaneva Lunations
Case: 42 x 9.8 mm, Outokumpu Supra 316L/4435 stainless steel
Movement: manual winding in-house Moonment caliber, 60-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; optical fiber moon phase
Price: beginning at €32,000 for stainless steel/36,666 Swiss francs
Ulysse Nardin Marine Mega Yacht
SL: It will be difficult for the Ulysse Nardin to stand out in this crowd if we consider that the watches should be calendar and astronomy focused. The 3D moon is always an interesting implementation of the moon phase, but I’d say that it’s not a primary complication in this particular watch. I’ll admit that it’s related to the overall marine and navigation aspect; however, it’s not as central to the watch’s design and technicity compared to the others presented in this category.
JM: What an unusual and intriguing watch to find in the Calendar and Astronomy category, yet it follows. For those at sea or living on the coast and beholden to the tides, this watch makes perfect sense (well, in an extravagant sort of way). Besides being an “ode to yacht life,” the Marine Mega Yacht is a truly cool moon phase and tides indicator.
It displays a very realistic crater-pocked spherical moon phase (colored half white and half blue to match the Ulysse Nardin color scheme) that relates to the tidal volume (neap vs. spring) on a cylinder below the moon. Around the moon phase is a tide position indicator that demonstrates at what part of the tide you find yourself in based on your position on the planet and the time of day. All of these combine for a very cool indication that is a bit of an outlier in the group as it relates astronomy to what we experience on earth, and not just for the sake of astronomical appreciation. Still, even with all the interesting mechanics and design going on the Marine Mega Yacht seems a bit too niche to win the category outright.
MG: This Ulysse Nardin is also far from my style, but as usual the brand isn’t taking itself too seriously, even though the movement inside this watch (and many of the brand’s other watches) is serious.
TM: The Ulysse Nardin Marine Mega Yacht made waves (sorry!) when launched (doh!) at the Miami Boat Show alongside Watches & Wonders in February. The execution of UN’s ode to plutocratic plunder is no-holds-barred, and this watch feels like a worthy sequel to 2016’s Marine Grand Deck Tourbillon. Few 2019 watches generated more buzz-per-unit than the 30-piece Mega Yacht, and I can see this as an outside contender for the Aiguille d’Or.
Consider the sheer theater of this watch. Grand feu enamel on a white gold yacht-shaped dial, a bevel gear “windlass” synced to the “anchor chain” power reserve indicator, and a flying tourbillon with propeller-shaped cage are only the beginning. UN adds a spherical moon phase, a tidal height indicator with seasonal coefficients, and the multifunction crown has its own engine telegraph-inspired mode display on the case flank.
Christophe Claret captained the engineering of the Mega Yacht’s 504-piece UN-631, so the movement impresses equally for its style and mechanical bona fides. No part of this watch is a holdover or derivative of anything else UN has built, so the fully realized nautical vision speaks to equal measures of imagination and technical chops. From a more-is-more standpoint, UN would take this category title.
IS: The Ulysse Nardin Marine Mega Yacht is, in my eyes, the most idiosyncratic watch here thanks to its visible windlass-style winding mechanism at the top of the dial working the chain and anchor power reserve indicator. It doesn’t get more nautical than that, I can nearly feel the salt spray over the bow! The three-dimensional moon phase indicator, propeller-shaped tourbillon bridge, and tidal display complete the experience. The only reason I do not think it will win is that despite costing upward of $300,000, it feels to me more of a fun watch than the serious calendar/astronomical watch it is. And if you have the bucks for the matching yacht, it probably will be.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/marine-mega-yacht.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Marine Mega Yacht
Case: 44 x 14.5 mm, platinum
Movement: manually winding Caliber UN-631 (Christophe Claret base) with one-minute flying tourbillon and patent-pending windlass power reserve; 80-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds (on tourbillon cage); power reserve indication, moon phase, tidal coefficients and volumes, crown position indicator
Limitation: 30 pieces
Remark: 5-year warranty
Price: $310,000/310,000 Swiss francs
Martin: Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
Tim: Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
Ian: Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
Joshua: tie between Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune and Sarpaneva Lunations
Sean: Girard-Perregaux Bridges Cosmos