Our Predictions In The Challenge Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Bang For Your Buck Right Here
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 Challenge category for watches entered as “watches with a retail price under CHF 4,000. Smartwatches are admissable.”
IS: For the vast majority of the world’s population, even those from the more affluent countries, the idea of spending a few thousand dollars on a watch would be considered absolutely crazy. It highlights what a rarefied world the GPHG, and many of us “here,” are in when a watch costing $3,000 is considered “affordable.” To achieve competitive quality at this price point, though, is extremely difficult. It’s relatively easy to make a great watch when money is no object. It’s much, much harder doing that with a fraction of the money. And the pre-selected watches here, while still expensive, all offer excellent value for money in their own way
JM: As we reach the Challenge category and come to watches that are attainable by most collectors, we enter a world that is built on very different principles than nearly every other category.
This category should probably more accurately be called “Bang For Your Buck” because this really is where you want to see just how much watch you can get for your hard-earned dollar. This category isn’t full of watches that CEOs and hedge fund managers are going to buy with end-of-year bonuses; these are pieces for the everyman, watches that will definitely get ample wrist time as they are one of perhaps only a few someone will own.
For that reason, I personally look for things that are unique, seem rare for the price point, and represent something that I feel should hold a spot of honor in my collection.
SL: One more moment on the soapbox, if you’ll indulge me: it really shouldn’t be that much of a “challenge” for the industry to bring high-quality watches within this price point. I suppose part of the challenge is also to get more household brand names to participate; out of the 22 entered watches, there are eight brands I can’t say I ever heard of. In any case, it couldn’t have been trivial for the jury to trim those 22 watches down to six, so kudos to them.
TM: Variety among the Challenge nominees is exceptional. We have everything from pure dress watches to aggressive sports watches, modern designs, retro designs, and avant-garde alternative time displays. Only the interdisciplinary Aiguille d’Or covers more conceptual ground.
Moreover, the growing presence of robust Western Pacific contenders in this class presages (lowercase p) the shifting locus of the enthusiast watch hobby and nascent globalization of the watch industry.
MG: The Challenge category is basically for watches that are less expensive than they need to be to enter the Petite Aiguille category. Again, a wild array of totally different watches, including the least attractive creation of Baselworld 2019, the Tudor Black Bay P01.
Ciga Design Single-Hand Mechanical Wristwatch Series Globe
SL: This is where I’d really like to have the watch in hand to properly evaluate it. On the surface, it’s a cool design that certainly stands out. I don’t know though how it’ll feel in hand, particularly as this watch is actually significantly more expensive than any of the brand’s other watches. Plus, it’s difficult to find any information on it outside of what was provided to the GPHG.
TM: China’s Ciga Design offers the boldest look of any 2019 Challenge pre-selection. The 45 mm globe-time display challenges the Gorilla GT Drift for sheer novelty, and readability is decent. Although the rated diameter looks huge on paper, the lugless architecture and titanium construction place this watch in a kinder, gentler ergonomic crowd than the unfathomably huge Gorilla GT Drift.
One look at the stock photo provided to the GPHG reveals that Ciga of Shenzhen is new to this game; it’s the only Challenge candidate depicting a time other than 10:10 on the GPHG 2019 awards website.
However, despite the Politburo-worthy nomenclature, “Single Hand Mechanical Wristwatch Series, Globe,” this is a fun-loving concept clearly conceived by people who enjoy watches. Think of the Globe as an Arnold & Son Globetrotter aesthetic surrogate for $13,500 less, and you’ve grasped the spirit of the thing.
JM: Talk about coming out of the starting blocks strong only trip on your fourth step and take yourself out of the race. This Ciga Design piece features a huge hemispherical dome of the earth and two registers around the edge to display the time.
At least I think it does because there is literally no information available for this watch on the internet, no pictures other than one, no video, no hands-on reviews; it appears the watch may not even exist other than this rendering.
The description is an unclear mess of four sentences. FOUR. Two of the sentences are just phrases, and based on the supplied photo I cannot be sure which arrow indicates the hours (it appears to be the red arrow), which indicates the minutes (is it the white line, the white arrow?), if the globe rotates but the registers don’t, or if the registers rotate separately from the globe. It’s dramatically unclear and could logically be interpreted in more ways than one.
Perhaps the jury actually got the watch, and perhaps the selection committee had more information that caused it to be included from the original entries, but the information I have been able to find makes me frustrated that I can’t determine if this watch is cool or a failure, and I am legitimately interested in knowing more. Perhaps it stands a chance, but for me, this watch is a throw-away entry.
IS: Ditto here, Joshua: I’m both disappointed in the sparsity of information about the watch, especially as the indications are not obvious (to me anyway), and I’m also wondering how the GPHG pre-selected the Ciga Series Globe based on the information and images submitted to the GPHG.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/single-hand-mechanical-wristwatch-seriesglobe.
Quick Facts Ciga Design Single-Hand Mechanical Wristwatch Series Globe
Case: 45 x 15 mm, stainless steel and titanium
Movement: unspecified manually wound caliber, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 48-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 3,500 Swiss francs
Doxa Sub 200
SL: Another watch where having it in hand would be highly beneficial to a proper evaluation. There’s some confusion within the marketplace as there seem to be two companies that use the brand name; I did get a curious press release a few weeks ago about how the Swiss HQ regained authority over the brand name. In any case, I’d say it is tremendous value if the watch feels as solid as the specifications make it out to be.
TM: Doxa dive watches represent great value, Sean, and the Sub 200 limited edition honors that tradition. While it feels more expressly retro than Doxa’s other models, it isn’t really; existing lines such as the Sub 200 T-Graph and Sub 300T simply draw on a better-known thread of vintage design from Doxa’s past.
The Sub 200 does, however, co-opt the spirit of conventional 1960s dive watches, and Doxa was smart to open a second front against a market that’s not universally enamored of the firm’s cushion-shaped cases and dayglo dials. For roughly $1,000, the price is right for a full-bracelet diver, and this is compelling competition for the likes of Oris, Mido, and various micro brands that play at this price point in the dive watch market.
JM: This watch represents two truths in my opinion. First, it is an awesome vintage-inspired diver that would have a real shot at winning a category of entry-level dive watches, but I feel falls short here for reasons I mentioned when I spoke about my choice for the winner.
Two, I would legitimately be interested in this for my collection. The Doxa SUB 200 marks the 130th anniversary of the brand and is a super attractive piece with a unique case shape, clean dial, awesome beads-of-rice bracelet, and comes in at just under CHF 1,000.
Given the heritage of the Doxa brand and its connection to Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a dive watch from any other brand just doesn’t have the same ring to it. With the competition in this category I don’t know if it will take the top spot, but I am honestly in love with the watch regardless of a victory.
IS: The Doxa Sub is a watch I’d love to own. It’s a great-looking dive watch that would be perfect for the beach. But while this Sub 200 may be new enough to merit qualifying here, I can’t help but feel that I’ve seen it before.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/doxa-sub-200.
Quick Facts Doxa Sub 200
Case: 42 x 14 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824-2, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 48-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 990,- Swiss francs
Gorilla Watches Fastback GT Drift
SL: Octavio Garcia set out to prove with Gorilla that you can get excellent watches, both in terms of materials and design, at a reasonable price point, and I’d say that he’s certainly achieved that. Titanium, ceramic, carbon fiber have all been used in the watch industry as added value, but Gorilla manages to put all that and a wandering hours movement into a piece that’s hard to beat at this, or even a higher, price point.
IS: The Gorilla Fastback GT Drift is exactly the type of watch I’d like this category to encourage. This new brand hasn’t tried to compete with everyone else in this price category, it made a category of it’s own. Bold unusual designs are not for everybody, or even thee vast majority, but for those that like the Fastbacks, and have the wrist size to carry the light but large 44 mm case, there’s nothing to decide but which color. And that’s the problem . . .
JM: The Gorilla Fastback GT Drift inadvertently represents exactly the issues facing watches at a lower price point in this category: they are mechanically limited to pretty much what the base movement is from the beginning.
The Gorilla Fastback GT Drift has the advantage of working with cutting-edge materials that were already developed for a base model and using further resources to work with Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier to develop a movement module that has never been seen in such an affordable watch before.
The wandering hours (star wheel) mechanism is often reserved for high-end pieces due to the delicateness of the assembly combined with the power needed to drive it all, not to mention the function is tricky to adjust for accurate time display. The Fastback GT Drift has achieved all of these at a price point dramatically lower than others and in my opinion blows the watches in this category out of the water in terms of bang for your buck.
Where else can you get a watch with a Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier wandering hours complication, forged carbon, titanium, and ceramic case in such a dramatic design? Nowhere. And even though this is a bold watch that some may not personally wear, I think this watch definitely challenges conventions for affordable watchmaking and has no equal in this category. It’s a polarizing design to be sure, but it is my winner.
TM: Gorilla’s Octavio Garcia and Lukas Gopp made a run at the Challenge prize in 2018, so I’m slightly surprised to see the Audemars Piguet alums making another pass with a minor variation on their original nominee. Last year’s red-and-black Fastback GT Drift returns as this year’s green-and-yellow Fastback GT Drift.
The original GT Drift was a compelling take on the Renaissance-era “wandering hours” clock display made famous by AP and, latterly, by Urwerk. A 100-meter water resistance rating makes this a more versatile watch, and the forged carbon case seems downright exotic for this price point.
At 45 mm, the aptly named Gorilla seems a bit out of step with our times, but if you look at it as a barely-$3,500 Vaucher-engineered carbon fiber alternative to an Hublot Big Bang, then it feels like a marketing bullseye.
Further reading: Gorilla Fastback GT Mirage, Bandit, And Drift: Racing Forward
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/fastback-gt-drift.
Quick Facts Gorilla Fastback GT Drift
Case: 44 mm; ceramic, carbon fiber, titanium, titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824-2 with Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier module G-5238, 38-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: wandering hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 350 pieces
Price: 3,250 Swiss francs
Ming 17.06 Copper
IS: The Ming 17.06 Copper is my pick for winner of the GPHG Challenge category. It’s new. It’s fresh. Offers excellent value for money. The design and execution is superb, and that copper dial is sensational. Ming is becoming the MB&F of classic-style watches, and I mean that as a high compliment. The 17.06 Copper would have been a strong contender for me in the main Men’s category and it’s a shoo-in here.
SL: Another tremendous value proposition, and an interesting story to boot, with Ming starting as a project among genuine watch enthusiasts. It’s perhaps minimal, but the attention to detail is there as is the quality feel. On a personal basis, I’d like them to make a slightly larger watch, 38 mm is a bit small for my wrist (Ming: something around 41 mm would be perfect, thanks).
TM: Ming’s time has come. No brand of any size or stature has had the immediate and visceral effect on the collector scene that Ming Thein’s eponymous Malaysian brand achieved with its inaugural model 17.01 in 2017. Even wunderkind Rexhep Rexhepi’s celebrated Akrivia didn’t achieve this level of fawning accolades with its initial offering.
The 17.06 Copper looks like a $20,000 watch, and you can buy it for under $1,300. Dial depth is excellent thanks to the suspended hour track and deeply machined center dial. While the salmon/copper dial is voguish in color, it is inventive in detail. The concentric inner “nameplate” ring adds visual muscle by doubling the hour ring; concentric satin striations add richness to the dial beneath the floating hours.
Thein’s credentials as an all-world photographer, journalist, and watch enthusiast inform the character of a brand built on aesthetic balance, grace, and uncommon beauty. Beyond the crowd-pleasing dial, Ming employs an impressive amount of lug sculpting to achieve a concave profile with camber and compound inflection that’s reminiscent of Greubel Forsey’s signature shape. A bespoke crown with deep knurling bespeaks attention to detail, and the polished dome bezel contrasts sharply with the satin of the case flank.
Small details matter at Ming: dial lume is generous on the hands and three-dimensional on the suspended hour track; a 100-meter water resistance is practical; the lugs are double-drilled with mounting points for curved or straight spring bars; the first-for-Ming steel case is hardy and sporting.
Despite laudable work with various Swiss manufactures on flagship models, the core Ming watches excel thanks to a combination of stunning style and workmanlike mechanical movements. The 17.06 feels like the best interpretation of that philosophy to date, and it deserves to win the Challenge classification.
MG: Doesn’t the Ming 17.06 Copper just look good? This brand has been on a roll ever since its introduction. It proves that photographers sometimes make excellent watch visionaries, or maybe it’s just that Ming Thein is the exception to the rule? It came close to a win for me.
JM: The Ming 17.06 is a remarkable value for the money as are most watches from the brand. The 17.xx series is the entry-level collector’s line that focuses on time-only pieces with meticulously designed cases, dials, and details from a group of passionate collectors, and the 17.06 is the latest iteration proving that style and taste can be teased out of experience.
The aesthetic details are what the Ming 17.06 is about, creating a bold case shape largely due to the lugs and making sure that each detail is proportional and considerate of every way that someone will wear a watch. The raised numerals completely coated with Super-LumiNova create an awesome display that is hard to find at the price point with such a distinct case.
Alas, I worry that it is still a bit underwhelming when you can compare it to watches that cost over three times as much. In this price category, that represents a lot of opportunities, as Ming will tell you. So while the 17.06 is a very strong contender, I am not sure if it will take the top spot. It easily could, but I have it coming in at second place in my breakdown.
Further reading: Musing On The Ming Model 19.02: Micro Brand To Mega Brand?
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/1706-copper.
Quick Facts Ming 17.06 Copper
Case: 38 x 10 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824-2, modified, 42-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 1,250 Swiss francs
Seiko Presage Arita Porcelain Dial
JM: Seiko is always an underdog in high-end watch discussions because it represents a tremendous value with its most affordable options so that people don’t believe it can make the truly nice pieces. The Presage collection is a fantastic example of how that idea can be wrong, and the Presage Arita Porcelain Dial is an amazing and classically inspired watch that should get a lot of people interested.
It features a stunningly silky porcelain dial made in Arita, Japan, a town known for making beautiful porcelain for nearly 400 years. The dial has a glow that may even top that of grand feu enamel. The movement inside is a workhorse, the 6R27, and the stainless-steel case and blued steel hands combine to make this a great everyday watch with a flair for something different. I do think, like many Seiko pieces, it may be a bit too traditional to win the category, but it all depends on how the jury feels. I’ll confidently call it in third place though I could easily understand it taking the top spot with the right arguments.
TM: Seiko has been here before: last year’s Shippo Enamel SPB073 is virtually the same watch as 2019’s pre-selected Presage SPB093. That’s not a bad thing.
Each model year brings a new craft dial concept to the Seiko Presage collection, and we’ve witnessed everything from lacquer and enamel to this year’s porcelain dial in white. The 2019 Arita Porcelain dial continues the practice of drawing deeply from Japan’s artisanal traditions, and it might be the most classically beautiful watch of this series.
Moreover, flaws in Seiko’s lacquer, enamel, and porcelain construction previously manifested themselves around large dial apertures such as date windows; sharp curvatures tended to promote uneven thickness and the visibility of the unfinished underlying dial. With radial date displays, Seiko has minimized this phenomenon on the SPB073 and now the 093.
Seiko porcelain point man Hiroyuki Hashiguchi’s achievement is self-evident. The Presage Arita Porcelain will please buyers who value an uncommon fusion of non-European cultural heritage, hand-crafted appeal, and legitimate manufacture mechanical pedigree.
SL: Seiko is another that provides excellent value for money overall, and this particular watch is great if you’re looking for a lot of classical watchmaking elements. The porcelain dial not only is an example of Japanese artistry, but also reminiscent of enamel dials as are the red “XII” marker and the blue hands. Definitely one to consider on the shortlist for this category.
IS: Seiko is hitting these special-edition Presages out of the ballpark, and the Arita Porcelain Dial is no exception. It’s a sensational watch offering incredible bang for buck, and that dial is sublime. But as new as this model is, like many others in this competition I feel as though I’ve seen it before.
MG: What Seiko did with the Presage Arita Porcelain dial is out of this world! Porcelain dials are usually quite flat, but Arita (Seiko’s partner for this particular watch) has created one where the power reserve indicator and the subdial for the date lie much deeper than the rest of the dial. This provides play of light and makes this watch look not only amazing but also so much more expensive than it is.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/presage-arita-porcelain-dial.
Quick Facts Seiko Presage Arita Porcelain Dial
Case: 40.6 x 14.1 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 6R27, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 45-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve
Price: 2,200 Swiss francs
Tudor Black Bay P01
SL: One of the highlights of Baselworld 2019, the Tudor P01 has certainly caught the eye of watch enthusiasts, and I know some people who are eagerly awaiting the first deliveries. For me, it’s somewhat a curiosity as it feels as though it’s riding on the vintage craze of the past couple of years with a reference to a watch that no one really knows existed.
Tudor seems to have specialized in this vintage revival as well, and I must emphasize, there is no criticism in my remarks, just my personal observations. Those that will soon, if they haven’t already, receive their brand new P01s will be very happy with them. I did get a chance to try it on at Baselworld, and it wears quite well. It’s a difficult decision because again, the criteria for this particular category is price alone, so it comes down to a personal aesthetic choice.
JM: At this point I almost feel bad for Tudor because the brand makes fantastic watches that are some of the best deals out there, yet I feel like I am so incredibly bored of the Black Bay iterations that I find it hard to get excited about them over other pieces.
And Tudor is doing everything it can to keep the excitement fresh, the P01 is a vintage inspired watch that bears a C.O.S.C. certified manufacture movement with silicon hairspring and 70 hours of power reserve. The design of the strap attachment seems a bit heavy handed, but it serves a purpose as the bezel rotation is lockable via a mobile endlink at 12 o’clock that can snap open and closed on the bezel flutes.
All around, this is a great piece. And while the design is not as universal as the regular Black Bay, it still represents some cool history and a worthwhile purchase. It’s possible the jury may show it some love, but I personally am struggling to maintain excitement for it over its competition.
TM: Tudor’s P01 deserves accolades both for boldness and fidelity to its source material. This watch embodies an assumption of major risk by a mainstream brand, and we need to cherish those rarities in this industry. In the past, some kind of a “revival” prize might have recognized the volume-be-dammed audacity and niche appeal of the P01.
While the Tudor’s design has been polarizing to say the least, the only real disappointment I feel regarding the P01 has nothing to do with the watch; many of the loudest gripes have emanated from quarters previously frothing over Tudor’s endless iterations of the Black Bay. Don’t pray for rain if you can’t handle a flood.
IS: If every year at the GPHG our memories of past competitions were blanked, the Tudor Black Bay would win at least one category each year (along with Kari Voutilainen and the Zenith El Primero). It’s unbeatable value for money, and nearly every version looks good to me – even this one. The design is true to its inspiration, and it’s different enough to be taken seriously. The Tudor Black Bay P01 is my runner-up in the Challenge category.
MG: Tudor developed this watch specifically for U.S. Navy divers, but even they must have seriously disliked it, quickly adopting the much more palatable Tudor Reference 7016 as their official watch. In 2019 things are different. There are so many varieties of the Black Bay that if you tossed them all in the water, there wouldn’t be a bay anymore at all, just a field of watches. To stand out among its peers the new one needed to be seriously different, which is when a failed prototype can come in handy.
For more information, please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/black-bay-p01.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay P01
Case: 42 x 6.5 mm, stainless steel, water resistant to 200 meters, bidirectional rotating bezel with stop system
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5612, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 70 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 3,750 Swiss francs
Martin: Seiko Presage Arita Porcelain Dial
Tim: Ming 17.06 Copper
Ian: Ming 17.06 Copper
Sean: Gorilla Watches Fastback GT Drift
Joshua: Gorilla Watches Fastback GT Drift