Our Predictions In The Ladies Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): A Sprinkling Of Jewels, A Mismatched Date, And The Ever-Raging Debate On Quartz
Welcome to the 2020 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:
Elizabeth Doerr (ED), co-founder and editor-in-chief
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Bhanu Chopra (BC), resident flieger expert
The GPHG foundation describes the Ladies category for watches entered as “comprising only the following indications: hours, minutes, seconds, date, power reserve, and/or classic moon phase. These timepieces may be adorned with a maximum of eight carats’ worth of gemstones.”
GG: It’s been a wonderful experience for me to participate in the GPHG jury over the past two years; with this year’s changes to the process and the pandemic’s further effects on jury selection, along with Elizabeth and Ian I’m now a member of the broader Academy and therefore permitted to weigh in here on my preferences in each category – and it’s good to be back!
IS: 2020 is the first year that the GPHG has implemented and voted the shortlisted (“nominated”) watches using the new Academy structure with its much larger (350+ members) and broader pool of members than the smaller (around 30), more specialist juries of past years. And with the on-again-off-again COVID-19 travel restrictions in Europe this year, it has been extremely challenging, if not impossible, to see many, let alone all, of the shortlisted watches.
ED: I dare say we’ve only seen a fraction of the nominated watches this year in a real sense . . . voting the first round was a rather difficult process.
GG: For the first time in many years, I haven’t had the opportunity to handle most of the watches nominated this year either, so am depending heavily on the photos and descriptions provided by the brands. It does happen that when seen in person, watches can be either better or worse than their photos, so I could be even more wrong than usual with some of my impressions!
IS: In a few categories, the six nominated watches are more varied than I’ve come to expect from the more “expert” juries of the past, and that’s thrown in a few watches that have me shaking my head. But it may be that those watches have more public appeal.
ED: Yes, I have noticed that this has happened, Ian. In the Ladies category, for example, which we are discussing here, that phenomenon has led to the nomination of three quartz watches in the final round. While all three of these are undoubtedly beautiful timepieces – and I’ll admit that one of them is in my top three – the specialist jury would have likely made sure that more of the mechanical watches made it into the final. I am surprised, for example, that the Breitling Navitimer 35 didn’t make it past the first round. While I am not generally a fan of “beautified” pilot’s watches, this particular variation on the theme is a great daily wearer.
BC: This year’s Ladies category has a lot of diversity – from Wempe’s Iron Walker sports watch (which unfortunately did not make it past the first round) to Chanel’s ultra-feminine “button” watch.
IS: It’s important to bear in mind that many, if not most, of our comments are based on photos of the watches and often poor and/or incomplete texts. And to make matters worse, we are starting our round table discussions with Ladies’ watches, and after 60 years of extensive study and research I’ve still little idea what women really like and want. But here goes anyway!
I’d like to stress that my comments and favorites may well change as/if I get a chance to handle the watches that I haven’t seen to date.
ED: Sometimes we don’t even know what we want – but I can tell you that we always know it when we see it, and there are several in the running that would make excellent additions to anyone’s watch box.
IS: My first impression of the six pre-selected Ladies’ categories was that it’s a strong lineup and all six of the entries merit inclusion.
GG: I’m no lady, but I thought the nominees in this category for 2020 had a lot going for them in that each provides a distinctive take on feminine styling without simply resorting to the “shrink it and pink it” mantra that the industry seems to follow all too often. I was disappointed, though, that the Chopard Happy Sport Oval missed the cut for the final nominees, as I liked its new take on Chopard’s “Happy” theme as well as its mechanical movement.
ED: And that is what I seriously find impressive about these six watches as well, Gary: they’re all expressly made for women and didn’t start life as a man’s watch that a designer repurposed. The sizes are all appropriate. Very exciting!
JM: Once again I find myself a bit disappointed with the Ladies category as it suffers from a lack of direction (just like the Men’s category). The watches are all different and fabulous in their own way leading to hard decisions on which features to select for. In this case, since we have a Ladies Complication category, a Jewellery category, and the truly wide-open Artistic Crafts, I am going to select for wearability and practicality for the best Ladies watch. To me it must be something that could be worn every day otherwise I think it strays too far from the basic use as a watch, which does help narrow down the competitors for slightly more objective reasons.
IS: There’s a lot to like about the Beauregard Lili: the distinctive and nicely proportioned rectangular case with beveled edges; the very wearable size of 24.5 x 33.2 mm; and nicely contrasting sparking diamonds against the dark hand-sculptured natural-stone petals of the dial and the pink gold case. I’m sure this is a watch that will please many women, but it’s out of the running for me due to its quartz movement.
ED: This is the watch where I lift my self-imposed quartz rule. Having had the chance to speak at length to Alexandre Beauregard and understand the process of handmaking and -setting these onyx petals, I am fully smitten by the concept and execution of this boutique brand’s designs. Beauregard’s Dahlia of 2018 was even more beautiful in my opinion, but due to its quartz movement Lili is more wearable and affordable in a general sense. This original watch is in my top three in this category – and probably only loses out over the other two in my mind due to its quartz movement.
JM: I admit that the stone setting and color choices for this watch are on point. The black of the onyx, gold of the case, and white of the diamonds really jump out at you, not to mention the visual of the strong black flower. It truly is a stunning piece. Alas, as a quartz-based watch I am struggling to justify it in this category and so it doesn’t make the cut. Just remember to call me if Beauregard drops a mechanical movement inside.
GG: While the Beauregard, Chanel, and Piaget each have visual merits, I’m not a quartz movement guy – so I was able to knock them out of the running pretty quickly.
Further reading: Beauregard Dahlia And Lili: Opening Like A Flower
Quick Facts Beauregard Lili
Case: 24.5 x 33.2 x 8.55 mm, pink gold set with 180 diamonds (.90 ct)
Dial: 33 hand-carved mother-of-pearl, onyx, or other stone petals
Movement: ETA E01.701 quartz movement
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: each one a unique piece
Price: CHF 16,092
IS: Despite a “flaw” (in my eyes) that would have relegated a slightly weaker watch down the list for me, the Bovet Miss Audrey is my close pick for runner up of the Ladies category. My choice may be influenced by Miss Audrey being one of only two watches here that I’ve actually seen and handled (thanks to Geneva Watch Days), but it’s a sensational watch and its beauty isn’t just skin deep: as with turtles, it goes all the way down.
It is housed in an ideally sized case at 36 mm, the galvanized green guilloche dial is eye-catching without being obtrusive, and the versatile Amadéo convertible case allows it to be worn on the wrist, around the neck, as a pocket watch, or stand as a small desk clock. And whoever says “blue and green should never be seen” hasn’t seen the blue cabochons on the green-dialed Miss Audrey’s lugs and crown.
The only flaw for me is that tiny white date window breaking the otherwise unblemished dial. I don’t think a date is necessary here at all, but if present the date wheel should match the rest of the dial. A mismatched dial-date wheel would normally annoy me enough to be a dealbreaker, and would be here except for the fact that I’ve handled the Bovet Miss Audrey and thought that its numerous pros outweigh the one tiny con.
ED: This watch is by no means new, but in its new configurations for 2020 – alongside this sumptuous green dial, there is a beautiful aventurine variation that captured my heart – which include beaded “chains,” this watch is nothing short of entrancing. The chain for this green variation comprises gorgeous jade beads for the convertible pendant variation, turning the watch into a beautiful piece of jewelry.
JM: Bovet makes some truly stunning watches and the Miss Audrey is no exception. The incredible guilloche pattern on the dial, the precise stone-set bezel, even the porthole date window all work together to make a clean, elegant dial. Plus the addition of the convertible case system that allows it to become a pendant really sets the Miss Audrey apart from most watches.
The only downside for me, at least in relation to the category, is that it still feels too special to be an everyday ladies’ watch. I love the watch, and it’s a definite top three, but I have to give the win to another this year.
GG: The Bovet is quite attractive and I’m sure well made in the typical Bovet manner, but its more classical look puts it just behind the whimsical treatment given the Hermès in my view.
Quick Facts Bovet Amadeo Fleurier Miss Audrey
Case: 36 x 11 mm, stainless steel, convertible system allowing it to be worn as a wristwatch, pendant, or used as a table clock, sapphire cabochons on bow and crown; set with 103 diamonds (0.99 ct)
Movement: automatic Caliber 11BA15, 42-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; date
Price: 20,500 Swiss francs
Remark: five-year warranty
JM: This watch is an absolute stunner. The cuff style matched with a hidden watch underneath a large pearl is visually riveting and so indicative of what Chanel is at its core. It is such an incredible piece that it is hard to pull myself away long enough to become disappointed again when I discover the quartz engine within. Like other pieces, I just don’t think it lives up to its potential and so I sadly can’t make it my choice for a winner even if it does look like a champion.
IS: From a quick glance, it isn’t easy to work out if the Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton perle is a watch at all, but there’s a clue in the name – “Bouton” – which is French for button. And, not surprisingly, it does look like an oversized button, especially with the pearly domed cover closed. I particularly like the fact that this Chanel offers something different, and there’s no denying how well the yellow gold, diamonds and pearl complement each other to make for an extremely attractive watch.
But as unfair as it may be of me to rule out quartz movements here — and it’s worth noting that there is nothing in the category rules excluding non-mechanical movements — this Chanel is one that doesn’t make the cut for me.
ED: Compare this watch to the above-described Bovet, and some things become apparent: both have about the same amount of diamonds, one is in stainless steel (Bovet) and one is in yellow gold (Chanel), and the two movements are worlds apart, the Bovet being automatic and the Chanel quartz. Yet the Chanel costs 2.5 times more than the Bovet, which is also certainly a much rarer watch and comes with a gorgeous beaded chain.
Comparing and contrasting is perhaps not quite fair as there are also bigger things in play like brand names, recognition, etc. But in a competition like this, comparing and contrasting is what we do. The Privé Bouton perle is conceived as a playful cocktail watch, while the Bovet is certainly a watch that could be worn in many instances of daily life, even if it is not quite as much of a daily wearer as the Hermès.
BC: My second place goes to Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé Bouton perle. The design of this watch is just brilliant with a miniature modern watch hidden inside a Victorian button motif. It takes the various characteristics of Chanel’s apparel design elements and incorporates them flawlessly into a watch.
ED: Yes, Chanel does that so well, Bhanu.
Quick Facts Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton perle
Case: 25 x 20 mm, yellow gold set with 46 diamonds (0.98 cts) and one South Sea cultured half pearl (15 mm diameter)
Dial: white gold set with 142 brilliant-cut diamonds (0.52 cts)
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 49,200 Swiss francs
IS: The Dior Grand Bal Ruban is the perfect present because it comes pre-wrapped in a bow – a beautiful diamond-sprinkled bow at that. And, as a bonus, the elegant bow on the dial is actually the winding rotor of the movement underneath so it swings around the dial with every movement of the wrist. And those fine lines of gold thread radiating out from the center of the blue dial transform an already great-looking dial into an absolutely stunning dial.
The Dior text on the GPGH website explaining the Grand Bal Ruban informs us that, “The lining of the strap as well as the iridescent case back are details only known to the wearer.” And, unfortunately, that’s true because as much as I’d like to see the iridescent case back, Dior didn’t think to supply a photo. 🙁
GG: For me, the clear top watch in this group is the Dior Grand Bal Ruban. It’s visually enchanting, sized for a variety of wrists at 36 mm, and both the idea of the dial-side rotor and its execution as a jeweled bow are fantastic in my opinion.
JM: Dior has a solid foundation with the Grand Bal Ruban, built around a more traditional case size and focusing on one quirky feature (a dial-side rotor mixed with decorative elements) as the core of the watch. The aesthetic is far from restrained as it is clear this watch is supposed to garner attention with its detailed style. This, to me, is also its downfall as it is so darn visually appealing that it is hard to get any work done with this on your wrist. It is one of the most incredible pieces in this category, but I find it hard to choose it as the overall winner even if I give it an A+.
ED: I have handled many of these Grand Bal watches, and each one is as fascinating as the next. What a great concept! Unfortunately – and this may sound weird – I find the rotor dressed as a bow too much of a good thing. Some of the past editions with feathers and/or gold thread – the idea behind the Grand Bal is to replicate the swooshing of a ball dress – were far more to my liking in a visual sense. A bow is just too Cinderella for me, even if this is an overall beautiful watch.
And, yes, I would have loved to have seen the back of this watch too, Ian.
Quick Facts Dior Grand Bal Ruban
Case: 36 x 12.04 mm, two-tone stainless steel and pink gold set with 103 diamonds (0.99 ct)
Movement: automatic Caliber Inversé 11 1/2 (Soprod base) with rotor on front, 42-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 88 pieces
Price: 51,900 Swiss francs
BC: My winner is the Hermès Arceau Petite Lune. Hermès impressed me with its elegant design and well executed complications. I find the addition of a moon phase very romantic, surrounded by the colorful sapphire and diamond stars, but I also find the date complication very practical. Hermès wins on overall design – and not to mention it is priced under CHF 10,000.
IS: The Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs was very close to a tied first place for me, but has managed to squeak past to winning the Ladies category as I’d had an opportunity to see it for myself. Surprisingly, as the complication seems so popular with women, the Petite Lune is the only moon phase watch that made it past the first round, making it stand out from the competition even more. And I like the playful touch of the mischievous face of the moon.
To my Neolithic male thinking, unlike women’s watches that span a much wider range of styles, ladies’ watches should be elegant and the spritz of diamonds and sapphires over the bezel and mother-of-pearl dial ensure that. The date subdial at 6 o’clock dispenses with the problem of a mismatched date wheel and dial, and the steel case both makes it more suitable as a daily wearer and keeps the price down.
I suspect that the judging in this category will be a close call, especially for jurors less biased than I am with regard to quartz movements.
JM: Hermès is perfectly suited for this category because it first developed a winning watch model that provided value and style before it showed up in the ranks of a competition. The watch is lovely yet restrained, not overly decorative, and limited in the scope of its use. It also has a date and moon phase mechanism, making it the most multifunctional of the group.
I think it holds the most promise to be worn widely and in differing environments that it could be considered the best Ladies’ watch. The other pieces are almost all too stunning for the simple Ladies watch category, restricting their possible use. The Hermès feels most versatile.
GG: The Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs (other than the too-much-information name) comes in second for me; the combination of mother-of-pearl dial and the aforementioned sprinkling of gems that surrounds the moon and continues onto the bezel creates a treat for the eye.
ED: I am severely torn between the Bovet Miss Audrey and this absolutely enchanting timepiece. I almost called it a tie. When I first saw the photos of this beautiful Hermès, I exclaimed in delight as I spied the sprinkling of 68 diamonds and 87 sapphires across the dial and case. How utterly surprising and delightful is this small addition of sparkle. As a genuine fan of blue sapphire, I couldn’t be more delighted.
And while I’m not generally enamored of mother-of-pearl dials, which are seriously overused in watches for women, they still seem to carry immense appeal to the general public, and it would be hard to imagine this watch without the material. It was a good choice in this case as the steel hands might have otherwise disappeared into the dial, making the time and date hard to read.
And how difficult it must be to set these tiny stones into the fragile material! Hats off to the dial maker!
In cool Hermès style, this watch is both playful and serious with its asymmetrical Arceau case and glorious moon phase. There’s not much not to love about this timepiece – including its rather fair price when you consider that it’s also powered by Hermès’ own Caliber H1837. And, like the Bovet, it is eminently wearable for the female wrist without being too small, making it easier to see the time. And even this date is visible to older eyes!
A variation of this watch was entered into the Ladies category of the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. But if we discounted all the variations of watches entered into this competition, we would have almost no watches left. So I am not going to make that part of my judging criteria here. Also, I find the sprinkling of gemstones changes the character of this watch immensely. And do note that Hermès is asking for about CHF 5,000 less for this new variation than the 2015 watch, which I will put down to the lower carat weight of the gemstones.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs
Case: 38 x 11.01 mm, stainless steel set with 10 diamonds and 22 sapphires
Movement: automatic Caliber Hermès H1837 with moon phase module and 50-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; date, moon phase
Price: CHF 9,760/€8,400/$10,375
IS: The Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Dégradé de Saphirs is another extremely pretty watch that I’m sure will not lack for admirers. I particularly like the way the color of the blue sapphires wrapping around the bezel and continuing down the edge of the bracelet gradually intensifies from just the barest hint of azure beside the diamonds to a more intense blue, matching the finely engraved, oven-fired enamel dial. And at 32 mm it is ideally sized for smaller wrists. But as good as it is, the Gala Precious Dégradé de Saphirs joins my out-of-contention list because of its quartz movement.
ED: This is a beautiful watch. No bones about it. I must agree with Ian about the stone selection and setting, which is out of this world. But the winning element for me is the white gold bracelet and dial hand-chiseled in a vintage style from the 1960s that I am particularly enamored of. The beautiful bracelet design starts with hundreds of tiny gold links assembled tightly. Then they are soldered together and finally hand-engraved in the Palace Décor style, which takes eight full hours to accomplish.
The dial is engraved by the same artisan in the same style, after which it receives a skillful application of translucent blue enamel. An absolute stunner of a visual feast, it is just slightly too small to be anything other than a cocktail watch, even if the size is fully in keeping with its vintage feel.
A variation of the Piaget Limelight Gala with quartz movement actually took home the prize for best Ladies watch of 2016, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this one did end up winning in 2020 again. However, I personally choose a mechanical as my winner.
JM: The Piaget Limelight Gala is a perfect example of a watch being much more suited to the jewelry category but given the competition in that group the brand decided to enter it in the more general Ladies category. I love the Limelight Gala, and the soft transition of blue sapphires is a gorgeous effect, but as a fancy, jewel-studded quartz-based dress watch, this piece is out of place in this category in my opinion.
BC: My third place goes to Piaget’s Limelight Gala. This watch is perfect for making a grand entrance on the red carpet. It is eye-catching with the engraved white gold and grand feu enamel dial, colorful sapphires and diamonds, and engraved gold bracelet.
Quick Facts Piaget Limelight Gala
Case: 32 x 8.27 mm, white gold, bezel set with 20 brilliant-cut diamonds (1.46 ct) and 22 brilliant-cut graduated blue sapphires (4.01 ct)
Dial: hand-engraved white gold with blue oven-fired enamel
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 106,000
For more information, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/gphg-2020/nominated-watches#2020_DAME.
Elizabeth: Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs
Ian: Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs
Joshua: Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs
Gary: Dior Grand Bal Ruban
Bhanu: Hermès Arceau Petite Lune Jeté de Diamants et Saphirs