Our Predictions In The Men’s Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): All 6 Are Potential Winners But Our Panelists Ruthlessly Whittle Them Down
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
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
The GPHG foundation describes the Men’s category for watches entered as “comprising the following indications only: hours, minutes, seconds, simple date (day of the month), power reserve, classic moon phases; may be adorned with a maximum five-carat gemsetting.”
GG: Another very nice selection of watches! I had the privilege of announcing the winner of this category – the Voutilainen 28 Ti – last year on-stage in Geneva, and this time around we have another Voutilainen and five other quite pleasing pieces to consider.
One watch that missed out on the party and that I think deserves mention is the Kikuchi Nakagawa Murakumo, a decidedly classical piece that stretches the boundaries of watchmaking convention by boasting a black-polished case and buckle. This might just be the one watch I’d buy but not wear – imagine the first scratch! Perhaps when the Jury convenes in November, they will consider this one for the Audacity prize as for me it certainly merits that term.
ED: Thanks for bringing that watch up, Gary: as I previously said in the discussion on the Ladies Complication category, these little brands have to do a much better job of getting themselves out there ahead of the competition to get noticed – and this was a particularly crowded category! I have not seen the Murakumo in the metal, but now that you bring it up again I really wish I had!
I was disappointed that the Arnold & Son Nebula 38 in steel did not make it through to the final round. I find this watch to be one of our industry’s hidden gems in quality, ingenuity, and price. Noteworthy and deserving for me would also have been the Garrick S3 and the Schwarz Etienne Roma Synergy with a dial by Kari Voutilainen’s Comblémine factory, though I have unfortunately not had the chance to handle the latter.
IS: WOW! I can’t remember any year in which I thought that every single one of the six nominated watches in the GPHG Men’s category ticked all three of the following boxes:
1. It could be a well-deserved winner.
2. I can easily see myself voting for it as the winner.
3. If I could afford it, I would buy it and wear it with happiness and pride.
This is the most difficult group of men’s watches I’ve ever had to assess and judge. And the fact that I’ve either handled most of these watches or variations of them doesn’t make it any easier; if anything it makes it harder as I know just how good they really are. Whichever one of these watches goes on to deservedly win in on the 12th of November, it will highlight that 2020 is a vintage year for men’s watches. COVID-19 be damned!
And it’s worth pointing out that over the six nominated watches in the Men’s category, only one, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo S Blue Dial, is from a mainstream brand. The rest are from independents and boutique brands. As an unabashed fan and supporter of the indies, I’m pleased at their success, but it does give me some concern that the mainstream brands that are the foundation for the whole industry are so poorly represented.
My criteria for the men’s category is simple: an exceptional, relatively simple wristwatch that is suitable as a daily wearer whether wearing a suit or jeans.
MG: Every year this is the category in which it is the most difficult to decide who should be the winner. This year it is the same as I can see all six winning.
JM: As I have stated in every previous year, the Men’s category is one of the toughest to judge simply because there really isn’t any organizing principle for the watches aside from being oriented toward male wearers. Luckily, this year there is an assortment that feels cohesive in its intention, as all the watches are similar enough in scope that I feel we can actually judge them against each other.
There aren’t any dramatic outliers and each one doesn’t try to buck tradition too much. Therefore, I feel I can compare styles, wearability, and overall craftsmanship in a bid to suss out the best Men’s watch. However, the field is so fantastic that it will likely come down to subjective preferences to determine the winner.
MG: This Octo Finissimo is the perfect example of a watch where a case material makes a difference. While titanium is very nice, I prefer this stainless steel version. It gives the watch a bit more heft on the wrist and the metal looks lighter in color. Combined with the blue dial it is the perfect casual watch that can go just as easy with a suit, making it a great all-rounder – all the more so because it comes with such a stunning movement!
JM: A perpetual favorite, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo has won, in some form or another, three times in as many years, including the Men’s category in 2017, so it has a bit of a target on its back in this category – and for good reason. As an ultra-light (though now heavier in steel) and distinctive watch with one of the thinnest automatic movements ever made, it truly is an awesome watch. But that isn’t enough on its own to win, and since we’ve seen a lot of GPHG success for this aesthetic in the recent past, I’m not sure if it can hold off the challengers.
What it does have going for it is value as it is the most accessible piece here by a wide margin, and it’s only one of three pieces that isn’t part of a limited edition, meaning it is much more likely to be both one of the best Men’s watches and most available as well.
The competition is still stiff, and I’m going to place it as my runner up should my winner miss out on the nod from the judges.
ED: I do understand everyone’s fascination with the Bulgari Octo Finissimo line. It is an eminently wearable watch with a cool design that is just far enough off the norm to have the potential to become its own thing like Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak. However, I feel that we’ve seen every case material and color variation entered into this competition. I’m not begrudging Bulgari that by any means! It’s just that I don’t think this is different enough from the previous versions to warrant another win, and I doubt any jury would necessarily feel differently. Though I may be surprised!
IS: The Bulgari Octo Finissimo is one of my favorite watches and the launch titanium version was an unsurprising winner as best Men’s watch at the 2017 GPHG. It is worth highlighting that for me one of the most impressive features of this stunning ultra-thin automatic watch (6.4 mm cased!) is its 60-hour power reserve.
The blue-dial Octo Finissimo Automatic S is even more eye-catching than the original, and it would easily be a strong contender as the winner of this category. However, I can’t help but feel that against such strong competition here, it’s not technically different enough from its 2017 prize-winning brother.
Quick Facts Bulgari Octo Finissimo S Blue Dial
Case: 40 x 6.4 mm, stainless steel, 100 m water resistance
Movement: automatic Caliber BVL 138, 2.23 mm height, 36.6 mm diameter, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $13,900/CHF 11,500
IS: Disclaimer: I’ve got a very strong bias for the De Bethune DB28 and I own one (see De Bethune DB28: How I Launched It, Why I Bought It, And Why It’s The Perfect ‘One Watch’). But as prejudiced as I am in the DB28’s favor, it already won the GPHG’s prize for best men’s watch in 2011 and, as with the Bulgari Octo Finissimo S Blue Dial, I feel it takes more than a pretty blue dial to warrant the same model winning again.
Happily though, the DB28XP Starry Sky does have much more than that spectacular dial going for it (see 3 Brand-New De Bethune DB28s To Celebrate 10 Years Of This Sensational, Now Ultra-Thin Watch With Floating Lugs). The movement, while still retaining the basic double-barrel, silicon balance wheel architecture of the original, is new: the power reserve jumps 20 percent from 5 to 6 days, and the thickness drops 15 percent from 4.5 to 3.8 mm. The case thickness drops a mind-blowing 40 percent from 11.4 to just 7.2 mm. Thanks to those floating lugs and light titanium case, the world’s most comfortable wrist-wrapping watch has just taken a quantum leap in comfort, looks, and performance.
The DB28 is the horological equivalent of the Porsche 911: the new model looks superficially like the old, but every part has been either improved or replaced. And then there’s that sensational dial! The De Bethune DB28XP Starry Sky is my tied winner for best Men’s watch 2020.
Note to De Bethune: I’m sure that you had good reasons to enter the DB28XP Starry Sky instead of the DB28XP, but historically the Men’s category has been won by less obviously “flashy” watches and I think the DB28XP would have been an even stronger contender here.
ED: Luckily for me this watch wears more like a unisex watch than a men’s watch due to the changes you just mentioned, Ian. It is an absolute stunner both on and off the wrist.
MG: With the DB28XP Starry Sky De Bethune is doing what it does best: this beautiful watch is extraordinary but on the safe side of being eccentric. The only thing that I am not too fond of in a personal sense is the balance wheel displayed on the dial side. Not only because then you keep having to explain that it is not a tourbillon, but also because it interferes with the stunning dial upon which you can have your personal starry sky made by small white gold pins placed with great precision.
JM: Like the Bulgari, the DB28XP Starry Sky is non-limited, which allows it to be much more widely adopted by the market, though with a price tag seven times the Bulgari it definitely is much more exclusive just by positioning. By now everyone should know that I adore De Bethune and would dream of owning pretty much any watch from the brand, and this watch is no exception.
The combination of the Starry Sky dial with the DB28 case, mixed with the microlight engraving on the dial, makes for a fabulous tenth-anniversary piece for the DB28 collection. My main hesitation in picking this one to win is styling, which not every jury member will adore like I do. Most will agree that this De Bethune is marvelous, but classic styling still reigns supreme in the industry and I fear the De Bethune will lose this category simply due to the more space-age design. The watch is supremely wearable, but the wilder nature may detract from being the best Men’s watch.
ED: And here’s where my opinion differs from yours, Joshua. In De Bethune terms this watch is far more classic looking than other DB28 variations as the usually visible delta bridge (which gives it a decided science-fiction bent) is covered by the superb blued titanium dial with white gold “stars.” Sure, the hands are unorthodox, but that provides character. And I think that people are now rather used to seeing exposed balances on modern watches. My feeling is that this watch’s styling will not be the detracting element – rather the fact that it is technically a variation on a watch that has taken home this prize once already (2011).
Nonetheless, this watch and the Bulgari Octo Finissimo were once again voted into the final round despite having both taken home this prize in the past and despite an amazingly large field for the Academy to choose from. That speaks to the absolute quality and lasting attraction to these models. And despite it having already won once, I tap the DB28XP Starry Sky as my winner in this category.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28XP Starry Sky
Case: 43 x 7.2 mm, titanium; floating lugs
Movement: manually wound Caliber DB2115v6 with blued titanium escape wheel with white gold weights, 6-day power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, Triple Pare-Chute shock protection with Incabloc
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 72,000 excluding VAT
JM: Laurent Ferrier is a classic brand that often flies under the radar without too much pomp and circumstance, and this watch is a great example. The utterly gorgeous green opaline dial contrasted with the yellow numerals is reminiscent of a historic football pitch or even the grass courts at Wimbledon, and while subdued, is indeed something hard to overlook when considering Men’s watches.
JM: The brand new manually wound Laurent Ferrier caliber is clean and perfectly executed, providing an excellent base for the watch. To top it all off, the case is constructed from polished titanium and has an 80-hour power reserve, making for a very versatile watch. In my eyes it is hard to find fault with this watch no matter what collector you are talking to. Plus, this watch marks the tenth anniversary of the brand, which adds a little oomph to the piece. Out of all the timepieces in this category, the value proposition of this piece, and given what has a recent history of winning (ahem, Voutilainen), I’m predicting a win for Laurent Ferrier this year as the best all-around Men’s watch.
IS: As I mentioned earlier, I’m looking for an exceptional, relatively simple wristwatch suitable as a daily wearer whether wearing a suit or jeans and the Laurent Ferrier Classic Origin Green is just that. Elegant 40 mm titanium case, beautiful new in-house movement, and gradient opaline dial that is just the right balance of being distinctive but not over-powering, this Laurent Ferrier Classic is the epitome of a great Men’s watch. In another year with slightly weaker competition I could easily see the Classic Origin Green taking the top spot in this category, but for me this is not its year.
MG: While a watch in green can usually quite easily elevate my heart rate, this one does not achieve that. It is perhaps the hue that Laurent Ferrier picked, but I find its other dial colors far more captivating. As I am also a sucker for micro rotor movements, the manual wind movement is not doing much for me either. Sure, it is well made and stunning for what it is, but to me it is simply too plain to truly make good on its potential.
ED: I think I am going to have to agree with you on all those counts, Martin. The dark green is just not doing it for me, making the watch seem plain instead of the usual treat I have come to expect from this boutique brand, also a previous winner in this category. We have seen other watches by Laurent Ferrier over the years with similar layouts to the dials that have seemed so much brighter and more alive. It also doesn’t help that we never got a chance to see this one in the metal, I’m sure.
Quick Facts Laurent Ferrier Classic Origin Green
Case: 40 x 10.7 mm, titanium
Movement: manually wound Caliber LF 116.01 with free-sprung balance, 80-hour power reserve; 3 Hz/21,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 30 pieces
Price: 30,700 Swiss francs
MG: Talk about a homerun! A well-proportioned watch with a restrained dial that shows some promise of the amazing movement behind it. That movement is making good on its promises and so much more. Is it nicer to see than the dial side? No, but that is only because the design on the front of the watch is absolutely impeccable. However, not only is the finish of the movement scarily good, it also comes with the duo’s take on the Gafner deadbeat second system, turning this watch into serious haute horlogerie and my winner in this category.
JM: Now this is a cool watch that is rather unlike the other competitors as the brand is new, founded by two young watchmakers and this is the debut watch. Built around the idea of a deadbeat mechanism designed by Robert Gafner, a teacher at the watchmaking school of La Chaux-de-Fonds in the 1940s, the Dead Beat Second is a shining example of youthful passion and a focus on creating a very clean movement from scratch.
The dial has been redesigned from the prototype (a big improvement) and gives a glimpse into the impeccable movement underneath. Caliber 171 is awesome and has a visually impressive deadbeat seconds mechanism elevated above the movement for viewing. Overall, this watch demonstrates a clear vision for a young brand. I completely love the watch, but I don’t think I can pull for this one to win.
With such a limited run, a 2.5 Hz balance, and a not-so-classic-not-so-avant-garde dial, I think the reception for the Dead Beat Second will be very strong among the collectors of independents. Though unlike the Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain, it doesn’t feel like it will have very broad appeal, something necessary to be crowned the best Men’s watch. I could always be wrong, but given the breadth of the jury it is hard for awesome yet quirky watches to win what I would consider a classic category.
IS: Two talented young watchmakers, Gaël Petermann and Florian Bédat, team up, set up on their own, seize the opportunity of working with a world-renowned master watchmaker, and within three years develop their first watch, which is nominated as one of the top six men’s watches of the year. It all sounds easy when the reality is anything but. I’ve no doubt that there was a healthy dose of luck involved, but lucky breaks tend to spring from immense talent and years of hard work.
However, as inspiring as Petermann Bédat’s origin story is, GPHG prizes aren’t awarded for stories but for exceptional watches, and their Dead Beat Seconds is just that: and it’s an exceptional watch in every sense. Perfect 39 mm size, check; great design, check; interesting dial- side visual interest (visible winding mechanism), check; superlatively hand-finished in-house movement, check; interesting technical details (deadbeat seconds), check.
The only miniscule flaw I noticed from the photo supplied is that the second hand doesn’t align with the railroad track marker. To me that’s essential in a deadbeat seconds; however, I’ll put that down to being a rushed regulation for the photos and hope that it has been corrected when the GPHG jury sits down to examine the nominated watches carefully.
ED: Great catch on that, Ian. And a shocking error for a deadbeat seconds watch. I certainly hope that the final watch’s regulation is better. I wish we’d had a chance to see this one in the metal – I’ll bet it’s stunning.
IS: Petermann Bédat’s Dead Beat Second is my tied winner for Best Men’s watch 2020. Picking two winners is a copout, I know, but I’ll have to examine both the De Bethune DB28XP Starry Sky and Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second side by side to split them.
GG: My top watch among this group is the Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second made by two young Lange watchmaking school alumni with the help of legend Dominique Renaud and featuring a prominently displayed Gafner dead-seconds mechanism on the movement side. The cutaway dial is also very much to my taste; I’ll confess a bit of a bias here as I had an encounter with Gaël Petermann last year in Geneva during which we discussed an earlier design, and to my eye at least this one is leagues better and great in absolute terms.
ED: Everything about this watch is extremely to my liking: independent watchmakers that met at A. Lange & Söhne of all places; a classic case size; a classic dial with enough of a twist to make me curious; and deadbeat seconds. I look forward to watching this young brand grow.
Further reading: Petermann Bédat Seconde Morte: Dead Seconds, Independently (Video)
Quick Facts Petermann Bédat Seconde Morte
Case: 39 x 10.7 mm, pink gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber 171 with swan-neck fine regulation, large variable inertia balance wheel, 36-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, deadbeat seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: CHF 59,800
MG: If it weren’t for the Petermann Bédat watch, this Romain Gauthier would be my winner as I find it intriguing how Gauthier took what was essentially quite a classic watch and made it into a futuristic sports watch. While I am usually a dress-watch kind of guy, I love this so much that I might even prefer it over a gold-encased Insight Micro-Rotor. The watch itself was already a winner for me as I am a sucker for a micro rotor movement, and this Romain Gauthier is an impeccable example.
IS: As with any watch coming from Romain Gauthier’s manufacture, the Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette Manufacture-Only Carbonium® Edition is superlative in every way. Practical automatic winding from a gold micro rotor visible dial side, comfortable on the wrist thanks to the lightweight but strong carbon-fiber case, and the blue hour, minute, and second hands offer very legible time telling despite the exceptionally well-finished skeletonized movement competing for attention.
And other brands thinking of entering the GPHG next year might use Romain Gauthier’s comprehensive information text as a template. Far too many brands seem to believe that a couple of boring photos and a brief paragraph patting themselves on the back without providing any substance will do the job.
The only reason that I do not think that this Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is in the running to win here is also its main strength: it looks too distinctive, too contemporary. The Men’s category has historically been won by more traditional-looking watches.
JM: I love Romain Gauthier and have since I first laid eyes on pieces from this boutique brand. With a mixture of classic movement architecture, extremely fine finishing, and avant-garde styling, Romain Gauthier has a special place in my heart. The Insight Micro-Rotor is an awesome piece, and the Carbonium case is an amazing application of a unique material for such a normally traditional leaning aesthetic.
However awesome that Carbonium is, though, I fear that atypical material will put off some of the jury members simply due to a wider perceived value of carbon-based cases. This piece could surprise me and dazzle all the jury members, but based on what has won this category in the past, it feels like this one is just a bit too wild, and therefore maybe limited in wearability, to be crowned the best Men’s watch.
ED: All of the Insight Micro-Rotor models are extremely wearable, even on my small wrist, making them proportionate and comfortable, which is important to me. The use of Carbonium makes the case even lighter and more visually interesting, too. A beautiful specimen!
This variation of Romain Gauthier’s Insight Micro Rotor Squelette is my runner up in this category. I am in love with its visuals. But like my colleagues, I think the jury will go for something more classic, regardless of how deserving this amazing timepiece is.
GG: My second-place pick is the Romain Gauthier Carbonium® Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette. The Micro-Rotor has been in the Gauthier line for a few years now, but this one is an almost complete re-invention of the reference with its extensive skeletonization and over-the-top hand finishing. A couple of impressive numbers: 350 hours per watch of hand finishing and 156 interior angles! Using tough-to-work titanium for the movement components and casing it all in carbon fiber makes this piece even more notable for me.
Quick Facts Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette
Case: 42 x 12.9 mm, Carbonium
Movement: automatic Insight Micro Rotor caliber with micro rotor, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, 80-hour power reserve; highest level of haute horlogerie finishing
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: CHF 155,000 excluding taxes
IS: If you have read this before I apologize because I feel as though I write the same thing every year: Kari Voutilainen has never made a watch that I don’t just love but lust after, and the 28SC is no exception. If anything its pure simplicity of central hour, minute, and second hands (small seconds have been the norm for Voutilainen until now) over the immaculately guilloche blue dial make the 28SC even more drool-worthy.
IS: And then there’s the sensationally hand-finished manufacture movement with its innovative double escape wheel regulator. Be still, my beating heart! I’ve lost count how often Voutilainen has won prizes in multiple categories at the GPHG over the years, but it has been often enough that the committee should consider setting aside a special category for him to give other brands more of a chance.
There are a lot of great watches that I appreciate, a few that I love, and a small handful that I would, if I had the money, buy for myself. The Voutilainen 28SC is one of the latter. However, all that said, while the 28SC is in my top three watches here, this year my heart belongs to another (two).
GG: How can it be that a Kari Voutilainen piece isn’t at the top? I’d say that, well, he can’t win every year, but that wouldn’t be fair to the rules of the game requiring us to consider each watch on its individual merits. I’m a big fan of both the Vingt-8 and central-seconds watches, but adding a big seconds display to the tried-and-true Vingt-8 wasn’t quite enough for me to boost this one to the top of my list against very strong competition this year.
ED: You took the words right out of my mouth, Gary. The field here is unbelievably strong, and I too feel that jiggering the seconds display just isn’t enough to merit yet another win for this incredible watchmaker – no matter how much I love his work and this clean dial.
In fact, though, there is only one watchmaker in this field that hasn’t won a prize at the GPHG before – the newcomer, Petermann Bédat. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.
MG: I am almost a bit embarrassed to say, but I find this Voutilainen a bit boring. Strange, because this is normally a word that I would never associate with this brand. While the dial is nicely done, I am slightly turned off by the blued details on the hands and find the guilloche too modest to really shine. To me, this watch would benefit from a more outgoing dial design, which Voutilainen, fortunately, makes as the rest of the watch leaves very little to complain about.
JM: The very first thing I have to say about the 28SC is that Voutilainen won this category last year with the brand’s first inverse movement watch, so while every one of Voutilainen’s pieces in incredible, I’m going to guess right off the bat that the jury may pass on this model simply to give someone else a chance. I would put this watch as comparable in versatility and awesomeness to the Laurent Ferrier, especially with its broad appeal.
I know that this is the first center seconds used on a Vingt-8 caliber and that might pick up some votes, but overall I’m not sure if Voutilainen will go back to back in the Men’s category if simply so that the jury doesn’t seem biased. Don’t get me wrong, I love this watch, but there are a lot of fantastic pieces that are fairly comparable this year so Voutilainen may just have to make way for someone else to enjoy the spotlight as the best Men’s watch for 2020.
Quick Facts Voutilainen 28SC
Case: 38.5 x 13.3 mm, titanium
Dial: guilloche silver dial with applied gold in-house hour numerals
Movement: manual winding Caliber Vingt-8 with extra-large balance and dual escape wheels, 65-hour power reserve, 2.5 Hz/18,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: 74,000 Swiss francs
For more information on all these nominated watches in the Men’s category, please visit www.gphg.org/horlogerie/en/gphg-2020/nominated-watches#2020_HOMME.
Elizabeth: De Bethune DB28XP Starry Sky
Ian: tie between De Bethune DB28XP Starry Sky and Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second (tie)
Gary: Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second
Martin: Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second
Joshua: Laurent Ferrier Classic Origin Green