Our Predictions In The Chronometry Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panel Is United, But Not Unanimous
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
In the Chronometry category, we find mechanical watches that contain at least one tourbillon, and/or a special escapement, and/or another development improving precision timekeeping. Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.
GG: Show me the data! During my term as a GPHG juror, I paid close attention to the Chronometry competitors whose makers provided hard data in the form of timing sheets and tended to place a bit of a discount on those who did not.
In the absence of knowing whether the finalists in this category actually keep time or not, we are left to assess the creativity and novelty of the mechanisms used in the service of improved timekeeping, along with the quality of construction and coherence of the visual presentation.
IS: The first thing to remember about the GPHG Chronometry category is that isn’t really about chronometry, just as the complication categories aren’t about complications. If it was about chronometry, it would be a timing competition and the most precise watch would win. Easy.
The Chronometry category is simply about choosing the “best” watch from the nominated watches by whichever metric you wish, apart from precision! To merit a place here, all a watch requires is any one (or more) of the following:
1. tourbillon (it doesn’t actually have to improve precision).
2. a special escapement (it doesn’t actually have to improve precision).
3. a mechanism that purports to improve precision (it doesn’t actually have to improve precision).
I’m ashamed to admit that it has taken me years of taking part in our judging panels/guessing games to understand that the category titles and the rules bear only the vaguest resemblance to what we are actually judging. The title and rules are only there to offer some guidance as to which watches qualify in the categories. After that it’s basically a “beauty contest’ using whatever definition of beauty you wish.
My preference would be to have one more rule for qualifying in this category, a chronometry certificate like COSC or other official timing organization.
MG: This is the only category that could be judged by facts as Chronometry is, in essence, about being as precise as possible. In this matter, I have always felt that this category’s winner should be determined by a timekeeping competition as observatories used to do. Otherwise, what are you judging? Are you looking for the best-looking watch that is perhaps more precise than average, or judging the device’s potential in regard to improved chronometric performance?
JM: Ugh, the Chronometry category, the bane of my judging because all of the watches are awesome, yet none of these watches have any chronometric data to support the claims of improved precision from the special mechanisms developed. I understand that this isn’t just a battle of the numbers, but the success of an attempt at improved chronometry and mechanical consistency would definitely be helpful for differentiation and comparison. I already know I feel like there is a tie, but I could argue on behalf of all of these watches.
Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force Stainless Steel
IS: In light of the three criteria for entry I laid out in my introduction comments, at first glance you would be forgiven for wondering how, with only hours, minutes, seconds, and a power reserve, no tourbillon and no special escapement, the Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force qualified in this category, let alone be nominated in the top six watches.
I’d like to tip my hat to my fellow GPHG Academy members for recognizing the fact that, at 16,900 Swiss francs, the Gravity Equal Force uses the same mechanism to maximize constant force from the barrel as another watch here costing more than ten times as much (though that one has other tricks up its sleeve).
Imagine driving a car in which the power of the engine didn’t just depend on how far down you pushed the accelerator, but had more power when the fuel tank was full and could barely get out of the driveway when near empty. That’s what a normal watch movement has to cope with from the mainspring. It’s a testament to the ingenuity of watchmakers over the centuries that run-of-the-mill mechanical watches are as good as they are.
To go beyond the long-term precision offered by a standard watch movement, watchmakers have come up with complex (and expensive) solutions in the quest for more constant force to the escapement, ranging from fusée-and-chain power transmission from the mainspring barrel to remontoir d’égalité mechanisms in the escapement itself.
Armin Strom thought that instead of using a very complex (and pricy) mechanism to provide more constant force to the escapement, why not “simply” take power from the mainspring, where it has the flattest torque curve, using a relatively simple Geneva cross mechanism and continually power it with an efficient automatic system, ensuring that when worn the mainspring is nearly always at optimum torque. That eliminates the large peak and trough in the torque curve when the mainspring is fully wound and near empty. A relatively reasonable price toward the grail of constant force.
And you can watch most of the action dial side, as the micro rotor and mainspring barrel are both highly visible. And at 41 mm it’s very wearable. I like it very much.
ED: Armin Strom is one of those brands who is always thinking about how to improve things. And this mechanism results from that type of thinking. It is clever, affordable in the larger sense of haute horlogerie, and very wearable. And it is unbelievably attractive. A daily wearer grail for sure and my runner up in this category.
MG: I am a sucker for brands that come with original solutions. I feel that the way that Armin Strom goes about increasing the precision of a watch might have created the ultimate watch nerd watch. You have to be really into watchmaking to understand this creation. Combine that with a strong, visual execution and you have my runner up in this category too.
ED: I do think, though, Martin, that even if you did not understand – or care about – this watch’s technical creativity, you might still really enjoy the way it looks and wears. And do not forget that it is fully customizable using the Armin Strom Configurator!
JM: The Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force is a really cool implementation of a constant force mechanism inside an automatic mainspring barrel that has revisited the motor barrel design of older pocket watch movements. It really was a fundamental rethink of just what mechanisms we take for granted when a new movement is designed. Many old designs were only abandoned because the manufacturing precision wasn’t there or material science hadn’t caught up yet.
Armin Strom revisiting old concepts and developing them with modern tools is an idea near and dear to my heart. I don’t know if the jury will see enough value in it to award it top prize, as the majority of the innovation is internal and not obvious. Good descriptions could help, but I don’t see this piece breaking the top three.
GG: Armin Strom’s Gravity Equal Force is the latest in this brand’s stream of innovative watches and features a stop-works mechanism that the makers cite as delivering “consistent force.” I’ll place it third simply because unlike three of the other watches in this group, it does actually have a second hand!
IS: Great call, Gary! A Chronometry category where more than 80 percent of the entries didn’t have second hands . . . what would old timing competition masters think about that being the future of precision mechanical watches?
Quick Facts Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force
Case: 41 x 12.65 mm, stainless steel
Movement: in-house automatic Caliber ASB19 with micro rotor on dial side and Geneva-drive constant force barrel, 25,200 vph, frequency, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve
Price: CHF 16,900
Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer
GG: The Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer is my second-place pick with its natural escapement and two alternating five-second remontoirs. For me, the aesthetics of the piece, especially on the dial side, are not particularly pleasing to the eye, but I’ll leave that as a matter of personal taste for the individual viewer.
ED: I like the aesthetics of this version of the watch much better than the other variation, which has a full dial that seems somewhat like it’s missing something in the top half due to the small seconds subdial’s placement at 8 o’clock – at least from photos. I have not had the pleasure of seeing this one yet in the metal. (And having seen only four of six of these watches, I’m not sure if it’s a fair fight for me this year.)
MG: Where this watch is an absolute winner in concept and execution, it loses all this in design. The back of the watch is not only beautiful but carefully showcases all that makes this watch so special. To me, this makes the front such a disappointment. The dial is rather plain, but rather than go for full understatement, it has been given somewhat of a “Nataf-treatment” (which I named after Thierry Nataf, once Zenith’s CEO and so extravagant and extroverted that even after more than a decade we still haven’t been able to forget him) with a few wild cutouts. To me, this takes away much of the watch’s potential.
JM: I recently wrote about the Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer and my argument is going to be the same here: the mechanism is incredible, the craftsmanship stunning, and the theory seems pretty solid. But due to the difficulties with testing the rate there is still no data available for just how successful the design is, which frustrates me.
I also believe that the jury will be fine with this fact, especially since all the watches have no chronometric data to share, meaning we are pretty much judging on concept alone. For that reason I am still choosing this piece as my projected winner, I can’t see any of the others sounding or seeming more plausible and impressive as this incredible project by Bernhard Lederer.
IS: Back in August (which seems so long ago already), I had the opportunity to handle the watch that I’m voting to win this category on my first day at Geneva Watch Days. As soon as I turned that watch over, I couldn’t imagine that another in-search-of-precision watch could come close. But then the very next day, I briefly had a chance to see Bernhard Lederer’s Central Impulse Chronometer and thought, “All bets are off.” It was a beauty to behold.
IS: Hours, minutes, and seconds don’t sound like much, but it’s Lederer’s Central Impulse escapement featuring two ten-second constant force mechanisms, all visible through cutouts in the dial (there’s also a full dial version, which I prefer), that gets the heart beating and a smile spreading. And you turn it over and the appreciation amp is turned up to 11: the movement architecture and hand-finishing is simply stunning.
With a 44 mm case, it’s a couple of millimeters larger than it would be in my dreams, but none of that space is wasted and provides a view through the display back like a horological Sistine Chapel ceiling. Lederer has further refined the natural escapement, first conceived by John Harrison back in 1756 and validated by George Daniels.
My time with the Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer was far too brief, and if I had spent more time I might have ranked it even higher. It’s my pick for a very close second place in the Chronometry Category and will win if my number one pick is bumped up to the Aiguille d’Or.
Quick Facts Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer
Case: 44 x 12.2 mm, white gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 9012 with dual gear train with dual 10-second remontoirs and natural escapements, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, 38-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: CHF 138,700
GG: I would have placed the Brivet-Naudot Eccentricity with its free eccentric escapement and quirky-but-classic styling and finishing considerably higher had it actually provided some way of reading the seconds.
Put another way, the maker’s statement that “precision is no longer displayed conspicuously but is discreetly appreciated by its owner” left me a bit unconvinced. I’m a bit of two minds on the fact that it is a unique piece: on one hand it shouldn’t really matter, but on the other I do think that there is merit in constructing a watch that meets the quality and replicability demands of serial production. On the plus side, I have tremendous admiration for the fully handmade nature of this piece, and perhaps I’m the only one who insists that a chronometer display the time with precision.
ED: Not at all, Gary. I am taking this stance as well, taking the Theo Auffret and the MB&F x Moser out of my running for top spot in this category because they do not have second hands – as much as I admire various other characteristics about these three watches.
JM: This is a piece that looks fantastic and is clearly handmade with passion and skill, but the mechanism itself seems less complex than the Bernhard Lederer for example, making me feel like the awesomeness of the Brivet-Naudot could be overlooked. However, the sheer dedication to fabrication can’t be overlooked, and simplicity often attracts the eye because we expect things to be messy and complicated.
The thing I see as possibly its biggest downside is that it is a unique piece, and that could give people pause to reward it with the top prize because without any hard data or evidence that this one wasn’t a fluke, there might be deference given to watches that feel a bit more production level. Still, in the end I’m calling the Eccentricity as my number two pick, though not much hope that it will end up taking the prize regardless of how amazing it is.
IS: I love the Cyril Brivet-Naudot Eccentricity; it joins the small handful of watches that I’d love to own myself. Another relatively simple looking watch displaying hours and minutes in a concentric subdials at 3 o’clock. But there’s no dial, just a large, empty, gorgeously finished main plate forming a background to a conspicuously large, sedately beating 2.5 Hz balance. It’s simply stunning. And that’s nothing compared to the view of the movement through the display back: traditional pocket-watch architecture nirvana! All handmade and hand-finished, no CNC machinery used. And with a 39 mm case it will perfectly fit most wrists.
And seriously, folks, that’s more than enough. But the icing on the cake is Brivet-Naudot’s free eccentric escapement, a refinement of the lubrication-free escapement invented by Louis Richard 200 years ago. Brivet-Naudot’s escapement pallet lever comprises 12 parts by itself, underlining just how intricate this regulator is. On the downside, the Brivet-Naudot Eccentricity is a handmade unique piece, and that’s both its strength and its weakness here. The Eccentricity is my highly commendable number three pick here, but it’s also my pick for the Horological Revelation Prize for new brands.
MG: When it comes to watches, I am very visually focused. This watch most certainly scores points in that matter, front and back, although the latter is my favorite. I feel that the front tries to be a bit too novel, also in the way that it indicates the time. A small, guilloche dial with two blued hands would have made more of an impact for me. Also, stainless steel for the case feels a bit odd, almost an afterthought, as I think that the watch would benefit from a more classic style and a more noble case material.
Quick Facts Brivet-Naudot Eccentricity
Case: 38.8 x 10.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: key-wound caliber, power reserve 40 hours; 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: unique piece
Price: 80,000 Swiss francs
Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RE.2
IS: One of my first thoughts on seeing the Ferdinand Berthoud at Geneva Watch Days in August was how solid it looked and felt. It has presence; with a 44 mm case it couldn’t help but have presence. But there’s nothing obviously visible from the timeless, oven-fired enamel dial to indicate what’s under the hood except for the one-second stepping of the central seconds and the all-enveloping aura of non-expense-spared quality.
Then you turn it over. It’s as beautiful a movement as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. Absolutely stunning traditional pocket watch movement architecture and simply superlatively hand-finished. It’s a work of art. Constant force is provided by a traditional fusée-and-chain assembly, and the torque curve of power to the escapement is refined and fattened even further with a one-second remontoir d’égalité.
The Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RE.2 was love at first sight for me and is my pick as the winner of the this category. Unless it is bumped up to the Aiguille d’Or.
ED: It’s hard to follow your love letter to this watch with any new information, Ian, so suffice it to say that I pick it as my winner in this category for every single one of the same reasons. I think it was the beautiful layout of the movement combined with the superlative finishing that clinched it for me. My breath caught in my throat when I turned the watch over for the first time. And then when Martin put it on his wrist, I saw how well it fit – that was all she wrote: I was lost to the charms of this masterpiece.
GG: On the bases of my introductory remarks regarding hard data and actual chronometry, I’m going to go with the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RE.2 as my winner this year. The combination of a fusée-and-chain mechanism with an ultra-lightweight remontoir mounted coaxially with the balance certainly meets the creativity test. And additional technical features such as the use of a featherweight titanium hand for the jumping seconds should help to ensure that the watch functions as intended.
And while I haven’t handled the watch, it certainly looks to be beautifully executed and to my eye is the prettiest of the Berthoud references to date.
ED: I think that this watch is solidly in the running for the Aiguille d’Or alongside the Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1, and I am just so glad that I do not have to be one of the people to have to pick between them. They should just call a tie this year and be done with it.
JM: I absolutely love Ferdinand Berthoud and if this were any other year it would be hard to bet against the brand. But after seeing the other pieces in the running I’m a bit concerned that people will look at the incredible FB 2RE.2 movement and listen to the technical discussion and decide that the implementation isn’t particularly innovative and creative if it is visually stunning.
The fabulous movement is built around a constant force remontoir d’égalité and a fusée-and-chain mechanism, something that we have seen before in other classically inspired watches. And it may, just may, seem tame and traditional when compared to what some others are doing. For that reason, I am putting this in my third place position for the category.
MG: I feel that the FB 2RE.2 (could this brand please give its beautiful watch a proper name and not one that sounds like R2D2’s cousin?) is living up to Ferdinand Berthoud’s heritage even more than its predecessors by replacing the ubiquitous tourbillon (fortunately, I would almost say) with a one-second remontoir.
The finishing of the movement is out of this world and brings the brand to the highest plane we have in the watch world. The watch is big, but on the wrist it just all comes together. Visually it is a treat, not only because of the stunning enamel dial and movement layout but also because of the case, which now has a more easily digestible round shape. For me the winner in this category.
Further reading: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE: Change Is Round
Quick Facts Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE
Case: 44 x 14.3 mm, white or pink gold
Movement: manufacture Caliber FB-RE.FC, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency with chain-and-fusée and one-second remontoir d’egalite, suspended spring barrel, Maltese cross stopwork system, variable inertia balance, power reserve 50 hours; 1,200 components, including 790 for the chain, 26 bridges German silver, and 10 pillars, officially C.O.S.C. chronometer-certified
Functions: hours, minutes, deadbeat hacking seconds; power reserve indicator on back
Limitation: 10 pieces in each color
Price: 210,000 Swiss francs
H. Moser & Cie x MB&F Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon
IS: The Moser x MB&F Cylindrical Tourbillon is simply stunning. A perfect blend of traditional watchmaking and contemporary design. It’s one of the most spectacular and best-looking watches you could strap on your wrist. And that cylindrical balance spring, pulsating and rotating within a flying tourbillon is a showstopper, regulating the movement under the dial through a conical gear train because while complex to make that offers the most efficient torque.
IS: It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by all of the visual dynamics at play and not appreciate the quality of the horology, but it’s a microcosm of immaculately hand-finished traditional watchmaking. The H. Moser & Cie x MB&F Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon isn’t my pick to win here, but it would be my pick (so far) for the Audacity Prize.
GG: The Moser x MB&F Endeavour is a watch that I was very pleased to review and photograph for Quill & Pad, and it’s a beauty! In this company, though, the cylindrical hairspring tourbillon alone doesn’t stack up for me against some of the more exotic chronometric innovations in this group, and it’s another piece that displays only the hours and minutes.
MG: Collaborations are usually a good thing, and when Moser and MB&F combined forces earlier this year, this was most certainly the case. This collaboration watch nicely showcases the cylindrical tourbillon of MB&F’s Thunderdome, but also seamlessly integrates the DNA of both brands without one overpowering the other.
That is cleverly done, but also brings with it a risk of the brands losing their specialness – and to me that is exactly what happened with this watch. It lacks the full power of the Moser, while it is not an MB&F either. That being said: for those who crave an MB&F with the edge taken off, this is their watch.
ED: While I am an unabashed fan of the MB&F Thunderdome and of H. Moser’s particular color stylings – and I must admit that this Ice Blue is my favorite of the five dial colors originally released – I don’t think this watch stacks up against my top three in this category in the sense of this category. Also, it does not have a second hand, which is a pretty clear must-have to mark “chronometry” (“precision”). Nonetheless, thumbs up on this watch in general – I love it.
JM: To me this is one of the weaker entries in the category, and when we are talking about a collaboration between H. Moser and MB&F and the use of a cylindrical tourbillon, we know that the others must be killers. The Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon is definitely a stunning creation and likely to have a lot of fans on the jury, but it feels mechanically unambitious next to the competitors. The big reveal isn’t much more than a unique spring, leaving large opportunities to improve chronometry on the table. Of course, that wasn’t really the purpose of the piece in the first place, so I don’t know if either brand will be that surprised if they lose in the Chronometry category to someone else who spent years developing a brand-new escapement.
Quick Facts Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon H. Moser x MB&F
Case: 42 x 19.5 mm, stainless steel with high domed sapphire crystal; height without crystal 9.4 mm; crown at 9 o’clock, sapphire crystal on case back
Dial and hands: Ice Blue dial in sunburst-pattern fume; hours and minutes displayed on 40-degree tilted sapphire crystal dial at 6 o’clock; leaf-shaped hour and minute hands with lume
Movement: automatic Caliber HMC 810; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency; one-minute flying tourbillon with cylindrical hairspring; power reserve 72 hours
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: limited series of 15 examples in each of five dial colors (75 total examples)
Price: $79,000/79,000 Swiss francs
Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris
ED: I met Theo back in 2018 as I was one of the judges of the F.P. Journe-FHH Young Talent Competition, and Theo’s watch – the prototype of this one – was one of the winners. And I can say that I am very, very pleased to see how he has matured his concept and finalized his prototype, turning it into a real treat with a genuine concept behind it. With the subscription idea, I can also see that he took some lessons learned from François-Paul Journe to heart. He can be very proud of what he has accomplished thus far as an independent watchmaker. I feel that he has an immense future ahead of him.
ED: However, I also feel that this watch might be a tad misplaced in this category. But what category to put it in? As we discussed in the GPHG 2020 Men’s Complication round table, time only and tourbillons probably are not quite enough there, either.
GG: The Theo Auffret Tourbillon is a watch that I’d love to see in person, and it seems quite nicely done from the images. And I have to give Auffret full credit for offering to perform Besançon chronometer certification upon request to the buyer! As a “simple” tourbillon, however, it lacks the technical chops of some of the other entries, and as with some of the others it lacks a seconds display to allow the owner the pleasure of checking its accuracy against a reference clock at a glance. (UPDATE: we were informed there is a seconds display, which is simply hard to see; it is part of the tourbillon cage -ED)
MG: While I like the approach taken here combining classic with technical, I also wonder whether the world needs another watch with a tourbillon? In this case, I feel that Auffret’s inaugural watch has enough going for it to answer this question with a yes. The design is thought through and has enough subtle details to allow me to develop a soft spot for this particular creation.
JM: This watch is a bit of a conundrum because it is the only one that didn’t try to create much of any newly designed mechanism (it is a fairly straightforward movement) but it also is the only one that will send your movement to get chronometer certified upon request. This means that, so far, this is the closest we are gonna get to chronometric data – at least until other watches are able to get theirs tested. The bonus about Theo Auffret is that the Tourbillon à Paris is highly customizable for each owner, so while being the closest we are getting to hard data for right now, it also can be unique to whomever buys one.
IS: It’s telling that both the new young brands in this category, Brivet-Naudot and Theo Auffret, have presented watches in 38-38.5 mm diameter cases without full dials to highlight beautifully handmade and -finished movement components. A few nominated watches in the Men’s Complication category seemed to be there simply because they had tourbillons, and it appears that the Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris should have been there too.
There’s a “. . . a barrel containing a powerful spring, developed for chronometry . . .” but no further details provided. I think that the Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris is a strong contender for the Horological Revelation Prize but as good as it is, unfortunately it’s outclassed here.
ED: Horological Revelation is the perfect place for this one in the 2020 competition, Ian. As well as the Brivet-Naudot. Fully agree.
Quick Facts Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris
Case: 38.5 x 12 mm, platinum, gold, silver, or steel
Movement: manual winding caliber, 50-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 20 pieces in subscription
Price: 114,000 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE
Ian: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE
Gary: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE
Martin: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE
Joshua: Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer