Our Predictions In The Calendar And Astronomy Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): We See A Good Moon A-Rising
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
Calendar and Astronomy is a two-year-old category meant to emphasize astronomical and/or calendar complications included in men’s watches. These timepieces must include at least one of the following: date, annual calendar, perpetual calendar, equation of time, complex moon phase, or other. Additional indications are admissible.
GG: 2020 was a pretty thin year for entries in this category: there were only seven pieces entered, and even so the Academy managed to pass up the Bovet watch, which I thought had a lot of merit.
ED: Indeed, Gary, the Bovet Virtuoso VII is a generously decorated watch in addition to being very practical and quite legible for a perpetual calendar. I was also surprised to see it voted out of the running.
MG: To me, Calendar and Astronomy is always one of the more fun categories. On one side, it harkens back to classic creations from a time when the moon played a much more important role in people’s lives, on the other a lot of brands still produce significant innovations in this category. This can either be through design, how the various complications are displayed, or increasing precision.
JM: This is one of my favorite categories for the simple fact that this is where we often find some of the coolest moon phase watches. The Calendar and Astronomy category always has a solid mix of watches that mark the longer periods of time that we charted before we could accurately differentiate the hours and minutes. For most of us, out of all complications, Calendar watches are one of the most useful, so it’s always a good showdown as the category is well focused.
Combining the category with astronomy watches is perfect since it acknowledges the intimate relationship with creating mechanisms that track things operating on long intervals and cycles. It’s a specific problem to solve in watchmaking, so I always love seeing how brands develop new ways to share what is essentially very basic information. Based on the entries this year, I am torn on which way I think the jury will go!
MG: What a charming creation in this! I didn’t know how much I appreciated it until I noticed that the only thing that turned me off was the two different text sizes at the top of the dial. While I was unfamiliar with the brand until now, it is surprising to read that it built this complication on an ETA 2824 base. The price strikes me as cheap, making me almost think that the brand aims to use this to gain market share and brand recognition before bumping it up. While the competition is formidable in this category, I do say we have a winner!
JM: This brand has me perplexed as it is the first I have ever heard of it and it appears to be very new based on my research, having a history spanning only 2019 to the present (and the Behrens website states that it was founded in 2012).
ED: I had never heard of this brand before commencing the GPHG voting either, Joshua, and feel somewhat strange about commenting on this watch solely from a couple of renderings.
JM: The Apolar looks like an awesome watch with a very unique presentation of a moon phase and 24-hour indication. The time display is unique as well, though not unheard of. But, and this is a rather large but, how could a watch with this module fitted on a base ETA movement be priced at only 2,500 Swiss francs?
If this is accurate and the watch actually is as nice as the renderings appear (there are no photos of the actual watch unless you go to their website) then this brand is going to be a breakout star! But it is way too unknown for me to not be a little cautious. For that reason alone I don’t know if I will pick this one to win the category (it is going against an ultra-thin perpetual calendar as well, so) but it is on my radar to watch out for. And the Behrens Apolar (watch and brand) is a wild card.
ED: I’m not sure the pricing structure is as mysterious as we’re making it: the brand’s own website states that the company comprises a group of people from Hong Kong, China, and Germany. To my mind, this could translate as components coming from the Far East, which would rapidly bring the pricing down despite what appears to quite clever mechanics.
IS: Costing (just) 2,500 Swiss francs, I can’t help but feel that the Behrens Apolar might have been better entered in the Challenge category for sub-4,000 Swiss franc watches. It is a distinctive, visually interesting watch and very competitively priced, but is unfortunately outgunned and outclassed by much more expensive watches here. For a relatively reasonable price you get a small three-dimensional (partial) globe of the earth near the center of the dial providing a 24-hour world time/day-night indicator, which is orbited by a little three-dimensional moon each lunar cycle.
IS: Then there are small seconds in the center and hours and minutes indicated by disks. That’s a packing a lot in, but the displays are a bit of an illegible mishmash to me.
And I’d like to have a bit more track record behind a brand before nominating it here. I am surprised it’s nominated here. While it perhaps reflects badly on my industry awareness, I’d never heard of Behrens before seeing it here. I’d be interested to know if the Behrens Apolar was really one of the most popular top six watches in the Calendar And Astronomy category polled over many hundreds of GPHG 2020 Academy members (with three on this panel).
ED: Yes, I too find the design incredibly hard to read – legibility is almost zero.
GG: I have to place the Behrens Apolar firmly into the “what were they thinking?” category. It’s another watch among this year’s finalists that it seems no one has seen, and even on the Behrens website its commercial launch date is listed as “early 2021,” making it technically ineligible for this year’s GPHG contest.
As far as the watch itself goes, there’s an earth that rotates about its pole each 24 hours and a moon on a rail that circulates each 28 days, signifying pretty much nothing as the period of revolution of the Moon around the Earth is 27.32 days, throwing the display off by a full day each month and a half. I’m a big fan of unusual astronomic displays, but this one really isn’t doing it for me.
Quick Facts Behrens Apolar
Case: 42 x 12.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824, modified, power reserve 42 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, moon phases, day/night indication
Price: CHF 2,500/$2,780
Chopard L.U.C Perpetual Twin
MG: I have always had a soft spot for this Chopard model as the L.U.C Perpetual Twin is a watch that walks the line between a dress watch and sports watch. While it lacks a moon phase, which would have made it too traditional in my opinion, it does feature an enticing dial thanks to the large date and asymmetrically placed leap year indicator. The micro-rotor equipped caliber L.U.C 96.22-L is a thing of beauty, as are so many of Chopard’s manufacture movements. While I consider this watch the best allrounder and everyday watch from the bunch, that is also why it cannot take home the prize in this category.
JM: Chopard has made some incredible watches under the L.U.C. label and the Perpetual Twin is no exception. This watch represents the most classic, and (likely) widely appealing, watch of the category. And with a top notch chronometer movement sporting a modern, clean perpetual calendar, I feel it will appeal to just about every jury member in some way. I don’t know if it is a standout as it is a restrained, classic watch, but if broad appeal is part of the consideration, this watch could easily sneak in a victory. I am not betting it will take the top spot, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it did either.
IS: In the Chopard L.U.C Perpetual Twin we have one of the very few (perhaps only) COSC-certified chronometers I’ve come across in our discussions so far, even including the Chronometry category. I give Chopard extra points for thinking that an expensive fine watch should be demonstrably accurate.
The L.U.C Perpetual Twin has one flaw for me, though, that I just can’t get past and that’s ignoring the mismatched dial/date wheel: its movement is too small for its case. You can see this clearly by the large distances between the subdials and dial periphery, and at the back with the practically porthole-sized display back.
It looks to me as though the case should/could be 41 mm instead of 43 mm. Which for many would make it a much more wearable watch.
The Chopard L.U.C Perpetual Twin is a beautiful traditional perpetual calendar, but I’m looking for more than that in a winner here.
ED: The L.U.C. Perpetual Chrono – the predecessor to this model – was entered into the Calendar category of the 2016 GPHG (losing out to the sensational MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual). And while this version of it is slightly less complicated, eschewing the chronograph, its layout and looks are nearly identical.
GG: The Chopard L.U.C. Perpetual Twin is very attractive and clearly made with the high quality we have come to associate with the L.U.C. line; but as you pointed out this year’s piece is mainly a change in case metal and dial color from the reference originally introduced in 2016, so it fell down my list. I also wish the dial-side indications were spread out a bit more, as this sort of cross-eyed look for subdials generally suggests a movement too small in diameter for its watch as Ian indicated.
ED: While this year’s version is 2 mm smaller at 43 instead of 45 mm, as was previously noted here that is still a large watch. And although the case metal is different – pink gold instead of white gold – the warmer case tones and a brown dial don’t add as much warmth to the logically laid out design as I’d have hoped. It still feels too clinical to me.
That might sound strange – you’d think I would love such a logical watch that is demonstrably accurate. But it leaves me cold somehow, and the close indications also disturb me as both Ian and Gary pointed out.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C Perpetual Twin
Case: 43 x 11.47 mm, pink gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber L.U.C 96.22-L with twin spring barrels, 65-hour power reserve, officially chronometer certified by C.O.S.C., 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; perpetual calendar with day, large date, month, leap year
Price: $49,800 / 49,800 Swiss francs
IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide
JM: IWC is another classic and restrained watch, similar to Chopard, and the Yacht Club Moon & Tide looks very typical until you look a bit closer. Unlike a usual perpetual calendar Portugieser model, this has a multifunctional dual hemisphere moon phase that also indicates the tidal phases (since they are dependent on the relative position of the sun and moon), as well as the more general high and low tide indication based on a twelve hour subdial. While this watch is much more functional for those on the water (or coasts), it presents an atypical set of complications that could stand out for IWC. I think it is a bit too niche and restrained to excite the jury enough to be the winner however, though I bet it will draw some discussion among the jury members.
IS: At nearly 45 mm, the IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide is large, but Portugiesers are supposed to large-diameter watches. The blue dial works beautifully with a red gold case. It’s one of the most beautiful watches I’ve seen. And the tide indications in a watch called Yacht Club are likely to come in much more handy than a chronograph or perpetual calendar. The IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide is my runner up for best Calendar and Astronomy watch.
MG: While the practical use of a tide complication to me is nearly zero, I do find it extremely intriguing. The way that IWC created this complication, with the dual moon phase on top, is something I applaud. It is a concept that potentially could have resulted in a watch with a very high want factor for me. Unfortunately, as much as I like the complication, I am quite turned off by the red gold case. Combined with the blue dial and red details, do they result in something too pompous to my taste. While this could have been such a fantastic tool watch by giving it a stainless steel case, it now gives bragging rights to superyacht owners, who usually employ a captain to worry about something like tides.
ED: Seeing this watch immediately takes me back to 2010 and the re-launch of the IWC Yacht Club Portugieser (or “Portuguese” as it was still called in English at that time). While IWC did not launch the Moon & Tide model at that time, it did launch a host of other highly complicated models, including two tourbillons, a minute repeater, and a perpetual calendar as well as base hand-wound models and the Yacht Club Chronograph. The Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide is a wonderful, logical extension in this line and I appreciate its complexity and attractiveness very much. The dual moon phase display is stunning.
GG: The IWC Portugieser Moon & Tide surprised me! I was expecting “another” Portugieser, but the complex display of tides, including spring and neap tides at 12 o’clock along with low and high tides at 6, really caught my attention and took me back to the fascination I had (and still have) when I first saw a friend’s Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer made by Heuer with its display of the tides. The complex tide display goes a step further, and as a combination pushes this watch into second place for me – despite that tiny date window at 3.
Further reading: 7 Brand-New IWC Portugieser Watches For 2020
Quick Facts IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide
Case: 44.6 x 14.4 mm, red gold
Movement: Caliber 82835 with Pellaton automatic winding system, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; perpetual moon phase for northern and southern hemispheres, display for spring and neap tide, tide indicator
Price: $34,000 / 35,000 Swiss francs
Parmigiani Fleurier Hijri Perpetual Calendar
GG: My top watch in this category is the Parmigiani Hijri Perpetual Calendar, which is based on Michel Parmigiani’s experience restoring a pocket watch back in the 1990s and his creation of a Hijri table clock in 2011 that was the first continuously operating lunar calendar timepiece. Its design and construction are also consistent with the Arabic tradition, including bridges in the shape of growing and shrinking crescent moons and the Islamic Rub el Hizb symbol as well as the omission of gold elements from the watch. All in all, a coherent presentation based on Mr. Parmigiani’s personal history of restoration and craftmanship.
MG: I like how Michel Parmigiani is always looking for a nice challenge to tackle. However, with this Hijri perpetual calendar, I think he is too modest. To me, it doesn’t highlight how unique it is enough. While usually I appreciate understatement, I feel that in this case, the dial should be a bit more in theme, apart from only its calendar font. I get this feeling even when turning over the watch. While a diameter of a generous 44.6 mm makes the calendar functions easier to read, it also reveals on the back that the base movement has a relatively modest size. I can live with that, but not when the entire ring around it lacks any decoration. To me, this watch deserves to be a piece of art, underscoring its technical excellence.
JM: This is the watch that makes most Westerners or non-Muslims slightly confused as we are so used to the Gregorian calendar that a variable calendar like the Hijri is rare in watchmaking. But no worries as it is generally pretty understated, sporty yet rather versatile in style. It’s a piece that should demonstrate the talent needed to develop an entirely new calendar mechanism all while confirming that Parmigiani does things a little differently than many brands. In the end, I think it suffers from the same handicap as Chopard and IWC, it isn’t particularly bold or out there, being restrained enough to fly under the radar and likely be overlooked for other pieces.
IS: The Parmigiani Fleurier Hijri Perpetual Calendar offers an interesting variation of the perpetual calendar. Rather than displaying the Gregorian calendar days, months, and years that most of us (especially in the West) are used to, it uses the Islamic calendar in which the lunar calendar varies by up to 12 days. This ensures that each month marks a different season. The Hijri Perpetual Calendar is a beautifully designed and executed QP. But even with the interesting Islamic twist, it hasn’t won my heart here.
ED: Nor mine necessarily, Ian. I love the logical layout, the absence of frill, and Parmigiani’s usual attention to detail and technology as well as the cerebral exercise of understanding the Islamic calendar. But like the Chopard it is missing that je ne sais quoi to beat out the Vacheron Constantin and the Sarpaneva entries in this category for me.
Quick Facts Parmigiani Fleurier Hijiri Perpetual Calendar
Case: 44.6 x 14.1 mm, platinum
Movement: automatic Caliber PF001, 48-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; Islamic perpetual calendar, moon phases
Price: 80,000 Swiss francs
Sarpaneva Lunations Harvest Moon
IS: No watchmaker/watch brand on planet earth has developed such a powerful association with the moon phase indication than Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva. He not only owns the moon horologically, but he also (nearly) literally is the moon in that his moon phase displays are often based on his own face. As is the case with Lunations Harvest Moon. Sarpaneva is the Man in the Moon.
Displaying simply hours, minutes, and moon phase also qualifies this watch for the Men’s Watch category, so what’s this astronomical minnow doing swimming with the big fish here? For the answer to that you have to pay attention to the lunar magic Sarpaneva brings: first of all, the moon phase indication is accurate to one day every 14,000 years. That’s not a typo. And that means it’s one of the most accurate moon phase displays in the world. And it’s easy to set the stage of the moon easily and accurately through the crown and the moon cycle scale on the back. And of course, there’s also an app for that. That’s the kind of out-of-the-box innovation I’m looking for in a winner for this category. While we did see a variation of this watch here last year, I’m happy to take this year on its own merits.
What seals the deal for me picking the Sarpaneva Lunations Harvest Moon as winner of this category is that moon phase indication. It’s not a block of Super-LumiNova, it’s a cross section of a large-diameter optic fiber running right down through the movement. You are actually looking down a tiny optically transparent well, at the bottom of which is a rotating disk of RC Tritec Lumicast high-precision, three-dimensional lume composed of Super-LumiNova suspended in ceramic, which offers more brightness than conventional luminous substances. And this disk shines brightly up the optical fiber to what looks like a bright projection of the phase of the moon onto Sarpaneva’s moon face.
The Sarpaneva Lunations Harvest Moon is my pick as the 2020 winner of the Calendar and Astronomy category.
MG: While I have never been a particular fan of Sarpaneva’s case designs, the Lunations Harvest Moon gives me goosebumps. It is not for its design, which is fairly recognizable from previous moon phase models by this independent watchmaker, but because it shows the moon’s phases with such incredible accuracy. Granted, none of us will be around when it needs to be corrected 14,000 years from now, but that is not the point. The point is that something mechanical on your wrist can be that precise, and that is something worth talking about the 14,000 years.
JM: The Sarpaneva Lunations is my favorite piece in this category because it has a stupefyingly precise moon phase that is visually massive and incredibly unique. It was first released (and entered in the GPHG) last year but lost out to the also incredible Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune, which may help it or hurt it this year. I would guess the jury may think it too out there aesthetically even while appreciating the mechanical inventiveness. I want it to win, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it looks too bold to take the prize so I’m calling it my runner up. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did take the crown, but I’m guessing the jury will go for another this year to continue the somewhat conservative streak of the past.
ED: I think that the fact that this watch has already been in the competition might help it – some people may be more familiar with it because of that. Because you do have to really look for the information that Ian has described to understand how amazing and technical it is – or just read Sarpaneva Lunations: The Latest Moonphase Tech That Lasts (Almost) Forever – With Video.
ED: And remember the Singer Reimagined Track 1 chronograph? It lost out to the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Chronor Anniversaire in the chronograph category of the 2017 GPHG, but won that category the following year with a variation on the model, the Track 1 Hong Kong Edition. It does happen, and it’s good that Stepan thought to enter a variation of the Lunations this year.
While I would very much like this watch to win this category due to its incredible ingenuity and the Sarpaneva aesthetics that I like so much, I don’t believe that this jury will reward it, going instead for the Vacheron Constantin, which has turned out to be a crowd favorite in 2020 (and even becoming one of our own top five favorites at the half-year mark). However, I am going to pick it and cross my fingers that this incredible creation gets the recognition it deserves. Its design may not be to everyone’s taste, it is completely to mine.
GG: In my opinion, Stepan Sarpaneva’s Lunations watch was the best watch of 2019 not to win a prize at last year’s GPHG ceremonies. For 2020, we see a new “Harvest Moon” version of Lunations, this time with a moon that looks white in the daytime and glows orange at night, as well as updated skeletonized hands. It’s still one of the coolest watches of the past several years, but not different enough from last year’s piece to gain one of my top votes this time.
Quick Facts Sarpaneva Lunations
Case: 42 x 11 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding in-house Moonment caliber, 60-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; optical fiber moon phase
Price: 35,500 Swiss francs
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
ED: This watch is so incredibly beautiful that it took my breath away when we saw it during Geneva Watch Days at the Vacheron Constantin boutique.
IS: If you distilled all that is best about Vacheron Constantin into one watch, you would get the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton: a classic (perpetual calendar) complication, ultra-thin movement, and meticulously openworked dial and movement architecture so that virtually all of the movement is on display from both the dial side and the back. This is the both the most artistic and the most technical looking of the three “classic” perpetual calendars here, but again I’m looking for more innovation from the winner.
GG: I love the ultra-thin Caliber 1120 movement and its perpetual calendar variations; I love openworking; I love Vacheron Constantin’s tradition of skeletonized watches. And a Vacheron Overseas is one of my most frequent daily wearers. As you might expect, I rate the Vacheron Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton quite highly as a result! I’m really pleased that the brand once again chose to enter the competition in 2020, and while this watch is not my winner, I’d happily wear it anytime.
JM: This is a watch that I think will be the crowd pleaser and take the crown. I may want other watches to win but it is hard for the jury to pass up a perpetual calendar in an 8.1-millimeter thin case from watchmaking royalty like Vacheron Constantin. In collector’s minds Vacheron Constantin can be hit or miss for some releases, but I don’t think this is one. Aside from the skeletonized dial and movement, which is always contentious, I think this watch represents a solid interpretation of an ultra-thin perpetual calendar. I also know that every time I handle these pieces, I am reminded that they are exquisite watches, and I’m sure the jury will probably agree. I think this category could be close in general, but I am predicting this will be the one to win this year.
MG: May I say something terrible? I prefer the Overseas perpetual calendar with a regular dial over this skeletonized version. While beautifully made, I find this one too busy looking; it takes away from the power and elegance that this model has to offer. Especially in combination with the gold bracelet, is it too much of a good thing. Apart from that, this watch a home run with its easy-to-change bracelet, ultra-thin profile, stunning finish, and a strong design that is not overpowering.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
Case: 41.5 x 8.1 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 1120 QPSQ, 19,800 vph/2.75 Hz frequency, 40-hour power reserve, Geneva Seal
Functions: hours, minutes; perpetual calendar with date, weekday, month, leap year and moon phases
Elizabeth: Sarpaneva Lunations Harvest Moon
Ian: Sarpaneva Lunations Harvest Moon
Joshua: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
Gary: Parmigiani Fleurier Hijiri Perpetual Calendar
Martin: Behrens Apolar