Our Predictions In The Mechanical Exception Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Exceptional Circumstances Split Down The Middle
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 Mechanical Exception category features men’s or ladies’ watches with a special mechanism such as an innovative or sophisticated display, an automaton, a belt-driven movement, a striking or other acoustic function, or any other original and/or exceptional horological concept.
GG: What an intriguing set of finalists in the Mechanical Exception category this year! Everything from a tumbling triple-axis tourbillon to an electronically controlled hybrid timepiece to a paper-thin mechanical watch, and even more. I had great fun considering these pieces and only wish I could be in the jury room in November when that group has the chance to handle and vote on them.
ED: I think we can all agree that every watch here fits the category – perhaps because of its far-reaching vagueness – and each one is more than worthy of being considered as the winner. As in past years, I expect some watches from this category to be considered for the Aiguille d’Or.
IS: It’s worth noting that the GPHG Mechanical Exception category rules state, “. . . or any other original and/or exceptional horological concept. The category isn’t focused on “mechanical exception,” but “mechanical exceptional horology.” Exceptional mechanical horology.
And I couldn’t help but note the relatively large average case sizes in these nominated watches: apart from one with a 41 mm case, the rest were 44 mm and above.
JM: The mechanical exception category is always a blast because no matter what, each watch is fantastic on a level that is hard to reach for many. This year we see a broad range of pieces that demonstrate this yet are different enough to recognize that creativity is not dead in watchmaking.
The variations span so many styles and methods that just considering each one could convince you that they all deserve to win and be recognized. Sadly, that can’t happen, so no matter who wins it will be sad that the others did not. Still, one does stand out in my mind just slightly above the rest, so it is a bit easier to make my choice.
MG: I find very difficult to judge this category, as all the watches here are so extremely different from one another. Plain fun, increased precision, breaking boundaries? It’s all here. How do you weigh all these factors? Perhaps more than all the other categories, I believe that this will down to personal preference.
ED: Picking between them is an absolute chore, Martin, correct. And you may have a point with the personal preference.
Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance
ED: Here is a candidate for the Aiguille d’Or if I ever saw one.
JM: Any Armin Strom Resonance watch is a spectacle of engineering and rethinking of long-abandoned ahead-of-their time ideas. Just the resonance mechanism makes this watch something very special but combining it with a minute repeater is a boss move.
JM: It is hard to argue against this watch on anything other than aesthetic, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea as it isn’t very traditional or classic in its implementation. But beyond subjective considerations, this watch is extremely deserving of recognition of excellence in many categories. However, I think that another watch did something that tops this piece, at least this year. However, again, I am calling this one my runner up because it very well could be just the right fit for the jury’s preferences and end up with the win against my prediction (though I am technically predicting this as well, so I have the bases covered).
ED: Well, I am going out on that limb, Joshua, and declare the Minute Repeater Resonance my winner here. I cannot tell you how impressive I find the resonance system, and combining it with a repeater – with all of the above mentioned visible from the dial side! – is simply mind-blowing to me. It makes sense, the mechanics are extravagant, and they work reliably.
MG: The world’s first and only resonance chiming wristwatch, do I need to say more? To bring this together in a single watch is a momentous achievement. The way that Armin Strom also made it visual, on the dial side, makes this watch even better. I love how the two balance wheels take center stage and the minute repeater gongs have a stage of their own, wrapped around the sapphire crystal dial. The design of this watch is executed so well that whoever designed it should be knighted.
The downside is that these exceptional complications and the way that they each get a space of their own also makes the watch very large. For my wrist, this 47.7 mm size is pocket watch size, and secretly I probably would have also preferred this watch to be just that. Commercially that wouldn’t make sense, so I think that Armin Strom made the right decision. Nonetheless, it would be hard for me to wear.
IS: Armin Strom has hit a home run here for me with the world’s first minute repeater with dual resonant regulators. But the icing on the cake is as Elizabeth already mentioned the dial-side visibility of all of the principal mechanisms and the superb micro-engineering: three-dimensional gongs chiming in ample volume afforded by the large 47.7 mm case. The Minute Repeater Resonance is no wallflower.
Pros: reliable resonance that brushes off small shocks and is easy to reset; resonance that conserves energy and measurably improves precision more by than 15 percent; resonance you can see on the lower dial where the two balances linked by the Resonance Clutch Spring are in constant animation; and those all-encompassing three-dimensional gongs and polished hammers have plenty of space to shine and chime on full display. The two stars of the show “resonance” and “minute repeater” share equal billing on the big stage. And it’s encased in titanium to optimize round waves resonating through the case.
Con: I wish it was smaller. The size of Minute Repeater Resonance means that it will only fit those with large wrists.
I’ve handled the watch and heard it chime, and I liked what I heard. The pros far outweigh the cons for me, and the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance in my pick as the winner of the 2020 GPHG Mechanical Exception category.
GG: The Armin Strom looks to be a well-made piece, and I very much like the idea of placing both the twin escapements and the repeater hammers and gongs on the dial side where the wearer can get a clear look at all times. That said, I’m not quite sure why the particular combination of complications (if we count the escapement as a complication) makes total sense, despite the brand’s claim that it is complementing the aural resonance of the chimes with the mechanical resonance of the timekeeping organs. Finally, while the chiming of the repeater was partially drowned out by the music track of the submitted video, what I could hear didn’t sound that compelling and I hope that the final watch submitted for judging will come through on that front.
Quick Facts Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance
Case: 47.7 x 16.1 mm, titanium
Movement: manual winding Caliber ARR18 with two symmetrically mirrored regulators resonating at 25,200 vph, 408 components, 96-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; minute repeater
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: starting at 380,000 Swiss francs (may be customized)
Bovet 1822 Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter 2
GG: I’ve seen the Bovet Brainstorm Chapter 2 in person, and it’s a lovely watch; and it’s tough to argue with the difficulty of making that sloped sapphire crystal case or the design chops required for a movement whose thickness tapers from top to bottom to match the case profile. I think it stands up quite well against the competition here, but its combination of traditional complications didn’t quite push it to my top spot.
MG: This Bovet has me a bit on the fence: while the movement and complications are so enticing, I would have preferred to see them housed in a precious metal case. The sapphire crystal case that Bovet has used here gives me the feeling that it is trying to be something that it is not. To me, it also takes away from other details such as the blue quartz dial. That being said, this case does allow us to enjoy the exceptional finish from all angles, even those that are generally not seen.
ED: I do believe that was the point of using a sapphire crystal case, Martin. I for one am very appreciative of being able to see the entire movement and its deluxe finishing here. I also love the blue elements, which make it much more of a winning combination for me than the Brainstorm Chapter One, even thought that too is excellent.
JM: The Brainstorm Chapter 2 is a watch that in any other category would sweep the competition under the rug, but in this category has tough competition from a rather diverse cast. The sapphire crystal writing slope case combined with the awesome movement help this watch catch anyone’s eye, as well does the blue quartz dome for the time dial. It all is visually stunning.
The biggest downside is the extremely limited production and the price, keeping it permanently out of reach for most of the population and likely the jury as well. But like other pieces, there really isn’t anything to dramatically discount the watch, so again we fall back on personal preference. This is where I think the Brainstorm will struggle for some as it is very bold, and this always puts off a few people. I don’t think it’s going to garner enough support to make it to the top spot this year, even if a lot of people enjoy it in the process.
IS: The Bovet 1822 Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter 2 is exceptional in many ways, from its spectacular sloping, ephemeral, sapphire crystal case through to the three-dimensional globe indications, open dial, and movement. At close to 48 mm in diameter, it’s another very large watch, but those colorful dials attract all the attention as they appear to be floating in space.
In my opinion, the Brainstorm Chapter 2 is one of the best-looking watches here and I would not be at all surprised if it was a favorite for many.
Quick Facts Bovet Fleurier Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter Two
Case: 47.8 x 15.5 mm, sapphire crystal and titanium
Movement: manual-winding Caliber 17DM06-DT with 60-second tourbillon, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, 5-day power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; moon phase, world time/second time zone, power reserve
Limitation: 60 movements, available with blue quartz, green quartz, or blue aventurine dials, bespoke options available
Remark: 5-year warranty
Price: CHF 355,000
Jacob & Co Bugatti Chiron
GG: Don’t hate me, but I liked the Jacob & Co Bugatti Chiron a lot! Yes, I know that in this year’s competition I have already dismissed one so-called automaton as a “thingy,” but for some reason when I saw the tiny pistons in the “engine” of this piece oscillating up and down in the video I had to smile and then hit the replay button – four or five times.
ED: It is an enjoyable piece to watch at work, Gary! Martin and I saw it during Geneva Watch Days and I must say that we were transfixed. It also wasn’t as unwearable as I had been imagining considering the massive sizing.
JM: I don’t think this piece is going to win because it is so incredibly complicated, large, and arguably needless no matter how darn cool it is. Jacob & Co has built a W16 engine out of sapphire crystal and steel, and it is mechanical madness in all the right ways. The watch is also absolutely massive, not particularly easy to read, and very expensive, yet there will be more than 12 times as many of these watches as the Armin Strom, which is a dizzying fact to consider given it’s very, very niche appeal.
But I love this watch not really as a watch, but as an automaton, and adore the creativity that went into the engineering. Still, it’s like many other Jacob & Co watches: very intriguing, complicated, and enough wow factor to make an entire restaurant stop and stare.
IS: Is it too wild? At first I’d ruled out the “working” Bugatti 16-cylinder engine in the Jacob & Co Bugatti Chiron for high marks because, while certainly exceptional, I didn’t consider the miniature 16-cylinder motor to be horology. But I then realized that it’s an automaton and that’s nearly pure horology for me. At 55 x 44 mm and 20 mm high, even with copious sapphire crystal panels visually lightening the case up, it’s a massive watch. But it’s supposed to be monumental and it surely is. And suspending the movement from the case with shock absorbers as in a car is a nice touch. While not my pick as the winner here, I feel that the Jacob & Co Bugatti Chiron is a very strong contender.
MG: Without a doubt, this Jacob & Co is the most fun watch that I have seen so far this year. Engaging the engine and seeing it “run” is mesmerizing and addictive. You want to let it run all the time, showing it to other people so that they can share your excitement. You even forgive that it is not the prettiest watch (while the case is made very well, it reminded me of the glass box the dwarfs put Snow White in). As this watch is a tribute to the Bugatti Chiron, I wonder if it will also be bought by people who don’t have such a car in their garage. I guess the price tag already answers that question.
Quick Facts Jacob & Co Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon
Case: 54 x 44 mm, blackened titanium
Movement: manually wound Caliber JCAM37 with 30-degree inclined one-minute flying tourbillon, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve indication, engine piston and crankshaft automaton (on demand)
Limitation: 20 pieces
MB&F Legacy Machine Thunderdome
MG: The Legacy Machine Thunderdome is my favorite MB&F of all time, not only because of its cool name and stunning design but also because it features the world’s fastest triple-axis tourbillon. Eric Coudray keeps improving this concept, and it keeps getting better and better. Rarely is a watch such a technical and design feat in one, but this one pulls it off. Most impressive is that to achieve this, MB&F just had to stay itself. This is a watch that would have easily won the category in my book if it wasn’t for that watch entered that is thinner than the strap on this one.
JM: What a gorgeous watch; everything about this piece makes me want to stare at it all day. Legacy Machines usually have that effect on me. This piece’s sister watch, the FlyingT, won the Ladies Complication category in 2019, and I think it will have a strong following this year.
But I also worry it is a bit too restrained in the context of all the other pieces, which might make it not push hard enough to be seen amongst its peers. The juries are often conservative themselves, so it still could have a great showing. But I’m unsure it can take the top spot on aesthetics alone, and I think mechanically it also plays it safe, at least relative to everything else here. I would guess this watch would be my third place and predict it would win only if my other two picks did not.
IS: What I love about the MB&F Legacy Machine Thunderdome is it does one thing, and one thing only, and does that exceptionally well: highlight exceptional mechanical horology. And mechanical horology doesn’t get much more exceptional than the world’s fastest triple-axis regulator featuring a cylindrical spring and Potter escapement. But it’s the way that Legacy Machine Thunderdome highlights the regulator that keeps MB&F head and shoulders above the competition: the fast-rotation multiple tourbillons and cylindrical balance spring are suspended high above the dial by an elegant polished double-arc bridge.
It’s spectacular. And those multiple tourbillons and spring are constantly moving in all directions with virtually nothing but an invisible force field like a sapphire crystal dome between the admirer and admired. It’s poetic.
I think that even in this category for the “exceptional” Legacy Machine Thunderdome will be a bit too unconventional (with the new jury installed, that will be interesting to see). I can easily see it as winning this category, but it’s my bronze medal pick for its sheer horological purity.
GG: I wanted to place the MB&F Thunderdome at the top of my list, really, I did. After all, it combines the talents of two of the greats: Eric Coudray and Kari Voutilainen. And from a mechanical perspective it’s a powerhouse (and this is the Mechanical Exception category, after all) with its combination of a triple-axis tourbillon whose slowest period is 20 seconds, supported by the use of the rare Potter escapement.
But having handled this watch in person, I just didn’t have the emotional attachment to it that so many of the MB&F pieces elicit – when it was first unveiled on the tray there wasn’t that moment of sucking in the breath and shaking the head that accompanied the Legacy Machine Perpetual or the FlyingT, for instance. This is a great watch, but its appeal lives and dies by the tumbling of that tourbillon amidst a considerable reach of empty space, and that just wasn’t enough for me to nudge it to the top.
ED: My heart actually skipped a beat when I saw it, Gary. What an absolutely fascinating piece of mechanical art. Unfortunately, I do not think it will take the crown here.
Quick Facts MB&F LM Thunderdome
Case: 44 x 22.2 mm, platinum or tantalum
Movement: manually wound Thunderdome caliber with TriAx triple-axis tourbillon revolving at 8, 12 and 20 seconds; triple spring barrels, 45-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 413 components
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve
Limitation: 33 pieces in platinum with light blue guilloche dial; 10 pieces in tantalum for The Hour Glass, 5 with aventurine dial and 5 with dark blue guilloche dial
Price: CHF 270,000
Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept
GG: For my top piece in this group, I’m going with the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept. I don’t know that I’d buy it, and if I did I certainly wouldn’t strap it very tightly onto my wrist for fear of bending it, but it is a remarkable feat of watchmaking – and from live photos posted online by some of my friends, it looks quite pleasing as well, although a bit of a trim in diameter from 41 mm to, say, 39 mm might have helped it sit more nicely.
MG: As a profound lover of ultra-thin watches the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is my horological El Dorado. Just like Piaget’s Caliber 9P back in the day, this is a watch that doesn’t seem possible, yet it is.
I still remember vividly handling the prototype a few years ago in Geneva. It was almost like staring at a photograph as it all seemed so flat. The brain has trouble processing that this watch can actually function. To me, this blows all the other watches, as great and impressive as they are, out of the water, making the Altiplano Ultimate Concept the only rightful winner of this category.
ED: As ingenious as I find this watch, and we all know Piaget’s been going after this record for probably the last decade if not longer, I am naming it my runner up. The mechanics of the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance are just astounding to me, and the decade that that brand’s engineers spent working on the resonance system is no less awe-inspiring.
IS: The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept is another watch I can easily and deservedly see winning this category. A mechanical watch with a 40-hour power reserve coming in at only 2 mm in height. And that’s not just the movement making it the most wearable watch here: its 41 mm case is only 2 mm thick. That’s mind blowing. The Bulgari Octo Finissimo is extremely svelte at 5.15 mm in height; the Ultimate Concept is less than half that!
Five patents highlight the technical prowess in making a wristwatch movement and case that thin. The movement main plate, case, and bezel are all a single component crafted from an ultra-resistant cobalt alloy offering optimal strength and rigidity. And it’s a production watch! While not my pick for winner, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept is my number two pick.
JM: To me, this watch represents a bit of a pinnacle that highlights pursuits going beyond normal exceptionalism. This is the thinnest mechanical watch on the market, and likely the thinnest reliable watch ever produced (because of a reportedly unreliable watch that just barely beats this one and has very little record of results).
It also represents a load of hard work: when it debuted at SIHH 2019, it was so delicate that nobody was allowed to even handle it. And now it is a production watch ready for general wear. This is a world record and mechanical achievement that I don’t know is rivaled in this category this year. I could be projecting a bit too much on the jury, but I feel fairly strongly that it will also agree that Piaget is deserving of the win for a fabulous achievement.
ED: If it doesn’t get nudged up to the Aiguille d’Or, that is, Joshua.
Quick Facts Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept
Case: 41 x 2 mm, cobalt alloy, sapphire crystal 0.2 mm in height, flat telescopic crown
Movement: ultra-thin manual-wind Caliber 900P-UC, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, 40-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 3 per year, by special order only, only available through Piaget boutiques
Price: 410,000 Swiss francs
Ressence Type 2A
GG: I have to admire Ressence for stating in its write-up on the Type 2A that it doesn’t really fit within any of the GPHG categories. And whether it does or not, I think that the combination of conventional timekeeping with a plug-and-play electronic module that both stops the movement when the watch is taken off, and resets and restarts it when the watch is put on again, is absolutely mechanically exceptional. As the power reserve is maintained when the watch is not being worn, and the watch winds automatically when on the wrist, it never runs down; and the electronic module ensures that it always displays the correct time. Ressence states that its core goal is to, “improve mechanical watches from a functional and user experience point of view,” and I think that the Type 2A is a great example of delivering on a stated mission and an entirely worthy finalist in this category.
IS: Let there be no misunderstanding: by any metric, the Ressence Type 2A is exceptional mechanical horology. And the blending of high-functionality digital with the fully mechanical offers (for a hefty price) the very best of both worlds.
Mechanically, the Type 2A indicates multiple times zones, which is very useful for frequent flyers (remember those days?). But it’s the automated setting and adjusting via the smart e-Crown that is the real star of the show here. And while it is based on exceptional mechanical horology, the main highlight of the Ressence Type 2A is its clever practical electronics, not exceptional mechanical horology. It’s not a contender for the top spot here but I love it. I want one! And the Type 2A is my pick for the Innovation prize.
MG: While a Ressence never disappoints, I don’t think the e-Crown adds something for me. While for some clients it might be just what they have been dreaming of, I always loved the fact that the Ressence was such a futuristic creation, yet still fully analog. Call me old school, but I also still think that this is the brand’s strength.
That being said, developing technology like this can prove to be essential for a brand like Ressence as it might very well tempt Millennials to make the jump into the mechanical universe without completely surrendering all the functions they have grown so accustomed to.
ED: At 48,000 Swiss francs, that might be a stretch unless they already work on Wall Street! But nothing says that Ressence can’t pare down the tech in the future to make it more affordable. Either way, I love the ingenuity of this piece to the bottom of my heart and think it might be very suited to winning the jury-awarded Innovation or Audacity Prize this year.
There is also a new discretionary jury-given award called the Smartwatch Prize. I wonder if it would qualify for that (and I seriously hope not). It deserves recognition for these innovative accomplishments, but perhaps not that.
JM: This watch is incredible for what it has been engineered to do and such an awesome evolution of the original Ressence concept. I am so happy for Benoît Mintiens to have accomplished such a cool machine.
But sadly, I think timing once again is not in Ressence’s favor. Going up against such incredible creations puts Ressence between a rock and a hard place. Since it is an electromechanical watch with Bluetooth that is mostly mechanical, and it looks very out of this world, I worry the jury may discount it when it shouldn’t.
After spending time with the first pre-production examples of this watch I agree it is a mechanical exception and requires a bit of handling and possibly instruction to fully grasp the breadth. And given the situation we are in, and how tough judging already will be, I think the Ressence Type 2A could get lost since it looks visually less mechanically impressive as others. Competition is a fickle mistress.
Quick Facts Ressence Type 2A
Case: 45 x 12 mm, blackened titanium
Movement: automatic ETA base with automated eCrown system and patented ROCS, 36-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, patented smart crown
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; mode selector, dual time zones, world time, e-Crown functions
Price: 48,000 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance
Ian: Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance
Joshua: Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept
Gary: Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept
Martin: Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept