Our Predictions In The Jewellery Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panelists Are Split For A Winner (Again)
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’s rules for the Jewellery category state that the watches must demonstrate exceptional mastery of the art of jewelry and gem setting. These timepieces are also distinguished by the choice of stones featured in them.
ED: This is for me the hardest category to judge without handling the watches. As they are all either unique pieces or unbelievably expensive, the jury room is generally the only place I have ever been able to freely inspect these watches – and the experience was invaluable in terms of being able to compare, contrast, and evaluate.
GG: As Ian always says, it’s very tough to judge the entrants in this category without seeing them and feeling how they drape on the wrist; and in any case, I’m no jeweler. That said, here goes!
IS: It is really unfair to be even attempting to judge these pieces without handling them as you don’t appreciate tactility, quality or how the light dances off the gems from the photos. I hope that in this category in particular, the GPHG lends higher emphasis on the jury (who will handle the watches in person) than the GPHG Academy members (who are largely judging from photos only).
ED: The Van Cleef & Arpels Frivole Secrète is not as jeweled as I would like to see in this category, which is why I would rather have seen the HYT Soonow Instant Rainbow with its 668 sapphires, amethysts, and tsavorites in a total of 14 colors (for a cool 4.73 carats) still in the competition. That piece got voted out in the first round.
GG: My top choice among the original entrants this time, Roshan Martin’s stunning Impératrice, didn’t make the cut for the final six – which to me is quite a shame as the design is splendid and the spray of more than ten carats’ of Argyle Pink diamonds is both beautiful and impressive. It does suffer in my judgment from having a quartz movement and being a unique piece, but at least one of these characteristics is true of all of the finalists as well, and this category for me is mostly about gems and aesthetics in any case.
MG: The thing that I like most about this category is that it often proves that watches set with gemstones are a form of art, and not just loud, extroverted creations with a stone setting simply to inflate the price and status of the piece. The competition this year is surprisingly diverse, with both classic and progressive styles – and more than just diamonds to make an impression.
JM: Everyone here knows as much as I do that the jewelry category is where personal preference is often king since aesthetic is two-thirds of how we judge these pieces. Unless the settings are uncreative and the complexity is completely absent, all of these watches present exquisite craftsmanship, top-notch stone selection, and a wide variety of styles to choose from. Even more interestingly, the lines between a jeweled watch and jewelry that happens to contain a watch on it can be blurred (I’m looking at you, Bulgari) add another layer of difficulty to the judging.
Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Intrecciati
ED: Bulgari has won this category in the past, including last year, often with high-jewelry variations of the Serpenti.
This year’s entry is more like a piece of jewelry that tells the time: the bracelet is really several strands of woven sapphire beads. If you’ve ever put a piece like this on your wrist you’ll know that there is not a better feeling like it in the world: the stones feels exciting as they warm up to skin temperature and make a delightful sound as you move your wrist. Wearing a piece like this is pure pleasure.
MG: The power of the Serpenti seems to be everlasting! Once again, Bulgari created an absolutely breathtaking piece. I am especially a sucker for the body made of strings of blue sapphire beads held together by diamond-set pink gold segments. This shows a different side of sapphire and creates motion on the wrist when this watch is worn. With the Serpenti Misteriosi Intrecciati Bulgari shows that even in the era of the brand’s Octo Finissimo, it has not forgotten its Italian jewelry roots.
JM: Every single time there is a Bulgari Serpenti watch (which seems to be almost yearly) I have it as one of my top pieces because each time it is both stunning and elegant. This time is no different with the Serpenti Misteriosi Intrecciati as it sports hundreds of tiny sapphire beads, which allude to the undulating scales of the serpent and the silkiness of touching said creature.
The tiny diamond-studded gold bangles that contain the sapphire bead strands is a nice touch to provide some structure and I thoroughly enjoy that the serpent heads are permanently fixed to each other and the center of the two-headed snake is where the bracelet attaches. The secret watch in the snake’s mouth is fun and I always enjoy the hidden watch features on the jewelry pieces.
As always in this category, I do knock off points for a watch being quartz simply because I know it is possibly in many cases to swap in a mechanical movement, but I will also admit that the purpose of these pieces is rarely to promote high horology as much as high jewelry.
Regardless, Bulgari won this category in 2019 with a jewelry cuff in the Serpenti style so I am going to guess that the award may go elsewhere. I am placing this as my second runner up, and it still might sneak in for the win.
GG: The latest incarnation of Bulgari’s Serpenti is, I’m sure, a piece that will speak to some, but to me the beaded look and Victorian-looking arrays of stones on the snakes’ heads is a bit too oldy-woldy to lend true appeal. For your money I think that several of the finalists bring a more contemporary vibe and uses of gemstones that are more striking.
IS: I love Bulgari’s Serpenti range and have handled enough pieces to feel assured of exceptional quality. And the beaded bracelet is a nice touch. While I think that the Serpenti Misteriosi Intrecciati will be a strong contender here, I feel I’ve seen it before. And while this is a category in which I give quartz movements more leeway than usual, I can’t pretend that quartz is not a factor for me.
Further reading: Bulgari’s Beloved Serpenti: A Brief History
Quick Facts Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Intrecciati
Case: 16.79 x 22.87 x 7.89 mm, pink gold
Gem setting: 23.75 ct: 357 sapphire beads on bracelet (4.23 ct); 346 brilliant-cut diamonds on bracelet (9.15 ct); 17 marquise-cut diamonds on snake heads (4.82 ct); 3 marquise-cut sapphires on snake heads (3.12 ct); 4 pear-cut sapphires on snake heads (1.28 ct); 1 round-cut sapphire on snake head (0.87 ct); 116 pavé-set diamonds on dial (0.28 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 587,000
GG: With the disclaimer that I haven’t handled any of these pieces, my top pick goes to the Chopard Magari. It is one of the watches in the final set with a mechanical movement, and the luxurious selection of stones, including those prominent fancy pink and blue diamonds at 12 and 6 o’clock, won me over. Chopard also stresses its ethical sourcing of materials, another plus for me.
ED: Chopard has rightfully been a frequent winner in this category, Gary, and I expect this piece to be no less the quality item that past entries have been. While these “icy” Chopard pieces sometimes look a bit flat in photos, I find that handling them is a whole different experience and that the gem choices and settings are beyond belief beautiful and have the innate ability to draw you in. I love that this piece offers not just flawless white diamonds in a variety of cuts and setting styles – what versatility! – but also two pops of pear-cut color with the rare fancy blue and pink diamonds you mentioned.
And here’s something new to go along with those amazing diamonds: an automatic movement (though I wish the brand had specified which one)! I think wonders will never cease. The winner in this category for me, hands down.
MG: This must be the perfect watch for a mother-to-be at a gender reveal party. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it ended up being sold to somebody extremely wealthy for just that reason. The setting of the case and bracelet is so sensational that it doesn’t need the added fancy blue and fancy pink diamonds in my opinon. Yes, they are extremely rare, but sometimes it is not about that. I believe that if they were replaced by colorless diamonds of equal size and cut, the impact of this watch would be more profound. That said, Chopard earns generous bonus points for fitting this watch with a mechanical movement and using ethical gold.
JM: Aesthetically this watch is not my style, it feels crowded and ill-considered from a design standpoint. It does feature some rather stunning diamonds – more than 37 carats’ worth – but overall the look seems a bit dated and not in a good way. Perhaps I like layouts that seem more purposeful, but this piece looks like the result of finding as many awesome diamonds as possible and them squishing them together without visual breathing room.
Annoyingly, the Chopard features an automatic movement, which is great, but for a $3.8 million dollar watch this was clearly made to be worn to the Oscars or the Met Gala (it is part of the Red Carpet Collection) and is the most extravagant piece in this category. I don’t think this is enough to save it for me, but perhaps the jury will disagree.
IS: While there’s no mention in the GPHG rules or guidance regarding whether price should be taken into account, even in the world of expensive high-end watches and jewelry, $3.88 million is a very big number.
It’s also worth noting that while the Magari’s GPHG entry description text states that it has a power reserve function, I don’t see one on the dial, and there’s no photo of the back, so I’m wondering if that’s a typo or an optional extra?
But small change from four million dollars does buy you a sensational diamond-set watch, and the Chopard Magari is my pick for winner of this category.
Quick Facts Chopard Magari
Case: 35 x 8.2 mm, ethical white gold
Gem setting: 37.29 ct, including one pear-cut fancy blue diamond (2 ct) and one pear-cut fancy pink diamond (2 ct);
Movement: unspecified automatic caliber, 40-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 3,880,000 Swiss francs
Dior Montres Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles No. 25
GG: I considered the Dior pretty seriously for my top slot (along with the Chopard and the Jacob); from the images it looks as if the bee really pops dimensionally, and the variety of colorful gemstones and complementary materials on the small creature are, to my eye, both energizing and soothing at the same time. And at 36 mm in diameter and just under 11 mm in thickness, it should be quite wearable as well.
ED: It is a beautiful piece and a lovely idea. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things I like less about this watch than the Chopard: one being the non-focus on the timekeeping aspect and subsequently almost being unable to read it. And while the gems were put to very good and creative use here, it’s incredibly hard to compete against what I am very sure are flawlessly chosen and set gems of the size in the Chopard watch.
JM: Thematically I absolutely love this watch, and it definitely is a jeweled watch. Housed in a fairly normal case that is fully diamond paved with a snow setting, the Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles features a three-dimensional bee made of a variety of gemstones that dominates the dial.
A tiny quartz movement displays the hours and minutes on the top of the dial, but that is a secondary concern; the gold, enamel, and diamond and gemstone bee is the star of the show.
As a contender in the jewelry category, it clearly demonstrates excellent craftsmanship and creativity, but I fear that in a category typically awarding “jewelry first” pieces (at least for more than the preceding half decade) this watch may get passed over. I hope it doesn’t because I think it is a wonderful and amusing piece, but it is always hard to predict what the jury will become smitten with. I have it as my first runner up, but fingers crossed that it might be the belle of the ball.
IS: The Dior Montres Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles No. 25 is my runner up because the gem setting looks so intricately done. Upturning the laws of physics, the fully diamond set dial, bezel, and case fade into the background to form a canvas for the colorful bee. Being a unique piece is usually a drawback, but not here. And even the quartz movement isn’t enough to push it from my No.2 slot.
MG: “Waiter, there is a fly in my soup!” This sums up how this watch feels to me. According to Dior, the insect on the dial a bee inspired by those found in Christian Dior’s garden. I have never seen a bee that looks like this, but I have also never been to Mr. Dior’s garden. As a broach or another piece of jewelry I would have enjoyed it as the craftsmanship is stunning, but it simply doesn’t work for me on this watch.
Perhaps it would have benefited from a case with a garden theme to it because the contrast with the snow setting is too harsh in my opinion. I also don’t see a lot of bees during the winter (get it?).
Quick Facts Dior Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles No. 25
Case: 36 x 10.97 mm, white gold
Gem setting: 10.77 ct: white diamonds, pink sapphires, tsavorite garnets, and emeralds
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 270,000 Swiss francs
Jacob & Co Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby
GG: Can we get a little love here for Jacob & Co? If a mid-sized fusion power reactor (20 years ago, I would have said an oil well) suddenly popped up in my back yard, I’d be on the phone the next day to buy the Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby, just for the sheer joy of visiting it at the bank once in a while and watching the back-to-back triple-axis tourbillons tumble around against a field of color-matched rubies.
ED: The gem setting is beyond reproach and the mechanics are of course as interesting as it gets with two triple-axis tourbillons, Gary!
MG: Two parallel triple-axis tourbillons that break through a crust of molten lava represented by blood-red rubies while two diamonds tell the time: can it get any more glorious? This is genuinely complicated mystery watch that shows a nearly perfect marriage of mechanical ingenuity with the art of gem setting. Jacob & Co even goes for a rarely seen hexagonal cut and what is perhaps the best thing about this watch is that all the individual elements hold their ground and do not overpower each other. This watch is what this category is all about and for me the absolute winner.
JM: This is where I come down on the side of sheer audacity of the stone setting, which may just finally win Jacob & Co this category. This watch was featured in this category last year in a different iteration, but it truly does demonstrate the most extensive and impressive display of invisible setting I have seen on pretty much anything. On top of that, the Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby also has two (yes: 2) triple-axis tourbillons rotating on the same cage back to back, which is almost comically awesome and extravagant.
Last year I chose the eventual winner over this watch, but this year I don’t think another can truly compete with the settings and effort to match the stones seen on this piece. I understand what I said about the Dior possibly being overlooked because it is a watch first, but I’m going to break my assessment and say that this jeweled watch is a top candidate to win this year. All you need to do is look at the joints between all those stones, especially on the lugs (seriously, the fitment is crazy flush) to realize that this is one epic jewelry object.
IS: I love watches like the Jacob & Co Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby. It is way too big and way too flamboyant for my tastes, but wow, what entertainment, what a horological spectacle. While we have seen this watch entered before in other sparkling finery, the rubies make an unforgettably powerful statement. Oh, and then there are the two concentric (back to back), central, triple-axis tourbillons. Mind blown!
ED: Again, this Jacob & Co watch is fully unwearable at 50 x 22.75 mm. It’s beautiful beyond reason and fits the category to a tee, but as a timepiece it’s just too difficult to justify; it is more an objet. I think part of the art form needs to include understanding that someone needs to wear this. Above and beyond that, Jacob & Co entered this same watch with diamonds and sapphires in the Jewellery category of the 2019 GPHG, so basically this is “just” a color change.
Quick Facts Jacob & Co Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby
Case: 50 x 22.75 mm, white gold
Gem setting: 41.51 ct: 212 baguette-cut hexagonal rubies (case); 119 hexagonal overlapping rubies (minute disk, more than 10 ct); two white diamonds (hour and minute markers); 143 rubies (hour disk, 8.41 ct)
Movement: manual-winding Caliber JCAM32 with twin triple-axis tourbillons connected by a differential, 60-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes shown by revolving disks
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 1,507,908 Swiss francs
Piaget Limelight Gala High Jewellery Black Opal
ED: This is one of the most interesting jewelry watches to come out this year in my opinion. I love the rainbow style of setting – and the unique idea of setting these substantial marquise-cut gemstones at a slant so that they almost emulate the idea of feathers. It’s playful and unique. The choices of harmonious stone colors, cuts, and then the setting all took 166 hours.
Of course, I am also very partial to that black opal dial made from a rare Australian specimen and reflecting a rainbow of colors – opal dials being a specialty of Piaget as we highlighted in Shrouded In Mystery And Fire: Opals In Jaquet Droz And Piaget Timepieces – Reprise.
However, I am taking away marks for the use of a quartz movement, though I understand why that was done even though the case size would have accommodated. The designers obviously wanted to keep the case from having to have a crown, therefore, like the Dior watch in this same category, the time adjustment is done by stylus.
This watch with what I can only assume is an amazing jewelry-like bracelet comes in a very close second to me. The only thing I do not adore about it is the choice of movement.
MG: I love how Piaget highlights the vibrant colors of the black opal by using different colored gemstones. The brand’s designers opted for a marquise cut, which gives the watch a bit of vintage glamour, yet the almost fragile design of the bracelet makes it also quite a playful creation.
Those complaining about the quartz movement inside – yes, I’m looking at you, Elizabeth – should take another look at Piaget’s history. The brand went into quartz movements for the same reason as it developed the legendary Calibers 9P and 12P: to give their designers more artistic freedom with smaller and thinner movements. Now you also understand why the brand was so unhappy with the Beta 21 and quickly moved on to developing its own quartz movements.
IS: I’m Australian and grew up with opals. I like them, especially black opals, and the dial of the Piaget Limelight Gala High Jewellery Black Opal looks absolutely stunning. But it’s quartz, and I can’t help but feel that the colorful and color-matched sapphires around the bezel and bracelet detract from the opal dial rather than complement or highlight it. That may just be the photos, but unfortunately that’s all I’ve got to work from.
JM: What can I say about this Limelight Gala that I haven’t said about other iterations in the past? It’s a great watch with cool design and fantastic stone selection, especially the black opal dial, but it just doesn’t have enough oomph. It’s weird to say but I think this watch is too conservative to go against the other pieces this year. That may be a plus for some jury members but given what has won in the past it still seems like a long shot for what is still one incredible watch.
GG: For me the Piaget is a noble attempt but a near miss, at least from the photos. I like the idea of matching the hues of the black opal dial with a variety of gems, but in practice I suspect that the visual difference between the transparent stones and opaque opal is too great to make for a coherent presentation. Happily, the jury members will get a good look in person to make their own judgments.
Quick Facts Piaget Limelight Gala High Jewellery Black Opal
Case: 37 x 29 x 6.6 mm, white gold
Dial: Australian black opal
Gem setting: 12.88 ct: 86 brilliant-cut sapphires (5.51 ct); 58 marquise-cut yellow and orange sapphires (6.23 ct); 14 marquise-cut rubies (1.41 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 400,000 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Frivole Secrète
MG: With the Frivole Secrète watch Van Cleef & Arpels proves that even the subtle use of gemstones can have quite an enchanting result. I like how the gold and brilliant-cut diamonds play off at each other, with one reflecting light for the other. This watch not only pays homage to a style that was once very popular but has also translated it into a more modern creation. While I have my doubts about everyday wearability, the women who purchase a watch like this probably have some other choices in their safes as well.
ED: The rules of this category state: “. . . the watches must demonstrate exceptional mastery of the art of jewelry and gem setting.” I’m sorry, but I don’t really see how this watch is entered into this particular category – and made it through to the final round with only 1.39 carats’ worth of diamonds on the dial and in the flowers decorating the bangle and the secret watch cover. Especially since Van Cleef & Arpels actually offers this model in a much more diamond-set variation.
No offense to this piece; it’s a lovely secret watch with its high-polished yellow gold flowers. But it doesn’t belong in this category in my opinion.
GG: The Van Cleef & Arpels Frivole Secrète looks like a very pretty piece, and as a “design” watch is quite captivating; I’m sure that the look sitting on the wrist must be quite lovely. I too just think that it’s outgunned by the gem power of many of the other finalists, despite its virtues.
IS: The category is Jewellery, and as pretty as the Van Cleef & Arpels Frivole Secrète is, compared to the competition here it is light on jewelry. But consider that the whole setting is as important as the gem setting, the tiny gold petals just lightly flecked with diamonds puts more focus on the fully diamond-set dial. I don’t think it’s a strong contender here, but the Frivole Secrète works for me. I like it.
JM: Secret watches are always a favorite of the jury since they provide a fun and tactile experience, so that could go a long way for the Frivole Secrète. The biggest thing that I can see hurting this watch is the sheer lack of jewels. Now, I understand that jewelry doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be made almost entirely of stones but based on the competition it could make this watch seem too simple and unadorned. Of course, that could reverse the trend and inspire restraint, making this a perfect way to flaunt your wealth in a more modest way. But that is probably a long shot.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Frivole Secrète
Case: 31 x 12.6 mm, yellow gold
Dial: pavé diamonds
Gem setting: 1.39 ct: 62 round diamonds
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 42,200 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Chopard Magari
Gary: Chopard Magari
Ian: Chopard Magari
Joshua: Jacob & Co Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby
Martin: Jacob & Co Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby