Our Predictions In The Artistic Crafts Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): 6 Watches, 5 Panelists, And 3 Picks For Winner
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
Watches in the Artistic Crafts category demonstrate exceptional mastery of one or several artistic techniques such as enameling, lacquering, engraving, guilloche (engine turning), skeletonizing, and more.
GG: I do love the artistic crafts! Whether it’s enameling, engraving, marquetry, micro-mosaic work, or any of the other methods that today’s masters use to decorate timepieces, I’m constantly fascinated to see the results and deeply appreciative of the watch companies who support these arts and the collectors who patronize them.
This year’s selection of finalists is an interesting mix, and while I would have liked to see Joshua Shapiro’s Infinity Meteorite in among them, I can’t fault the Academy’s selections here overall. For those of you who haven’t seen the Shapiro piece, I recommend a quick search; the idea of executing intricate guilloche on meteorite is pretty audacious (jurors take note) and the execution is top rate.
ED: I too am disappointed that the Shapiro piece didn’t make it through to the final round, Gary. Another of my personal favorites in the running was the RGM Model 25 Yosemite featuring a stone marquetry depiction of Yosemite’s most famous view. But on the whole, I am also pleased with the selection and feel we have enough crafts here to keep us busy!
IS: Talk about comparing apples with oranges, this year sees quite a variety of artistic crafts displayed, including guilloche, skeletonization, sculpture, and miniature painting. They are all superb, but judging Artistic Crafts is not a case of comparing like with like.
JM: In the past, Artistic Crafts has been dominated by a certain Finnish watchmaker who appears to not only be absent from this category’s finalists, but did not even enter a watch for the Artistic Crafts category altogether. Perhaps he wanted to let some other people win and kept his distance out of fair play.
Regardless, there are some very impressive pieces nominated for this category so it will be a challenge for the jury to make a selection out of the variety presented here. I am most eager to see what the rest of my colleagues have to say about this category as we often vary a lot in both the Jewellery and Artistic Crafts picks, and I predict this year will be no different.
MG: We have six watches that display very different artistic crafts, and I dare say that they make for quite a bit of challenging competition for each other.
Andersen Genève Jumping Hours Fortieth Anniversary
MG: To me, Svend Andersen is one of the true grandmasters of watchmaking. With his Fortieth Anniversary watch, he revisits some highlights of his career as ingredients for this creation. We have the blue gold dial, the minute indicator that was also on his Jour et Nuit, and the jumping hour. The case is perfectly proportioned, measuring 38 mm in diameter, yet I still feel that something is missing.
The entire watch is too restrained to be a true Andersen creation. I was hoping for an erotic animation on the back, a second time zone displayed by wandering hours, or one of his other signature complications. Without another element, it does make this watch more accessible in terms of price, but you only celebrate your fortieth anniversary in watchmaking once.
JM: This is a watch that would be perfect in a few other categories but falls short in my eyes for the Artistic Crafts category. The hand guilloche is terrifically impressive with a pattern that looks mind-numbingly tedious to create. And while I drool over it, it only represents one single artistic craft employed for this watch.
Now if that craft was a long-lost craft only known to one or two people in the world, it may be deserving of an award, but guilloche will likely seem a bit common to jurors used to seeing the effect on other watches. Of course, the complexity of the guilloche is not to be trifled with, but since there are only two sentences in the watches description even mentioning the difficulty, it could escape some, or most, of the jury.
ED: One of the other “artistic crafts” recognizable on this watch, Joshua, is the blue gold that is particular to Svend Andersen’s brand. You may just be so used to seeing it in conjunction with his watches that it didn’t register, and for that you may be forgiven. But I still find it so beautiful even after all these years.
GG: Congratulations to Svend Andersen on 40 years as an independent! His latest piece, a variation on his hallmark jumping hours complication, is lovely with its “blue gold” dial, and I particularly appreciate the complex and highly dimensional guilloche work on the movement’s winding rotor.
IS: I love the minimalist simplicity of the Andersen Genève Jumping Hours Fortieth Anniversary and the use of Andersen’s distinctive signature blue gold is a fitting touch. And I’m with Gary on the beautiful three-dimensionality of the guilloche on the rotor. However, I think that the jury will be looking for more flash and sparkle to win this category.
Quick Facts Andersen Genève Jumping Hours Fortieth Anniversary
Case: 38 x 9.22 mm, red gold
Dial: 21-karat blue gold, hand guilloche
Movement: automatic modified Frédéric Piguet Caliber 11.50 with twin spring barrels, power reserve 60 hours, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: jump hours, minutes
Price: CHF 37,800
Bovet 1822 Amadeo Tourbillon Squelette 7 Days
MG: What I always like about Bovet is that it makes watches in a style that seems to be forgotten by many, if not all, other brands. The complex movement, skeletonization, and stunning engraving reach true synergy in this model. The eye for detail is extraordinary and makes this a watch that ticks all the boxes. Perhaps the greatest thing is that Bovet is not making this as a piece unique but in a limited run of 50 pieces. Quite exceptional given the complex nature of this watch.
IS: The Bovet Amadeo Tourbillon Squelette 7 Days is one of the most beautiful examples of hand-skeletonization that I’ve ever seen, and the transforming Amadeo case allows it to be used as a wristwatch, desk clock, and pendant. Bovet’s GPHG entry states, “. . . the new Amadéo Tourbillon will mesmerize with its new aventurine dial on the second face,” but unfortunately there’s no photo supplied to see what that looks like. The Tourbillon Squelette 7 Days is yet another stunning watch from Bovet, and it’s definitely a strong contender here.
JM: Hand-engraving and -skeletonizing easily catches the eye, making the Amadeo Tourbillon Squelette 7 Jours a possible contender for the crown. The entire movement plates have been engraved and skeletonized by hand, leading to a beautiful floral motif that makes the piece feel entirely handcrafted.
However, and like the Andersen piece, it might seem like a one-trick pony, even if that pony is a stallion. It’s hard to predict what the jurors will value. The Bovet is a perfect example of complete hand-engraving executed flawlessly. But if the style isn’t to people’s tastes, it may be impressive yet fail to garner votes.
ED: The engraving on this piece is so, so impressive that I long contemplated picking it for the win. But, like you, Joshua, I would be fairly certain that it won’t catch the jury’s eye enough – though we may be surprised. The added beauty of the unusual mechanics here makes the watch doubly impressive. The placements of my first three in this category are almost a tossup. Therefore, I am calling this one tied for my runner up.
I also like that it is a serial piece and not a limited edition.
GG: The Bovet Amadeo is the latest variation on this skeletonized tourbillon from the brand, with the modification of an aventurine dial on the reverse (not pictured, by the way, in the images provided to GPHG). It looks to be another well-made piece in the Bovet house style, but as with the Dior there’s not enough newness there to grab my vote.
Quick Facts Bovet 1822 Amadeo Tourbillon Squelette 7 Days
Case: 45 x 14.3 mm, red gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 14BM02AI with one-minute tourbillon, three-quarter plate, 168-hour power reserve (7 days), 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: 247,000 Swiss francs
Remark: 5-year warranty
Dior Grand Bal Plume
ED: Though I was less enamored of the Dior Grand Bal Ruban in the Ladies category due to its über-Cinderella feel, this Grand Bal Plume is delightful to me and rightfully takes a place in this category. Feather marquetry is a painstaking and rare craft, and I am very glad to see it represented here this year.
GG: For me the Dior watch is very pretty, but as we’ve been seeing variations of this feathered theme from them since 2012 I can’t get too excited about pushing it to the top of my list in 2020. And in any event, it doesn’t achieve the impact of either the Hermès or the Van Cleef & Arpels in my view.
JM: A feather-adorned dial-side rotor is, on the surface, less of an achievement in scope compared to the fully engraved movement from Bovet. However, the delicate nature of the feathers combined with the atypical dial-side rotor just may have enough pizzazz to convince a few to move in that direction. Still, I don’t know if it is enough to justify it winning the category, so I am placing it in my second runner up position.
IS: The Dior Grand Bal Plume is a beautiful ladies’ watch and the decorated dial-side rotor adds both animation and color to the mother-of-pearl dial. I think that this will be a very popular watch, but I doubt that it has enough artwork to take this category.
MG: While I was very critical about the Dior in the Jewellery category, the Grand Bal Plume is a home run here. I like how the brand gets playful with feathers on the oscillating weight, creating a beautiful and fun moving element. I also enjoy that the brand offers this in a stainless steel case (unfortunately though, the price tag is of a precious metal case), which seems to be aimed at everyday wear. That is also what it should be because this Dior merges artistic crafts with a sense of savoir vivre so well.
Further reading: Dior Attends The Grand Ball – And The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2020 – With Three New Models
Quick Facts Dior Grand Bal Plume
Case: 36 x 12.04 mm, two-tone stainless steel and yellow gold set with diamonds (1.06 ct)
Movement: automatic Caliber Inversé 11 1/2 (Soprod base) with rotor on front, 42-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 88 pieces
Price: CHF 31,100 / €27,000
Hermès Arceau Into The Canadian Wild
MG: Hermès is always killing it with its approach to artistic crafts. As with many other of this brand’s watches, the dial design on this one is also inspired by one of their scarves. I don’t think that I have ever seen a painting on aventurine, but when I see this, it makes me wonder why it isn’t done more. The answer to that question is probably because it is very difficult. A superb touch is the moon phase display, which Hermès kept in theme with the man in the moon. While this watch features a Canadian theme, I think it is safe to say that it looks so good that it would entice people worldwide – and that 24 pieces are perhaps a bit too limited of an edition.
JM: A watch with miniature painting is already going to be a bit better off because you have a handcraft taking up all of the visual real estate and, in theory, it is simple enough to understand for most people. Some of the techniques for stone setting, enamel, engraving, and other types of finishing are black boxes of unknowns for many, so feeling connected by understanding could really help this watch. Plus, the painting is so incredibly detailed and accurate that it is hard to fault this Arceau in any way. Still, I think other pieces stand out way more than the Hermès so it doesn’t make it to my final list.
IS: The oven-fired enamel miniature painting on the Hermès Arceau Into the Canadian Wild is impeccably detailed, and the aventurine dial provides depth to the night sky. I like the way that the moon phase indicator has been incorporated into the sky, and I had no idea that you could even fire enamel on aventurine. Has that been done before? A big advantage this Hermès has is that the artwork is so visible and easy to appreciate. Into the Canadian Wild is my pick as winner of the Artistic Crafts category.
GG: Among the actual finalists, I’ll give my nod to the Hermès Arceau Into the Canadian Wild piece. The multilayered fired painting on an aventurine background results in a wonderfully dramatic effect, and other touches including the moon phase indication peering at the owl are well chosen in my view. I also appreciated the way that Hermès translated the themes of the upper left-hand section of its 2017 Canadian Wild scarf by Alice Shirley into a watch dial design; while the dial is faithful to the original, it doesn’t simply parrot it but adapts it to make for a compelling presentation in this new context and medium.
ED: This watch is tied for my runner up position. I love the detailed miniature painting, and the idea of using aventurine as the canvas for the painting is sublime. Hard to beat this, but I do think that the Van Cleef & Arpels entry just edges it out with its extreme artistic complexity.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Into The Canadian Wild
Case: 38 x 10.99 mm, white gold set with 82 brilliant-cut diamonds
Dial: aventurine with miniature painting
Movement: automatic Caliber H1912, 50-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; moon phase
Limitation: 24 pieces
Price: 68,000 Swiss francs / €60,000 / £50,840 / $66,700
Jacob & Co Astronomia Sky Phoenix
MG: I still remember seeing this watch in the metal and being astonished by the phoenix. It looks so real, with each feather clearly visible, that it seems to come to life and take off at any moment. Usually, I find the Astronomia fun but a bit too much of a good thing. But as the phoenix sits so wonderfully in between all the moving complications, it works out much better. I cannot believe that I am saying this, especially not among such strong competition, but I find the phoenix sculpture so exquisite, so charming, and so lifelike that this watch is my winner for this category.
ED: Yes, Martin, we saw this watch during Geneva Watch Days, and we were indeed both blown away by the mastery of the three-dimensional gold phoenix dominating it. While I still find this timepiece absolutely unwearable — 47 x 25 mm is an objet d’art, not a wristwatch – I can’t help but be wooed by the golden bird’s artistic qualities. However, the unwearable quality of the case size takes it off the podium for me.
IS: There is perhaps no better art gallery for artistic crafts than the Jacob & Co Astronomia. At 47 mm in diameter, it is outrageously too big for most wrists, but that size provides lots of three-dimensional space for the art. And the Astronomia Sky Phoenix is packed full of sensational art. In any other watch, a double-axis tourbillon and rotating globe with a large diamond counterbalance would be more than enough to attract all the attention, but here they nearly fade into the background due to the pink gold sculpture of a phoenix with its wings and tail spreading throughout the dial in all dimensions. But while the strength of its artwork might make it a strong contender here, it’s just too over the top, too outrageous, for my more conservative tastes.
JM: This watch is so insane in so many ways (like all Jacob & Co Astronomia pieces) that it’s hard to know what the appropriate thing is to focus on. But the key to the Astronomia Sky Phoenix is the fabulous hand-engraved gold sculpture of the phoenix that completely engulfs the dial-side movement. Taking one artist more than seven months to complete, it clearly demonstrates a level of hand-engraving mastery that is second to none in this competition. Even if the aesthetic isn’t your style, there can be no denying that this watch is deserving of applause and recognition for the hard work that went into it.
But, on the other hand, the watch I am choosing for my winner demonstrates a whole variety of artistic crafts that I think edges out the Sky Phoenix. For that reason, I have the Jacob & Co as my first runner up and a possible sneak attack on my chosen winner.
GG: I’ve been positive on several of the Jacob & Co entries this year (I’m still hoping in vain for that massive windfall that would propel the Mystery Tourbillon Full Ruby into the “fun” portion of my collection), but for me the Astronomia Sky Phoenix is just too much, I’m afraid.
Quick Facts Jacob & Co Astronomia Sky Phoenix
Case: 47 x 25 mm, white gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber JCAM25 with double-axis tourbillon with 288-facet Jacob-cut diamond, 60-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 1,077,000 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique
JM: This watch is my pick for the winner this year because it not only is an extremely unique example of artistic crafts, but it also displays a wide variety requiring multiple craftspeople to complete one watch. When celebrating such a topic as Artistic Crafts, I believe the more the merrier.
JM: With the Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique we have different stone setting techniques, hand-engraving, hand-sculpting, marquetry, and enameling all combining for a rather wild aesthetic. Even if you aren’t a fan of the style, the crafts involved are varied and expertly performed. Moreover, there is the unmentioned craft of three-dimensional design to create such a multilevel dial assembly. The amount of planning that went into this must have been a minor nightmare, and the result is a bit of a technicolor fever dream of craftsmanship. I can understand if people are on the fence about the aesthetic, but the skills are impossible to ignore.
ED: This creation is just stupendous. While I have not had the pleasure of seeing this piece in the metal – or any of these pieces, unfortunately – having handled hundreds of Van Cleef & Arpels pieces over the years, I know that the craftsmanship is going to be superb. However, it would have been a real treat to feast my eyes on this one, I’m sure. It appeals to me on every level, including the complexity of the artistic crafts employed and the use of mechanical movement.
As the 41 mm case size may keep too many women from purchasing it – and I’m not sure if too many men will wear a fairy-dialed watch – I do question who the target audience is. But considering there are only three pieces of this timepiece in existence, my query would probably be rather moot.
IS: The Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique is an explosion of color, diamonds, sapphires, and enamel miniature painting. I particularly like the details in the sun. While I don’t understand the significance of the fairy in what is otherwise a very (stylized) astronomical scene, the overall effect is strong enough to make it a potential winner here. The Soleil Féerique is my close runner up.
GG: I have to tip my hat to Van Cleef & Arpels for its dramatic Soleil Féerique and its use of multiple techniques, including enameling and marquetry with an engraved fairy, enamel bead planets, and some gem setting on top for good measure. I also like the deco feel of the piece, but overall feel that perhaps it sounds just a few too many notes to avoid being a bit jarring to the senses.
MG: In an explosion of diamonds, gold, enamel, mother-of-pearl, sapphires, and more Van Cleef & Arpels shows how creative one can get by combining different crafts. The execution is vibrant, and, despite that, the diameter is still relatively modest at 41 mm: you see so much happening that you hardly know where to look.
In particular, I like how the craftspeople made the sun and the rays. They have created a beautiful sense of depth as well by having certain elements overlap. The little fairy figure is a bit of an unnecessary addition to me. Yes, I know that this watch is called the Soleil Féerique, but I have never heard of a space fairy, so I feel that it is a slight distraction on an otherwise spectacular watch.
The true reason I am giving Van Cleef & Arpels such a hard time about this, is that this fairy is the only thing that would be keeping me from wearing this watch myself.
ED: Oh, I would wear this in less than the blink of an eye, Martin! It is sublime – fairy and all.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique
Case: 41 x 11 mm, white gold with diamond-set bezel, engraved case back
Dial: plique-à-jour enamel set with a yellow gold fairy with diamond-set wings, rose-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds, white and yellow gold sunrays, mother-of-pearl sunrays, a yellow gold sun, yellow sapphires, lapis lazuli, and onyx (marquetry)
Movement: manual winding Piaget Caliber 430P, 40-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 3 pieces
Price: 342,000 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique
Joshua: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique
Gary: Hermès Arceau Into The Canadian Wild
Ian: Hermès Arceau Into The Canadian Wild
Martin: Jacob & Co Astronomia Sky Phoenix
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AP’s Grande Sonnerie with Porchet dial would’ve been my favourite (any of the variants), but rules are rules, so the Hermes clinches it. However, it pales in comparison to last year’s winner from Voutilainen, so it’s not the strongest contender I’ve ever seen (neither was their crafts category winner of 2018 which unjustly beat the sublime Vacheron Aerostiers Bagnols, but let’s forget about that 😉 ).
My vote goes to VC&A. It fuels my neverending excitment for their creativity and craftmanship