Our Predictions In The Petite Aiguille Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Comic Figures, Legibility Issues, Skeletonization, And An In-House Monopusher
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 entered into the Petite Aiguille category are offered for a retail price that falls between 4,000 and 10,000 Swiss francs. Smartwatches are admissible here, but none made it through.
GG: There are great watches at all price points! For me, the Petite Aiguille and Challenge categories are two favorites as it’s great to see how creative designers and manufacturers can be in developing appealing and well-made timepieces within the constraint of a given price point.
JM: The Petite Aiguille category often gets some flak for simply being a category for less expensive watches with no real focus aside from price. But this category is a good way to focus on a variety (and we indeed have a variety) of pieces that pretty much any collector could feasibly lay their hands on and get a lot of value on the wrist.
As someone who has never spent more than three figures on a watch (you read that right), I very much appreciate being able to make the same type of assessments that GaryG does regarding the “value” of his Greubel Forsey and Patek Philippe pieces when considering watches closer to my price range.
ED: This is an amazing array of well-priced watches, Joshua – and in this category the price is what counts above all else. So what I’m looking for is the most watch for my money. And there are a couple of hot contenders here: half of the six finalists offer manufacture movements, but the others also have interesting elements about them.
IS: While there are GPHG categories that I think should be discontinued (like Iconic), the Petite Aiguille is one of my favorites because it includes watches that many people can afford to buy rather than just lust after. While 4,000 – 10,000 Swiss francs certainly isn’t cheap, it’s incredibly difficult to make an outstanding mechanical watch for that price and I’m blown away by the variety and quality of the six nominated watches here.
MG: The Petite Aiguille is perhaps the most charming category of the GPHG as it always has watches in it that you like to root for. I also think that this is a category that stands closer to the general public as it comprises watches that are far more affordable than the other categories except the Challenge category.
Bell & Ross BR 05 Skeleton
ED: The BR 05 is an amazing addition to the Bell & Ross collection and has probably advanced to one of my favorites from this brand. Having had the chance to preview it at Baselworld 2019, I can say that I love the look, the feel, and the sizing of these pieces. And I like this skeletonized piece the best out of them.
MG: There is always a tremendous risk when you launch a sports watch with an integrated bracelet. It almost takes a miracle (or a truly original design) to not be compared to the Royal Oak and/or Nautilus. I don’t think that the BR 05 can escape this, especially not with those screws in the bezel, creating another visual reference to the Royal Oak.
I consider the BR 03 an icon, but I don’t think that the BR 05 quite gets there. While I find this skeleton version the best looking of the bunch, I want a watch that oozes more specific Bell & Ross DNA and dares to be completely different.
JM: The BR05 Skeleton is a very solid steel sports watch with a unique shape (always the risky design problem for brands competing with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus) that will appeal to a broader range of people compared to the traditional Bell & Ross models. At the price point these are offered it could be a great purchase, and based on my experience with other pieces in the past I know the quality will be there in the construction. I also feel, however, that the Skeleton model is a weaker one than the solid-dial variants or even the blue-tinted sapphire crystal dial skeleton version, as the movement is not what I would consider a stunning highlight.
The case and bracelet make this a great watch, but I fear that the less impressive skeletonized movement actually detracts from the overall great value this watch represents, so I’m not sure if it can take the top spot. I still very much enjoy the rest of the package and am ranking it as my second runner up, and it may have just taken the top spot with another version.
GG: I saw the Bell & Ross BR 05 Skeleton in Dubai late last year, and found it a logical extension of the hallmark B&R look; despite carping by some, I didn’t have any trouble distinguishing between it and a Patek Philippe Nautilus despite some similarities in the bracelet link design. Not a winner for me against this year’s competition, but a totally credible watch in my view.
IS: I tip my hat to how Bell & Ross has developed such a strong identity with its square cases, and the BR 03 is now an iconic model for me. While I feel that the BR 05 is a great addition to Bell & Ross’s collections and I like the integrated bracelet, this Skeleton model doesn’t work for me as well as the full-dial models. While I’m am sure that it will have no shortage of fans, I like my B&Rs looking like minimalistic tool watches, and the BR 05 Skeleton is too busy for me.
Further reading: Bell & Ross BR 05 For A Week On The Wrist: How It Measures Up
Quick Facts Bell & Ross BR 05 Skeleton
Case: 40 x 40 x 10.33 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber BR-CAL.322 (base Sellita SW300-1), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency. 42-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 500 pieces
Price: €5,900 / CHF 6,400
Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II
GG: I had the opportunity to handle and photograph this Breitling Superocean Heritage, and it’s an absolute winner; absent the Sarpaneva in this category it would have been my top pick. Like the Sarpaneva, it features multicolored luminous accents, and with its dished bezel and updated retro look it tips its hat to Breitling designs of old while at the same time appearing completely contemporary.
ED: This is also my favorite Breitling watch to come out this year. I adore the pop of color and the Superocean Heritage styling, which is my favorite Breitling line.
JM: This is a watch that I know does well for Breitling, and it’s no wonder: it has classic good looks and doesn’t stray too far into any quirky category to turn people off for weird design choices. Even the rainbow color scheme has been more widely accepted as of late. It is a great desk diver and would likely perform well for years.
MG: One of the things that I ask myself with this Breitling is how long will the different colors on the dial remain interesting? While I thought they were captivating when just released, I noticed that they already failed to hold my attention a few months later. I think I very much prefer the models with unicolor hands and hour markers. As the first black-dial version (limited to 250 pieces) sold out quickly, apparently also to Breitling’s surprise, the brand decided to make this second, blue-dial version limited to 1,000 pieces. While part of the proceeds go to healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic, I wonder how the first version’s owners feel about this.
JM: My main issue with this watch is from a moral standpoint: the limited edition sales translate into donations to charities supporting frontline workers. To me, this is a touchy gimmick. If you want to donate, then donate. If you want to honor workers with a watch, then do that. But any marketing campaign with a built-in “good deed” bonus to the buyer leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t really care that much if this watch also hadn’t been entered into the GPHG where the brand hopes to win an award on the back of its philanthropy; it’s just a bit gauche. The idea of “look how generous and helpful we are to those affected by this tragedy, we only do it because we care, but a trophy would be nice too” has, in my mind, tainted this entry.
IS: I’m with you, Joshua, on brands using charitable giving as marketing campaigns. I’d prefer that they used the money to make their watches more affordable and let their clients decide on if/how to give. That said, I like the colorful Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II as it shouts FUN! and makes me smile, and that’s something we could all do with a bit more of these days. I think that the Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II will be a strong contender here whether because of, or despite, its charitable mission, but my heart is being pulled elsewhere.
Quick Facts Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II
Case: 42 x 10 mm, stainless steel case with ceramic bezel
Movement: automatic Breitling 10 (modified ETA 2892-A2); 42-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, central seconds
Limitation: 1,000 pieces; donation to COVID-19 front-line charities for each watch purchased
Price: $4,520 / CHF 4,350
Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda
ED: Manufacture chronograph movement; all components coming from Austria, Germany or Switzerland; not limited but low-production numbers; beautiful retro styling. And all of this for under 6,000 Swiss francs? Yes, please. My hands-down winner in this category.
MG: Habring2 always hits a homerun, and the Chrono-Felix Panda is just that. You get the “independent” experience for a modest price and don’t even have to make any concessions. The Chrono-Felix Panda is well proportioned and fitted with an exquisite manufacture movement (in which we still recognize a nice dash of Valjoux 7750 ideal, the movement that played an important role in the career of Richard Habring).
There is very little not to like about this watch, but one of the things I especially love that Habring has kept the overall height down to 10.5 mm. This Chrono-Felix is a watch for people in the know, worn by people who know. It won’t impress random people on the street (which has its advantages), but without a doubt any true watch enthusiast you might encounter will put in a friendly request for a closer look. It’s my runner up in this category.
ED: What may have been the all-important aspect for me in lifting this piece to the podium over my runner ups (Bell & Ross and Sarpaneva) was perhaps that I spent some serious wrist time with it and fell in love.
JM: Habring2 is, and likely will continue to be, a respected favorite in the GPHG as the brand makes great watches that offer tremendous value with the added bonus that you know by buying one you directly support a terrific family and family-run business. So when you combine that with an awesomely simple panda-dialed chronograph in the Chrono-Felix Panda, the result is a strong contender as the best affordable watch in this price range.
JM: The watch is unassuming but visually sharp; the movement coming with the same care as every piece from Habring2, having been developed from the bones of the Valjoux 7750 into a robust manufacture movement for the brand. It all comes together to present a watch that could be a core piece in any collection of independent watchmakers. For those who like things simple and reliable, this is a watch for you.
And while I know Habring2 won this category in 2018 with the Doppel-Felix, it is very possible that it could squeak out another win for a very different iteration of the Felix chronograph platform. I am placing this watch as my winner by a hair’s margin as I think it has the widest reach and may represent the best value for a collector in this price range.
GG: As a multi-time Habring2 owner, I remain a big fan of their work and it’s been wonderful to see them move to more house-developed movements and create new watch concepts over the past years. This year’s Chrono-Felix Panda is another eminently buyable watch from the Habrings, but as it’s a cosmetic change to an existing piece it didn’t have the oomph needed to rise to the top for me this year.
IS: A great looking, in-house, monopusher chronograph with hacking seconds for under $7,000? That’s an unbeatable proposition for me in this category, and the Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda is my pick to win this category (by a whisker).
Quick Facts Habring² Chrono-Felix
Case: 38.5 x 10.5 mm, Austrian stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Habring2 Caliber A11C-H1, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 48-hour power reserve, Carl-Haas balance spring in chronometer quality
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) subsidiary seconds; monopusher chronograph with 30-minute counter
Price: €6,250 / 5,650 Swiss francs / £5,600
IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser Automatic 40
MG: The Portugieser Automatic 40 ticks so many boxes for me: interesting history, well proportioned, made with an eye for detail, and fitted with a manufacture movement. Commercially I think it is a brilliant move, and it is a watch that I would buy myself.
I feel that while it is a tremendous all-rounder, it comes up short in pure excitement. It is more a sensible choice rather than one that rouses your senses and raises your pulse. Normally I would consider this a big plus as decades from now this Portugieser will look just as good as it does today, but for the Petite Aiguille competition I think that is its Achilles heel.
JM: This IWC is simple, to the point, and a very solid timepiece, but it also lacks any serious hook. It does have the famous IWC Pellaton winding system, but it is just a simple three-hand watch and, at $7,500, it is $2,000 more than the Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda, a chronograph from an independent brand. This watch feels like it should be more accessible than the price indicates, and it just feels a bit too square for this crowd from a collector’s point of view. It is a great everyday watch, but it just feels like the brand is phoning it in, or trying to drum up excitement for a model that may not be moving as many units as the brand might have hoped. I don’t know, but I don’t think it can win with what it is offering.
IS: Like many, I’m a big fan of the IWC Portugieser, but most models are too big for my small wrists. The Automatic 40 though is perfectly proportioned and looks every bit a true Portugieser. Those matching blue hands and blue applied numerals over the clean white dial look just right to me, and it’s nice to see the small seconds running right to the edge of the dial, highlighting that the movement is the perfect size for the case.
This is a watch I can easily see myself wearing. The only reason that it’s not a contender here for me is that it seems a bit too restrained against some of the competition and I’m looking for a bit of excitement from the winner.
GG: I’ve always fancied an IWC Portugieser, and the Automatic 40 with its blue hands and markers in a very wearable size could be just the thing. But for me at least, this one is not going to beat my top two in this category.
Further reading: 7 Brand-New IWC Portugieser Watches For 2020
Quick Facts IWC Portugieser Automatic 40
Case: 40.4 x 12.4 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 82200 with Pellaton winding system, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $7,000 / 7,500 Swiss francs
Sarpaneva Watches Sarpaneva x Moomin
MG: Until this edition of the GPHG, I had no idea who (or what) Moomin is, but the way Sarpaneva incorporates it in this creation is stunning and imaginative. It is such a charming watch that even takes adults back to childhood moments when it was normal to wander around in a fairy tale-like environment. I think that especially these days that is worth a lot, and while this watch is not equipped with a skeletonized movement, fitted with a chronograph, accompanies you on dives, or has a decades-long history, it does make you smile. And that is quite a rare complication.
ED: I love the imaginative dial on this! Sarpaneva has that rare ability to continuously surprise me with amazing and attractive designs and ingenuity. I appreciate this so much. My runner up in this category.
GG: When it comes to appeal, particularly in year that has been so grim for so many, I have to give preference to watches that bring a welcome splash of color along with a bit of whimsy. As a result, the two pieces that go right to the top of my list are the Breitling and the Sarpaneva, and based on sheer novelty I’m going to put the Sarpaneva x Moomin in my top spot.
I’d never even heard of Moomins before this watch appeared, and I will likely never read any of the Swedish-Finnish comics or books based on them, but especially when the light goes down and the lume comes up this is just a fantastic looking piece. And in the same way that Konstantin Chaykin’s Joker was just the right piece to bring a laugh when the industry was struggling, this watch brings the ideal smile and feeling of warmth for a time of sadness and isolation.
IS: Before the release of the Sarpaneva x Moomin I had never heard of the world of Moominvalley before, so that association and the characters on the dial were lost on me. However, you do not need to be a Moomin fan to appreciate the excellence of this watch, especially in the dark when it transforms into a vibrant blaze by the glow of eight different colors of hand-painted Super-LumiNova.
The Sarpaneva x Moomin is a watch that keeps offering more the more you look. At first glance it looks like a monochromatically decorated dial; then closer inspection reveals the world of the Scandinavian Moomins; and then when the lights go down the dial becomes a kaleidoscope of color. The Sarpaneva x Moomin came extremely close to being my pick to win this category, however it’s my close runner up as I feel that the Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda offers more for the money. That said, this is a fun watch I’d be proud to wear.
JM: This is one of my favorite pieces in this category from a perennial favorite watchmaker of mine, yet I don’t know if it has what it takes to win this category simply because of its subject. The watch is a collaboration with Moomin, a character/series of books and comics that I have no experience with, nor may many people outside of Sweden or Finland.
Perhaps I am wrong and all of Europe knows and loves Moomin, but it still may be too niche to win a category like this. And that stinks, because I love the playful dial, the beautiful hand painted Super-LumiNova flowers and grass, and the simplicity of the skeletonizing, which Sarpaneva is known for.
I would argue its biggest downfall outside of the subject matter is that the dial is visually busy yet sort of dull when not illuminated by the Super-LumiNova, losing a big part of its appeal. I don’t think this piece will win, but if it surprised me and did, I would be very happy for that little, rotund, not-a-hippopotamus character.
Quick Facts Sarpaneva x Moomin
Case: SUPRA 316L/4435 stainless steel, 38.7 x 8.9 mm
Dial: three-part stainless steel, hand-finished, middle dial skeletonized and hand-painted with 8 different Super-LumiNova colors
Movement: automatic Caliber Soprod A10, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, 42-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 75 pieces, 25 pieces each in 3 color combinations
Price: €6,200 (VAT 24%); outside EU: €5,000 plus applicable taxes / 5,380 Swiss francs
ED: This exceedingly attractive watch is playful, imaginative, and well made with its Chronode movement.
JM: In my mind, the Trilobe Secret has the most interesting looking movement out of everything in this group. A micro rotor is still too rare in automatic watches, and the geometric layout of the gear train on the rear is very attractive to me. The dial display is also very unique and provides a cool change of pace from the typical “handed” watches.
GG: The last time a Trilobe made the finals at GPHG I was intrigued, but ultimately I found that the illegibility (at least to my aging eyes) of the time display made it tough to pick. I really appreciate that for this version, the folks at Trilobe have been ingenious enough to use the power of software-aided manufacturing to allow each buyer to customize the display of the night sky on the dial to a time and place near and dear to his and her heart, much as De Bethune offers with its Starry Sky timepieces but at a more accessible price. I’ll leave it to this year’s jurors to rule on the legibility of this version!
ED: The personalized sky map concept of this watch is really quite cool. Like Gary, though, I find the time too hard to see on this watch.
JM: The method of reading the time is a bit visually confusing, which is a fairly important issue with a watch in this price range. The aesthetic is awesome, and I would love to own this watch, but I also admit it is more of a specialized watch than an everyday timepiece. This could keep it from winning, depending on the jury, so I am placing it as my first runner up behind the Habring2, but it could surprise me as well.
MG: While I like the concept, the design is making it hard for me to love the watch overall. The overall asymmetrical design with the logos that tell the time but don’t line up are a few of the details that don’t sit well with me. Craftmanship is evident from the case is crafted, and extra credits are given for the nice micro-rotor movement, but I feel that this cannot compensate for the fact that this Trilobe is a bit too eccentric to secure a win in this category.
IS: I mentioned earlier that the 40 mm IWC Portugieser was a beautiful watch but lacks enough pizazz to win here; well the Trilobe Secret has pizazz to spare. With its customizable starry sky dial, unusual asymmetric circles-within-circles indication and Chronode micro rotor movement, the Trilobe stands out from its competitors here. But I can’t help but feel that it’s just a bit too idiosyncratic to have the wider appeal required to win.
Quick Facts Trilobe Secret
Case: 40.5 x 8.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Chronode caliber with micro rotor, 48-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 9,800 Swiss francs
Ian: Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda
Elizabeth: Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda
Joshua: Habring2 Chrono-Felix Panda
Gary: Sarpaneva Watches Sarpaneva x Moomin
Martin: Sarpaneva Watches Sarpaneva x Moomin