Our Predictions In The Challenge Category Of The 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Very Interesting Finalists With (Relatively) Affordable Pricing
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 Challenge category are offered for a retail price under 4,000 Swiss francs. Smartwatches were admissible here, but none made it through.
GG: Last but not least! After weeks of considering categories made up of watches in the five- to seven-figure price categories, it’s a pleasure to consider the finalists in this last group that includes watches priced under CHF 4,000.
ED: Here I would have loved to have seen the anOrdain Model 2 Green Fumé come through to the finals as anOrdain makes such lovely enameled pieces at fair prices in low quantities. And I would have found the Ophion OPH 786 Vélos Salmon Guilloche interesting too. I have never seen an Ophion in the metal, but I am somewhat intrigued by the look of this watch with its CNC-created guilloche and Soprod movement and hope to encounter one sooner or later.
MG: This is another fun category as often the competitors in this section of the GPHG experience quite a challenge (pun intended). As always the watches are quite different, and I feel that some would have been better off in other categories. However, the six that made it to the final round are all strong enough to make a very competitive field. Even to such an extent that predicting a winner is more a gamble than a conclusion you can come to by deductive reasoning.
JM: I love the Challenge category because these are watches that I can actually afford. And because price is the only criteria for the category, we find watches that have a broad range of appeal. This year I am fairly strong in my belief of which piece will win, but because of one entry I am torn so strongly that it’s causing me mental stress.
ED: Also to note that the price range here is really quite homogenous, though the Kurono Tokyo piece comes in almost 1,000 francs lower at CHF 1,799 thanks to the use of a Miyota movement. The rest of the watches are ETA base except the Tudor, which is outfitted with a manufacture movement.
IS: And I thought that this would be an easy category to judge. All I’m looking for here is an interesting watch giving the maximum value for money. And my first reaction is to call it a four-way tie!
JM: This. This dang watch. Ever since I first saw this watch it has invaded my thoughts and has turned my idea of what is possible upside down. And then it didn’t. As we remember from the Apolar in the Calendar category, this watch is not currently available and has barely been seen in the metal by anyone. It comes from a very new company out of Hong Kong that is less than fully transparent about the origins of the pieces aside from discussing that everything is made in mainland China outside of the base movement.
JM: The quality looks better than most watches coming out of mainland China and Hong Kong, but that is also because a decent amount of what is made in the watch industry is also coming out of there, so it should be no surprise that they can make a watch this freaking awesome. And at under CHF 4,000 this is a ridiculous (possible) watch. I have wanted a rotary movement ever since the Urwerk/MB&F collaboration that produced the ZR012 (Nitro), and this is the best chance I have of owning one. That is unless it stays super limited and is never seen outside of the eastern markets.
I don’t know what the jury will think of this piece, especially because they will have a real piece to handle and assess. This could be a winner for sheer audacity (or it could be a contender for that prize). Or it might not live up to its promises and be quickly eliminated. All I know for sure about this watch is I want one more than most watches I have seen, and I am frustrated because it may prove just as elusive as my grail, the ZR012. In the meantime, I am putting this watch as my first runner up with a healthy dose of skepticism, and if the brand is to last, perhaps they can return next year and show us all they mean business.
MG: As I am not familiar with Behrens, and have never handled the watches, there is not much I can say about it. I enjoy the approach, especially the rotary design of the minute hand, which awakens the car enthusiast in me. Immediately images of Mazda’s Cosmo and RX7/8, as well as that of the NSU Ro 80 pop into my head, not to forget that of the Mazda 787B, the one that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, and which I was fortunate to see in action a few years ago at Laguna Seca. While that has nothing to do with this watch, it does make the design speak to me, and I’m all the more curious to see this watch in the metal.
GG: I really wanted to like the Behrens Rotary and its claim to have been inspired by the Le Mans-winning Mazda 787B, but I think we can look much closer to home at the design of 2012’s Experiment ZR012 by Urwerk x MB&F collaboration C3H5N3O9 and its Wankel-derived display of time. I have to give the Behrens folks credit for packaging this display up in a round case with an ETA 2824 base movement and selling it at a very affordable price, but perhaps the inscription on the dial side should read “Behrens Imitator” rather than “Behrens Inventor.”
ED: I know nothing about this brand (and searching has turned up very little), but this watch, though hard to read, looks interesting from the photos. What has made me most curious, though, has been Joshua’s enthusiasm over it this past month!
IS: In my intro comments I wrote that I was looking for an interesting watch giving the maximum value for money, and that’s hands down the Behrens Rotary. The Wankel-like rotor indications bear a resemblance to the ZR012 Urwerk/MB&F Nitro collaboration; if you are going to be inspired by another watch then that’s an excellent one to copy and it’s certainly a lot more interesting than two or three centrally mounted hands. But. I just can’t bring myself to pick it as a strong contender as I just don’t know enough about it, including if it even exists – though I assume that there is at least one to show the GPHG jury. It may well be that having handled the Behrens Rotary the jury will be impressed, but the lack of information rules it out for me.
Quick Facts Behrens Rotary
Case: 42 x 12.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824 base with custom twin-rotary module, power reserve 42 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 3,600
Breitling Endurance Pro
GG: The Breitling Endurance Pro looks rugged and practical, has a splash of color, and boasts a “SuperQuartz” temperature-compensated quartz movement. For me, however, it isn’t nearly as distinctive as some of the other pieces in this category, and the quartz movement is another minus from my perspective.
ED: In essence, Breitling has submitted a quartz watch in a plastic case priced at 2,950 Swiss francs.
MG: Breitling calls this the ultimate athleisure watch, but I wonder who the brand is trying to fool with that. While this would have probably worked in the 1990s, selling a 3,000 Swiss franc sports chronograph with a pulsometer scale as an athlete’s watch today makes no sense. However, this Breitling does indeed belong in the challenge category because it will have just that keeping up with a wide variety of other watches starting with the Apple Watch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch, and various Fitbits. Even a €200 Casio G-Shock comes these days with Bluetooth connectivity; and spend only a little more and those will track your sports activities with heart rate monitoring, GPS, and live weather conditions.
JM: I’m always going to struggle with a quartz watch unless it is in the Jewellery category or perhaps the Ladies category, and even then I can usually find a reason to choose another watch. The same goes here: this watch just doesn’t seem like it belongs. I understand that quartz technology is technologically more advanced than mechanics, but it’s a hard sell in this competition. Combine that with the polymer composite case that is not forged carbon but simply a fiber filled plastic (similar to glass-filled ABS or nylon), and the typically busy Breitling styling, and there is nothing for me in this watch. Especially when compared to the others in this category.
IS: Sorry, Breitling Endurance Pro, but a quartz movement means “also ran” to me. It’s a very nice looking watch, though, for those who like busy dials.
Quick Facts Breitling Endurance Pro
Case: 44 x 5.12 mm, Breitlight polymer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph, pulsometer
Price: CHF 2,950
Kurono Tokyo by Hajime Asaoka
GG: I did buy the Kurono Tokyo by Hajime Asaoka Mori with its green dial and have really enjoyed owning and wearing it. The easily recognizable Asaoka styling cues make this piece stand out, and as I mentioned in my review here on Quill & Pad, the customer service and sense of community that Kurono has built around the physical watch make it even more appealing.
ED: This watch is my winner here: I love the cleanly designed dial and the fair pricing. I can see traces of Hajime Asaoka’s design prowess in the watch, and for the price I think that’s also a nice side effect.
JM: This watch has all kinds of retro appeal combined with independent Japanese watchmaking at a fantastic price. Or at least on the surface it seems like all those things. Inside we find the top-of-the-line Miyota 90S5 caliber that does not appear to be modified, and we don’t know for certain if anything was actually made by Hajime Asaoka or if it was just designed by him and then produced by suppliers. Given the price and what Asaoka usually puts out, it is most likely only assembled by him or his team and that is about it. So once we take that into consideration a bit of the luster comes off.
I’m just not sure what to think of this watch from a watchmaking standpoint as it seems to be more of a marketing and branding thing from Asaoka than an earnest desire to create a more production-oriented watch with his skills. It is pretty cool, and very good price, but it falls short. Still, I’m giving it my second runner up position since it is a very clean and interesting looking watch.
ED: Interesting take, Joshua. I always interpreted the Kurono line as being more of something that allows people to partake in Asaoka’s watch universe – of course, his own Hajime Asaoka watches are practically unobtanium as Gary likes to say – rather than marketing. But there’s no reason it can’t be both actually. Either way, I don’t find it negative.
IS: It’s great to see Hajime Asaoka catering to the (relatively) more affordable end of the luxury watch market, and the thought that’s gone into the design and quality of the Kurono Tokyo is evident. Yes, it’s Japanese right down to its excellent Miyota 90S5 movement, so that’s interesting, but the design is just too staid for me here. I’m looking for a watch that snaps, crackles and pops, and the Kurono Tokyo just looks too traditional (which is surely why so many love it) so it doesn’t make my cut. I still want one, though.
MG: This watch underscores that we need more smaller watch brands from Japan. The Japanese approach and style are so different from other regions of the watch world and they enrich it as a whole. The power of the Kurono Anniversary Green Mori comes to me from its perfectly executed dial. I almost wish that all the text on the dial was in Japanese as this would underscore even more the exotic nature of this watch. While the case is rather restrained in terms of design, it is also perfectly sculpted and finished. The hands give this watch even more a character of its own.
Quick Facts Kurono Tokyo by Hajime Asaoka Anniversary Mori
Case: 37 x 7 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Miyota 90S5; 40-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 288 pieces
Price: $1,790 / CHF 1,799
Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
MG: When Alain Silberstein stopped his eponymous brand, it was a sad day for watchmaking. His style is not only vibrant and unique but also uplifting. Fortunately, he occasionally joins forces with MB&F and now also with Louis Erard. Here we get a watch filled with bold colors, making it fun and highly legible at the same time. The fact that this watch is also a regulator only adds to the fun. The only downside with this watch has to be the fact that it is a limited production. My winner in this category.
JM: Style-wise I have never connected with Alain Silberstein, and I’m unsure why I still find it hard to dig the aesthetic given how much I like the quirky and interesting. Perhaps it feels too much like commercial pop art which, given Silberstein’s popularity over the years and proximity to the 1990s aesthetic it could explain why I feel like I’ve seen this style used way too broadly. It just seems like a corporate manager that is trying to be hip and hasn’t noticed that the aesthetics have shifted.
It’s definitely a fun watch, but I think it is too niche style-wise to win this category, and it doesn’t feel like it has been applied in a way that presents it as disruptive or anything other than a phoned-in collaboration.
IS: Now we are coming down to my top three, and I think that any of them (plus the Kurono Tokyo) would be well-deserved winners here. I rejected the Kurono Tokyo because I was looking for more snap, crackle and pop, and the Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein Le Régulateur delivers that in spades. Silberstein’s signature primary colors and shapes add zing, and the regulator dial differentiates it from most of its competition here.
But here’s where I do an about face and contradict myself: I think that it stands out too much. To my mind this category is for watches with a big, broad appeal and I can’t help but feel that Le Régulateur is too polarizing. I’d love it to win but I can’t see that happening (which means it probably will win).
GG: I’m an owner of watches from both Ming and Kurono Tokyo, so I might be expected to favor them here; but the piece that for me stands out from the crowd is the Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein Le Régulateur. I first saw a Silberstein watch in the early 1990s while I was still living in Chicago, and there’s nothing like his trademark style. If we didn’t already have a couple of Silberstein watches in the family, I certainly would have bought this one; as it was, I came darned close. Like the Sarpaneva and Breitling watches in the Petite Aiguille competition, it brings a welcome splash of color and whimsy to help counteract the depressing times.
ED: Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Alain Silberstein’s designs! I was one of his biggest fans from day one. Like Martin, I was sad to see his own brand go under, but I enjoy the occasional collaborations that pop up with other brands.
This watch, which I’ve chosen as my runner up, is interesting in the typical Silberstein way. However, when I compare it to other pieces he’s done over the years, it feels a touch less refined. I’m not sure if that mainly comes from the big yellow minute hand. Either way, it is a colorful and interesting design that I very much appreciate but just can’t quite call my winner here. I’m also slightly annoyed by the low limited edition numbers and feel like it could have been released in a larger edition.
Quick Facts Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
Case: 40 x 9 mm, black PVD-coated stainless steel
Movement: manually winding Caliber ETA Peseux 7001 with regulator modification, 42-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication
Limitation: 178 pieces
Price: CHF 2,900
Remark: three-year warranty
Ming 27.01 Ultra Thin
MG: This is my absolute favorite model from Ming because it simply oozes style and quality and doesn’t have a single detail that disappoints. The design is both restrained and powerful at the same time, while I also think that it has timeless properties, making it look just as good (or perhaps even better) decades from now as it does today. Even the movement is a treat, with the heavily reworked ETA Peseux 7001, produced in cooperation with Manufacture Schwarz Etienne. As the resident gentleman of Quill & Pad, the best part for me is that this Ming is 38 mm in diameter and only 6.9 mm thick. These are perfect dress watch dimensions, making this watch spot on in absolutely everything.
IS: Stop, Ming, enough is enough! The young brand won the 2019 GPHG Horological Revelation prize for the 17.06 Copper, and the Ming 18.01 H41 was my pick to win the GPHG Diver’s category this year. I feel that it’s high time to be fair and share the prizes around. But with its very wearable 38 mm diameter and svelte 7 mm high case as well as a clean and distinctive contemporary design, the Ming 27.01 Ultra Thin offers the nearly perfect combination of being different enough without being polarizing, and it’s competitively priced. It’s my pick to win the 2020 Challenge prize.
JM: Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Ming has consistently been killing it and improving with each new model, and the persistence of design iterations clearly is paying off. The 27.01 is a great watch for its movement, for the design, for the construction, and the principle behind the brand: to make the best watches that collectors actually want to own. I don’t think another watch in this category has the soul of the Ming 27.01, and I’m going to guess that others might agree with me. Of course, Ming won the Horological Revelation prize last year, so that might affect its chances, but I think this is the year it demonstrates that it has just made a dang good watch that nobody can ignore.
ED: This watch comes in third place for me in this category. With a base movement – the ETA Peseux 7001 – that is the same as the Louis Erard piece, we know both brands have gone for quality. This brings it down to design preference, really. And while I love Ming’s fastidious work, this particular piece offers just slightly less fun than the Louis Erard, something we sorely need right now.
GG: In the Ming vs. Kurono faceoff for second place, I’m going to call it for the Ming in a close finish in recognition of the wonderful coherence of the Ming piece, including the hollowed-lug case design. If I didn’t already own the Ming Model 17.06 Monolith, I probably would have bought one of these too. Too many watches, too little money!
Further reading: Ming 18.01 H41 And 27.01: Revolution And Evolution
Quick Facts Ming 27.01 Ultra Thin
Case: 38 x 6.9 mm, 316L stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Caliber 7001.M1 (based on a highly modified ETA Peseux 7001), 42-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 3,950
Remark: initial production run sold out, future batches based on movement availability
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
MG: I think that the Black Bay has become somewhat of a “blue-chip” watch: it looks good, is well made, and won’t disappoint in any way. What I previously mentioned in relation to the IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 in the Petite Aiguille category is also valid for this watch: it is such a great allrounder that that might also be its Achilles heel. While it has so much going for it, and is probably the watch you put on the most, I wonder if these qualities will give it enough votes to win this category.
GG: The Tudor is, I am quite sure, a fine watch and it will certainly have its advocates on the all-Swiss jury deciding the awards this year. But it’s just the Black Bay with blue color, not anything new, so it definitely isn’t my pick.
ED: On paper this should be the winner of this category. But it’s just not new enough to excite me as much as the three I picked ahead of this piece.
JM: Fantastic watch, great value, great build quality, consistent and classic design, one of the most popular watch models in this price range. So why am I so bored of seeing this watch? How can such a great watch inspire so little zest from me? I don’t know, but I honestly can’t see picking this watch, and I think others may also agree, even though it is objectively a very good timepiece.
IS: I could just type “ditto” under the comments of any/all of my fellow panelists here. The Tudor Black Bay is a fantastic watch offering excellent value for money. It’s no wonder it has won multiple GPHG prizes in previous years. And I love the blue dial and bezel; I’d be overjoyed to have a Black Bay Fifty-Eight as my daily wear watch. But it’s really the same watch that has won awards here before but with a blue dial. If 2020 was a completely blank slate and I could erase my memories of prizes in previous years, then the Black Bay Fifty-Eight would be my pick to win here. But as it is, it’s my runner up.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
Case: 39 x 11.9 mm, stainless steel with rotating bezel
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5402, 70-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, silicon balance spring, official C.O.S.C. chronometer certification
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: CHF 3,500
Remark: five-year warranty
Elizabeth: Kurono Tokyo by Hajime Asaoka
Ian: Ming 27.01 Ultra Thin
Joshua: Ming 27.01 Ultra Thin
Gary: Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
Martin: Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein