Our Predictions In The Ladies Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Almost Unanimous
Welcome to the 2021 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions where 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 describes the Ladies category for watches entered as “comprising only the following indications: hours, minutes, seconds, simple date (day of the month), power reserve, classic moon phases and are potentially adorned with a maximum nine carats’ worth of gems.”
IS: This year the six nominated ladies’ watches run the full gamut of styles from the technical (Armin Strom) to jewelry (Van Cleef & Arpels) and everything in between. Although I think it’s a great selection of ladies’ watches this year, the problem for the jury (and our panelists) is that the styles are so varied it’s impossible to compare apples with apples, so it largely comes down to personal taste – as it so often does. And in my case, that’s compounded by being a man trying to guess what best appeals to women.
GG: Well, here we go again! 2021 as a year for watch introductions once again lacked a bit of juice for me as my sense is that manufacturers held back on many new pieces as they either moved to consolidate their lines a bit or simply couldn’t ramp up production.
As for the GPHG competition, once again there were many makers whose watches were suggested as nominations by members of the Academy but who chose not to put them forward. While in most categories there are at least a few pieces to get excited about, I for one would be more enthralled by this “Oscars” of watchmaking if more competitors had entered the fray.
More specifically, in the Ladies’ category I found it a bit difficult to navigate through the quite different pieces that made the final six; perhaps that’s a reflection of the industry’s struggles over the years to understand, and then deliver, what women – or at least segments of the female population – really want. I for one believe that gender still matters in fashion and luxury product categories, so I’m not ready – yet – to consign the industry to the bland world of the unisex. By the same token, “shrink it and pink it” isn’t going to do the trick either.
If you are getting the sense that I’m searching here, you’re not far off.
JM: Once again, just like the Men’s category, a lack of a narrow focus means the entries can be awesomely different and hard to compare directly; each watch stands out in its own unique way.
Whether you want traditional or avant-garde, colorful or restrained, there are lots of options. In my book, to win this category you need a hook, a style that is widely appealing, and the versatility to be worn in a variety of situations. This disqualifies a couple right off the bat and puts a couple others in close contention.
Given how some brands are shifting away from explicitly gendered watches, I’m interested to see what others have to say, but it’s clear that this category still has a very specific aesthetic trend that might start to seem too narrow or unimaginative down the line.
MG: Did fall came fast or what? Time flies when you’re having fun, even if the world is not back to normal due to the pandemic. As we enter fall, this also means that the GPHG is coming up again, giving me the opportunity to discuss the categories once again with my esteemed colleagues!
While I understand the difficulties that the GPHG organization might have when formulating the criteria for the different categories, I still feel that some finetuning might be beneficial to elevate the competition to an even higher level.
Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White
MG: Elegant, stylish, and pleasantly complex: the Armin Strom Lady Beat has it all. I am especially enticed by how the mechanics become an intricate part of the design and therefore the appeal of this watch. It was very clever to go for such a smooth, 1970s-styled case minus the volume they used to have in those days. Winner of the category in my book.
ED: Yes, Martin, that is precisely the cleverest thing about this watch to me: how the mechanics become part of the design without overpowering. Claude Greisler and Serge Michel at Armin Strom were very clever in enlisting women to help them design this watch, which I feel helped them understand proportions and visuals much better than might generally be the case at a male-led brand. This watch is utterly appealing, particularly to someone like me who loves visible mechanics but also proportionality on the wrist.
And the price for such a watch with a freshly designed manufacture movement made by an independent maker is so fair: just up against the other watches in this category, it completely wins out in price/performance ratio. Never mind the rest!
This is my winner for the category.
JM: This is my winner too, Elizabeth, hands down. It is a beautiful watch with lovely guilloche dial, exposed mechanics, a gentle case shape that isn’t too jewelry like, and can be worn in any scenario and wouldn’t feel out of place.
The lack of jewels means it won’t be out of place while running around town, but the guilloche and monochromatic look help elevate it for evening events. The mechanics of the watch tickle my fancy so I give a nod for that, and I really like the design direction for details like the crown, strap, and lack of excess decoration.
I truly feel like this watch is the most versatile while not simply being a jeweled version of a masculine watch, something I have heard time and again is often not appreciated by the intended market segment. I’d put my vote for this one to win, and I think it represents my requirements very well while not alienating any prospective wearer. It’s one hell of a solid timepiece!
GG: Like the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Sélène Rose Gold in this category, the Armin Strom Lady Beat has real mechanical chops, including a reworked movement based on, but not identical to, some of Armin Strom’s previous calibers. At 38 mm in diameter and 11.65 mm this is the thinnest watch Armin Strom has made to date, but it’s not exactly tiny, either. And to my eye the watch has a sterile look, but Armin Strom goes on at great length in its materials to let us know that female design consultants created it, and who am I to argue?
Is this what women want? Beats me, but in a somewhat muddled field the Armin Strom is my pick.
IS: The Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White has a lot going for it. I’m a fan of seeing some of the mechanics dial side, at 38 mm the size is in the sweet spot, the white lacquered sunburst engraved subdial and top movement plate look clean and light, and then there’s the manufacture automatic movement. Plus, at below 17,000 Swiss francs, the price is very reasonable for what you get.
The only downside I see in this lineup, though, is that it may be too technical looking, and I suspect that the jury will be looking for something more feminine. The Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White well merits its place here, but I don’t think it will take the prize.
Further reading: Armin Strom Lady Beat: Elegance, Femininity, And Technicity
Quick Facts Armin Strom Lady Beat
Case: 38 x 11.65 mm, stainless steel
Movement: in-house automatic Caliber ALA20, 3.5 Hz/25,200 vph, frequency, 70-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 16,900
Bovet Miss Audrey Sweet Art
IS: If the 2021 GPHG could be taken in isolation, the Bovet 1822 Miss Audrey Sweet Art would be my hands-down winner for the Ladies category. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for Bovet, a Miss Audrey variation took the prize for best ladies’ watch last year, and as much as I like the clever sugar crystal dial, I just can’t see a jury awarding the same model the prize two years in a row.
JM: This is one of my favorite watches in the category; I’m enamored with the dial and the use of sugar crystals for aesthetic purposes. This watch is much more versatile than a couple others on the list, but it is also pretty darn stunning with the dial and the diamond-set case. I don’t think this disqualifies it in my eyes, but it would be hard to say this is the best Ladies watch specifically. I’m certain it will have some fans and could very well win the category based on past trends. I’d say this is a strong runner-up all things considered.
GG: The Bovet Miss Audrey Sweet Art is charming and mechanically powered, and the idea of a dial made from crystallized sugar is actually pretty cool, but another version of the Miss Audrey won in this category only last year, so I won’t pick it, either.
ED: I agree with you entirely, Gary, which is the only reason I won’t pick it. No, actually there are two more reasons: for one the Armin Strom Lady Beat is also competing in this category and for another I think I might be picking a Bovet in the next round (Ladies Complication). It just wouldn’t be fair for Bovet to win two categories. Or this category two years in a row. Regardless of how much we’d like it to . . .
MG: The Miss Audrey remains a stunning watch, and I love how Bovet keeps innovating in both materials and design. The dial made from sugar is original, but I am not completely sold on its aesthetics. While I recognize that creating it is complex, apart from the color it still looks too much like caviar to me.
- Bovet Fleurier Miss Audrey Sweet Art: Real Sugar Crystals On The Dial Glisten Like Tiny Colorful Pearls (No Licking!)
- Bovet Amadéo Fleurier 36 Miss Audrey: The World’s Most Versatile Ladies’ Watch, And One Of The Prettiest
Quick Facts Amadeo Fleurier Miss Audrey Sweet Art
Case: 36 x 11 mm, convertible Amadeo case in stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 11BA15, 42-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 25,000
Remark: five-year warranty
Chanel Mademoiselle J12 Acte II
MG: Why ruin a stunning J12 with what looks like a keychain depicting Coco? You can’t tell me that this wears comfortably or looks very good on the wrist.
IS: The Chanel J12 has well proven its place on the pedestal of timeless iconic watches. But I’m ruling the Mademoiselle J12 Acte II out as a frontrunner in this lineup because it has a quartz movement (I’ll take that in the jewelry category, but not here). And I too feel that the little effigy of Mademoiselle Coco hanging from the crown is just a bit too gimmicky.
JM: I’m a bit torn on this watch because aesthetically it is subdued with the black ceramic and faceted gold bezel (which looks much like black stones) and it is in a form factor that would be a great everyday watch. The charm attached to the crown is way too kitsch for me and feels like an odd mix of jewelry and watchmaking, but some may really enjoy that feature.
But what gets me with this watch is that it is a rather expensive timepiece that has a very solid design language and yet its makers chose to go with a quartz movement. If this were an ultra-tiny watch in which a tiny mechanical movement would have been difficult to implement I could understand, but at 33 millimeters in diameter this could easily have had a nice automatic caliber, which could have made it a well-rounded and distinctive watch. But instead it falls short, and I don’t think it is the best Ladies watch this year.
GG: The Chanel Mademoiselle J12 Acte II does have that Coco Chanel figurine hanging from the crown, and for me does a decent job of navigating the path between asexuality and cutesy femininity with its touch of little black suit, but the quartz movement puts me off.
ED: Agreed. For me quartz watches are practically non-starters. And you men have really said it all: I feel the same way.
Quick Facts Chanel Mademoiselle J12 Acte II
Case: 33 x 12.85 mm, steel and black ceramic with white gold bezel
Dial: black lacquered and set with 12 baguette-cut diamonds (0.22 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 555 pieces
Price: 23,650 Swiss francs
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Sélène Rose Gold
GG: The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Sélène Rose Gold White MOP 33 mm (note to Parmigiani: hire someone new to name your watch models) has a lot going for it: serious watchmaking, high-quality dial-side work including shaped applied indices and glowing mother-of-pearl, and sizing at 33 mm that actually makes it wearable for a great many women.
I rather wish Parmigiani had chosen to enter one of its aventurine-dial pieces as the woven lotus pattern on this dial seems fussy to me, but I’ll defer to Elizabeth on whether it seems too frilly for current sensibilities or just right.
ED: It is slightly fussy, but it is also decorative, which certainly makes it very attractive to many people. Like you, Gary, I tend to prefer the aventurine pieces that Parmigiani produces. That does not diminish the attractiveness of this one on its own, though the busy background does make the hands disappear somewhat. They are most definitely harder to find on the dial due to that decorative center, making the watch less easy to read at a glance. And with a case diameter of (a rather small) 33 mm, I’m not sure the watch can afford to be less easy to read.
However, one thing I do dislike here is this date form – and not just on this watch, but on any watch that uses it. I find showing three numerals (or two numerals and a dot) somewhat confusing even if I do understand that sometimes designers prefer to use a wider date style to balance out a dial.
If I really need to know the date from my watch, I’d much prefer it to be one concrete numeral that’s easier to find.
JM: What a stunning piece of watchmaking that combines elegance with practicality. The date display is integrated very nicely into the subsidiary seconds dial, and the moon phase at 12 o’clock helps balance the dial and provide a poetic complication for those who like to keep track of the moon (I know I do).
MG: Yes, Joshua, Parmigiani always succeeds in crafting beautiful watches with a twist. I love that the brand took the liberty of creating the golden lacework over the mother-of-pearl dial. Without it, the watch would look surprisingly plain.
JM: The mother-of-pearl dial combined with the filigree design definitely takes this watch up a notch in terms of glamour, combined with a diamond-set bezel and a case in pink gold, but it still isn’t over-the-top flashy. It may struggle in day-to-day life, but it could be pulled off by those with enough confidence in many atypical situations. I don’t know if it represents the best Ladies watch but I would be satisfied enough if it took the top prize (though it is more of a runner-up than the winner in my eyes).
IS: While the fine gold “lacework” makes the dial just a tad too busy for my taste, the take-a-deep-breath-before-you-say-its-name Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Sélène Rose Gold White Mop 33 mm has absolutely everything else going for it: very wearable size, mother-of-pearl dial, moon phase, automatic manufacture movement, elegant pink gold case, and a sprinkling of diamonds around the bezel that add a little pizzazz without shouting BLING! I think it will be a frontrunner for sure and wouldn’t be at all surprised if it took first place here, Joshua.
Quick Facts Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Sélène Rose Gold
Case: 33.7 x 9.5 mm, pink gold, bezel set with 60 diamonds (0.83 ct)
Movement: automatic Caliber PF318 with 50-hour power reserve, twin serially operating spring barrels, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, moon phase
Price: 31,100 Swiss francs
Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow
MG: Piaget is a master in making gold watches, as it has done for almost five decades. Today gold watches are a hard sell, particularly ladies’ watches with an integrated bracelet featuring old-style goldsmithing techniques and decorations. That is why I love watches like this, as they bring this craftmanship to the attention of a new generation by utilizing a rainbow setting. This watch even earns bonus points for being powered with one of Piaget’s superb automatic movements. Very well done, Piaget, and my runner-up in this category.
IS: Like the Bovet Miss Audrey, the Piaget Limelight Gala is a previous GPHG Ladies’ watch laureate, taking the prize back in 2016. But because Bovet won this category last year the jury’s memories are likely to be fresh with that, and I think that five years between wins is likely to be long enough to warrant another win. To my mind, and I suspect/hope that of the jury, the Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow will take the 2021 GPHG prize for best ladies’ watch. It’s extremely pretty and elegantly eye-catching.
JM: Piaget makes some truly stunning watches, and the Limelight has always been a showstopper for me. But like with the Van Cleef & Arpels piece, it is way, way too dressy and glamorous for an everyday wristwatch. It belongs with a classy dress and a glass of champagne, not running errands around town.
I love the rainbow setting around the bezel in the typical Limelight style, and the “Palace Décor” engraving on the dial and bracelet make this a golden jewel, one better kept safe for most of the week and brought out for special occasions.
GG: The Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow is certainly an attractive piece to my eye, and it does feature a mechanical movement, but it’s simply the latest in a long line of Piaget Limelight pieces and this year I’m going to try to police the “old watch, new color” phenomenon a bit more tightly, so I knocked it off my consideration list.
ED: Wow, this watch JUST squeaks in under the nine-carat gemstone limit! Which is probably fair as the most difficult part of this watch is sourcing and choosing the perfect stones to complete the progressive coloring of the rainbow styling, which jibes perfectly with the pale pink gold that appears almost yellow to me in the photos (I haven’t had the pleasure of handling it).
But the winning elements for me are the gold bracelet and dial hand-chiseled in a vintage style from the 1960s that I am particularly enamored of. The beautiful bracelet design starts with hundreds of tiny gold links assembled tightly. Then they are soldered together and finally hand-engraved in the Palace Décor style, which takes eight full hours to accomplish.
The dial is engraved by the same artisan in the same style. An absolute stunner of a visual feast, it is just slightly too small to be anything other than a cocktail watch, even if the size is fully in keeping with its vintage feel. So, Joshua, absolutely correct: this should never be a daily wearer.
A winner of the Ladies Watch prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2016, Piaget’s Limelight Gala has always been a jeweled watch. And now Piaget has cleverly made it part of the rainbow trend in 2021. This is a beautiful watch. No bones about it. But we’ve seen so many of these entered over the years – and rightly so! – that I am very hesitant to pick it as my winner.
Further reading: 5 Rainbow Watches That Anyone Can Wear, With Pride!
Quick Facts Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow
Case: 32 x 10 mm, pink gold, bezel set with 5 brilliant-cut green tsavorites and 37 brilliant-cut sapphires ranging from red through orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet (8.812 ct)
Dial: hand-engraved pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 501P1 (530P base), 3.63 mm in height, 40-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: $102,000 / 99,000 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra secret pendant watch
MG: Van Cleef & Arpels doing what it does best: creating watches that ride the knife’s edge as jewelry. This watch’s complex setting is executed to perfection, and what I like most is that it is hard to put a date of manufacture to this pendant watch as it could very well have been made decades ago.
ED: In fact, this is such a “jewelry watch” for me with its beautiful but impractical style that I feel I could not nominate it as a winner in this category. It really belongs in the Jewellery category in my opinion.
JM: I think the name of this one should probably be a dead giveaway that I don’t think this is the best Ladies watch considering my criteria stated above. It’s utterly gorgeous and a piece of jewelry, but not a versatile watch in the traditional sense. With the watch function being “secret” (hidden) and a pendant (which doesn’t necessarily disqualify it outright), this a very special-use timepiece, and so I can’t recommend it for winning this category. I would gladly get it for someone who loves jewelry and watches, but I wouldn’t expect it to be the go-to piece for normal occasions.
GG: The Alhambra line has of course been a mainstay for Van Cleef & Arpels for all of recent memory, and I bet the brand will sell a fair number of the clever Alhambra Secret Pendant Watch. But as with some of the others, the quartz movement knocks it down my list.
IS: For those very special occasions and big nights out dressed to the nines, the Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra secret pendant watch would be my first choice to hang from any woman’s neck. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the only reasons that I don’t think it will win here is that it has a quartz movement (I’m biased to mechanical) and it’s a bit too flashy to be a regular-wear watch.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra secret pendant watch
Case: 28.1 x 28.1 x 8.4 mm, yellow gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds (3.89 ct)
Dial: guilloche yellow gold
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 42,800
Elizabeth: Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White
Joshua: Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White
Gary: Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White
Martin: Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White
Ian: Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow