Our Predictions In The Ladies Complication Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Once Again Nearly Unanimous
Welcome to the 2021 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 describes the Ladies Complication category for watches entered as “women’s watches that are remarkable in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity. These watches may feature all kinds of classic and/or innovative complications and indications (e.g., annual calendar, perpetual calendar, equation of time, complex moon phases, tourbillon, digital or retrograde time display, world time, dual time, and others) and do not fit the definition of the Ladies’ category.”
MG: Complicated ladies’ watches are not as rare as they once were, but I feel that the best thing is that they are not converted men’s watches anymore but purposely designed and built specifically for female wrists.
But should I repeat my point that a tourbillon is still a regulating organ and not a complication?
ED: I think that does need to be repeated.
IS: It should also be noted that ultra-thin isn’t technically a complication either.
GG: I think there are some interesting contenders in this category, including two watches featuring jumping hours, a favorite complication of mine. I do wish that GPHG did not include tourbillon-only watches in this category as from a purist’s standpoint the tourbillon is not a complication. But the foundation’s rules do include it and so we must give those watches fair play.
IS: What I don’t understand, Gary, is that there is a dedicated Tourbillon category that is not called “Men’s Tourbillon.”
JM: The Ladies Complication category is always fun yet a little frustrating because it showcases how few brands attempt to make unique complications or even interesting variations specific to the form and function of a ladies’ watch. There are always fantastic pieces, but I have to admit I’m a bit sad when the category is largely comprised of tourbillon watches: this year 60 percent of the entries are just such pieces. What’s worse is that I truly love the design and implementation of these pieces but I want more, so I struggle to pick a piece that only carries a tourbillon.
IS: While all six of the watches pre-selected in the Ladies’ Complication category this year are beautiful, I’m surprised that there aren’t more complicated watches among them. And I’m also wondering if the Tourbillon category should be renamed “Men’s Tourbillons.”
It appears that tourbillons don’t count as complicated enough for the Men’s Complication category but are complicated enough for Ladies’ Complications. By my reckoning, five of the six watches here would qualify in the Ladies’ and Tourbillon categories.
Bovet 1822 Récital 23 turquoise collection
IS: I’m scratching my head as to why the Bovet 1822 Récital 23 wasn’t entered into the Ladies category, where it both qualifies and would have been my clear pick as winner. But while its presence here with “just” a moon phase only serves to highlight the absence of serious complications for women this year, it’s my runaway pick as the winner. It’s a simply stunning watch in every respect.
ED: I was already a giant fan of the original Bovet Récital 23, which was introduced at SIHH 2019, with its very feminine yet very technical visuals. This new edition that is part of Bovet’s “turquoise collection” for 2021 is even better – punctuated by sweet hands that form a heart when they come together, which the original version did not have.
And while I would really, really like this watch to win this category this year with its extra-large moon phase accurate to one day every 122 years, I think I must call it tied for first as there’s another watch in the running that is just as clever and aesthetic in my view – and very likely to call out to the jury with its charming aesthetics.
GG: To say that the Bovet 1822 Récital 23 is “only” a moon phase watch is to sell it far short: in my opinion, the slanted writing-desk construction of case and movement, the high dome of the moon phase module, the dramatic framing of the moon, and the moon phase adjustment integrated into the crown combine to make this a special piece for me. Unfortunately, this watch is a cosmetic update (albeit a highly attractive one) of a 2019 reference, so it falls down my list for this year.
MG: Oval watches never really work, but this Bovet is the best one of the lot. The brand makes good use of the space that the shape offers and fortunately forgoes the common mistake of filling it entirely with just a dial.
JM: Bovet is always a star when it comes to interesting ladies watches that implement complications, and the Récital 23 follows suit. It sports a very cool and aesthetically pleasing moon phase display that takes top billing at the head of the writing slope-shaped case (one of the best inventions from Bovet since its inception).
The style of the watch feels perfectly in line with this category: a nicely feminine watch that highlights a complication and shows some of the mechanics on the dial but still doesn’t feel like a men’s watch that the brand slapped diamonds on. It’s a super solid entry and if not for another piece would be my number one pick to win. I’m putting it as my runner-up but I wouldn’t be surprised and would be very happy if it took the prize!
Quick Facts Bovet Récital 23 turquoise collection
Case: 43 x 38.7 x 14.4 mm in red gold, bezel, case and dial set with brilliant-cut diamonds (2.224 ct)
Dial: hand-guilloche and covered with turquoise-colored enamel (flinqué)
Movement: automatic Caliber 11DA17-MP, 62-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; moon phase
Limitation: 60 pieces
Price: 113,100 Swiss francs
Chopard L.U.C Flying T Twin Ladies
GG: The Chopard L.U.C Flying T Twin Ladies is, as always from Chopard and its L.U.C line, horologically impressive and beautifully made. Its highly traditional look, however, keeps it from being a standout in a field of more imaginative presentations.
ED: This 35 mm watch came out at Watches and Wonders Shanghai earlier in 2021, so we didn’t have a chance to handle it. However, it seems to be a smaller version of the 40 mm men’s variation of 2019. In function there is no difference to the men’s piece, but this 5 mm smaller timepiece has been “prettified” with the addition of diamonds and a mother-of-pearl dial. As Gary noted, it is rather traditional looking.
While I find it attractive – though I personally like the original 40 mm piece with its attractive guilloche dial much better – I have to admit it doesn’t blow me away, especially against the extraordinary purpose-built Bovet and Van Cleef & Arpels timepieces.
MG: What is not to like about this Chopard? It is the perfect example of how a classically inclined, complicated ladies watch should look: precious, subtle, and timeless. That said, the movement is a work of art as well, combining high performance with a thin profile.
JM: When the original L.U.C Flying T Twin debuted, I knew it was a top-notch watch from Chopard, and this edition is no different. Chopard shrunk it for smaller wrists (making it 0.2 mm thicker in the process) and added a fully diamond-set case with mother-of-pearl dial for a very lovely presentation.
At the end of the day, though, I’m left wanting with this piece: it feels a bit phoned in when it comes to a good ladies’ complication piece. It has similar specs to three other pieces in this category and sort of gets lost in the noise. Plus it only has a tourbillon, which always seems like a bit of a copout for the complication category when other brands are bringing their A games. It’s a fantastic watch, but not a winner of this category.
IS: The Chopard L.U.C Flying T Twin Ladies is my number three pick behind the Bovet and Van Cleef & Arpels. A flying tourbillon and stop seconds aren’t overly complicated in a category for complicated watches, but the beautifully finished manufacture movement, mother-of-pearl dial, and elegantly clean aesthetics all work for me. I wouldn’t be surprised if others picked this to win.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C Flying T Twin Ladies
Case: 35 x 7.47 mm, Fairmined pink gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds (1.99 ct)
Movement: automatic Caliber L.U.C. 96.24-L with one-minute flying tourbillon; 25,200 vph frequency, 65-hour power reserve, C.O.S.C. chronometer certified, Geneva Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds on the tourbillon cage
Limitation: 25 pieces
Price: 128,000 Swiss francs
Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne
MG: Count on Louis Vuitton to deliver some funky fun! This is a perfectly executed ladies’ watch that combines an avant-garde look with high-end execution. I know this is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I love it!
JM: I’ve always been a big fan of the Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time and this version is beautiful and fun example. With a jumping hour complication that uses tiny rotating Vivienne statues to display the current hour, the Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne is one of the most fun and whimsical pieces in this category.
The transparent nature of the watch with the movement suspended in the center allows the little figures to be highlighted and viewed from both sides, and the figures have a front side (sporting a face and wearing the flowers around the face) and a backside that show the Vivienne facing away, hiding from view. The current hour is displayed by the figure turned sideways in profile, and the hour ahead sees the face of one Vivienne, showing up for just a tiny part of your day.
I am truly enamored of this watch and love the complication, and if it was sized in a reasonable way I could see this one taking the prize. I think it will probably miss out because it is too big for most tastes and so may have to settle being another runner-up.
ED: You bring up an excellent “shrink and pink” example here, Joshua. But Louis Vuitton seems to have forgotten to shrink it, which is why this watch is too big. And that discounts it for me despite the fun time-telling complication that is one of this brand’s high-watchmaking hallmarks.
GG: The Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne builds on a series of Spin Time pieces that have been with us since 2009, but this presentation with its spinning Vivienne dolls is novel enough that I’m inclined to give it a pass on the “old watch, new clothes” disqualifier. While the color scheme is not to my personal taste, I’m pretty sure that I’m not in the target market and this is about horological merit, not my favorite hues. The large size of the watch at 42.5 mm perhaps edges it downward a bit in my view, but overall, it’s my second choice.
IS: The Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne is so intricately pretty, and the jumping hours so elegantly executed, that I can easily see it winning this category. I would also have seen this watch as a strong contender in the Ladies’ watches category. I love it, but it’s on the large size for the Ladies’ category and for me it’s more of an art piece. It’s a fantastic, fun watch for women with larger wrists, though. And many men!
Quick Facts Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne
Case: 42.5 x 12.3 mm, pink gold set with 239 brilliant-cut diamonds (1.69 ct)
Dial: 12 unique Monogram flower miniatures in red lacquer and pink gold
Movement: automatic manufacture Caliber LV 89, 32-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: jump hours, minutes
Price: 85,500 Swiss francs
Montres KF KF-09-01
MG: What went wrong at the Montres KF? Why are the hands not placed in the middle? While this watch has all the ingredients to be great, the execution is that of a Michelin-star chef who lost it while chasing a third star. Maybe the people at Montres KF are not to blame as they work using a bespoke-only concept and perhaps had a client with more money than taste.
Mechanically, this watch packs a punch with a strong focus on precision timekeeping. However, I cannot understand the sapphire-set (if that’s what they are? no description available) disks on the tourbillon as this would seems to me to add only weight, therefore dragging performance down.
ED: Ah, the bespoke concept explains quite a bit about this very obvious men’s watch that has been “dressed up” to maybe sort of appeal to women, though I’m really not sure who this would appeal to: the “dressing up” is questionable to me, too, Martin. It looks like a lot of individual elements thrown together but not coalescing into one holistic timepiece.
This watch is so messy I don’t even know where to begin, and the very incomplete description provided sheds almost no light on how it could happen. A non-starter for me despite the fancy escapement.
JM: I’m torn with this piece because I have really enjoyed the work coming from Montres KF with super interesting mechanics and distinctive styling, but for this category I didn’t just want a masculine watch with diamonds applied, and this is pretty much exactly what this is. It’s an incredible watch, and for those that dig the size and aesthetics, it is definitely a super exclusive piece with an awesome movement. But for this category, I just don’t think it offers enough to win.
IS: The Montres KF KF-09-01 highlights just how difficult it is to judge watches without handling them personally. I’m guessing that the photos do not do this watch justice, but they are all I’ve got to go on and the design just doesn’t work for me. The hands and hour marker stars look chunky rather than elegant, and while I’m normally a fan of aventurine dials in these photos it just doesn’t seem to pop enough. A tip of the hat, though, for the nonmagnetic tourbillon escapement.
GG: The Montres KF KF-09-01 is an intriguing piece from independent constructor and watchmaker Karsten Fräßdorf. A friend who owns another of the KF tourbillons raves about it, but the overall look of this particular piece – and in particular the blunt hands and thick star hour markers – is just too clunky to my eye. Credit given for reducing the case size from the usual 44.5 mm to a somewhat more manageable 42 mm, but this to me seems more a converted men’s watch than one purpose-built for women.
Quick Facts Montres KF KF-09-01
Case: 42 x 11 mm, white gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds (2.8 ct)
Movement: manual winding Caliber Novamag with one-minute tourbillon, 45-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency, reinforced antimagnetism, Spirograph balance
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 145,000 Swiss francs
Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon
MG: Piaget is trying, just like last year, to bring home the win with an Altiplano Tourbillon. While technically a breathtaking watch, the dial layout is still not working for me. Not even with an aventurine dial and baguette-cut diamond bezel, both of which I am a huge fan.
ED: Like with the Limelight Gala variations often entered into the Ladies category, I just feel like we see too many of these come through. They are attractive and mechanically interesting for sure but have lost some of their novelty, I’m afraid.
IS: The Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon just missed my pick for tied second place. I’m a big fan of ultra-thin watches, and they make perfect sense on generally smaller women’s wrists. The flying tourbillon set into an aventurine dial and minimalistic hour/minute subdial are simply stunning. It’s a beautiful watch.
JM: Who doesn’t love a Piaget Altiplano, especially with a truly thin tourbillon and stunning aventurine dial? I will always be a vocal supporter of the Altiplano line, and Piaget in general, as it develops lovely pieces that continue the historical precedent of being thin enough to hide under any shirt sleeve.
Still, this piece suffers from the same issue as a couple other watches, specifically that it is a tourbillon-only complicated watch, which just fails to excite me enough in this specific category. The watch is fantastic, but I fear it just doesn’t take the top spot for me.
GG: The Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon is a lovely piece, and at 38 mm nicely matched to its 7 mm thickness. But one byproduct of its downsizing is that the time subdial is crunched closer to the bezel than the tourbillon, and for better or worse these days “just” a tourbillon isn’t that remarkable.
Quick Facts Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon
Case: 38 x 7.35 mm, white gold, lugs and crown set with 13 and brilliant-cut diamonds (0.19 ct), bezel set with 48 baguette-cut (2.06 ct)
Movement: manual winding Caliber 670P with one-minute flying tourbillon, 48-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 38 pieces
Price: 147,000 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie
JM: Unsurprisingly, based on everything I’ve said about the other pieces in this category, this is my clear winner. It is a watch designed specifically around a whimsical display, isn’t just a diamond-encrusted men’s watch, and has a complication designed just for this watch.
The Lady Féerie’s dial displays a fairy wearing a diamond-and-sapphire gown with plique-à-jour and grisaille enamel wings using a diamond wand to point to the minutes via a retrograde mechanism. The hours are displayed with a jump hour, numerals visible in a window just below center that represents the moon.
The fairy is sitting on a cloud of mother-of-pearl, and the dial is a gorgeous guilloche and translucent enamel. The theme is continued on the back with the winding rotor, and the entire presentation feels like it is a complicated watch designed with ladies in mind with an awesome movement inside. I would vote for this watch every time in this group!
ED: While this fairy’s jump hour and retrograde minutes may not seem like such a big deal in terms of complication, rest assured that they are – especially the retrograde minute hand, which is set with a large diamond, changing the weight of it. This is especially important because of the retrograde function, which sees the hand jump quickly back to zero when it reaches the end of an hour.
And it’s been built into an appropriately sized watch! I love this retrograde minute, jump hour watch, absolutely love its ingenuity and beauty.
IS: Van Cleef & Arpels invented ladies’ complications for me, and I haven’t seen a Poetic Complication they’ve made that hasn’t taken my breath away. And this Lady Féerie watch is no exception. Simply stunning. And with both jumping hours and retrograde minutes, by the technical definition of a horological complication – i.e., an indication (so tourbillons and ultra thin don’t count) – it’s the most complicated watch here. It’s my runner-up, and the only reason that it’s not at the top of my podium is that, while I appreciate it’s a new design, I feel that I’ve seen it too many times before.
ED: The fairy theme is a constant one at Van Cleef & Arpels, Ian. So while we’ve seen fairies at this brand before, we have not seen this specific watch yet.
IS: Yes, I think this is the first jump hour fairy I’ve seen, Elizabeth, and it’s the most complicated watch here, but fair or not I just feel I’ve seen too similar too many times before (which could be also said of every two- or three-hand round watch). Seeing this Lady Féerie in the flesh might well tip me, but until then . . .
MG: I am starting a petition for Van Cleef & Arpels to make a fairy watch for guys! With its whimsical touch, this watch doesn’t take itself too seriously despite being a very serious watch. The jump hour with retrograde minutes is fun, but the execution of all the details, from the dial background to the gem-set fairy and the mother-of-pearl clouds is so well done that this watch has to win the category.
GG: My pick in this category is the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie. The complication, with jumping hours in a window complementing a retrograde minute hand, and size at 33 mm are new takes on the established VC&A fairy theme. And as usual the design is pleasing to the eye and, I’m sure, beautifully executed. The moon-and-stars-engraved winding weight visible on the reverse is for me the icing on the cake!
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie
Case: 33 x 13.14 mm, white gold; bezel, case, dial and buckle set with brilliant-cut diamonds (4.7 ct)
Dial: plique-à-jour and grisaille enamel over guilloche, mother-of-pearl
Movement: undisclosed automatic caliber, 36-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: jump hours, retrograde minutes
Price: 104,000 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: tie between Bovet 1822 Récital 23 turquoise collection and Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie
Ian: Bovet 1822 Récital 23 turquoise collection
Joshua: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie
Gary: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie
Martin: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie