Our Predictions In The Men’s Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), Again Close But Not Quite Unanimous In Our Pick For Winner
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 Men’s category for watches entered as “comprising the following indications only: hours, minutes, seconds, simple date (day of the month), power reserve, classic moon phases; may be adorned with a maximum five-carat gemsetting.”
MG: Six very diverse watches show why luxury watchmaking is more alive than ever.
ED: In fact, I think it might be hard to find six more diverse pieces! Three shaped watches, two with visible movement parts, one gimmicky “troll” watch, one Japanese timepiece, one by a fashion brand turned serious watchmaker, and one designed by one of my favorite designers of all time. Whew, that’s gonna be tough!
JM: Men’s is the oft-debated and hotly contested category where the rules are broad and the focus even more so. It’s also is the most entered category with 29 entries before being reduced to six, eliminating a lot of great pieces that also vary wildly from each other. I have always, and will always, struggle to decide in this category, so like with the Ladies category I’ll be focusing on my own set of criteria, which include needing a hook, a style that is widely appealing, and the versatility to be worn in a variety of situations.
I might like some watches more for my own personal taste, but the category should play a role in picking the best watch in that context.
IS: Well, what a diverse selection of watches in the Men’s category this year. This category usually features variations on relatively unassuming classic round Swiss watches, and here the only classical-looking watch in a round case is Japanese. And a well-deserved tip of hat to Louis Erard: I can’t remember the last time I saw a watch under $5,000 competing with the world’s finest; La Semaine comes in under $4,000.
GG: I’ll confess that I had a harder time than I thought I would finalizing my choices in this category, as my “obvious” choice nearly ran afoul of my “old watch, new clothes” constraint before finally prevailing.
Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5
MG: It might be me, but while I can normally appreciate a good Grand Seiko I find this one rather plain. The texture on the dial is nicely done, but it relies completely on the blued second hand for a much-needed dash of color.
Also, can Grand Seiko please start to give their watches proper names? High-end watchmaking is still all about the emotion it evokes.
JM: An old love, Grand Seiko, and a watch that is easily one of the most broadly appealing in this category. Aside from the MB&F LM101, the Grand Seiko is the watch I think that has the best chance of winning. That dial is absolutely stunning, while the watch boasts 100-meter water resistance, 80 hours of power reserve, and is supremely wearable with a great bracelet. Not to mention its movement is very reliable and accurate.
It also costs one-fifth of what the MB&F LM101 costs, making it much more accessible to a wider customer base, and the size makes it very versatile. Grand Seiko has won in the past in other categories, and it seriously is a tremendous value for the best Men’s watch. I literally could see it as a tossup between MB&F and Grand Seiko, and I would pick it as the most broadly appealing best Men’s watch in the category.
IS: I can easily see the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5 winning this category. It’s not only a superb watch with a chronometer-beating precision movement with an innovative escapement, it’s the only traditional-looking men’s watch here. 40 mm is a perfect sized case for nearly all wrists, 80 hours of power reserve is generous, and at 10,500 Swiss francs, the price is very competitive. This Grand Seiko will be a tough one to beat, but it’s my tied runner-up in the Men’s category.
ED: This is Grand Seiko’s hero piece this year, and its textured dial, high-frequency movement, extreme wearability, and 80-hour automatic movement make it tough to beat. Nonetheless – and I’m sure not having had the chance to handle it in person affects my perception – it seems to have a little less charm than some of the other contestants in the running, even if it might be a bit more efficient on other fronts.
GG: Nothing wrong with the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5! Grand Seiko continues to do fine dial work, and the latest Hi-Beat movement incorporates a new escapement design and overcoil hairspring to improve timekeeping and reduce isochronism while retaining the 5 Hz frequency. The overall look and especially the case is perhaps a bit dated, but I’d go as far as to call this my second choice in this category.
Quick Facts Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5
Case: 40 x 11.7 mm, stainless steel, 100 m water resistance
Dial: polished lacquer
Movement: automatic Caliber 9SA5, 36,000 vph/5 Hz frequency, 80-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: 10,500 Swiss francs
H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade
GG: The H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade is another watch that’s the latest in a series, and I had the chance to photograph and review it here a few months ago. The new bits are the Vantablack dial and spinning “circle of death” in the place of the seconds indicator. It’s a cool watch, but a bit too much of a gimmick for me to be Men’s watch of the year. Unlike a download spinner on your phone or computer, the one on this watch goes around only once a minute rather than every few seconds, diluting the fun effect.
MG: I like my Mosers best without a sense of humor anyway, Gary. I think it is great that the Swiss Alp watch was such a success, though. And although it is very well made, the concept is still too whimsical for me. I have a great fondness for the more serious, apparently less humorous watches that this brand makes.
JM: This is an awesome tongue-in-cheek watch that I would love to own, but I fear cannot win this category. Moser is the reigning king of high-class trolling in the watch industry, and it is one of my favorite brands for that very reason: it makes very deliberate pieces to grab attention but uses those pieces to demonstrate how incredible its movements and watches are. The Swiss Alp watch is clearly a play on the Apple Watch, and it caused quite a stir when it launched. I also think that is its the nail in the coffin: it looks too much like a “cheap” Apple product and was made explicitly to make a statement. I love this watch, but it won’t take the top spot in this category.
ED: Excellent point, Joshua. Since this fun watch was actually called into creation to make a point and poke some fun, it will be hard for the jury to take it seriously, no matter how well made and interesting it is.
IS: Highlighting how some symbols enter the conscious so profoundly, even when it isn’t working to display the seconds, every time I look at that Apple loading icon on the dial of the Moser Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade I see it spinning.
I love minimalist dials, and nobody does that better than Moser: no brand name and not even a logo breaking that sublime Vantablack dial. Even the power reserve indicator is placed on the back so as not to break the purity of the dial. Not that it will be necessary to check very often thanks to an incredible 96-hour range when fully wound. The movement is typically Moser stunning and pops even more through the display back due to the black case. It’s a fantastic model to close the Swiss Alp collection.
Further reading: Serious Fun: H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade
Quick Facts H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade
Case: 44 x 38.2 x 10.3 mm, stainless steel coated with black DLC
Dial and hands: Vantablack dial and ruthenium-tone hands; rotating 60-second “loading” seconds display
Movement: manually wound Caliber HMC 324; 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency; power reserve minimum 4 days
Functions: hours, minutes, 60-second (hacking) “loading” indicator; power reserve indicator on movement
Limitation: 50 pieces (sold out)
Price: $30,800 / 28,800 Swiss francs
ED: I had the chance to spend serious time with three versions of this timepiece, and I can attest that I would have worn them in any situation that life would have called for during my time with them. In fact, if I hadn’t been in lockdown along with the rest of Germany they would have seen serious wrist time everywhere I went that week. Alas, I went nowhere but the backyard.
I got to know this watch intimately and to know it is to love it. The versatility and extreme good looks of the Hermès H08 watch convinced me: it is a perfect everyday companion. And the very fair price is really the cherry on top. As much as I’d like to have picked the Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein La Semaine, which I know will be too polarizing a design for many people, I feel that this Hermès is suited toward a much broader audience, even if it is one of three shaped watches competing in this category. This watch is my 2021 winner in this category.
IS: Having had the opportunity to handle the full Hermès H08 launch collection, I thought that a few of the variations I saw were potential Men’s category winners. With its unisex-sized 39 mm square case, neat contemporary dial, and casually modern squarish case, I think it’s a real winner for Hermès. But this black version is just too casual for me to pick it as the winner here. The titanium model is the one I think has much broader appeal. The H08 very competitively priced, and it’s one of the watches here I’d like on my own wrist.
It’s worth pointing out that the technical specifications on the GPHG website incorrectly have the H08 as having a power reserve indicator. It doesn’t, nor with an automatic movement does it need one.
The Hermès H08 is my tied runner-up in the Men’s category.
JM: Hermès has been absolutely killing it in recent years, making watches with broad appeal. And the H08 is the latest in the brand’s endeavors to gain market share and produce quality watches for competitive prices.
The H08 has a unique look but stays relatively restrained, opting for flair in typography and case shape. This helps it be a better everyday watch that can be worn in a variety of settings, but it has one minor flaw and one major hitch: the small flaw is that the date numerals are so stylistic that they can be hard to read, and that might turn some people off.
But the big hitch is the case shape. As much as I would like to think people are adventurous, the fact that it is a shape that departs from the norm might be just enough to hurt its chances of maximum broad appeal for a category like this. A lot of people will like it, but will everybody? I’m not sure, even though I want one.
MG: With the H08 Hermès delivered one killer of a men’s watch, although I can easily see a woman wearing one as well. There is not a single detail I don’t like about this watch, which I consider one of those perfect everyday watches. My runner-up in this category.
GG: The Hermès H08 is a bit baffling to me as it looks like a Sevenfriday with the word Hermès on the dial and the inboard position of the date window tells me that the movement is way too small for the case. Not my favorite.
Further reading: New Hermès HO8: A Square Take On The Casual Sporty Watch
Quick Facts Hermès H08
Case: 39 x 39 mm, graphene composite/ceramic bezel, 100 meters water resistance
Movement: automatic Hermès Caliber H1837 with twin spring barrels; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 50-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: €8,000 / 8,670 Swiss francs (graphene composite/ceramic bezel)
Louis Erard La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
ED: My winner is the Hermès H08, but as I said above the Louis Erard is my runner-up – and mainly because it’s too limited in numbers and too polarizing in design to be widely recognized.
However, for my personal (rather eclectic) tastes this is an almost perfect watch – and if I can figure out how to get one, I will do that. The sizing is ideal for every wrist size, and the soft, breathable, lightweight nylon strap with its quick-fit, Velcro-like closure not only makes this watch sportier but also a perfect fit every time.
As Alain Silberstein has always been one of my favorite designers, I’m not sure if there could be a nicer dial, though as I’ve said before I’m not as enamored of the giant blue arrow as I wish I was. But the “smileday” function that this watch also offers like some of Silberstein’s older ones has always made me smile! Here the days do not have names but are instead symbolized by playful smileyfaces. The wearer gets to choose the face for that day based on their own mood.
MG: It is always great to see a creation by Alain Silberstein as it brings an instant smile to my face. However, I really do not like the nylon strap and the way it connects to the case, which significantly cheapens the overall look. Imagine this with a black calfskin strap between the elegantly shaped lugs!
JM: This is a fun watch, no question about it, made in collaboration with a widely popular artist, Alain Silberstein. It is the most affordable watch in the group and has two hooks: the bold styling and the fun smiley face that you can select to match your mood. Sadly, it is also a bit too bold for some. I know that the style of Alain Silberstein has many fans, but it does narrow the field as it is a bit too brash for some who want an understated watch. I think this watch will have a lot of fans, but I worry about broad approachability.
IS: The Louis Erard La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein is not only one of the standouts for me from Geneva Watch Days 2021, it’s a watch I instantly wanted to buy for myself. It looks absolutely sensational and seems to be at least, if not more, “Silberstein” than the watches he was making under his own brand. And for the price it’s unbeatable value. However, I think it’s too colorful and too fun to be the winner here as I suspect that the jury will be looking for a more laidback watch (though if you read on, you’ll I’m soon going to contradict that last statement).
GG: I almost bought the first Louis Erard collaboration watch with Alain Silberstein, and wish I had; the new La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein, part of a trilogy of watches, looks cool and is certainly accessible from a price perspective but perhaps expectedly lacks horological distinction, and the bracket between the case and strap puts me off a bit. Still a strong effort, though!
Further reading: Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein x Manuel Emch x A Cast Of Guest Artists = Amazing (And Affordable) Watches
Quick Facts Louis Erard La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain SilbersteinCase: 40 x 11.6 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2836-2, 38-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, smileday
Limitation: 178 pieces
Price: 3,500 Swiss francs
MB&F LM101 Stainless Steel
IS: After just writing that the La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein was too colorful and exotic to be the winner here, I am giving first place to a watch that, while sedate for MB&F, is even more outlandish. It would be out of character for the GPHG jury to award such an atypical watch as the LM101 Double Hairspring best men’s watch 2021 because the jury usually chooses more traditional models. But to my eye (and as a lover of more conservative watches), it’s simply perfect.
MB&F must have had Harry Potter wave his wand over that dial because somehow (and I can only think by magic), despite two high-contrast white dials and a towering suspended double hairspring balance juxtaposed on an eye-catching sky-blue dial, the layout seems clean and uncluttered. And the movement through the display back is a work of art in itself. The MB&F LM101 Double Hairspring is my pick as the winner of the Men’s category.
GG: My top choice this year is the MB&F LM101 Double Hairspring. While we’ve been treated to variations of the LM101 since 2014, this version includes some material changes from prior versions. The updated movement now includes the Moser double hairspring, and on the cosmetic side the thinner bezel, elimination of the dial-side engravings, and redesigned subdials make for a sleeker look. I’m of course biased as I spent my own money on the white gold version of this piece, but for horological chops and eye appeal it’s clearly top of my list.
MG: Clean look, 40 mm diameter, yet running to the beat of its own personality. I think that this is the perfect MB&F watch, embodying all the brand stands for in a very pure, less whimsical way. My winner in this category.
JM: Oh, MB&F, the object of my unrequited love! I am unlikely to ever own an MB&F piece even though I have loved and will love the brand till the day I die. I have lusted after the Legacy Machine series (LM) for years and will always have a soft spot for it.
The LM101 is one of the most accessible MB&F pieces. It is also an extremely attractive watch that nearly everyone I have showed it to – watch fan or not – has said is an amazing watch. Do I think this watch will win this category? I think it probably has the best chance to win, but I am split with another watch simply because I fear it may be too avant-garde for the jury (though I know they pick amazing watches like this all the time).
The Men’s category is often dominated by pieces by Kari Voutilainen and other more traditionally minded makers, and the Legacy Machine is still a wild timepiece. I think it should win, I would vote for it, but I also would not be surprised if it missed out for the reasons I mentioned.
ED: There is nothing inherently “wrong” with this new variation of the LM101, which now appears in stainless steel. But if we’re going to nitpick in other categories about a “color change,” then unfortunately I feel I will have to do it with MB&F too – as much as that doesn’t seem right to me (and it only doesn’t seem right because I just love this watch so much). I suppose I can console myself by picking MB&F as my winner in the next round . . . maybe.
- LM101 By MB&F: Distilling The Very Essence Of Time
- Why I Bought It: MB&F Legacy Machine 101 2021 Edition
Quick Facts MB&F Legacy Machine 101 stainless steel
Case: 40 x 16 mm, stainless steel
Dial: light soleil main dial; domed lacquer subdials for time and power reserve
Movement: manually wound movement with flying dial-side balance; in-house movement with design and finish specifications by Kari Voutilainen; power reserve 45 hours; 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency; NAC finished bridges
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve
Limitation: limited production; waitlist for future years’ production available through authorized dealers and at shop.madgallery.ch
Price: 53,000 Swiss francs
Piaget Polo Skeleton
MG: While some consider me a Piaget connoisseur, I never warmed up to the latest generation of the Polo as I don’t consider these truly Polo models. The skeletonized movement makes this watch slightly more appetizing, but I would treat myself to an Altiplano instead, if you don’t mind.
GG: The Piaget Polo Skeleton has a new, thinner case than previous Polo models, a new micro rotor movement, and comes with quick-change capability for its strap and bracelet. Good stuff, and certainly more novelty than many of the entries in this year’s category. I only wish that the skeletonization had been more dramatic as the visual effect for me is somewhat stuck in the middle between a visible standard movement and true openworking.
I’m also a bit curious as to whether the 42 mm diameter vs. 6.5 mm thickness makes the watch wear a bit oddly on the wrist; sadly, for the second year running I haven’t had a chance to see too many of the watches in this year’s competition, including this one, so it’s hard for me to be sure.
ED: Like Martin, I haven’t been terribly enamored of Piaget’s Polo reboot. That having been said, however, I do like this variation with its machine skeletonization and blue elements. I do agree with Gary, though, that the skeleton work could have taken on a more definite shape, and that is probably what’s niggling me a bit.
I too have not been able to try it on, so I couldn’t say how the sizing works, but I do like its inherent thinness. Overall, though, it doesn’t seem like enough to beat out the competition here.
JM: This is a great watch that I think loses right off the bat if we go by my criteria. As a skeleton watch it is already a niche product. And even though the skeleton movement is the hook, it just isn’t as broadly desirable for most wearers. If it was a non-skeleton version of the Polo, maybe with a special dial or bold color, it could easily be in the running. But I’m worried that a skeleton watch isn’t going to take the top spot in the Men’s category.
IS: I’m with you there, Joshua. The Piaget Polo is an excellent men’s watch but the skeleton dial on this model just looks too busy for me. I also thought that an eye-catching full dial would have a stronger chance against the tough competition in this category.
Quick Facts Piaget Polo Skeleton
Case: 42 x 6.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 1200S1, ultra-thin, 44-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 28,700 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Hermès H08
Ian: MB&F LM101 Stainless Steel
Gary: MB&F LM101 Stainless Steel
Martin: MB&F LM101 Stainless Steel
Joshua: MB&F LM101 Stainless Steel