Our Predictions In The Iconic Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panel Has a Favorite But Wonders If This Category Should Be Scrapped Altogether
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 Iconic category emphasizes men’s or women’s watches from a brand’s emblematic collection, meaning one that has had a lasting influence on watchmaking and its history as well as having been on the market for more than 20 years.
JM: The Iconic category is probably one of the most divisive prizes now that the Revival Prize is no longer being offered. It’s a category built around the idea of celebrating a watch that has had the most staying power and been the most widely received, almost like the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars.
But what specifically is the category there to achieve aside from giving pats on the back for still making largely the same watch two, three, or four decades later? Don’t get me wrong: these are great watches. But it feels like the category is there to posthumously give trophies for creations that happened before the GPHG was a thing. And judging by the selected watches in the category, it really is a list of watches you’ve definitely seen before and are very familiar with.
Or, as the title suggests, are sort of iconic.
ED: Interesting to note, too, is that five of the watches having made it to the final round are either time-only or time with date. There is one lone chronograph here thanks to Zenith’s evergreen El Primero.
GG: I like the idea of having a category dedicated to classic watch lines, but it does raise some challenges as we consider “watches from an emblematic collection” in existence “more than 20 years.” Are we to select the watch that is from the most notable line? The watch with the greatest horological merit that is from such a collection? Once a brand has a line (or a watch within it) recognized as an “icon,” as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was in 2019 and the Bulgari Aluminium chronograph in 2020, should that line be eligible for recognition in future years? Do the 20 years need to be continuous? So many questions.
MG: How long can you maintain a category called “iconic,” Gary, and how does one define this word? There are a couple more for you.
In all honesty, I feel that the watch world would be a better place without this word altogether.
IS: I just don’t get the Iconic category; it seems either pointless or just a way to give someone else a pat on the back. Five of the six watches would qualify in the Men’s category and the other one (Zenith) in the Chronograph category. Why aren’t they in those categories? And how on earth did a watch from the nine-year-old Tudor Black Bay collection manage to qualify when the rules state at least 20 years? And no “Iconic” ladies’ watches? That seems a big mistake in this day and age.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin
JM: If ever there was a name that seemed contradictory, it would be the Jumbo Extra Thin. Of course, what this means is that the proportions are expanded to make the watch feel more substantial and less jewelry-like, which could be said about the regular Royal Oak. It’s great that it’s an extra-thin watch coming in at just over eight millimeters in height, but I feel the proportions of the Jumbo combined with the extra thinness make this less iconic than the normal version. Basically, something just feels a little off and for that reason I don’t know if this one will win.
MG: A Royal Oak is indeed a watch that can claim the term iconic, but not with a green dial. While I obviously love the color, it is too much of a trend. Plus, I think the Tapisserie dial is part of the “icon,” and this watch lacks that.
ED: Indeed, Martin, that green dial really blows the “iconic” look for me too.
GG: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin is a lovely looking watch, but I’m excluding it on the basis that if you are celebrated as Iconic in 2019, asking to be verified as Iconic again in 2021 is just a touch greedy.
IS: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is as iconic a design and collection as they come. And at 39 mm and only 8 mm high the case is beautifully sized. So that’s two out of two so far. I’m not enamored with this Jumbo Extra-Thin’s green dial, but wouldn’t rule it out for that. However, even allowing for a premium for its platinum case, around $100,000 for a time-only watch (no seconds) and date is just plain crazy. I’ve no doubt that Audemars Piguet knows people are willing to pay that, but that price just feels abusive to me.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin
Case: 39 x 8.1 mm, platinum
Movement: automatic Caliber 2121; 40-hour power reserve; 19,800 vph/2.75 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; date
Price: 97,100 Swiss francs; boutique-only edition
Grand Seiko Re-Creation of the first Grand Seiko
ED: I do love the Grand Seiko Re-Creation models (even if I really don’t love their clumsy names), which provide the Grand Seiko quality with a pinch of visual nostalgia.
MG: I never have a thing for re-creations. While I understand them from both a commercial point of view and as a way to give collectors means to buy these often rare watches new, it somehow doesn’t feel right. That all being said, this Grand Seiko is an important part of watch history, marking the beginning of Japanese haute horlogerie, and therefore it should win.
ED: I might have picked it too if it weren’t for another in this category that I feel deserves it more.
IS: You have to hand it to Seiko: when the brand does something it does it well, no shortcuts, no half measures. So when Grand Seiko calls a watch the “Re-Creation of the first Grand Seiko,” it means it. This is perhaps the only new watch in the world you can buy in 2021 that looks as though it could have been found in a drawer by your grandfather’s bedside. If you look carefully at the dial, markers, and hands you can see a contemporary touch, but that’s so light as to be nearly imperceptible.
It’s only when you turn the watch over and see that beautifully hand-finished movement that you realize it comes from this century and not the last one.
GG: The Re-Creation of the first Grand Seiko seems a fine watch, but to my eye seems more retro re-issue than modern icon interpretation – which raises yet another question as to whether we are looking for fresh takes on old lines in this category or favoring faithful re-creations that can appear old to the eye as in this instance.
JM: This is an amazing watch, and I am super-glad that Grand Seiko decided to bring back the original form factor. But I don’t think it fits the definition of iconic since the design changed after three years to a new case and then a few years later it received a complete overhaul. Only now are we seeing this design reemerge. For the Revival prize that is no longer offered this watch could make sense to win. But for Iconic, it doesn’t fit the criteria to me.
Quick Facts Grand Seiko Re-Creation of the first Grand Seiko
Case: 38 x 10.9 mm, yellow gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 9S64 with 72-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $26,000 / CHF 30,000; available only through Grand Seiko boutiques
IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch 43
MG: A Big Pilot that is not big? How can that ever be iconic? From a commercial point of view a clever move by IWC, but in my book this is simply a nice pilot’s watch that has little to do with the oversized Big Pilot. It also lacks rather characteristic features such as the date and power reserve.
GG: What’s more iconic than the IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch 43? Obviously the Vacheron Constantin wins for me this time around, but if memory serves I’ve picked an IWC before in this category and would be more than open to doing so again in future.
JM: When it comes to iconic pilot’s watch designs, it is hard to argue against IWC and the Big Pilot’s watch, Gary. It follows all of the core flieger design codes to a T and has been one of the most popular pilot’s watches for decades.
But here is the rub: the design didn’t originate with IWC at all, so should this brand be rewarded for making one of the most widely sold versions of what is effectively a public domain design? I don’t know if I can answer that question free from bias, but for this category I think it makes it a little harder to choose it as the winner.
ED: Excellent point, Joshua. Nonetheless, if we are judging this IWC model as iconic within itself – the IWC Big Pilot’s line – then it surely has a chance to be in the running, though for my taste it has become a bit too sleek and stylized.
IS: Well, it looks like I’m alone in rooting for IWC. I kid myself that I’m a connoisseur of the intricacies fine watchmaking, appreciating the fine details of beautiful hand-finished movements above all. But IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is my pick as the winner of the Iconic category for one main reason: that absolutely stunning blue dial.
I could rave about the movement, the case, the crown, the collection’s long history, and blah, blah, blah. But it’s those perfectly shaped and sized hands, numerals, and markers on that blue dial that won my heart. And I suspect/hope it will win the jury’s hearts as well.
Quick Facts IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43
Case: 43 x 13.6 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic manufacture Caliber 82000 with Pellaton winding system, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Price: 8,900 Swiss francs
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
GG: As Tudors go, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 does have some novel features including a display case back and silver case as well as features including its 39 mm diameter that hark back to 1958’s Reference 7924 “Big Crown.”
There are lots of folks out there who have really taken to the use of silver for the case, although for me a silver watch with a dive bezel is a bit of a headscratcher. It’s quite a nice effort within the constraints of the Tudor design codes, but not at the top for me this year.
MG: What a bold move of Tudor to make a watch in silver, Gary! I was even seriously considering purchasing one, which is surprising as this is not the type of watch you would normally see me with. I guess that says a lot!
ED: I hear you, Martin! The magic of the Tudor presentation during the digital Watches and Wonders 2021 fair jolted me into something of a quiet longing for the new 39 mm Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 encased in silver – which is strange for me as I’m also not really a sports watch person, nor am I particularly enamored of the color taupe. But together it just all works.
However, I don’t find it “iconic” enough against some of the other participants in this category to take home the prize.
IS: I love the Tudor Black Bay, and it’s been a modern success story. But “modern” is the key word. The Iconic rules state: “watches from an emblematic collection that has been exercising a lasting influence on watchmaking history and the watch market for more than 20 years.”
I’m no mathematician, but Tudor launched the Black Bay collection in 2012 (it’s similarity to the older Submariner collector is negligible), and I can count on my fingers that that’s less than ten years ago, which disqualifies it here for me. And makes me wonder how (or why) it slipped (or was pushed?) through. That said, I love the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925.
JM: Tudor has had three versions of the Black Bay selected in different categories this year, so my answer here is no. Stop it. You’ve already won with the Black Bay like a handful of times, Tudor; it gets entered multiple times each year. I’m just over it, and I’m over the industry fawning over a watch that is good but pretty much the same every single year. So as Randy Jackson used to say on “American Idol”: it’s gonna be a no from me, dawg.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
Case: 39 x 12.7 mm, silver
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5400 with silicon hairspring, 70-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 4,100 Swiss francs
Remark: five-year transferable guarantee
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
ED: One hundred years of this model this year! What an achievement! I did have the chance to handle this piece in the metal over the summer, and as always with this line I was entirely wowed.
And even if this watch is so old, Vacheron Constantin has been careful to only reissue it now and then – which helps with people not being sick of it and actually celebrating it when one comes out. Most recently before this year, it was updated in 2017, when Vacheron Constantin came out with this perfect sizing.
Vacheron Constantin has also been paying lots of attention to its straps in recent years, and the addition of the dark brown and burgundy straps in patinated calfskin crafted by Italian leather goods manufacturer Serapian is out of this world. I know the strap shouldn’t be a focus, but it really adds to this watch, which is already outstanding in my view.
I know I am quite biased toward this watch, but it is one that I have always loved and have considered a grail. It is my resounding pick as the winner of this category, especially in the centennial year of its existence.
MG: I never get tired of seeing this Vacheron Constantin; this is right up my alley.
ED: That says a lot about the word icon in this context, doesn’t it, Martin?
JM: This is also my winner, hands down. This form factor is decidedly Vacheron Constantin and after this long it deserves some recognition for being such a unique yet long-lasting aesthetic. Celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary this year, the design has clearly entered into the iconic category, much more so than most watches in existence: how many watches can say they are based on a design that old that is also still popular and feels relevant today? The movement is awesome, the case is incredibly unique, and it comes from one of the original Big Three. I can’t see anything being more iconic than this watch this year.
GG: Having picked my own way through the difficulties of selecting among this year’s nominees, my pick to win is the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921. This year’s 36.5 mm diameter version commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the original American is enough of a re-conception that it avoids my “old watch, new clothes” exclusion. And in the spirit of a true icon, this watch is not only instantly recognizable as a Vacheron Constantin but gorgeous looking to boot.
It’s also the watch on this list that I’m most likely to buy for myself.
IS: Celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary, the Vacheron Constantin American 1921 collection certainly has a long pedigree, and its case and design are certainly distinctive. And I like it: quirky but not too quirky, just enough to be interesting.
But is it really “iconic”? And has it been, “. . . exercising a lasting influence on watchmaking history and the watch market?” The lack of a lasting influence on watchmaking history (rather than Vacheron Constantin’s history) drops the otherwise superb Historiques American 1921 to my runner-up slot.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
Case: 36.5 x 36.5 x 7.41 mm, white gold
Movement: manually wound Vacheron Constantin Caliber 4400 AS; 65-hour power reserve, Geneva Seal, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 30,700 Swiss francs
Zenith Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture
ED: Zenith has just been killing it these past two years since the fiftieth anniversary of the El Primero with the Chronomaster and Original lines, and I am not the only one who has noticed this: on a recent trip to the factory, CEO Julien Tornare told me that these lines have been experiencing such demand that the brand will focus on them for a while to satisfy this demand. I find this attitude entirely refreshing.
The new sizing of these lines around the 38/39 mm mark is spot on and once again in line with today’s needs and wants. It makes me so very happy to see Zenith reacting so quickly and flexibly to the market and making fantastic decisions. Long may it remain so!
This watch is my runner-up in this category, but only because Vacheron Constantin entered its 1921 . . .
JM: I recently saw this piece in person along with Elizabeth and absolutely loved it. And the story behind it is very interesting: the dial is based on an unmanufactured prototype dial from the company archives that had this unique assortment of blue subdials, differing from the widely known production dial colors.
The Chronomaster is also a very long-lasting watch design with more than 50-year-old origins, a number that definitely counts for iconic status in this context. But given how much I think the Vacheron Constantin 1921 American should win, I am voting for this one as my runner-up, I would be happy to see it pick up the prize, though.
GG: I’ve been tempted to buy a Zenith El Primero for years now and very nearly pulled the trigger on the A386 Revival in white gold a couple of years ago, so it’s safe to say that I’m a fan of the Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture in steel that’s on this year’s list. That said – unless I’m mistaken – this one is simply a steel version of 2019’s precious metal versions, and that knocks it down a peg or two in my consideration set. And in any event it wouldn’t have pushed past the Vacheron Constantin 1921 for me.
ED: I’m not sure which ones you are remembering, Gary, and I may be wrong too, but I think this one is about the various tones of blue on the dial versus the others . . . the variations do start to flow together a bit.
IS: I have no idea which watch model has won the most prizes at the GPHG over the years, but the Zenith El Primero chronograph must be up there. And this Revival edition is a very nice-looking watch.
Why it’s not in the Chronograph category I’ve no idea, except to fill this pointless category and award another prize. I like the 38 mm case, clean dial, three-shades-of-blue subdials, and modern 5 Hz El Primero movement, but I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day seeing the same thing over and over.
MG: How many Chronomaster Revival watches has Zenith launched so far? I am almost losing track of them. Not really, as it is my business to know these things, but seriously. I still like this one as I think it is the best looking.
Further reading: Zenith El Primero A384 Revival: Cool Never Changes
Quick Facts Zenith Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture
Case: 38 x 12.6 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 400 with column wheel chronograph, power reserve 50 hours, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: 8,900 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
Joshua: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
Gary: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
Ian: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43
Martin: Grand Seiko Re-Creation of the first Grand Seiko