Our Predictions In The Chronograph Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Five Panelists, Four Different Favorites To Win
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
Timepieces entered into the Chronograph category are mechanical watches comprising at least one chronograph indication. Additional indications and/or complications are admissible.
ED: With only two brand-new watches in the field, this category mostly comprises facelifted models that we have seen before. One of those new watches is so new and different that I believe it will be too polarizing, even if I would have picked it as my winner had I believed it would win. Which leaves me with one possible winner according to my own criteria . . .
MG: The chronograph is one of the most popular complications. When I’m wearing a chronograph I always find an excuse to use the timer function, which often results in timing the most ridiculous things.
GG: As with many of the categories this year, I really wish that I’d had the opportunity to see all these watches in person, strap them on, and check out the pusher feel on the chronographs. I do have my store of experience with variants of the movements in four of these pieces, though, and will draw on that in my ranking. I am left ruing some of the watches from brands who chose not to participate, including the fantastic 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold by A. Lange & Söhne that would have been a head-and-shoulders winner for me here had it been entered.
JM: The Chronograph category is a relatively competitive one because it is very focused but at the same time unspecific about what makes a winning watch. There is no call for innovative chronograph technology, precision, unique displays, materials, or additional functions. Because of this it really is just about how cohesive and useful each watch is in relation to the chronograph, leading to our varied opinions about what is important in a chronograph watch. In my mind, legibility will always be a main factor, as well as ease of use, followed by creative displays and unique designs. I won’t care as much about materials unless the material functionally adds to the chronograph function itself.
IS: I would be happy to own and wear most of the watches here – they are all extremely strong contenders – but one in particular made me smile, one is too big, and three are re-editions of previously seen models.
Angelus U30 Black Tourbillon, Flyback and Split-Second Chronograph
ED: This watch was originally released in 2016, and this is simply a limited-edition color change of the case. That’s not to knock this watch at all; in fact, I love everything about it except its 47 mm size, which was still rather acceptable in 2016, but much less so in 2021.
It was one of the launches of the 2015 reformed Angelus brand under the direction of Sébastian Chaulmontet, who was an absolute powerhouse of creation and creativity while he headed up both this brand and Arnold & Son under the umbrella of La Joux-Perret (and now Citizen, who owns all three). I lament his departure there, I really do. There was so much creation there – more than I could ever take in in a single year. This watch fell somewhat off the radar under the weight of everything the two brands were releasing all at once.
GG: For me the Angelus U30 Black is a bit too much of a good thing: split-second flyback chronograph, tourbillon, and aggressive-looking openworking all in one watch. I could imagine picking it if it just blew me away in person with its wrist presence, but my overall impression from the photos is that it lacks both harmony and legibility.
JM: The Angelus U30 is an incredible movement that sadly is paired with a dial that is fairly illegible, so it takes a bit hit up front. If the dial was solid or mostly solid, there isn’t another watch in this category that could compare. With a flyback split-second chronograph movement that sports a tourbillon, it is pretty complicated and a work of engineering excellence.
The U30 Black Tourbillon is housed in an ultralight titanium case and has automatic winding, making it very practical, and it looks impressive to say the least. But knowing how people are, being hard to read is never good and could keep it from taking the top spot. I’m still going to go out on a limb and say it wins as it functionally is the most capable chronograph in the group, especially since there are no ultra-high frequency chronographs in the group.
MG: The U30 by Angelus offers a lot and isn’t too shy to show it using a very large case 47 mm in diameter and featuring a skeleton design. If it’s your cup of tea the U30 is a formidable watch.
IS: The Angelus U30 Black Tourbillon, Flyback and Split-Second Chronograph is a superbly complicated chronograph. And it looks good, especially if you like black. But I’ve got two gripes: firstly, the massive 47 mm case rules this watch out of the running for me, and secondly those hands, especially the hour and minute hands, get lost against the open movement. A chronograph is a tool watch, and I expect better legibility.
Further reading: Ghostbusting & The Angelus U30 Tourbillon Rattrapante
Quick Facts Angelus U30 Black Tourbillon, Flyback and Split-Second Chronograph
Case: 47 x 15 mm, DLC-coated titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber Angelus A-150 with one-minute tourbillon, 45-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; flyback split-second chronograph, power reserve indication
Limitation: 5 pieces
Price: 71,800 Swiss francs
Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40
GG: Breitling is back with a third chronograph entered this year, this time the Premier B09 Chronograph 40. I like the classic overall look quite a bit, and I’m one of those people who actually appreciate that pistachio color. But having handled Breitling chronographs with this movement I can’t say that I love the feel, which knocks the Breitling down a bit on my list.
ED: There is no denying this is an incredibly attractive watch at a really quite acceptable price. I cannot speak to the pusher feel unfortunately, Gary.
MG: I guess the beauty of this pistachio dial is in the eye of the beholder, but apart from that this is also the third GPHG-nominated Breitling Premier this year.
ED: I have yet to tire of looking at these new Breitlings! They are extremely attractive, and I really enjoy the unusual pistachio-colored lacquered dial. To me it is absolutely beautiful. I’m surprised you don’t love the “greenness” of it, Martin!
MG: The collection is a very welcome addition to the brand’s current lineup, tapping nicely into Breitling’s history and offering something that Breitling was lacking in recent years. The execution is well done because it has a proper manufacture movement with generous power reserve. And it is both chronometer certified and has water resistance to 100 meters.
ED: I am torn between this and the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, which I had the chance to handle extensively. One of those two will win, of that I am sure, and I’m going to guess it might be this one because it is one of only two in the six-watch chronograph field that is entirely new in 2021.
JM: This Breitling is all about chronograph nostalgia and a competitive price point. The aesthetic is for those who want a watch with a vintage feel and function since it’s also a manual winding movement. But, unlike watches from yesteryear, this watch has 100-meter water resistance (always impressive for a chronograph lacking screw-down pushers) and a 70-hour power reserve, a must for a chronograph, which usually loses a lot of power reserve just by using the chronograph.
I’m often not a fan of the Breitling aesthetic that dominates the pilot-oriented pieces, but this one has broad appeal and is a solid piece. I’m not sure if it will win, but I wouldn’t exactly be surprised if it has a strong group of jury members pulling for it.
IS: The Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40 is my runner-up, both because that shade of green has grown on me and because it’s one of only two new watches here. I like the Breitling’s eye-catching vintage vibe and at 7,500 Swiss francs it’s relatively competitively priced.
Quick Facts Premier B09 Chronograph 40
Case: 40 x 13.08 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Caliber Breitling B09, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 70-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; chronograph
Price: $8,400 / 7,500 Swiss francs
IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Tribute to 3705
IS: Did I miss the memo stating that the color of 2021 is black? The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Tribute to 3705 is good looking, especially if you like black, and the high-contrast hands and indications are highly legible, which I value in a chronograph. I’m a big fan of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, but (as with others here) I can’t help that I’ve seen its likes too often before.
JM: This is a solid chronograph that lacks any oomph; I have no strong feelings about it but know it is a quality watch that will do its job well. It’s fairly easy to read, has good specs, but I don’t sense any real zest from its design or any special features. It honestly feels like someone may have been told to pick out watches to enter into as many categories as possible without working too hard, and it was not an honest attempt to put forth the best chronograph in the collection, but rather simply advertise a limited edition to make some sales. I’m sure people will like it, but enough for it to win? I’m not convinced.
ED: Is it awful if I admit out loud that this chronograph leaves me entirely cold when I look at it?
MG: I might be too much of a purist, but for me an important part of the appeal of the 3705 – and also of the 3706 – was the Valjoux 7750 chronograph movement that powered it. As I have stated before in an article, this is still my favorite chronograph movement for various reasons. Having a tribute to the 3705 with a manufacture movement might seem like a dream to many, but to me this watch is about more than just its progressive Ceratanium case.
GG: I very nearly bought the original IWC 3705 ceramic chronograph when it was introduced, and so it’s no surprise that the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tribute to 3705” has my full attention. The Ceratanium hybrid titanium-ceramic material sounds as if it should be durable as well as light, and the in-house Caliber 69380 chronograph must be an upgrade on the industrial-feeling Valjoux 7750 previously featured in IWC chronographs.
Quick Facts IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Tribute to 3705
Case: 41 x 15.3 mm, Ceratanium
Movement: automatic Caliber 69380, 46-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; day, date, chronograph
Limitation: 1,000 pieces, available only on iwc.com
Price: 12,900 Swiss francs
Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
JM: This is clearly the most fun watch in the category with the whimsical stylings of Alain Silberstein employed across the dial, hands, and other small details around the watch. It is relatively affordable coming in under 5,000 Swiss francs, boasts 100 meters of water resistance, and the size is extremely wearable. The aesthetic of the case is different, which makes it feel much more unique compared to all the rest of the pieces in this category.
But can it win? I am a bit hesitant to think it can even if a lot of people are going to think it is fun and a great watch. I’m worried it is too niche of a style that the broad jury may not value it highly enough. I could see it being an upset, especially for Louis Erard, a brand rarely seen in the GPHG, but I’m guessing complication or pedigree of others will push it to the side.
ED: Well, I wanted Sébastian Chaulmontet and now I’ve got him: he left the La Joux-Perret trio and went to Sellita, where I am quite sure he was involved in the creation of this movement.
Here, as in the Men’s category where sibling Triptyque model La Semaine is competing, the sizing is ideal for every wrist, 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.
For me, this watch is the best of the bunch in terms of design and affordability. It also features the work of my favorite designer, Alain Silberstein. However, I know that this design is far too polarizing to be awarded the “best chronograph” crown by a broader audience. Unfortunately.
IS: I wasn’t planning on picking the Louis Erard Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein as my choice for winning the chronograph category, but I am. While I love the watch, I thought it too playful to be the jury’s favorite in this lineup. But after ruling out the Angelus on size and realizing that all the others bar the Breitling are relatively cosmetic changes on existing models, I’m voting Louis Erard. And it’s under $5,000: a pity they’ve long sold out.
GG: At the end of the day, my heart belongs to the indies, and Alain Silberstein has long been a favorite of both members of our household. I’ll confess that I’m not yet 100 percent convinced by the “brancard” side lug arrangement, but the open dial, bright displays, and overall harmony of design make Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein my winner.
MG: Just like Breitling, Louis Erard is doing very well in this competition with three models nominated. Another great watch, even better than the time-only due to the monopusher chronograph, yet I still can’t get over the way the strap is attached, sorry.
Quick Facts Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
Case: 40 x 13.9 mm, microblasted grade 2 titanium and polished grade 5 titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber Sellita SW500 MPCa, 48-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; chronograph
Limitation: 178 pieces (sold out)
Price: CHF 4,500
Remark: three-year warranty and quick-change strap function
Tudor Black Bay Chrono
IS: While I prefer the Tudor Black Bay over the Black Bay Chrono, if you are in the market for a chronograph then it’s hard to find better. As I said earlier, a chronograph is at its heart a tool watch, and with its high-legibility dial, comfortable 41 mm case, 200-meter water resistance, high Tudor build quality, and price around $5,000, the Black Bay Chrono could easily win this category. But I’m marking it down because, while it is now slightly slimmer, we first saw one in 2017 and I’d rather promote newer models and innovations.
JM: It seems Tudor really is going to keep trying to shove the Black Bay down our throats until we actively hate it . . . It’s a solid watch, classic styling (because it pretty much looks like Rolex), and it comes in at a great price. Heck, I’d love to own one. But I am so over this watch in the GPHG that if I see it, and I have heard absolutely nothing new with regard to any real improvements or accomplishments within it, then for me it is instantly tossed aside.
ED: As always, these Tudors don’t change much but they sure are attractive and extremely well priced. This panda version is again a real delight.
The automatic movement Tudor calls Caliber MT5813 bloomed from a Breitling Caliber B01 base to which the Geneva-based brand added its own regulating organ, including a silicon balance spring, and its own finishing style. This continues to be a really grand base movement for Tudor.
MG: The Black Bay is one of those chronographs that gives a lot of enthusiasts exactly what they want. The recipe is like your favorite dish: not surprising anymore, but you simply cannot get enough.
GG: Tudor’s updated Black Bay Chronograph is a significant upgrade on 2017’s watch of the same name as well as on the 2019 steel and gold version, and the panda and reverse panda looks of these new pieces are easy on the eye. The movement collaboration with Breitling is intriguing as well; I’ll stop beating up on the pusher feel of the B01 family at some point, but for me it’s certainly “good enough” for a robust watch in this price category.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay Chrono
Case: 41 x 14.4 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5813 with silicon balance spring, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, 48-hour power reserve, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Price: 4,650 Swiss francs
Remark: five-year guarantee
Zenith Chronomaster Sport
ED: First of all, I really wish Zenith had entered the gold variation of this striking timepiece, which in my estimation is even more beautiful. However, the brand did not, and that does not diminish my appreciation for this gorgeous piece whatsoever.
I’m giving the edge to the Breitling only because it is a brand-new watch, whereas this Chronomaster Sport is an extension of the very successful work that Zenith has been doing with El Primero reissues and updates. I do love this watch, and it pains me to award my imaginary crown to another. But I feel the jury will go the Breitling way this time.
IS: It wouldn’t be the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève without a Zenith El Primero chronograph pre-selected in one of the categories. Surely the model must be one of the most pre-selected watches in the GPHG’s history? And this Chronomaster Sport looks good, the different subdial colors work for me, and the white date wheel blends nicely with the dial so the date doesn’t mess things up (as it often does). But (as with others here) I can’t help that I’ve seen its likes too often before.
GG: I keep resolving to own a Zenith El Primero at some point, and the Chronomaster Sport is certainly a worthy candidate. I do like the tenth-second function of the 3600 caliber’s central hand, first seen in 2019 on the Chronomaster 2, and this latest iteration looks clean to the eye. But for me it’s a bit too much derivative of the earlier Chronomaster 3600-equipped watches to qualify as truly new.
MG: I am very taken by the Chronomaster Sport as it offers the full package, including the one-tenth-of-a-second central chronograph hand. Some say that it looks too much like a Rolex Daytona, and there is a vague similarity in the same way that many diver’s watches look like a Submariner. I honestly don’t mind that much as there are more differences than similarities. The layout of the subdials is a nice nod to the original and the only thing I feel the watch could do without is “36,000 VpH” printed on the dial. Otherwise, a very solid home run by Zenith, and my winner in this category.
JM: For me, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport is like a well-worn leather jacket, your favorite booth in your favorite diner, or the feeling of coming home to your bed after a long trip: it just feels right. There is a nostalgia feel to it, but also a sense of modernity with the updates to the design. But it falls into the same area as the IWC in that it doesn’t feel like it has as much zest as some other chronographs from Zenith: a bunch of very cool, ultra-high-frequency models could give this category a lot to talk about. But it feels like the choice to enter this particular model was more about marketing than competing, and it doesn’t feel like it has what it takes to win. A lot of people will undoubtedly like it, but I have no clue if they will like it enough to vote for it to take the top prize.
Quick Facts Zenith Chronomaster Sport
Case: 41 x 13.6 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 3600, 60-hour power reserve, 36,000 vph/5 Hz frequency, column wheel control of chronograph, lateral clutch, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds; date, chronograph with 1/10th of a second display
Price: $10,000 / 9,900 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40
Ian: Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
Gary: Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
Joshua: Angelus U30 Black Tourbillon, Flyback and Split-Second Chronograph
Martin: Zenith Chronomaster Sport