Our Predictions In The Artistic Crafts Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panel Is Split, But Not By Much
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
Watches in the Artistic Crafts category demonstrate exceptional mastery of one or several artistic techniques such as enameling, lacquering, engraving, guilloche (engine turning), skeletonizing, and more.
ED: It could not be a more diverse bunch of crafts in the 2021 Artistic Crafts category! We have exquisite guilloche combined with rare blue gold, peacock marquetry, an art dial made of enamel and silk thread, an automaton with exquisite enameling and engraving costing half a million, and two more engraved masterpieces. How to choose from all this art?
IS: There is perhaps no better (or worse?) category of comparing apples to oranges and every exotic fruit in between. How do you judge a Rembrandt painting against a Michelangelo statue? Which is better and why? Ahhhhh!
GG: I do enjoy the Artistic Crafts! That goes both for the annual assortment that we see in this competition and, more broadly, the delightful art watches and clocks created by Patek Philippe and others. One of my favorite bits: seeing the variety of techniques used, which this year range from engraving to weaving to feather marquetry.
JM: Artistic Crafts (aka “Voutilainen’s Corner” since Kari Voutilainen wins here a lot) is always a fun category. It is where brands and artists let their creative juices flow, and the results are incredibly stunning no matter what.
I often find that there are one or two watches that present crafts not seen in any of the others and these tend to be the strongest. Not because those crafts are better, but because they stand out by being unique in the group.
This year we have the same with a handful of watches showcasing beautiful but similar crafts and a pair deviating from “the norm.” I have a sneaking suspicion that this could help set the two apart and will result in the odd one out getting the prize.
Andersen Genève Jumping Hours Fortieth Anniversary Platinum
MG: Will Svend Andersen get a special jury award this year? I believe that he should. Both for his own work and for all the watchmakers he has trained, plus for his contribution to independent watchmaking as a whole.
I love the understated look of the Jumping Hours with which he marks the 41st anniversary of his independent brand. The blue gold dial is understated yet simultaneously a focus point with its absolutely mesmerizing guilloche.
ED: Martin, Svend and the AHCI already got a special jury award . . . I don’t think they’ll give him a second one.
JM: I truly love this watch and it is one I would wear daily thanks to the jumping hours and clean guilloche dial. The pattern is gorgeous and the simplicity of the layout is a perfect encapsulation of Andersen mastering restraint. But I fear it is too clean and simple (even with the very difficult guilloche pattern) to take the prize in the Artistic Crafts category. This category is usually a place to showcase bravado instead of restraint, so I think this falls short in the context of the other pieces.
ED: Congratulations to Svend Andersen on 41 years as an independent! The hand-guilloche on this dial is terrifically impressive with a pattern that looks mind-numbingly tedious to create. One of the other “artistic crafts” recognizable on this watch is the blue gold that is particular to Svend Andersen’s brand. I still find it so beautiful even after all these years.
GG: Svend Andersen is a legend in the independent watch world, and his Jumping Hours 40th Anniversary in Platinum is a lovely watch I’d have no qualms about owning. The blue gold that he has used for many years has a look that’s hard to describe, the engraving work on both dial and rotor looks splendid, and I’ve long been a sucker for jumping indications.
IS: Forty-one years as an independent watchmaker and the (supposedly retired) Svend Andersen is still working at his bench for much of the week. I’ll always associate blue gold dials with Andersen, and the guilloche plays with light and makes the dial’s geometric patterns dance and shimmer.
That whole dial is a vast expanse of technically and visually intricate guilloche, beautifully broken by the contrasting pattern of the subdial for minutes at 6 o’clock. But I wish that the jumping hour disk matched the dial rather than being bright white and bringing too much attention to itself.
Quick Facts Andersen Genève Jumping Hours Fortieth Anniversary Platinum
Case: 38 x 9.22 mm, platinum
Dial: 21-karat blue gold, hand guilloche
Movement: automatic modified Frédéric Piguet Caliber 11.50 with twin spring barrels, power reserve 60 hours, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: jump hours, minutes
Limitation: 40 pieces
Price: CHF 41,600
Bulgari Diva’s Dream Peacock Dischi
MG: Oh my, oh my!! What a delight this Bulgari is. Peacock feathers in a mystery watch with such a rich yet harmonious design. With this watch, Bulgari proves once again that it is a top-notch manufacture, earning its place in the highest regions. Bulgari should win this category, but I feel that many may favor the MB&F more.
IS: The Bulgari Diva’s Dream Peacock Dischi invokes old Egyptian artwork to me. And Bulgari does Egyptian divas exquisitely. The Peacock Dischi makes a strong statement on the wrist, but it’s not shouting “look at me!” while drawing every gaze in the room. I feel that this Bulgari is among the frontrunners, but my heart goes to another.
JM: This is one of two pieces in the category that strays from the engraved dials “norm,” and that helps it stand out. What’s more, the use of peacock feathers (or any feathers for that matter) is a very difficult skill to master. This is a stupendous example of perfection laid down in feathers.
The geometric shapes are carefully cut from feathers glued to a substrate (which took sorting through 500 feathers to find the best examples) and then assembled to make alternating iridescence that is captivating. I also love the addition of two differently shaped diamonds as the hour and minute pointers applied over the feathers.
On its own, this is a masterpiece, but against another in the group I feel it might not take the top prize. Partly because we have seen feather marquetry dials before in this category so it may be too familiar compared to the Hermès creation. But also because I feel the artistic creativity is simply better on display with Hermès, but only by a little bit. I’d pick this one for my runner-up, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised, and would indeed be happy, if it won.
ED: The feather marquetry of this glamourous watch is unbelievably beautiful: each feather is sorted based on color and texture and then cut into the right shape for its place in the mosaic of the marquetry. Then it is passed through an antique brass steamer to bring its colors fully to life before being ironed flat. And it shows!
Peacock feather dials were a niche trend in watchmaking in the 1970s (and again about ten years ago), but the revival Bulgari now proposes is far more complex. A key element to the glamour and mystery of the Diva’s Dream Peacock Dischi is that Bulgari combined the colorful feather marquetry with another revival popular in the 1950s: the mystery watch.
The mystery is explained by two transparent disks (one for the hour and one for the minutes) rotating on the dial. This allows the peacock feathers to fully unfold in all their depth, width, and color. Bulgari ensures the watch remains a practical timekeeper by marking the hours in the diamond-set bezel with blue sapphires.
GG: The Bulgari Diva’s Dream Peacock Collection is a dramatic piece, and I’ve been a fan of Bulgari’s feather-dialed watches for a while now. This one is particularly appealing to me given the unifying themes of peacocks and fan shapes taken from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.
Further reading: 5 Of The Best Watches From Bulgari At The 2021 LVMH Watch Week
Quick Facts Bulgari Diva’s Dream Peacock Dischi
Case: 37 x 11.37 mm, pink gold set with diamonds and sapphires, crown set with sapphire cabochon (4.76 ct)
Dial: natural peacock feather marquetry
Movement: automatic Caliber BVL 308 Dischi, 42-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes on two disks
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: $68,000 / €55,000 / 66,000 Swiss francs
Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis
MG: Hermès always knows how to make the most exciting artistic crafts watches. Using silk threads and enamel to make the toucan come to life results in a very captivating watch. The colors are vibrant, and it is a watch that just makes your day simply by looking at it.
ED: Hermès commissioned freelance illustrator Katie Scott for the Toucans de Paradis silk scarf of 2020, which was reimagined for this watch dial, each of which takes more than one week to produce. First the enamel is applied in many steps. Only after that process is finished does an artisan create the bird and its plumage using vibrant silk thread, which is set in closely engraved recesses adjacent to the enameled surfaces. Each bright thread is meticulously positioned and fixed in place to create a textile effect. The result is creative, outside the box, astounding, and deserving of recognition. This is my pick for winner.
IS: I couldn’t put it better, Elizabeth: I think that the Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis is vibrant joy. I love its color, the image, the art, and its execution. And it feels fresh and alive. It was nearly my pick for the number one slot but just got edged out by another. It was a close call for me, but the Toucan de Paradis is my pick for runner-up.
GG: The Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis is a delight to the eye – and the underlying technique, in which recesses are engraved around the enameled surfaces to locate the threads in the tapestry, must have been a real challenge to develop and then execute with perfection. If it weren’t for the MB&F piece featuring Eddy Jaquet’s work, this might be my top piece.
JM: This is my winner of the category this year. It stands out magnificently amongst the rest. I know we may have seen embroidered dials before, but this isn’t embroidery, it is thread art, using silk threads as lines to draw contours and shapes with the subtlety of shadow at micro scale. The sheer amount of delicateness that is required to set individual threads in perfect lines following gentle curves is hard to grasp, especially since they follow carefully engraved patterns underneath. Plus, the colors are vibrant and reflect the dazzling sight of a toucan in the wild.
The thread art is combined with miniature enameling for other details such as the eye, some plumage, and details from the jungle. The combination of these myriad details helps the Toucan de Paradis jump off the screen and impress upon us just how complex the process must be to create something like this. I don’t think another piece in the competition showcases this much artistic creativity in material and technique. It deserves to take home the prize for the fun and beauty on display.
Further reading: Hermès Takes Flight With The Arceau Toucan De Paradis
Quick Facts Quick Facts Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis
Case: 38 x 10.26 mm, white gold, bezel set with 82 colorless, brilliant-cut diamonds (0.63 ct)
Dial: enamel and silk thread on white gold base
Movement: automatic Caliber H1912, 4 Hz/28,800 frequency, 50-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 24 pieces
Price: $71,900 / 71,000 Swiss francs
Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem
MG: Believe it or not, the Tambour Carpe Diem is one of my favorite watches of 2021. I love how Louis Vuitton created something so over the top in such a high-quality way that you cannot help but love it. I usually am not one for skulls, but this is an homage to memento mori (roughly translated as “remember that you will die”), and in particular to the old pocket watches crafted in this theme. The hourglass and the snake that interacts with the skull make for a very vivid piece.
Louis Vuitton incorporated the symbols in a subtle way, like on the skin of the snake (if the brand could only do that on all of its products). While the watch is exceptional, I feel that it belongs more in the Mechanical Exception category than Artistic Crafts as what makes it truly unique is how all the parts move.
JM: This is a very fun (or macabre) watch that is also rather complicated and would almost be better in the Complication or Mechanical Exception categories. But it is also highly artistic with a bevy of crafts on display including hand-engraving, miniature painting, and enamel. It features an automaton that keeps the time and the name of the watch hidden until the snake slider at 2 o’clock is activated. Then the tail of the snake whips to the correct minutes, the head of the snake moves to show the jumping hours, and the mouth opens to show the words CARPE DIEM written ostensibly in blood in the mouth of the skull.
The left eye also squints with a unique design, all while the power reserve is on display thanks to a faux hourglass on the upper left side of the dial. The complexity is awesome, and the mechanical display combined with the artistic crafts is a perfect combination. I think this watch is so incredibly cool, even if I would rather have it as a desk clock than a wristwatch. But I think what will keep it from winning may be how distinctive and possibly niche its audience is.
The jury may appreciate it for what it is but not think it demonstrates the best example of these crafts, which is always tricky in subjective creativity. I’m not sure it will win, but I definitely would want to play with this watch a lot.
IS: I think there are those who are attracted to the mystery and the message of carpe diem and memento mori and those who are not. And I’m among the latter. Sure, I appreciate the artwork involved, but I don’t need a bold reminder on my wrist that I should “seize the day” because I’m dying. My body reminds me constantly that it doesn’t come with an unlimited warranty; I don’t need that from a watch too.
The Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem is very well designed, its artwork exquisitely executed, and the jacquemart a great bonus. But I think the design will be too polarizing to win this.
GG: I’m of two minds about the Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem. On one hand, the multifaceted jacquemart movement makes this clearly the most complex piece among the finalists. That said, this is a craft category rather than a complication contest and I’m not fully convinced that the Louis Vuitton carries the day on that front. In person I might be convinced otherwise, of course; while the watch is very much not to my taste that’s not the point in selecting among contenders.
Without a doubt this piece would win the “creepiest video” contest among the entered watches!
ED: I’m not super enamored of this bombastic timepiece’s size or price, but I do have to admit that the bevy of artisans and watchmakers needed to make it come to life is more than impressive. The result is even kind of fun.
Quick Facts Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem
Case: 46.8 x 14.42 mm, pink gold
Dial: sculpted snake head set with 2 rubies, black enamel with Monogram Flowers, sculpted skull and snake, curved hourglass, one brilliant-cut diamond (0.03 ct)
Movement: manually winding Caliber LV 525, 100 hours power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: jumping hours, retrograde minutes; power reserve; Jacquemart animations for skull and snake, all on demand
Price: $459,000 / 465,000 Swiss francs
MB&F x Eddy Jaquet LM Split Escapement Jules Verne Around the World in Eighty Days
MG: There are engravers and then there is Eddy Jaquet. He is a different class, and I remember Maximilian Büsser telling me when he showed us the first models of this series at Geneva Watch Days 2020 that he discussed the project with Jaquet, who was very excited about it. However, Jaquet didn’t seem to deliver as Büsser had to wait such a long time to hear from him again.
As it turned out, Jaquet first ordered all the books by Jules Verne, read them, and then started engraving, raising his own standards for perfection even more. That shows in this piece, which features one of the most stunning engravings I have ever seen. The engraving is in turn embraced by the watch, creating a rare cohesion that makes this watch my predicted winner in this category.
ED: The eight timepieces in this little series are nothing short of astounding in their depth and detail. What masterpieces! And I totally love that MB&F chose to use the LM Split Escapement as the home for this art. Without doubt my runner-up.
IS: The convolutedly but accurately descriptive name MB&F x Eddy Jaquet LM Split Escapement Jules Verne Around the World in Eighty Days is my pick for winner of the artistic category. While it’s difficult to compare apples with oranges in this category, here’s why I think that this MB&F should take the top prize here.
1. The canvas/the watch: the LM Split Escapement is an exceptional work of art in its own right. It has mechanisms, structures, and indications on the dial that visually dominate.
2. The art: engraving hasn’t tended to do as well in this category compared with other artistic crafts, but the work here is so exceptional it transcends its form. So a vote for engraving wouldn’t have the hurdle of repetition.
3. The execution: simply sensational. LM Split Escapement offers a mind blowing and eye-catching dial extravaganza, but here the monochromic engravings steal all of the thunder, but not in a big way. It will attract second glances through curiosity (“what did I just see?”). And the stories are clearly laid out and easily recognizable for fans of Jules Verne.
JM: This is a marvelous example of the incredible skill of hand-engraving, taking Jules Verne stories and inscribing them to metal, set around the always awesome Split Escapement. I wrote about the collection previously and loved diving into the engraving detail of the various versions that covered different stories; these are truly masterpieces of engraving. But here is the rub: they lack contrast and therefore pop, something to make them jump out at you.
I know the engraving is second to none, and the time and effort is immense. But I fear that the largely monochromatic presentation may fall flat next to bright and colorful pieces. I love MB&F and I love the subject matter of these dials, but to some it may just seem like another hand-engraved dial. A very complicated one to be sure, but the jury might not hold it as high as something that sparkles or beams with color. I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, it’s fantastic, but I think it might lack the visual oomph that it needs to stand out in this grouping.
GG: I might be just a bit biased as I own a unique watch with a case back engraved by Eddy Jaquet. That said, the gentleman is a true master of his art, and the series of eight pieces he created for MB&F on themes from Jules Verne, including the nominated Around the World in Eighty Days LM SE, are simply sublime. It’s not often that I favor engraving in this category over some of the more exotic artistic techniques, but this time around I find this watch irresistible and it’s my top choice.
Quick Facts MB&F x Eddy Jaquet Legacy Machine Split Escapement Jules Verne Around the World in Eighty Days
Case: 44.5 x 18.2 mm, 5N red gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber LM SE developed by Stephen McDonnell, 72 hours power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency, split escapement with balance suspended above dial and anchor and escapement wheel under the movement; twin spring barrels
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve indicator, date
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: $162,000 / 159,000 Swiss francs
Voutilainen Duluth Bridge
JM: This is the first time I feel directly connected to a Kari Voutilainen watch. I originally hail from Minnesota and my first “vacation” as a child was to Duluth, Minnesota, where the subject of this watch resides. I remember going out on the water’s edge and watching the bridge rise as cargo ships entered the harbor, and I remember thinking the world was so big and I had so much to see. When I saw that this watch memorialized that bridge I felt an immediate kinship to it.
But I have to say that the engraving (which is awesome to be sure) falls short of being the typical jaw-dropping Voutilainen artistic piece. This is a lovely piece, but it lacks inspiring the awe I had of seeing the bridge when I was young in me. And it pales in comparison to some of the other engravings and artistic crafts in this category.
Also, a typical feature of Voutilainen artistic pieces is that the theme follows through to the rear with a hunter case back or even movement engraving, and this one is left plain. This was a piece requested by a client and so these elements were directed by that client’s desire, but for that reason I don’t feel this watch has enough to take the prize this year.
ED: This watch was made as a one-off for an American collector and delivered at the end of 2020. The engraver, Yasmina Anti, performed to the expert Finnish watchmaker’s exacting standards for sure, but somehow I cannot get as friendly with this motif as the breathtaking Japanese-themed pieces Voutilainen has entered in the past. Perhaps because I am not from Duluth?
IS: I’m with you, Elizabeth. Each to their own taste, but while superbly executed, the Voutilainen Duluth Bridge doesn’t bring me the joy I hoped for (nor does it have to if it brings its owner joy). I can’t see it having broad appeal with the jury unless – and this would be no surprise – it looks even more sensational in the hand and under a loupe than the flat images we are judging here.
GG: I have to completely disqualify myself on the Voutilainen Duluth Bridge as the gent who commissioned the piece is a friend of mine and he received some advice on design features from another friend! I haven’t seen the watch in person, but a brief video snippet I saw online gives me the impression that in real life this watch has a considerably more dynamic look than we see in the relatively flat photos on the GPHG site.
MG: This must be a great watch if you live in Duluth, but if you don’t it loses quite a bit of its appeal. While a perfect custom order, I feel that you need a broader appreciated theme to entice a larger audience – and a small jury of specialists.
Quick Facts Voutilainen Duluth Bridge
Case: 39 x 11.5 mm, white gold
Movement: manually wound Voutilainen Caliber Vingt-8 with extra-large balance, Breguet naturelle escapement with Grossmann internal curve, 65-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 155,000 Swiss francs
Gary: MB&F x Eddy Jaquet LM Split Escapement Jules Verne Around the World in Eighty Days
Martin: MB&F x Eddy Jaquet LM Split Escapement Jules Verne Around the World in Eighty Days
Ian: MB&F x Eddy Jaquet LM Split Escapement Jules Verne Around the World in Eighty Days
Elizabeth: Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis
Joshua: Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis