Our Predictions In The Petite Aiguille Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): The Field Is Wide Open
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 entered into the Petite Aiguille category are offered for a retail price that falls between 3,500 and 10,000 Swiss francs. Smartwatches were admissible here, but none made it through.
GG: I found this a tough category, as, among other things, the watch that seems best made is presented with an odd red dial that only a mother could love, and the most visually interesting piece is accompanied by a description that is drivel-laden even by the low standards of watch industry product promotion.
JM: The Petite Aiguille category is a fun one for the average collector because it represents pieces that many could realistically buy but are still considered to be luxury watches. With a price point between 3,500 and 10,000 Swiss francs, these watches are not cheap, but they are accessible, and the variety included makes for good competition between style, functionality, and broad appeal.
ED: One chronograph, one regulator designed by a famous watchmaker, one funky display, and three time-only or time-and-date watches. The field is diverse, and I suspect it will be hard work to pick a winner here.
IS: The price segment of 3,500 to 10,000 Swiss francs for mechanical wristwatches is extremely competitive. High quality and a little something extra are, or should be, a given; but here we are looking for a lot of something extra. The great thing about this category is that these are all very wearable watches. That makes it interesting.
Breitling Top Time Deus Limited Edition
MG: While I love the new Premiers, this Top Time is not really my cup of tea, partly because it was born out of a partnership. The bold lightning-shaped chronograph second hand is a bit too quirky for me, and I am confused as to why part of the pulsometer flange is color coded.
ED: I don’t really think it is that bad, Martin, and the lightning bolt is hardly noticeable as such. It would have been nice to see this one in person, though, just to see if that hand makes a big impression in real for myself.
JM: I’m not often a huge fan of Breitling but I do love the vintage-styled pieces, and this collaboration with Deus Ex Machina is excellent. This chronograph with rounded, square subdials, bright colors on the tachymeter scale, and a very fun lightning bolt chronograph second hand oozes charm and vintage appeal.
I’m a huge fan of the Top Time Deus LE, but there is a caveat: it is a limited edition, and that could be a problem in the Petite Aiguille category. Accessibility is important, and lack of that could weigh against this watch. In addition, the style is definitely for a more niche audience than a non-limited edition, which may keep it from winning.
GG: The Breitling Top Time Deus Limited Edition looks great, and despite the marketing prose that is clearly aimed at young buyers of limited intelligence I might have picked it had I not had the sneaking suspicion that there are a hundred Kickstarter startups who could make a watch with the same cosmetics and acceptable functions for under $500. It’s a tough time to be in the in-between price range this watch inhabits, especially if you are depending on attractive graphics to carry the day.
IS: Note to Seiko (see my comments below): the Breitling Top Time Deus Limited Edition highlights how to do contemporary retro vintage right. I like the look, and 41 mm is a comfortable (and useful) size for a chronograph. But you’d better love those looks (and Breitling) because that’s what you are paying for. This Top Time Deus Limited Edition looks good, but I’m (ideally) looking for more than a chronograph with a pretty face to win here.
As an aside, I can’t help but note that a press text starting, “We’re stoked to announce our partnership with . . .” had me receiving mixed messages. While both “stoked” and the Top Time Deus might be retro, they don’t evoke the same retro era. And I can’t see any visual link between this watch and surfing. The back has an engraving of a retro-looking motorcyclist in full flight, which was apparently the inspiration for the dial design, so give it up, dude,: I’d be stoked to learn why so much of the press text about a vintage racer motorbike-inspired watch is about surfing. This press text is toking more than stoking.
Quick Facts Breitling Top Time Deus Limited Edition
Case: 41 x 14.27 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 23 (base ETA 7753), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency. 48-hour power reserve, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Limitation: 1,500 pieces
Price: 4,950 Swiss francs
GG: Odd red dial aside, the Garrick S4 seems a bit of a hodgepodge to me. The oignion-style crown seems out of place, and the mostly bare movement side with an insert of wildly scrolled steel isn’t balanced, either. Too bad as the labor content alone sets this piece aside from the others in the finalist group.
JM: The Garrick S4 is one of those bespoke-styled timepieces that many collectors wouldn’t imagine they could buy for under 10,000 Swiss francs. And yet here it is. The S4 has a lot going for it, and for the traditionalists in the jury this could be a strong contender from a small brand. Like the Breitling (and a few other pieces in the category) it is also a limited edition, this time of only five pieces, though the S4 in general isn’t limited. But that could still hurt it if the jury takes that into consideration.
I think that the Garrick S4 presents a great value for this category, but could lose marks for being powered by a modified ETA 6498 at this price point. Still, the S4 is my runner-up and I would be happy to see it take the prize if I am wrong.
MG: What a dash of color can do! I love how Garrick is keeping the legend of the ETA/Unitas 6498 alive in a very high-end way. The brand really gives both the movement and the dial their own twists.
ED: The Garrick watches are fully customizable and so this plum color scheme with guilloche dial – handmade guilloche, I might add – can be traded out for pretty much anything. However, I do like this as is. It’s altogether a very attractive watch at an excellent price with amazing finishing, even if the movement is a pretty stock and very reliable workhorse (but a great one for custom work!). And the amount of hand-finishing both front and back is more than commendable (and attractive).
I’m finding it very hard to pick a winner in this category, but I do think this one might have the edge for that amount of handmade goodness at this price, even if these very obvious hands aren’t my favorite style.
IS: A tip of the hat to Garrick for turning out another beautiful watch (note to GPHG: in the tech specs it’s a “plum dial” not a “plumb dial” – although if held vertically it could be said to be both). But despite the superb guilloche dial (that’s a big plus at this price level), the plum color of the dial just doesn’t work for me. However, I particularly love how that “six-eater” subsidiary second hand goes right to the edge of the dial. A clear indication that the movement is sized perfectly to the case.
Further reading: Garrick S4: Added Value At A More Affordable Price
Quick Facts Garrick S4
Case: 42 x 11 mm, 904L stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Caliber BF03 (modified ETA 6498), 46 hours power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 7,397 Swiss francs
Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter
MG: Louis Erard has treated us lately to some very enticing collaborations, and this regulator with Vianney Halter is to die for! Of course, it is also the most affordable way of obtaining a Halter, yet no corners were cut, and a very charismatic watch was the result. I believe this watch will win this category.
GG: I loved the first Louis Erard collaboration with Alain Silberstein on a regulator watch and am still kicking myself that I didn’t buy one when I had the chance. The same watch with different graphics and Vianney Halter’s name on the front simply doesn’t do it for me; even with the knurled crown, I wouldn’t immediately (or even considerably later) shout “Vianney Halter!” upon looking at Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter. To my eye, there is both too much and too little going on visually on the dial side at the same time.
ED: When I first read the description of this watch some months ago without having seen it, I didn’t know what to expect. Seriously, what could it ever end up being? Maybe I just experienced something like disappointment that it doesn’t look more like Vianney Halter’s Antiqua, I don’t know. But I can’t shake that.
This is the same movement as the Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein Le Régulateur, but I like the other one much, much better. I can’t quite put my finger on why, though.
IS: I was also expecting that a Louis Erard with Vianney Halter’s name it would look more like his retro-futuristic Antiqua, Elizabeth, and my first reaction to seeing the Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter was disappointment; it just didn’t look enough “Vianney Halter” to me. And I don’t like busy dials, at least I thought I didn’t.
But now that the shock of my preconceptions has worn off, and I’m more used to the design. I both like it and can see Halter in it – just not the Halter I was expecting (preferring). I like it as a watch, it’s eye-catchingly different but shouldn’t invoke much dislike. Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter is my runner-up.
JM: The Louis Erard Le Régulateur Vianney Halter is a watch that I didn’t know could compete, but I was super excited to see it in the competition and to learn of its existence at Geneva Watch Days 2021. A fun collaboration between Louis Erard and Vianney Halter: if you like his style then this is likely the most affordable way to own something from the great indie watchmaker.
The Louis Erard Le Régulateur Vianney Halter has definite touches from the enigmatic master, but it also may not be a hit with everyone because of this style. It is also very limited at only 178 pieces, so it does make Vianney Halter accessible but just barely due to its limited nature. I really enjoy this piece and would crave more collaborations from Halter (I’ve always loved his aesthetic) but I don’t know if this is the best watch in the category.
Quick Facts Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter
Case: 42 x 12.25 mm, black PVD-coated stainless steel
Movement: manually winding Caliber Sellita SW266-1, 38-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 178 pieces (sold out)
Price: 3,500 Swiss francs
Remark: three-year warranty
Seiko Re-Creation of King Seiko KSK
MG: When you have a great history, it doesn’t mean you have to re-create it, but time has taught us that it is a great business model. I doubt that Seiko will have a problem selling the 3,000 pieces of the limited edition of this King Seiko, but please don’t take offense that I find it a bit boring.
JM: The Seiko Re-creation of King Seiko KSK is another runner-up for me as it is the cleanest and most broadly appealing watch in the category. And it has vintage style while also feeling generally modern and definitely under the radar. It isn’t a Grand Seiko, and that could hurt its chances of being the winner of the category, but it is bound to have strong support.
I would love to own this piece, and even though it’s limited it is limited to 3000 pieces, so fairly accessible for its price point. The jury could surprise me, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if another watch took home the trophy.
IS: Seiko has perfected the art of remastering old tunes. But the brand hasn’t perfected the art of making a contemporary interpretation of an old design. I feel that Seiko is too conservative, the designers are too timid to stray far from the original design. The King Seiko KSK looks too much to me like a vintage watch (which will appeal to many).
Sure, it is a vintage-looking watch with a modern movement (again a plus for many), but I’d like it to look a bit more contemporary before placing it as a contender here – no doubt guaranteeing that it will win!
GG: Many designs from the 1960s, including some that may have been groundbreaking at the time, look sadly dated today, and the Re-Creation of King Seiko KSK is one of them.
Quick Facts Seiko Re-Creation of King Seiko KSK
Case: 38.1 x 11.4 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 6L35, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 45-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Limitation: 3,000 pieces
Price: 3,800 Swiss francs
Trilobe Nuit Fantastique
MG: While it takes some getting used to, I find this Trilobe pleasantly eccentric. It is definitely off the beaten path, and because of that it’s not for everybody. Still, it is watches like this that play an important role in the evolution of high-end watchmaking. And did I mention that it has a stunning micro rotor movement?
ED: I enjoy what Trilobe brings to the table – it’s really creative. However, I have such a hard time reading these watches that I’m having trouble getting friendly with them. But I really like the look of them too.
GG: Trilobe has achieved the impossible with its Nuit Fantastique, Grained Black: making the watch even less legible than the versions that preceded this one. What we can see seems unbalanced in any case with two tiny subdials awash in a sea of negative space.
IS: I like Trilobe because the brand has its own distinctive (and it could be said “poetic”) way of telling time. It’s different, well sized, and has a quality Swiss micro rotor automatic movement. But the Nuit Fantastique (and bear in mind that I’m only judging from photos) doesn’t look “Nuit Fantastique,” it looks “Boring Night Out.” And the time indications don’t look very legible. I much prefer the more legible designs of some of their other models.
But worst of all, I’m marking Trilobe down for the pain of making me read marketing blurb like this, “Trilobe, an invitation to take your time!” Why the excited “!” after the invitation to slow down and take my time? “For a Nuit Fantastique! To take possession of life with passion! To quiver with refinement, to live and open up to your destiny!” I doubt that any watch will ever make me “quiver with refinement.”
JM: The Trilobe Nuit Fantastique is my pick for winner and also the watch that I am not sure will win. I think it is an awesomely unique watch, I love the aesthetic and the display, and the movement is incredibly awesome, the most impressive in this category. But the watch is a bit hard to read (though easier than the original Trilobe pieces) and that is always a tough sell for the average collector.
Also, as much as it pains me to admit, the category once again contains a Tudor Black Bay (for heaven’s sake) and I know it’s tough to come in as a slight wild card against a Black Bay. I hope the jury can finally get over the Black Bay mania and see the Nuit Fantastique for the incredible watch that it is and the “fantastique” value that it represents and give it the trophy. It is my winner, and I am prepared to die on this hill!
Quick Facts Trilobe Nuit Fantastique
Case: 40.5 x 9.2 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Chronode X-Centric caliber with micro rotor, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, 48-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, minutes
Price: $10,560 / 9,100 Swiss francs
Tudor Black Bay Ceramic
JM: I just don’t want to award the Black Bay anymore. It’s won enough. This isn’t supposed to be like actual politics where one watch becomes a dynasty and just keeps selling the same game but with this year’s color scheme. Or if it is to win, give it an award for being the bestest best value of moderately priced luxury sports watches and then retire it.
Name the GPHG the Tudor Black Bay Grand Prix so the brand can be happy it made the most popular and everlasting copy of a Rolex Submariner. Then let the brand be on the jury but on the condition that it accepts that it can’t participate with the same watch year after year after year after year after year after year . . .
GG: Yes, I’m going to pick the Tudor. For those who have harbored doubts that I’m willing to give the junior Rolex brand a fair shake for its seemingly endless re-issues of the same models, I’ll only say that in this case I was swayed by the technical chops of the watch with its METAS Master Chronometer Certification that includes rigorous timekeeping tests, exposure to strong magnetic fields, and 200-meter water resistance. I think the ceramic case and rubber strap might not look too bad, either!
ED: This watch is incredibly legible for telling the time. It is robust. It is very well made. It is rather well priced. There is inherently nothing wrong with it. The only flaw I can find is that it is yet another extension of a watch we have seen too many times here.
MG: Sometimes I get the feeling that Tudor wants to make a Black Bay in every flavor that the brand can think of. I feel that sometimes it loses itself a bit with this, and this ceramic Black Bay is a prime example. With the all-black bezel it has lost its purpose, and I feel that is about the saddest thing that can happen to a tool watch.
IS: I mark down watches that have (or I “feel” to have) been already seen too many times here before in other guises. And over the last few years, the Tudor Black Bay has turned up as regular as clockwork at the GPHG in many guises, many categories, and often has won. And here I am predicting it that it will win again.
Great watch, superb movement, comfortably sized: if buying one of these watches for myself, I wouldn’t hesitate to get the Black Bay. There are other watches here that might be nice to have, but the Tudor Black Bay Ceramic is the one to have. Not for the first time, a Tudor Black Bay is my pick for winner.
Quick Facts Tudor Black Bay Ceramic
Case: 41 x 14.4 mm, ceramic
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5602-1U, 70-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, silicon hairspring, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 4,500 Swiss francs
Ian: Tudor Black Bay Ceramic
Gary: Tudor Black Bay Ceramic
Elizabeth: Garrick S4
Joshua: Trilobe Nuit Fantastique
Martin: Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter