Our Predictions In The Challenge Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève: This Most Affordable Of GPHG Categories Has Something For Everyone
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 entered into the Challenge category are offered for a retail price equal to or under 3,500 Swiss francs. Smartwatches were admissible here, but none made it through to the final six.
MG: I still consider the Challenge category one of the most fun. The diversity is so rich, and this is usually also the only category containing watches I have never heard of.
ED: This is a fun category with a diverse set of contestants, including rising stars anOrdain and Furlan Marri – interestingly, both represented with very different grey dials. Massena Lab comes in close behind them with a fun big eye panda chronograph that is that brand’s only self-branded watch. Oris is also represented with the chic Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy that we could not get enough of during Geneva Watch Days 2021, and Doxa represents the affordable diver corner with a SUB 200 variation. Last but not least, there is Ciga Design’s Blue Planet, about which I know next to nothing.
IS: What a variety of colors, styles, and complications!
JM: The Challenge category is my bread and butter because it quite literally contains watches I could actually buy without sacrificing a major commitment or changing my spending priorities for a few years. I cannot spend money collecting most watches I like without large considerations and possibly selling other watches, even at the lowest levels. So I appreciate the Challenge category for providing value, value, and more value. And that is what I consider a winner in this category.
A watch needs to punch above its weight limit to win this category.
anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
ED: This isn’t just the original Model 1 with a new dial, this is a whole new evolution of the Model 1 with a tweaked case and a luscious fumé dial that is absolutely to die for. I have a few reject samples of anOrdain’s fumé dials in my office that I look at again and again with extreme longing . . . this is real art.
I met anOrdain founder Lewis Heath in 2018 and have been closely following his meteoric rise in the indie scene for a while now. I truly think anOrdain has long graduated from micro brand to independent maker. And while anOrdain’s focus from the get-go has been different, in my mind I have likened Heath’s approach to that of Nomos’ Roland Schwertner many times. Give Heath the 30-year head start that Nomos has had and we might see anOrdain in about the same place one day.
But enough preamble. This is one hell of a watch for the money. In fact, it’s incredibly hard to believe that it only costs CHF 2,350 considering all the handcrafted work that goes into it. And nothing here except the movement is off the rack. The movement is where this brand will differ from Nomos’ approach in the end, but I do believe this is a very modern approach with concentration on the look and style paired with a workhorse movement.
And not to forget: this is an entirely new enameling technique that the Glasgow-based firm has invented and perfected. I had hoped to get to Scotland and see it myself by now, but alas the pandemic has made me wait. Impatiently. The brand’s motto “old crafts, new hands” is entirely appropriate and I will continue to follow anOrdain with great interest. This is my hands-down winner in this category.
JM: This is a watch all about style and affordability, so I like that. The anOrdain Model 1 doesn’t present anything spectacular under the hood, which for a mechanics guy like me is a bit sad, but the aesthetic is stunning nonetheless. The fumé enamel layered on hammered silver is fantastic, and the typography is an awesome contrast to the very classic base.
I think the Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé presents great value and have it as my runner-up. But this young brand is just getting started and could really turn into a cult classic if it keeps this aesthetic direction.
MG: anOrdain is in my opinion one of the rising stars. This company’s dials are just so charming, pure, and rich at the same time. Enamel is its calling card and the boutique brand shows that it is not only for the big brands to excel in. My runner-up in this category.
GG: My winner in this category is the anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé. Other than the dial color, it’s not strictly a new watch and so really should fall afoul of my “old watch, new clothes” rule, but now that we’re at the fourteenth category in the competition I feel completely comfortable abandoning my principles for what is a very pretty face atop a solid ETA movement.
IS: I didn’t expect to like the anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé as much as I do. I’m not usually a fan of anOrdain’s style; it just doesn’t work for me. But this Payne’s Grey Fumé does work for me. The dial is just superb, both in texture and color, and the numerals and indices pop, but not too much to startle. The anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé is my pick to win this category.
Quick Facts anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
Case: 38 x 11 mm, stainless steel
Dial: high-fire gradient enamel on a hand-hammered silver disk with pad-printed markings
Movement: automatic ETA Caliber 2824-2, 42-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 2,350 Swiss francs
Remark: five-year warranty
Ciga Design Blue Planet
GG: The Ciga Design with its wandering minutes ring concept isn’t as odd as some of the useless complications we’ve seen from this brand in the past; I’d love to see the piece in person to assess its build quality. I’m not quite sure that the tiny numbers on the minute ring would be visible in actual use, but I’m not a hard “no” on this one, either.
ED: I am exceedingly unfamiliar with this brand and its products so I cannot speak to the quality of this watch at all or even guess what movement it might be fitted with. The idea is interesting.
MG: I have never heard of Ciga Design, but the watch looks rather nice. It reminds me of the Magellan 1521 watches and I enjoy that it doesn’t rely on hands. Seems to be a lot of fun, especially for the price.
ED: Ah, that was what I was thinking of this whole time: the Magellan watches. Thanks for jogging my memory on those.
JM: The Ciga Design Blue Planet is my winner for the sheer reason that it hits the hardest above its weight limit. The three-dimensional machined globe that rotates 30 degrees and a minute ring that rotates 360 degrees every hour is unique, and for the price the visual display is incredible. It is a low-number limited edition, and that definitely hurts it, but I can’t see another piece that takes as many risks and is priced at such an accessible point here.
The Ciga Design Blue Planet may struggle to capture the hearts and minds of the jury because of its extremely avant-garde design, but I think it deserves recognition for what it has accomplished in this price range.
IS: The Ciga Design Blue Planet takes off from planet traditional. At first glance I couldn’t work out how to tell the time, but it’s actually quite easy and fairly legible: that compass rose is the hour hand and the minutes are read from the revolving minute disk at 12 o’clock. But two things count it out of the running for me: that this category is usually won by more traditional-looking watches and its massive case size of 46 mm.
Quick Facts Ciga Design Blue Planet
Case: 46 x 15 mm, titanium
Movement: undisclosed automatic movement, 40-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: 1,800 Swiss francs
Doxa SUB 200 C-Graph Caribbean
GG: The Doxa SUB 200 C-Graph Caribbean looks to be a solid watch and is part of a broader Doxa line with a variety of color options, but there’s nothing so distinctive about the piece that I’m moved to put it atop my list.
JM: It is hard to bet against Doxa because the brand always comes in at an affordable price with super solid watches, and the Sub 200 C-Graph Caribbean is no different. A diving style chronograph with 200-meter water resistance is a lot of value. And Doxa makes watches that last.
The only thing working against it is that it is one of three chronographs, so the jury would have to like these aesthetics more than the classic aesthetics of the other two. I feel it might get lost in the crowd simply because it doesn’t jump out at you.
IS: From the press text, I read “ . . . the SUB 200 C-Graph stands out as a mechanically wound chronograph, recognizable by its three counters.” And thought, “Does that sentence make any sense?” Then, “Really? Does it really stand out?” I’m a fan of Doxa and think that the brand’s dive watches are excellent value for money. But I think a 45 mm case is too big for this category, and I just don’t think it stands out enough in this field.
MG: What a great diver’s chronograph Doxa made! While it doesn’t stand out in anything particular, this is a watch that will age gracefully. It ticks all the boxes without being too vocal, although with a diameter of 45 mm it is large. It does make me wonder why the brand didn’t put it in the Diver’s category.
ED: I can tell you why: because that turquoise-colored diver they did put in that category is amazing! This one is a bit less appealing to me in comparison. Probably just because of the color. But also this one has a chronograph, which Doxa might have thought would make it stand out from the crowd in this category.
Quick Facts Doxa SUB 200 C-Graph Caribbean
Case: 37 x 7 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Sellita Caliber SW510; 48-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Price: 2,650 Swiss francs
Furlan Marri Mr. Grey Reference 1041-A
MG: A Kickstarter watch that looks like vintage Patek Philippe, is powered by the inevitable Seiko mecaquartz movement, and is named Mr. Grey . . . no . . . it might sell on Kickstarter, but that doesn’t make it a good timepiece.
IS: Ditto, Martin.
JM: The look of the Furlan Marri Mr. Grey Ref. 1041-A is reinterpreted vintage perfection with a simple and classic bicompax layout and monochromatic dial. But it is a hybrid mecaquartz, and that could hurt its chances against the other mechanical pieces in the category.
The Mr. Grey Ref. 1041-A is priced at only 495 Swiss francs, and at that price it competes against fully mechanical pieces with up to six times the budget for quality. That might be enough, but only the jury able to handle the watches and see them side by side could compare properly. And I don’t know if this piece can stand up to that scrutiny.
GG: In my Petite Aiguille predictions and comments, I said that there are 100 Kickstarter startups out there that could make a watch as visually interesting as the Breitling Top Time Deus for under $500. Enter Furlan Marri with the Mr. Grey Reference 1041-A, proving I was right as well as showing that it’s even easier if you simply rip off a classic Patek Philippe chronograph dial design rather than come up with something original. The mecaquartz movement is a turnoff for me as well. I do have several friends who have bought this piece; I wish them well as I won’t be joining them.
ED: Like it or not, this watch has been making big waves – and seems to me for all the world like the next big thing. Designer Andrea Furlan has worked with Dominique Renaud in the past, who I ran into during Geneva Watch Days 2021, where I learned that Renaud might have something to do with this watch as well. It’s mysterious, and I have yet to hear the whole story. But I’m intrigued – especially since many experienced connoisseurs I am friendly with are going gaga over the design, which in my estimation is truly a harbinger of things to come in the immediate future.
I’ve never been against mecaquartz and have often wondered why it’s not used more – it seems to have died out in high watchmaking after the 1990s, when even Jaeger-LeCoultre had these movements in its regular collection. It seems like a good solution to me.
Quick Facts Furlan Marri Mr. Grey Ref. 1041-A
Case: 38 x 11.3 mm, stainless steel
Movement: Seiko mecaquartz
Functions: hours, minutes; chronograph, 24-hour display
Price: 495 Swiss francs
Massena Lab Uni-Racer
MG: If you want to do a retro-style watch and get it right, look no further than the Uni-Racer. This is a timepiece that adds something to the world of watches as a horological history lesson that you can wear, not a direct copy. Because of that I believe it will win this category.
IS: In its relatively short history, Massena Lab has brought out some very nice and original watches. But the Uni-Racer, while a nice-looking watch, looks a bit too ordinary for me, even with those big black eyes.
JM: Oof, it is hard to knock a panda-style bicompax chronograph, and Massena Lab definitely knows what its doing in making high-quality yet relatively accessible pieces. But this is also a limited edition and very sought after, so while it may be popular it is hard for very small enthusiasts like me to get my hands on one. That makes it exclusive, and that makes it stand out in this category in a less than awesome way. I know people will love the Massena Lab Uni-Racer, rightfully, and it could definitely take the prize. But it’s my runner-up.
ED: Interestingly, this watch has the same movement as the Doxa but with the automatic winding taken away. That was probably done for effect, to make it feel more vintage. Not sure how I feel about it, though. The big eye is a nice historic touch, but I’ve never been enamored of the style.
GG: The Massena Lab Uni-Racer is an updated and upsized homage to a classic Universal Genève, and to be truthful I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I suppose I wish that Massena Lab had entered one of its more original pieces in the contest. In any case, the Uni-Racer, like the Furlan Marri, loses the originality contest to the anOrdain in my book.
Quick Facts Massena Lab Uni-Racer
Case: 39 x 613 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Sellita Caliber SW510 M; 48-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Limitation: 200 pieces
Price: $3,495 / 3,221 Swiss francs
Oris Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy
GG: Isn’t this Oris fun? It’s not a watch that I would remotely consider buying, the puny and clashing date window at 6 o’clock should have been omitted, and the whole idea of a bronze dive watch seems silly to me, but we all need a few smiles in our lives and I’m sure there are many folks out there who will not only smile, but buy.
ED: There is no doubt this watch, which was released during the digital Watches and Wonders 2021 fair, is polarizing. But even only having seen it on screen, it was interesting to me with its bronze case and bracelet and hot pink cotton-candy-colored dial. On paper that sounds like a terrible combination, though, so I set it aside for the moment even if I was a bit drawn to it.
Then at Geneva Watch Days 2021 we had the chance to extensively handle it and BAM. I knew it was a winner. The only fly in the ointment for me is the white date wheel. I guess you can’t have it all . . .
IS: I’d prefer either no date or pink date wheel as well, Elizabeth. And the Oris Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy was also one of my surprise highlights of Geneva Watch Days. I hadn’t previously paid much attention to Oris, but the Cotton Candy watches had me smiling. And they look much better in the hand than in these photos. However, I would have thought that the turquoise-dial version might have more of a chance here as this pink is likely to be popular but to a relatively niche clientele.
JM: A bronze diver is always popular and presents value for those who want something a bit different. Add on to that the bright dial, of which there are three variations, and you have a standout piece. The Oris Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy case is 38 millimeters in diameter, making it perfect for anyone and something that you definitely will get a lot of attention wearing.
But the average watch wearer may not have a bold and brash style, and so bright colors that stand out might have a mixed reception. The value is definitely high. The Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy is one of my favorites here, and I would wear it as an everyday watch, so I could see it being a surprise winner. But I’ve chosen a true wild card to win, so I have to just admire the Cotton Candy and move on.
MG: This is just hurting my eyes: a bronze case and bracelet with a pink dial. Not a fan of this combination at all, and I don’t think it will get any better over time when green patina shows up on the bronze. Also, why call it “lipstick pink” and mention that the watch is “intentionally unisex”? I guess this is meant for the next generation somehow?
Quick Facts Oris Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy
Case: 38 x 12.8 mm, bronze, 100 meter water resistance
Movement: automatic Caliber 733 (Sellita SW200-1), 38-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds; date, power reserve
Price: 2,500 Swiss francs
Remark: five-year warranty
Elizabeth: anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
Ian: anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
Gary: anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
Joshua: Ciga Design Blue Planet
Martin: Massena Lab Uni-Racer