Our Predictions In The Men’s Category Of The 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panel Is Split In Two
Welcome to the 2022 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 “Men’s” category comprises watches featuring the following indications only: hours, minutes, seconds, simple date (day of the month), power reserve, classic moon phases. These may potentially be adorned with a maximum of nine carats worth of gems.
IS: Who turned the volume up to 11? Having (IMO) two potential winners in the Ladies Complication category was difficult enough; here I see a possible four-way tie for first place! Interestingly, four of the six finalists are black-dial watches in round, white-metal cases, yet they couldn’t be more different in their approach to watchmaking. At first, I thought it would be a difficult decision, but it turned out that one watch stood out.
GG: What an enjoyable set of watches to consider! Everything from ultra-thin skeletons to classic handmade pieces to modernistic displays of time, and a few other dimensions to boot.
ED: I’m absolutely loving the new feel for sizing that we’re seeing in this category! These watches range only from 38 mm to 40.5 in diameter – when have we seen this before at the GPHG? I’m going to say never.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a diverse bunch. To the contrary! We have classic (RRCC II, Zenith), sporty (Parmigiani), wild (Trilobe), modern (Bulgari), and classic indie (Sylvain Pinaud). It’s all here. And only two automatics in the bunch – both (oddly) with micro rotors. One machine-skeletonized watch and two fully handmade watches. One whose movement is 70 years old and the winner of multiple chronometer competitions. Three coming in under 10 mm in height. And no gemstones at all. This is really a special group.
MG: Tough bunch to choose from, but great to see that they are all time-only watches. To me, these six watches also represent how powerful this seemingly basic category of watches can be as they possess a refinement that makes them all such pleasant and timeless companions.
JM: The men’s category is one of the more contentious categories every single year because it is filled with amazing watches that may or may not have much in common and all will have distinct aesthetics. Since that is very subjective, we should also remember that the category is essentially asking what watch is the most versatile, wearable, and appeals to the broadest demographic. Usually this helps narrow down our focus, and I believe it makes this year’s competition much easier to judge.
My top two watches still come down to subjective value, however, so the final decision is still a tough one.
Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II
ED: For me there is no question at all as to the winner of this category. It’s Rexhep Rexhepi’s follow-up to the much-lauded and impossible-to-get Chronomètre Contemporain (RRCC).
Yes, I know that the original RRCC won this category already at the 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. But, as GaryG so rightly says in his story on early GPHG picks, before that Akrivia’s entry in the Grand Prix didn’t even make the final six in its class! (Still shaking my head over that . . .)
However, it is important to note that this watch is not the same one that won that accolade back in 2018, which I explain at length in my recent story. But it is equally as deserving in my opinion.
GaryG also noted in his story that it’s not going to be very original to pick this watch as the winner in this category. But when I’m so sure about something, it’s hard to bet against it, isn’t it?
JM: It absolutely kills me to say this, but the Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain II is not the best men’s watch this year. I mean, it is in so many ways. But I have to start being a bit more practical, or at least a bit more discerning.
Firstly, the first edition, a watch that to most people is nearly identical, won in 2018. It was half the price (and I understand the reasons why), yet half as many pieces were made. The functionality was the same, and while the movement is a new movement with a lot of technical upgrades – not to mention the incredible handmade cases – it doesn’t make the watch suddenly an entirely new beast. At least not enough in my mind.
I know the story behind this piece after visiting with Rexhep and understanding how the brand is shifting, and I cannot get over how much more traditional and fundamentally classic his watches are becoming. Pulling master case maker Jean-Pierre Hagmann out of retirement to help make his cases and pass on the craft is more massive than many can know. This watch is truly my favorite watch in this category, Akrivia is one of my favorite brands in the industry, and Rexhep quite possibly my favorite watchmaker. Full stop.
But I have to admit that this watch (in a way) has already won the crown of best men’s watch, and since the Chronomètre Contemporain II is limited and rather expensive (second most in the category), I can’t help but say it takes it out of the running for my top piece. I will be so happy if it wins, but for reasons I’ll state elsewhere, I think it just missed for the category this year (but don’t count it out for the Aiguille d’Or). Don’t hate me, Rexhep!
GG: I’m a proud owner of the Akrivia RRCC and a long-time believer in what Rexhep Rexhepi is working to accomplish, so it should be no surprise that I’m picking the Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain II as my winner in this category. Even in the absence of my prior associations with Rexhepi and his team, I’d pick this watch as standing above a strong field of competitors. The dials, much improved from the 2021 Only Watch example, are brilliant; the jump seconds complication adds even more interest to the hallmark symmetrical Rexhepi movement design, and the Hagmann case is the icing on the cake.
IS: We could just stop with the Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain II. In any year – possibly barring this one – this masterpiece would easily win the Men’s category. Plus, there’s a superbly hand-finished movement featuring deadbeat seconds driven by a separate barrel to the going train, hacking seconds, and a sweet 38 mm case by virtuoso casemaker Jean-Pierre Hagmann. I particularly like the larger-sized crown for easier winding and time-setting.
For those who think it’s too similar to the original RRCC, there are many watches preselected (and that win prizes) in the GPHG that are just a different dial or case over previous models. The RRCC II has much deeper changes than that.
It’s a perfect men’s dress watch in being simultaneously sensational and discreet. I want one. The Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain II is my pick to win the 2022 GPHG Men’s crown.
MG: In a very short time, Akrivia has shown that it is one of the brands that can perpetuate the tradition of refined, handcrafted Swiss watches. With an 82-hour power reserve, deadbeat seconds, high-fire enamel dial, and superbly finished movement, the Chronomètre Contemporain II is the perfect one-watch watch collection.
Quick Facts Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II
Case: 38 x 8.75 mm, platinum
Dial: black high-fire enamel dial with recessed subsidiary seconds dial in translucent grey enamel over a hand-engraved gratté pattern
Movement: manually wound Caliber RRCC02 with 82-hour power reserve; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, twin gear trains, German silver base plate and bridges, free-sprung variable inertia balance
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking deadbeat subsidiary seconds with zero reset
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: CHF 125,000
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days
IS: As a self-confessed Bulgari Octo Finissimo fanboy, I expected to rank the new Skeleton 8 Days higher in this category, but I think the competition in this field is too strong. I’ve always liked the Octo Finissimo’s case in titanium rather than flashier red gold, and while I am a fan of the ultra slim eight-day movement, I’d rather see a full dial. The skeletonized dial makes the Octo Finissimo look to busy to my eyes.
JM: The Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days is a great watch, ultra-thin, and visually interesting, but not a winner here. It misses on the versatility even though it is very wearable, and since it is a skeleton watch it makes the prospective market a lot smaller.
I know tons of people who love skeleton watches but would never wear them for reasons of legibility, busyness, or the divisive issue of being able to see your wrist through your watch. I think this is a very cool watch, but it just doesn’t seem widely appealing enough or legible enough to be the best men’s watch.
GG: The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days is a fine-looking watch, but I’m a bit doubtful of the brand’s claims about its legibility. And for me the Octo line watches have always suffered from being too thin for their large diameters.
MG: How different is the Bulgari Octo Finissimo from the Akrivia RRCC II with its avant-garde looks. While I find it amazing that Bulgari was capable of incorporating eight days of power reserve into the model, I am not a fan of the skeleton element. It makes the watch look very busy, which I feel takes away from the appeal of the design. More so because the dark-colored bridges on the front cover quite a substantial area, making it look far less skeletonized than I want it to be.
ED: A very typical Bulgari Octo design, it has its own enchantment about it, especially for those people who love the ultra-thinness of this collection. I like the Octo line, no doubt about it. But I am not as enamored of this particular piece as I have been of others in the collection. I would have to agree with my colleagues in finding the dial too busy and therefore less legible than I would personally like.
Quick Facts Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days
Case: 40 x 5.95 mm, pink gold
Movement: skeletonized ultra-thin manual winding Caliber BVL 199 SK with eight-day (192 hour) power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve
Price: CHF 36,200
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro Rotor Steel
MG: It has been a while since a watch was so well received as the Tonda PF. This GPHG is also the perfect testimony to this, as five (!) varieties of the model have made it into the final category selections.
I particularly appreciate this time-only micro rotor version because it shows how strong the design is in its purest form. The date is the only complication, and I could have even gone without it. On the wrist, it really shows its personality without overtaking yours. Refreshing!
IS: The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro Rotor Steel has all of the attributes to be a GPHG Men’s category winner: it’s suitable for both casual and formal wear (wrist time counts) and has nicely sized 40 mm steel case, black guilloche dial adding a touch of class, and a beautiful automatic movement. It’s an ideal high-end men’s watch and my pick for third place.
JM: I will probably catch a lot of flak for this, and possibly even some real hate and vitriol, but I think the Fleurier Tonda PF Micro Rotor is the best watch in this category this year. Does it compete with Akrivia for the most horologically classic, handmade watch? No, but it doesn’t have to.
Does it compete with Zenith for having historical significance and rarity? No, because it doesn’t have to.
Does it compete with Sylvain Pinaud or Trilobe as the most avant-garde independent? No, because it doesn’t have to.
The Tonda PF Micro Rotor is the best watch in the Men’s category because it is the most widely appealing from an aesthetic and wearability standpoint, the most accessible watch (non-limited edition and most affordable in the category), the most versatile as an everyday watch, and, especially in relation to the Zenith and its non-shock-protected movement, the most reliable watch in the category. I don’t doubt the reliability of any watch in general, but I know that out of only two automatic watches in this category, it is the only one that doesn’t have a highly complex display, making it pragmatically more reliable than any other watch for daily use and general wear.
The watch should fit with nearly any outfit, require much less concern when wearing, and be both a possibly attainable piece for folks like me and less of an investment risk for the more well-heeled collector. Basically, I feel like this piece represents everything that the best Men’s watch should be and so it wins the category in my opinion.
ED: When you lay it out like that, Joshua, it is a very appealing and logical argument. However, I also think that passion plays hugely into the choice of luxury watches.
GG: When I picked the Chopard L.U.C jumping hours piece as my Aiguille d’Or winner in 2021, I mused that it should be perfectly acceptable to pick a really well done, nice-wearing watch as a top choice. Parmigiani Fleurier has really been hitting this mark recently in my view by meshing elements of its Toric design codes such as the fluted bezel with more contemporary cues.
I am really pleased to see the Tonda PF Micro Rotor in steel among this year’s Men’s finalists. In real life, though, there’s something just a bit too open about the dial for me to give the watch full marks, and I’m not alone in observing that perhaps slightly larger baton markers or more prominent guilloche would make that little difference to move this from really good to great.
Quick Facts Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro Rotor Steel
Case: 40 x 7.8 mm, stainless steel with platinum bezel; 100 m water resistance
Dial and hands: grey dial with hand-applied grain d’orge guilloché; rhodium-plated applied indices; delta-shaped hands
Movement: automatic Caliber PF703 with platinum micro rotor; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency; power reserve 48 hours
Functions: hours, minutes; date
Price: CHF 21,000
Sylvain Pinaud Origine
MG: Another great example of pure, old-fashioned watchmaking. While very well constructed, it is especially the finishing that makes my mouth water. Personally, I could have gone without the word “handmade” on the dial because if you know, you know. But apart from that this is one of those watches that comes very close to perfection.
JM: The Origine by Sylvain Pinaud is a cool handmade timepiece with awesome visual aesthetics that presents a lot of value for collectors. It is rare for a watch like this to incorporate a hacking seconds function since precise time setting isn’t usually a goal for independent watchmakers doing everything by hand.
This watch’s style is definitely a plus for those looking for something different to strap to their wrists, and the impressive craftsmanship of the Origine comes through on every component front and back. But like with other visually interesting watches that buck the norm, I think that might disqualify it from this category. It will have less broad appeal as an everyday watch (collectors are often conservative in style, unlike me) so I fear it could put the jury off from choosing it to win. It is a fantastic watch, but it might not be right for this category and what I view as its goals.
IS: Sylvain Pinaud’s Origine is everything I love about watchmaking: a passionate independent watchmaker handmaking and hand-finishing as much of his dream as possible. Origine has an absolutely gorgeous movement in German silver, much of which is on display, and a silvered dial with hand anglage, all in a very wearable 40 mm steel case. I think that Pinaud’s design should be refined a little, but that doesn’t take away from the superb craftwork that’s gone into this watch.
I’d love Origine to win, and it could, but again I think that the jury will go for something with a more traditional look. Sylvain Pinaud’s Origine is my runner up in a very strong field.
GG: Sylvain Pinaud’s Origine looks to be a fine initial effort from an emerging watchmaker. Perhaps I’ve suffered by not having seen the watch in person, but from the photos the design lacks a little coherence for me – the fonts, mixes of dashes and dots, and mixed materials, especially the use of gold for the escapement bridges, seem too much of a good thing to my eye.
ED: I first met Sylvain Pinaud a few years ago at Baselworld, where he had a small booth in the short-lived “Lab” section. I liked what I saw and vowed to bookmark this crafty watchmaker to keep an eye on. I was therefore happy to see him showing his watch again during the AHCI’s “Masters of Horology” exhibition that ran during Watches and Wonders 2022. Even though Sylvain is not a member of the AHCI, he would fit right in with that inventive crew.
His work, including the Origine, is part of a new movement of French watchmakers specializing in handmade watches. I would also include Theo Auffret and newcomer Vincent Deprez in this movement. Their work is laudable, and I hope they all find much commercial success – though I doubt that’s a problem right now for any independent watchmaker in the post-Corona wave of visibility.
While I very much appreciate Pinaud’s work, I’m not sure it is mature enough just yet to seriously compete with some of the other entries in this category, especially that of superstar Akrivia, which for me is the clear winner here. But I may be wrong in that thinking. Others, especially the jury, may see this differently. We shall find out.
Further reading: In Praise of Anglage: Exceptional Hand-Finished Anglage Is Difficult, Slow, And Expensive So The Big Brands Have Given Up And Few Seem To Have Noticed (Or Seem To Care) – Thank God For The Indies!
Quick Facts Sylvain Pinaud Origine
Case: 40 x 11 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding handmade caliber including escapement and balance wheel with variable inertia, 55-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds
Price: CHF 73,200
Trilobe Une Folle Journée black edition
MG: This is one of my favorite models from Trilobe, mostly because it shows the complexity of the brand’s creation in a three-dimensional way. I also enjoy its duality as it can as easily be categorized as a dandy dress watch as a futuristic sports watch. The extensive use of titanium also appeals to me as does the fact that this watch is perfectly proportioned – and, yes, that includes the beautiful sapphire crystal dome.
ED: This IS my favorite Trilobe watch, Martin! I really, really think that CEO and founder Gautier Massonneau has hit a homerun with this watch, which reminds me slightly of MB&F with its high dome, but definitely is Trilobe with its clever time display.
JM: The Trilobe Une Folle Journée is by far the most mechanically interesting watch in this category with such a unique and visually stimulating display. I have loved Trilobe’s triple-ring display for years and was overjoyed when this watch was released because it felt like the brand went all in, taking it to an extreme conclusion. I always will love mechanics first and foremost when it comes to watches, and this does not disappoint. The rear of the movement is also a star, a highly modern micro-rotor movement that demonstrates that the brand does things a little differently.
But like with other watches, this watch is incredibly divisive for those exact reasons. Many will find the display too complicated, hard to read, or simply not classic enough for them. This is where subjectivity comes into play, and you must be realistic. An incredibly divisive watch that probably would be a hard sell as an everyday watch just doesn’t seem poised to win the title of best men’s watch. I love this piece and will sing its praises to anyone who will listen, but I’m not sure it will win over the jury this year.
IS: The Trilobe Une Folle Journée was an easy one for me to rule out. I think that it’s an exceptional watch, but that’s its problem here: I think that the jury is likely to pick a more traditional-looking watch for this category rather than the three-dimensional rotating rings indications of the Folle Journée. Trilobe has been well deservedly fortunate in making the qualify round, but unlucky in finding itself against such strong and more traditional competition.
GG: If Max Büsser made a Trilobe, it would be the Une Folle Journée Black Edition. I know this is a matter of taste, but I’ve never been able to decipher the time display of Trilobe’s watches without it taking too much work, and on the brand’s past watches the small minute and second rings have seemed lost in a sea of open dial space. I’ll give the Folle Journée full credit for adding a lot of visual interest with its three-dimensional display – for me it’s the best Trilobe I’ve seen to date.
Quick Facts Trilobe Une Folle Journée black edition
Case: 40.5 x 17.8 mm, grade 5 titanium
Movement: automatic X-Centric³ caliber (Chronode) with micro rotor winding, 48-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Zenith Calibre 135-Observatoire
JM: The Zenith Calibre 135-Observatoire is an incredible piece of history that surely deserves recognition, but I think it misses the mark as the best Men’s watch for three main reasons. First, it is extremely limited and very expensive for a three-handed time-only watch. I understand that the caliber inside is not just inspired by a historical, award-winning chronometer, it literally IS that historical, award-winning chronometer. This is something that nobody can buy regularly because those are museum pieces cased up into watches. That makes the rarity a huge benefit for collectors but makes it hard to argue as the best broad category “Men’s” watch.
The second reason it misses the mark is that this ten-piece limited edition isn’t able to be ordered from an AD, a Zenith boutique, or direct from the brand if you have a great relationship; it is only available through Phillips. While the watches aren’t going to be auctioned off, it presents a barrier to getting this watch that is a big checkmark against it as the best Men’s watch. Finally, the third reason it misses the mark is that it is a historic caliber, adjusted to be extremely precise for competitions and never designed for daily wear.
It doesn’t even have shock protection on the balance, so messing up the award-winning regulation – the literal selling point of the watch – is a real concern if you wanted to wear this watch every day. For those three reasons I think it will lose out in this category, justifiably so, even though I know it will have a strong reaction among the jury if the story is properly conveyed. I would be surprised if it wins, but not completely.
MG: For anybody not into watchmaking, the Akrivia and Zenith might look a lot alike. And in a way, they are. This record-breaking movement won more than 230 chronometry prizes and represents times that seemingly have passed (but should return).
The age of chronometry does briefly return in this limited edition of 10 pieces, one of the most desirable Zeniths to own for more than just its chronometry, its history, or its looks.
ED: This is an amazing watch emerging from a very creative idea hatched by experts in vintage. I love it. I just would not want to wear it due to its fragility – and I’m sure that anyone who bought this watch feels the same way about this piece of history. And so, unfortunately, the Zenith Calibre 135-Observatoire is destined to be a safe queen. Which is what definitively knocks it out of my top spot for this category. However, the jury may decide to have it win one of the incidental categories. That would be a fitting tribute, indeed.
GG: Legendary observatory movement in limited numbers, restored and refinished by maestro Kari Voutilainen? Yes, please! I was one of the many who fired off urgent emails to my contacts at Phillips seeking an allocation as soon as the Zenith Caliber 135-Observatoire was announced, and one of the almost-as-many to hear back that they had already sold out. The visual architecture of the Zenith movement is perhaps not as appealing as the Peseux 260 in Voutilainen’s landmark Observatoire, but overall this is a watch I’d love to own and my second choice in this competition.
IS: The Zenith Calibre 135-Observatoire is a phenomenal concept executed superbly. I don’t know if the plan at the outset was to make a potential GPHG Men’s category winner, but that’s what they’ve done. Using very rare and precious chronometry competition-winning movements, Zenith could easily have gone for a more open dial design to showcase more of the movement, but I’m glad that the brand didn’t.
But there’s a fragile elephant in the room: no balance shock protection. If the movement gets a hard shock/drop then the balance pinion is likely to break. The Zenith Obsevatoire models don’t use modern copies of chronometry competition-winning movements, these are the actual timing competition movements, and as such were not originally cased or designed to be worn; they were designed to compete.
And while I tip my hat to Zenith for not modifying such historically important movements by adding balance shock protection, that makes the movement basically unsuitable for a wristwatch being worn. And while it’s not in the category rules, I rate “being worn” as a very high attribute a watch should have. Having no balance protection drops the Zenith Calibre 135-Observatoire from being a potential for my runner up to last place here.
Quick Facts Zenith Calibre 135-Observatoire
Case: 38 x 10.35 mm, 950 platinum
Movement: vintage manual winding Caliber 135-O, 40-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces sold exclusively by Phillips
Price: CHF 132,900
Elizabeth: Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II
Gary: Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II
Ian: Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II
Joshua: Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro Rotor Steel
Martin: Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro Rotor Steel