Our Predictions In The Mechanical Exception Category Of The 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Bulgari, Chopard, Or Armin Strom?
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 Mechanical Exception category comprises watches featuring a special mechanism such as an innovative or sophisticated display, an automaton, a striking or any other acoustic function, a special escapement, a belt-driven movement, or another original and/or exceptional horological concept.
JM: Now we are onto the big bad boys (yes, they are all clearly intended to be men’s watches) of the GPHG. Mechanical Exception is where we literally put the most mechanically incredible watches head to head, and the name of the game is horological creativity. Aesthetics help but you can be a wild, avant-garde watch and easily win this category because there is no limit.
Super thin, super precise, super sonorous, or super out-of-this-world – all could take the trophy, and this is often where we have as many different possible winners as we do panelists discussing them!
ED: The second thinnest mechanical watch in the world, two ultra-complicated tourbillons, an evolution of one the all-time groundbreaking wristwatches in existence, and only the third wristwatch ever to reliably contain resonance. These are the timepieces we have to choose from in this category this year. Good luck and good night.
GG: In my preview article on this year’s GPHG entries I singled out the Chopard and Ferdinand Berthoud entries in the Mechanical Exception category for praise, but they aren’t the only excellent watches in the set.
MG: Several categories give pretty good insight into the state of the watch industry, and among them for sure this year is Mechanical Exception. Picking a winner is an uphill battle, though, as it is rather hard to compare an ultra-thin time-only watch to a minute repeater with a tourbillon and an astronomical delight. This is one of the reasons why my GPHG mantra remains that all nominated watches are winners.
IS: Wow! There have been GPHG categories this year that left me underwhelmed because of their paucity of exceptional and original watches, but any of the six finalists in this Mechanical Exception category could easily take this prize. I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of handling all of these watches, but unfortunately that doesn’t make ranking them any easier as they are all sensational.
Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance First Edition
JM: Originally debuting in 2016, a version of the Mirrored Force Resonance innovation has entered three previous Grand Prix competitions: 2017, 2019, and 2020. And it has yet to be honored with an award. Given the horological and engineering accomplishment of this piece, I think it is long overdue to be recognized and finally take a win.
This new edition refreshes the design and returns to the roots of the concept, a clever approach to the unique phenomenon of resonance. No other piece in this category even comes close to the achievement of creating a highly accurate resonance watch. Heck, there aren’t even more than a couple other watches that are available for purchase that do anything with resonance. It seems to me that it should be a clear winner and might even deserve a bit of an extra thank-you-for-your-patience pat on the back. But I think that the general jury, made up of many people that are less technically savvy, might be more impressed with a record-setting watch than one that requires a bit of physics knowledge to truly appreciate.
For that reason, I want to pick this watch as my clear winner, but I think the jury may pass it over once again in favor of a crowd favorite from Bulgari. But the jury may also believe that Bulgari has had enough success and finally award the Mirrored Force Resonance too, so for me it’s a tie!
ED: Thankfully there are some cracking indie watchmakers on the jury this year like Felix Baumgartner and Denis Flageollet, and if they speak up in a forceful enough way during the jury’s debates they could help sway the vote in this direction (though being two of the most soft-spoken watchmakers in the business, they might not come across with enough force).
I agree with everything you’ve said, Joshua, and still cannot believe this watch has never won an award. With its gorgeous redesign, it is beyond time.
MG: To me, resonance is still one of the most mind-blowing concepts within the watch industry. Armin Strom not only makes it happen, but also wraps it in a contemporary delight that could very well be the perfect one-watch watch collection. This is one of the very few watches in which I wouldn’t want to change a single thing. Even the text on the dial is on point. Despite heavy competition, it is the winner of this category in my book.
GG: Armin Strom is slowly making its visual presentations less and less clunky, and for me the Mirrored Force Resonance First Edition is another step forward with its softened case profile and effective use of movement openworking. The bridge structure on the reverse is cool, too, but I could do without the Greubel Forsey-style raised engraving of the brand’s values. I also appreciate the pusher at 2 o’clock that instantaneously resets the two running seconds indicators.
IS: Armin Strom deserves a GPHG award for mastering and taming resonance in the wristwatch. A few others have made excellent watches featuring the phenomenon of resonance, but none of the other mechanisms offer such reliable (and certified) resonance and a documented increase in precision.
The Mirrored Force Resonance has been around a few years and I think that will count with the jury.
Quick Facts Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance First Edition
Case: 43 x 11.55 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Caliber ARF21, 48-hour power reserve, 25,200 vph/3.5 Hz frequency with dual balances connected by a Resonance Clutch Spring
Functions: hours, minutes, dual synchronizable seconds
Limitation: 25 pieces
Price: CHF 58,000
Bovet 1822 Récital 20 Astérium
GG: Bovet 1822’s Récital 20 Astérium is unbelievable! Hard to decide where to start as the double-faced tourbillon is almost forgotten given the surrounding presentations of night sky and moon phases, equation of time and day/night, the measurement of time governed by a 365.25-day annual engine, and on the reverse the indications of the solstice, equinox, and astrological zodiac. The calendar is set through the crown, and in case you leave the watch in the safe for a week, it will still be running due to its 10-day power reserve. This one is a very close second place for me in this year’s Mechanical Exception group.
MG: Made in a Swiss castle, these watches always seem to me like they come from a fairy world. In watchmaking there is simply no equal to Bovet. Sure, other brands bring dazzling complications with refined finishings as well, but the way that Bovet presents them, unites them in their expressive designs, is something no other brand can do. If I were very wealthy I would love to have a box of them, and I know that I am not the only one. This is why I am surprised that Bovet only makes one piece of this exceptional Récital 20 Astérium as I think that the combination of the red and white gold works great together. It might expand the Bovet universe even a little bit if they were to do this more often.
IS: While completely different to the Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance in nearly every way imaginable, and despite being the most complicated watch here (in terms of the number of complications), this Bovet 1822 Récital 20 Astérium is likely to suffer from being a new variation of an existing model.
JM: As I’ve said before, Bovet is one of the most unique brands out there because it marches to the beat of its own drummer and makes watches like the Récital 20 Astérium. This thing is jam packed with complications – 10 to be exact – as well as including a tourbillon and retrograde minutes indication.
The aesthetics are unique in this category, as well as being one of the only watches with bright colors. Grey and gold dominate the category, but the Astérium showcases a variety of stunning blues as well as being the only piece to have artistic crafts applied. As the most complicated watch in the competition, it has a strong chance to win against all of these interesting watches. But, and this is a very technical “but,” the complications it presents are innovative in their display and implementation, not exactly the creation as we have seen these complications in other highly complicated watches. So in favor of my two top picks, I have to call this one my second runner-up against two truly groundbreaking and innovative watches.
ED: This is a very serious watch with a variety of astronomical indications that also includes a mesmerizing double-face flying tourbillon mounted in the center of its assembly. The carefully planned movement and its superbly executed layout allow the observer to see the mechanism moving without a bridge interfering so that its mechanical beauty is on full view from every single angle. And that’s just the beginning of what is so special about this ultra-complicated masterpiece.
I don’t think it will take the crown here because it was introduced five years ago in 2017 and this is a unique-piece variation. But then again it has never been entered into the GPHG, so the jury may see that going for it. I wish this watch many, many awards because it is truly astounding, but I do believe another will walk away with the title in 2022.
Further reading: Bovet Récital 20 Astérium: The Galaxy On Your Wrist
Quick Facts Bovet 1822 Récital 20 Astérium
Case: 46 x 18.3 mm, white and red gold
Movement: manual winding skeletonized Caliber 17DM02-SKY with 240-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours (24-hour display), retrograde minutes, seconds; moon phase, power reserve indicator, equation of time, night sky, annual sidereal calendar, seasons, solstice and equinox indicator, astrological zodiacs indicator
Limitation: one piece
Price: CHF 500,805
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary
MG: Is there any glory for second place? Bulgari was probably not happy that it could enjoy the Octo Finissimo Ultra being the thinnest mechanical watch in the world for such a short period of time. While the Richard Mille might be barely a hair thinner, the Bulgari still has the edge as it can claim the title of being the thinnest regulator watch in the world. Kidding aside, it is good looking, comes on a bracelet, and in a technical sense is the crown of a decade of mechanical innovation.
JM: The Octo Finissimo Ultra was truly groundbreaking when it blew past the previous world record holder for thinnest watch while looking like it had real depth thanks to some expertly designed bridgework.
It also was only the record holder for a short time thanks to a surprising contender who only weeks later took the crown with a watch 0.05 millimeters thinner, but that watch is not in this competition. So within the 2022 GPHG, this is the record holder for thinnest watch, and that means a lot. It represents extreme expertise in thinness as well as a commitment to pushing the boundaries of what thin can be.
For that reason alone it deserves to win the crown, but I have it tied for the win with the Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance for one main reason: past performance. The Octo Finissimo has a history of being a jury favorite for previous world records and overall style, so it is possible that the jury might go another way to keep from just being a default winner. I know that hasn’t stopped past juries from choosing the Tudor Black Bay more times than reasonable, but I can’t be certain so I’m holding my breath and saying it could be a coin toss between Armin Strom and Bulgari this year.
ED: I feel bad for Bulgari having been one-upped by Richard Mille just a few weeks after its triumphant return to having the thinnest watch. But I still feel that Armin Strom deserves the award and that what the jury could do is award the Bulgari in the innovation category that is discretionary as it also deserves recognition.
IS: My best guess is that Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary will win the GPHG Mechanical Exception category (or a bigger prize). The jury (at least the last one) obviously appreciates ultra-thin watches as the Bulgari Octo Finissimo took the GPHG’s Aiguille d’Or (overall best in competition) in 2021. That was for a watch 5.8 mm thick, and the Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary is less than a third of that at 1.8 mm thick – including case! I think this watch will win, but it may also win the Aiguille d’Or, in which case my second choice by a hair will win.
GG: The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary is the latest thin watch from Bulgari. For me, it’s been a while since the Octo series has passed the point of being too thin for its diameter, and the addition of the QR code on the dial side of the watch is a real turnoff. This one is a “no” from my perspective.
Quick Facts Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary
Case: 40 x 1.8 mm, titanium
Movement: manually wound Caliber BVL180 (co-developed with Concepto), 50-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, constructed as a monobloc integrated into the case
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces
Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Tourbillon
GG: My winner is the Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Tourbillon. I recently heard this watch in person, and to my ear it is every bit the equal of the original Full Strike and now with of a tourbillon to draw the eye and make the watch just that bit more complex. It’s not a small watch, but it’s a beautiful one, and with C.O.S.C. certification, it will keep good time as well.
MG: An imposing watch in a relatively compact package; the L.U.C Full Strike combines two of the most prestigious features a watch can have in very organized and luxurious package. This is the watch people buy when they mean business, but want to show it in a more sophisticated way. One of my favorite minute repeaters currently available.
ED: The original Chopard L.U.C Full Strike minute repeater won the Aiguille d’Or at the 2017 GPHG. This is not a mere modification of the L.U.C Full Strike: the decision to include a tourbillon regulator required a complete development process that involved rethinking interactions and layouts. With such a delicate escapement subject to as many parameters as the minute repeater, the Chopard Manufacture workshops had to ensure that this tourbillon would not in any way modify the acoustic qualities of the chime.
IS: The Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Tourbillon is another watch that would easily win in another year. The sound from Chopard’s sapphire crystal gongs, which are integrated into the sapphire crystal, is loud and crystalline clear, and the addition of a tourbillon makes this essentially a new movement. However, the L.U.C Full Strike took the GPHG Aiguille d’Or in 2017 and I don’t think that the added tourbillon is enough for the Full Strike Tourbillon to win here.
JM: It’s hard to imagine judging a competition of spectacularly complicated mechanical watches and saying that a minute repeater with sapphire crystal gongs and a tourbillon supported by sapphire crystal bridges should get only a minor “good job.” But that is exactly what I am saying, and it’s a bit hard to swallow.
The L.U.C collection has always been immaculate, and the Full Strike was a fantastic timepiece. The addition of the sapphire crystal-mounted tourbillon is absolutely lovely, yet I’m not sure if it is enough to take the competition down. This is the unknown of the Mechanical Exception category, sometimes “absolutely fantastic” just drops you in the middle of the pack because everything is already fantastic. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this watch, I just think other pieces have shown more innovation and mechanical exception.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Tourbillon
Case: 42.5 x 12.58 mm, ethical pink gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber L.U.C 08.02-L with one-minute tourbillon with sapphire crystal bridge, 50-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, base plate and bridges in German silver, sapphire crystal gongs; variable-inertia balance; official C.O.S.C. chronometer certification; Geneva Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds (on tourbillon); minute repeater, power reserve, minute repeater power reserve
Limitation: 20 pieces
Price: CHF 380,000
Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RSM.2-1
IS: The Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RSM.2-1 is the watch I’d like to win, and with this watchmaker-heavy GPHG jury I think it has an excellent chance. While a power reserve indicator and tourbillon don’t sound like much in the way of complication, the 2RSM.2-1 also features a fusée-and-chain constant force mechanism, deadbeat seconds, balance stop for precise time setting, and, unusually for a movement with deadbeat seconds, it is chronometer certified. The Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RSM.2-1 is my runner up but may well win if the Bulgari is awarded another prize.
MG: While I find the case on the FB 1 a bit more unique and expressive, I understand Ferdinand Berthoud getting more into rounder designs. While I still think that the brand should start naming its models (FB 2RMS.2-1 sounds more like the designation for a glucose atom than a beautiful watch), I also would love to see this model with less text on the dial as then it would get closer to the same level as my favorite Ferdinand Berthoud of all time, the FB 1R.6-1. While an imposing watch, I feel that in this company it can keep up, but not ahead.
JM: This might be the most classic watch in this group since it took inspiration directly from a clock made in 1768. The movement is ridiculously complicated and exquisitely crafted, pushing traditional horology to its limits. But what it has in classic mechanics, it lacks in innovation, and that feels important for this category. It is exceptional, but in a rather traditional way that showcases skill and manufacturing prowess but not exactly horological ingenuity.
I adore this watch and would love if it became a part of my collection but judging fairly I don’t know if this watch has what it takes to win this category. It could win over the jury, but I can’t give it the win.
GG: The Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RSM.2-1 retains the marine chronometer-inspired architecture of its predecessors, but adds a central jumping seconds display while retaining C.O.S.C. chronometer certification, which is no mean feat. I had a chance to hold and photograph this watch earlier this year, and the build quality is also truly superb.
ED: It is an entirely impressive watch in every way, Gary.
Quick Facts Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RSM.2-1
Case: 44 x 14.3 mm, ethical red gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber FB RSM with one-minute tourbillon and fusée-and-chain transmission; 53-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency; officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, deadbeat hacking seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 20 pieces
Price: CHF 270,000
Ulysse Nardin Freak S
ED: The Freak experienced a great return to its highly innovative roots in 2022, and this new version is sublime. The Freak is one of the all-time groundbreaking watches. But I truly think that Armin Strom should be this year’s winner.
JM: This might be the hardest call to make because the Freak has always been about mechanical and material innovation since the beginning; it is literally a test bed for Ulysse Nardin research and development. But the Freak S, as incredible as it is, doesn’t feel like it pushed things as far as it normally does, especially compared to the Innovision concepts.
But therein lies the rub: the Innovision is where the brand releases all of the innovations and then some eventually make their way into models, including later Freak pieces. But each new Freak isn’t itself the most groundbreaking or innovative watch, and besides the twin oscillators, everything in the Freak S has been seen more or less in another model from Ulysse Nardin. The aesthetics and exact implementation is new and awesome, but the same could be said for the Bovet and Chopard. This was one of the most fun, sci-fi leaning Freak models that I can remember, and quite possibly is my favorite from the collection’s history. But does it beat everything else we’ve seen in the group? I’m not convinced that it has.
GG: The Ulysse Nardin Freak S begins with the original Freak concept and then raises the ante several levels with angled dual balance wheels linked by a differential, material improvements in the escapement, and a “Grinder” winding system that is twice as efficient as a traditional automatic winding setup. I’m glad I watched the video that accompanies the entry as the watch is even more impressive in motion than at a standstill. The spaceship against a black aventurine sky motif isn’t bad, either.
IS: If any watch exemplifies the spirit of the Mechanical Exception category, it is the in-every-way-exceptional Ulysse Nardin Freak S. While the more complicated Ulysse Nardin Freak was launched more than 20 years ago, the Freak S sports a completely new movement and retains similar styling to its inspiration. But unfortunately in this strong lineup, The Freak S is yet another watch for me that could have won in other years, but I don’t think will win tin 2022.
MG: A spaceship for on the wrist, the result of decades of innovation with the Freak models. Ulysse Nardin most certainly kicked it into high gear lately, and among the new models this Freak S. The escapement is stunning, not only in technical execution, but also in terms of design. Is it form follows function or the other way around? My very strong, almost tied, runner up in this category!
Further reading: Ulysse Nardin Freak S: Taking Freaky Back Toward Its Roots
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Freak S
Case: 45 x 13.7 mm, black ceramic and DLC-coated titanium with red gold bezel
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-251 with twin inclined balances in a 60-minute tourbillon carousel, 72-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency, Grinder automatic winding, silicon balance wheel
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 75 pieces, 40 pieces for 2022 in current variation
Price: CHF 130,000 / €123,000
Elizabeth: Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance First Edition
Martin: Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance First Edition
Ian: Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary
Joshua: tie between Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance First Edition and Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary
Gary: Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Tourbillon