Our Predictions In The Petite Aiguille Category Of The 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Any Of These Finalists Could Win
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
Watches entered into the Petite Aiguille category have a retail price between CHF 3,500 and CHF 10,000. Smartwatches are admissible in this category.
JM: As we enter into the final stretch of the categories, we come to the area where there are watches I can actually afford, and that changes my considerations to include the “would I actually use my own money to buy this?” qualification. I think that makes my own personal judgements a bit stricter since value for money is very important within the relatively approachable categories. That helps since there are exactly five watches in this group of six I would happily own, so considering the value could just make or break a particular piece.
ED: Two regulators, a chronograph, a Spring Drive classic, a new classic with a twist on the seconds, and a Nixie tube watch: this is what we must choose a winner from in the Petite Aiguille category, finding the best value under CHF 10,000. A tall order if I’ve ever heard one.
GG: Like the lower-priced Challenge category, the Petite Aiguille competition for watches between CHF 3,500 and CHF 10,000 in price provides an opportunity to see how different companies and makers deal with cost constraints while giving us watches we still yearn to own.
IS: While paying between 3,500 and 10,000 Swiss francs for a wristwatch is an astronomical sum for most, we are now in the realm of having to sell watches by the thousands rather than the small limited editions and even unique pieces that we have seen in other categories.
And because the potential market is so large, the competition in this price range is fierce. In the vast majority of the GPHG categories, the retail price or value either doesn’t count very much or not at all toward ranking the watches: Here both price and value count.
ED: And mainly value, I would say.
MG: Like the Challenge category, the Petite Aiguille category often brings some unusual suspects into the shortlist. This year is no different with some surprising watches that won’t make it easy to pick a winner. At least not for me
Breitling Top Time Triumph
JM: This watch appeals to me thanks to my history with café racer motorcycles and a love for simple aesthetic touches like a finishing technique that literally makes a dial appear to have two colors applied (but it is simply due to how the light reflects off the directional brushing). The clean chronograph counters and minimal tachymeter scale are top notch, and the small Triumph logo at 6 o’clock are all definite pluses for me.
But in the context of the competing pieces, I feel like it lacks something extra to put it over the top. I’d gladly rock this watch, and it provides some solid value as a C.O.S.C.-certified chronograph, but if I was putting my money down for one, it would be a different piece in this category, so I can’t pick it for the top spot.
MG: Breitling is on a roll lately, proving that CEO Georges Kern hasn’t lost his magic touch. The Top Time is a good example of this. However, while I am a major petrol head, I am less fond of these collaborative pieces because the collaboration doesn’t add anything. Even if you are a major Triumph enthusiast, I think you are equally well served with the regular model, unless you are a big fan of the powder-blue dial (which many owners are probably going to call “Tiffany blue” for obvious reasons).
ED: Ugh, I think that it’s time to retire the term “Tiffany blue” except with regard to Tiffany!
GG: The Breitling Top Time Triumph is another attractive piece inspired by Breitling’s heritage catalogue; I particularly like the use of contrasting brushing to create the “mask” pattern on the dial.
IS: I like the Breitling Top Time Triumph; it’s a very good-sized (41 mm) and very good-looking chronograph with a faceted pale blue dial that manages the seemingly contradicting qualities of being eye-catching without looking flashy or ostentatious. And a tip of my hat to Breitling for not breaking the dial with a date. Well done, sirs, and may more brands follow #nomoredate (large dates excluded). And at 5,250 Swiss francs, the Top Time Triumph chronograph is competitively priced. It’s not my pick to win, but I do think it’s a strong contender.
Quick Facts Breitling Top Time Triumph
Case: 41 x 14.2 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 23; 48-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes; chronograph
Price: CHF 5,250
Gelfman IN-16 Nixie
GG: Since this is a personal choice discussion rather than a prediction of who will win, I’m going to put the Gelfman IN-16 Nixie into my top spot. I’ve always had a soft spot for Nixie clocks and calculators, and the idea of having a Nixie watch on the wrist that is more or less wearable and that can be programmed in a variety of ways with a smartphone app just makes me smile.
MG: This is not the first wristwatch with Nixie tubes that I have seen, but it is the best. Gelfman, a brand that I have never heard before this edition of GPHG, was able to make it come as close to a wearable size as possible. They even gave the watch a decent power reserve, however, I always feel that the whole concept of Nixie tubes in a wristwatch can’t get past the high gimmick factor, even in such high-end packaging as this.
ED: This is enormous! I do have to ask if it’s wearable, and just from the size description I would heartily say no.
IS: I like nixie clocks, but not nixie watches – not when they are this size at least. Coming in around 46 mm wide by 48 mm long and 20 mm high, the Gelfman IN-16 Nixie is massive. I’ll give it top points for high legibility and (to me) futuristic (or was it the 1970s?) MB&F-style design. However, with its electronic movement fully controllable and programmable via computer and remote software upgrades, the IN-16 Nixie basically an eye-catching smartwatch, which is admissible in this category, but that takes it out of the running for me.
JM: I love this watch and think it is one of the best Nixie-tube watches I have seen to date. It feels like something that MB&F or Urwerk would have produced if they were into vintage electronics instead of high horology. But therein lies the rub: this feels much more aligned with vintage electronics than basic horology, even though it tells the time.
I will always be a big fan of the Nixie tube from a manufacturing standpoint, and now that production of them has resumed so the technology won’t be lost to history (yet) I can rest assured that someday I very possibly will own a Nixie clock or watch. But I can’t bring myself to pick it for this category as it doesn’t seem to represent the best overall affordable watch that should win this award
Quick Facts Gelfman IN-16 Nixie
Case: 45.9 x 47.8 x 20.5 mm, stainless steel
Functions: hours, minutes; date, power reserve indication
Limitation: 999 pieces
Price: CHF 6,000
Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT 9R66
MG: Perhaps the best watch of the bunch from a technical point of view, this Grand Seiko offers a lot to love in a package with timeless appeal. A decade from now this sports watch will still look good. Apart from some of its dress watches, this would be the Grand Seiko of choice if I ever move in that direction. A strong contender that, without a doubt, will do well.
GG: Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive GMT 9R66 is a very solid watch! The “morning mist” dial is the latest attractive look from the brand, and everything about the piece is thought through from the snag-resistant crown guards to the low center of gravity of the bracelet and the highly visible lume. And it keeps time to within 15 seconds per month, with the GMT hand independently adjustable to avoid disturbing the quality of the timekeeping.
JM: There aren’t many negative things you can say about a Grand Seiko Spring Drive, especially one with such a beautifully subtle dial like this model. The GMT function is handy for travelers, but I honestly would have preferred the bezel to remain plain and for the numerals to have been delicately placed along the inner dial bezel. The style feels like it calls for a less tool watch style than it has, of course this is just my consideration against all the other competitors.
It is cased in full titanium so perhaps the combination keeps it firmly in the realm of a tool watch even with that sculpted dial, but I am looking for either a more distinct tool watch, or a luxury steel sports watch. It straddles the line pretty well and will probably be a big selling point for others, yet for me it remains my second runner up as I look toward two others watches that I believe beat this piece.
ED: This is a great Grand Seiko model, classic in its looks and interesting in its movement for sure! I feel one can never go wrong with a watch like this. Still, I don’t think it necessarily presents the best value in a category that relies on value for its validity.
IS: On paper, the Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT 9R66 should be a strong contender for the Petite Aiguille. But its design/color just doesn’t work for me. I like the movement, the polished titanium case, and the texture of the dial, but this sentence in the description stating that, “The hands are bolder and more clearly differentiated for even greater legibility and to ensure the highest possible legibility” left me scratching my head in confusion. If legibility is so important to mention twice in one sentence, how can you put low-contrasting white hands over a white dial?
Quick Facts Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT 9R66
Case: 41 x 13.9 mm, high-intensity titanium
Movement: Spring Drive with 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve indicator, GMT
Price: CHF 8,800
Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold
GG: Louis Erard is making hay with its regulator layout; in the Petite Aiguille group it is presented in the form of Le Régulateur Louis Erard X Massena Lab Gold. I’ve had the chance to handle both the yellow and white-dialed versions of this watch, and it’s as close to the Massena x Luca Soprana Old School watch as you’ll see with a more modest movement and blasted, rather than hand-frosted, dial. I wouldn’t mind having one of these; for me it’s the second-best interpretation of the Louis Erard regulator, behind the collaboration with Alain Silberstein.
MG: I think that the Massena Lab collaboration with Louis Erard works much better than Breitling and Triumph as the collaboration really adds something extra. I like the classic look of the regulator and how the gold texture emphasizes it. In that light, I am also wondering how the watch would have looked without the two prominent brand names. While I understand why they are there, without them I think that the increased purity of the dial might take it to an even higher level.
ED: I’ll admit to already being partial to Louis Erard’s recent collaboration pieces and am even the proud owner of one (but not a regulator model). I do find regulators somewhat difficult to read if you’re looking to see the time at a glance. That said, this watch is still much easier to read than the Trilobe in this category.
It is also the most inexpensive watch in this category by quite a bit. Due to that and the classic nature of its decoration, which is nothing short of eye-catching, I declare it my winner.
IS: I like the unusual regulator-style dial layout of the Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold. And I like the warmly frosted gold dial. The small second subdial goes nearly to the edge of the dial, indicating that the movement is the right size for its case, which is not always the case in more affordable mechanical watches, and that pleases me too. And I like the people behind the collaboration. And the price of 3,600 Swiss francs appears to be excellent value in a 178-piece limited edition that’s probably already sold out. That’s more than enough for the Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold to be my predicted winner, and I think the jury will agree.
JM: The collaborations that Massena Lab has been doing are all spectacular, and this one is no different. The Régulateur of Louis Erard is a hit all on its own, so to take it and put the Massena Lab aesthetic on it with the textured gold dial and perfectly classic sub dials and markings is a gem among this group. It is also the most affordable piece and previously shouldn’t have even been allowed in this category. In earlier years the Petite Aiguille was limited to watches priced between 4-10k CHF, but this year that minimum has been lowered to 3,500 CHF.
The Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab comes in at 3,600 CHF, providing arguably the best value in the entire group. I love the style, the price (I’d happily consider purchasing it myself), and the collaboration. So why didn’t I pick it to win and relegated it to first runner-up position? It all comes down to the regulator layout, which I think has a narrower fan base than a standard time display, and that might hurt its chances. So while I also wouldn’t be surprised if it actually took the crown this year, I’m holding my winning call for another.
Quick Facts Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold
Case: 42 x 12.25 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber Sellita 266-1, 38-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 178 pieces
Price: CHF 3,600 / $3,950
Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition
MG: Trilobe doing what Trilobe does best! What an incredible proposition, filling emptiness with color and texture to elevate the watch as a whole. I find this so incredibly beautiful, in particular in combination with the unique way of telling time, that this is my winner in this category.
JM: Trilobe is one of my favorite quirky brands that provides real creativity and solid horological bona fides, and the Nuit Fantastique in this grained, sandy gold hue is just stunning. The Nuit Fantastique has been on my want list for a long time, but it is the most expensive piece in the category so it’s pushing boundaries of a value proposition.
Still, I think it does provide a very sound argument for the most unique horology within the category. That said, I also think it provides a lot of hesitation for people when it comes to legibility, and the Petite Aiguille award should not go to a watch that is tough to read.
This could be the main downfall of this piece for a jury. As I was already concerned about the regulator style of the Louis Erard, I’m extra worried that could take this piece out of the running. For that reason, I’m not sure if it has what it takes to be crowned the best affordable watch.
GG: Trilobe continues to make steady improvement with the aesthetics of its watches, and to me the Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition is the best effort to date. I’m still not a fan of the limited legibility of the regulator time display, but unless the brand makes a major shift in philosophy that’s not going to change any time soon.
IS: I don’t know if the name Nuit Fantastique Dune simply refers to the warm, dark-sandy color of the dial, but that large empty space occupying the whole right half of the dial and wrapping around the small circular time displays really evokes the desert to me. And I love deserts.
Trilobe’s strength is that its watches are slightly quirky, they catch the eye, they stand out. And that makes the dial layout polarizing, which is likely to split the GPHG jury. The watch that wins this category will be the watch that pleases the most jury members, and as much as I like the Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition, I can’t see it winning here (and me predicting that has just boosted its chances to win!).
ED: This is undoubtedly a very attractive watch; I just love the coloring! However, I still have my difficulties reading the time on it, and that makes it a no-go as a winner for me.
Quick Facts Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition
Case: 40.5 x 9.2 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber X-Centric (by Chronode for Trilobe) with micro rotor; 48-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: CHF 9,800
Zenith Defy Skyline
JM: The Zenith Defy Skyline is my choice for winner for one “should be obvious” reason: if the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or Patek Philippe Nautilus were priced in such a way to be eligible for this category, it would be hard to pick anything else. In that respect, the Zenith Defy Skyline is the accessible version of those watches with arguably a better base movement in the El Primero beating at 5 Hz. The case and bracelet are awesome, the dial is fantastic and subdued, the crown is one of the best crowns available in the market (attention to detail is important), and the off-center fast seconds has something extra for those who want a little visual excitement.
I recently wrote an article extolling the virtues of this piece and I think I can make the argument that this watch is one of the best values and broadly appealing watches in the Petite Aiguille category, so it has my vote to win.
IS: I think that Zenith has hit a home run with this Defy Skyline, and that’s a nearly impossible task in the blue-dialed, steel-cased, casual-watch-that-can be-worn-to-the-office sector (as GaryG highlighted so well in Watch Design: Originality, Similarity, Or Imitation?). At 41 mm the octagonal Defy Skyline is well sized, and the white Super-LumiNova-filled hands and hour markers over the blue dial make for very legible time reading. But a closer look at the dial rewards with a blue sky filled with four-pointed stars and a rare foudroyante one-second dial at 9 o’clock indicating tenths of a second.
The Defy Skyline loses points for the date #nomoredate (but wins a few back because the date wheel color matches the dial) and the fact that at 8,400 Swiss francs it’s up toward the top of the price range in this category, but I give it full marks everywhere else. The Zenith Defy Skyline is my runner up for the GPHG 2022 Petite Aiguille.
MG: I love the rugged look of the Defy Skyline as it offers something new in the world of high-end sports watches. This is not only down to its looks but also the movement with a one-tenth-of-a-second indicator. While I would probably take the famed El Primero chronograph over this one, I think that it is a welcome addition to the Zenith collection
GG: I’m sure the Zenith Defy Skyline is a fine watch and looks good on the wrist – and full points for the date window that is both properly placed at the periphery of the dial and colored to match the dial – but the look of the 12-sided bezel is just a bit too derivative for me. And no Nixie tubes!
ED: This is an exceedingly attractive watch with a fun tie to the brand’s history, and I would love to make it my winner here. I just feel that the Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold is better value in a category that is all about value.
Further reading: Zenith Defy Skyline: How To Kill Two Birds With One Watch
Quick Facts Zenith Defy Skyline
Case: 41 x 11.3 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 3620 with silicon escapement, power reserve 60 hours, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; tenth-of-a-second indication
Price: CHF 8,400
Remark: interchangeable strap system
Elizabeth: Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold
Ian: Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena Lab Gold
Joshua: Zenith Defy Skyline
Gary: Gelfman IN-16 Nixie
Martin: Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition
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