Our Predictions In The Challenge Category Of The 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panel Is Nearly Unanimous For A Mad Watch
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 Challenge category have a retail price equal to or under CHF 3,500. Smartwatches are admissible in this category.
JM: As in the Petite Aiguille category, my considerations for the Challenge category go double. This is the category where we look for the most bang for our buck, the most horology for our hankering, the most wow for our wrist. With that, we also must remember that with a price ceiling of 3,500 CHF, the value of these watches comes with design, finishing, and implementation. Luckily, all of the pieces would be solid wrist companions so we can lean a bit on personal preference and what might check the most boxes for everyone.
ED: Two green-dial watches in vintage style with lots of added functionality, a regulator, a solar-powered watch by a volume producer, a staple in this category, and perhaps the most sought-after affordable-luxury watch on the market today. Again tough pickings, but I think there will be a clear winner here.
GG: As I’m fond of saying, there are great watches at every price point! That’s true of offerings from both established brands and independents, as seen in this year’s set of Challenge finalists.
IS: Watches under 3,500 Swiss francs . . . now it gets interesting. And the competition gets even fiercer. This is the first horological category in which I think every one of the finalists both deserves their place here and any of them could win. There’s very little between first and last here; they are all great watches with a little – or in some cases, a lot – extra.
MG: The Challenge category is always fun because there is always a wide variety of different types of watches that battle for the highest honor.
Kurono Tokyo Calendrier Type 1
JM: Right off the bat we have a watch that I think could win but might also suffer from personal preference and unfamiliarity. The Kurono Tokyo is an awesomely affordable watch designed by Hajime Asaoka that uses the criminally underutilized Miyota 9122 full calendar movement to give very useful functionality.
The dial is pretty unique from the color, finish, and choice of typography for the numerals. It is the most accessible piece here in terms of price, but ultimately very hard to get as it was a limited edition and sold out very quickly. I could easily see this watch winning if there are enough on the jury that know of Asaoka’s other work and value the aesthetic that dances around military field watches combined with fancier dress watches. But if people are unfamiliar with Asaoka and prefer a more modern or even less distinct visual presence, it could slip off their radar screens.
For that reason I’m calling it my first runner-up because I truly think this category may end up being a tossup between some awesome watches.
MG: While I love the case, hands, numeral font, and the color and texture of the dial, the Kurono has something that really ticks me off: it reminds me of my early days collecting watches when my budget was minimal, and there were these watches with two subdials mimicking a chronograph look, but they weren’t chronographs. This Kurono brings back those memories. I think less would have been more here: how more beautiful would this watch have been with just three hands and no calendar functions? Then the dial and the unique numerals get all the room to shine.
ED: I am a big fan of what Hajime Asaoka has done with Kurono, and I do like this watch in general – especially the coin-edge case, no longer as popular as it once was, unfortunately – giving it something of a vintage look. But I am decidedly not a fan of this shade of green.
GG: I’m a Kurono owner, so I have an affection for the Kurono Tokyo Calendrier Type 1, and the unusually colored dial with its dramatic numerals is very much to my taste as is the ridged bezel that seems very much in place. Too bad about the white background on the date dial, but I suppose you can’t have everything. That black strap is the worst bit about the Kurono pieces and I suspect that as many owners as possible are opting for the lovely colored straps on offer from Kurono.
IS: Congratulations to self-taught Japanese watchmaker Hajime Asaoka on the launch and success of his (relatively) affordable Kurono sub-brand. And the Kurono Tokyo Calendrier Type 1 offers great value for money: a triple calendar from a very sought-after independent for 1,700 Swiss francs is incredible. But that green hue doesn’t work for me, and while I understand the need for a date on a triple calendar and the aim of keeping costs down, that white date wheel under a green dial means that it’s out of the running for me.
Further reading: Why I Bought It: Kurono By Hajime Asaoka Anniversary Green Mori – Good News, It’s Relatively Affordable; Bad News, It’s Hard To Get
Quick Facts Kurono Tokyo Calendrier Type 1
Case: 38 x 10 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber Miyota 9122; 40-hour power reserve; 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, day, month
Limitation: undisclosed limited number
Price: CHF 1,700
Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x seconde/seconde/
ED: Louis Erard has been killing it in recent years with its limited editions at affordable-luxury prices. The collaborations with seconde/seconde/ have produced a lot of fun, quirky, quippy watches that deserve all the attention they’re getting.
MG: I like it when watch brands don’t take themselves too seriously, and Louis Erard is the perfect example of this. It is not only a fun concept but also beautifully integrated into the regulator setup of the watch.
IS: Louis Erard is on a roll, and I love the clean look of the Le Régulateur Louis Erard x seconde/seconde/. The “404 error” message is a discreet bit of fun, but it’s the regulator layout with its blue hands against a plain white dial that steals the show. And at 2,404 Swiss francs (that “404 error” message again) it is relatively affordable for many. I can easily see it winning here, but my heart belongs to another.
GG: The Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x seconde/seconde/ is yet another interpretation of the Louis Erard regulator watch, and for me one of the least successful with its substitution of the word “error” for Erard and “404” indication matching up with the error message each minute too clever by half.
JM: I love the Louis Erard Le Régulateur pieces as mentioned when we judged the Petite Aiguille category. I also love things that don’t take themselves too seriously, and a watch that replaces the minute hand with the “404 Error” bar commonly seen on the internet (at least in the early days) is supremely enjoyable and in line with my humor.
But I know that most won’t be so lighthearted when it comes to a watch in a competition like this, so that could work against it (though it didn’t for Konstantin Chaykin’s Joker). Still, if this watch had a normal hand and perhaps focused on dial decoration, this could easily take the crown. But with it leaning so heavily on a sight gag, it could put people off to choose it for the winner. I could be wrong, but I feel it may not find the appreciation it deserves among the jury this year.
Further reading: Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein x Manuel Emch x A Cast Of Guest Artists = Amazing (And Affordable) Watches
Quick Facts Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x seconde/seconde
Case: 42 x 12.25 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber Sellita SW266-1, 38-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 178 pieces
Price: CHF 2,404
M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red
IS: All of the finalists here are great watches, so to win you need to stand out from the crowd by offering something extra, something special. And whether you like the M.A.D. Editions M.A.D.1 RED or not (it is a polarizing watch), I think we can all agree that it stands out from the crowd. Hajime Asaoka is not the only independent here deserving congratulations for launching a successful and more affordable sub-brand: MB&F deserves a tip of the hat as well.
The M.A.D.1 is crazy, it’s outrageous, and I’m lucky and honored to have one. The M.A.D. Editions M.A.D.1 RED is my pick to win this category (unless it wins the Audacity Prize).
GG: Let’s face it: barring some sort of Tudor-mania among the members of the jury, the M.A.D. Editions M.A.D.1 Red is going to win this category and/or pass through to pick up the Audacity award. I own the OG blue variant, and, if anything, the cylindrical crown and thinner bezel of the Red model improve the watch – if not the pride of ownership – at least a touch. Rather than fight city hall, I’ll pick this one for the win.
ED: The same goes for me, Gary. As an owner of both the blue and red editions I see and very much appreciate the slight improvements on the Red version over the Blue. I also think this watch is the best value-for-money timepiece in this category thanks to all of the work I know went into turning a “simple” Miyota movement into a watch that looks and acts like it stepped right out of Bladerunner.
As for whether this watch will win the category: like you, I think it can only “lose” if it gets upgraded to Audacity.
JM: Okay, I might be a little biased as I literally received this watch in the mail two days before writing my opinions, but this watch is pretty darn awesome. But I will also preface this by saying that the style and aesthetic are extremely divisive, which could easily not sway the jury enough to crown it the winner. But its quirkiness comes from a genuine place as it is from the folks over at MB&F, who wanted to create something under a different masthead for people to enjoy that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. The M.A.D.1 Red is the closest thing many (and I mean myself) will ever get to owning an MB&F watch, and I’m okay with that.
The use of an affordable movement to allow for as much customization as possible resulted in a truly wild case and interesting time display for only CHF 3,125. The inverted movement gives people the iconic MB&F battle axe winding rotor to remind you who birthed it, and the large mineral glass case bottom effectively acts like a glass bottom boat in reverse so you can see the peripheral time display cylinders hanging from the movement.
If someone told me this was a new MB&F release, I would think it was very conservative for the brand, but I wouldn’t automatically assume it was accessible. Finding out that it is would blow my mind, but luckily Max Büsser didn’t bury the lead when he launched the watch and so we always knew it was an awesomely affordable and accessible watch birthed from the same mind palace that is MB&F.
For that reason, I have to give it the crown, it’s just too close to my heart and everything I love about the industry. But I also know that it is definitely NOT everyone’s style so I could very easily see it not getting picked for this category – and then the GPHG creating a special award just to make sure it got acknowledged for what it is!
MG: M.A.D. goes red, and, honestly, I think the color change makes it look even better. It gives a bit more contrast, highlighting the uniqueness of this creation. It’s only a pity that it has become a victim of its own success with outrageous prices in the second-hand market. It does underscore what we already know: that MB&F rocks like a “M.A.D.” man.
Further reading: M.A.D.1 Friends Edition From (Not By) MB&F: Why I Bought It, Why You Can’t (Not Yet Anyway), And Why It’s A Marketing Masterclass – Plus Video of Max Büsser Explaining The Watch And Concept
Quick Facts M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red
Case: 42 x 18.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: modified and inverted unidirectional automatic Miyota 821A (Citizen), 60-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, titanium and tungsten winding rotor
Functions: lateral hours and minutes on case band using two revolving aluminum rings with engraved numerals filled with Super-LumiNova
Price: CHF 3,125
Massena Lab Uni-Racer Safari
GG: Green is keen, or so it seems with the recent flood of green-dialed watches, including Massena Lab’s Uni-Racer, Safari. I do like the green and khaki colors, but as a simple re-dial of the 2020 and 2021 Uni-Racer models this one falls down my list.
ED: I like this shade of green much more than that of the Kurono in this category, perhaps because I find the gradient a bit more interesting. I also enjoy the vintage vibe of this watch.
MG: Big eyes have always been cool, and Massena knows like no other how to give this concept a unique twist. I would never put these colors together, but they work, and they work well. It’s a fun watch with character, and also one that I suspect will age beautifully.
IS: Massena LAB, a small horological creative studio that I suspect few have even heard of, has two finalists in the 2022 GPHG. I picked the Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Massena LAB Gold to win the 2022 Petite Aiguille, but while it’s a nice-looking chronograph, I don’t think that the Massena LAB Uni-Racer is strong enough to win against this competition.
JM: I’ve been really digging what Massena Lab has been doing and this is a truly great watch. It’s also the only chronograph in the group, which sets it apart from the rest for a high amount of value. On top of that it also reminds me a lot of the Kurono Tokyo Calendrier Type 1, and that’s the rub. With two watches that look similar but have very different functionality, it comes down to preference a lot more. Sure, the Calendrier Type 1 is a passive watch while the Uni-Racer is something you can actively participate in, but the Calendrier Type 1 is also half the price.
So if looks is what’s important, one is a better value, but if functionality is your goal, then it’s a tossup. For that reason, I have used my preference to say I think the Uni-Racer just misses out of making my list to win.
Quick Facts Massena Lab Uni-Racer Safari
Case: 39 x 13 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber Sellita SW510 M, 58-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Price: CHF 3,450
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph
ED: I love the idea of this watch and think that solar power could be used much more frequently in the Swiss watch industry. I also really enjoy the use of two-tone Super-LumiNova against the DLC black of the case here. It’s definitely a watch worth considering in this category.
MG: Yes, we have Swiss innovation again in an unlikely field, that of solar-powered movements. TAG Heuer not only utilizes this innovative caliber but also crafts the perfect watch around it. The bezel made of carbon fiber with Super-LumiNova is a brilliant move and very suitable for the concept. TAG Heuer also avoided going overboard to make this watch stand out and it is proportioned perfectly. My winner in this category.
JM: I have nothing against this watch: it looks durable, capable, and visually clean. The black and carbon is always a popular look, and being solar powered is definitely something that people could prefer. But at 3,000 CHF I feel like it doesn’t present the value that something like a Citizen Eco-Drive would for a fraction of the cost. And for many here, a quartz movement going up against mechanical watches that cost less (and do more) is a hard sell.
GG: I have to tip my hat to TAG Heuer for developing a solar-powered watch that picks up a full-day charge in two minutes of sunlight and an impressive six-month charge – or even more impressive 3.5-year autonomy in Power Save mode – with 20 hours of light exposure.
IS: If you are in the market for a high-quality sports watch with a solar-powered quartz movement then the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph is well worth consideration. And while I know that smartwatches and quartz movements are acceptable in this category, that rules the Solargraph out of the running for me.
Further reading: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph: Let There Be (Sun) Light!
Quick Facts TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph
Case: 40 x 11.4 mm, DLC-coated stainless steel with bezel inserts in carbon fiber and Super-LumiNova
Movement: eco-drive solar quartz Caliber TH50-00 by La Joux-Perret/Citizen for TAG Heuer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: CHF 3,000
JM: Tudor is always a solid choice in a category where the main limiting factor is price, and when it comes to broad appeal the Ranger is a great option. It is effectively the budget version of the Rolex Explorer and comes in right in the middle of the pack for price.
On top of that it sports a C.O.S.C.-certified chronometer movement meaning it will be as reliable as possible compared to any in the category. But it also isn’t very exciting, so while it should be well received and provide lots of value it might lack enough oomph to take the crown. I have it as my second runner up due to its “every man” appeal, but I don’t think it can take the category.
GG: Another year, another Tudor; this time around the Ranger, a long-standing Tudor name with specific styling marking the 70th anniversary of the British North Greenland Expedition. At the price, it looks to be a very solidly made piece, and the adjustable-length clasp and C.O.S.C. chronometer certification are real pluses in my view.
ED: That C.O.S.C. chronometer certification, the reliability and long power reserve of Caliber MT5402, and the overall quality that the name Tudor brings with it – all at a price of CHF 2,700 – allow this watch to deserve a podium placement. But I also think it will only get it if the M.A.D.1 Red is elevated to another category.
IS: While Tudor’s Black Bay and Pelagos models attract most of the attention, the Ranger is more of a quiet achiever. For me it’s an ideal everyday watch: at 39 mm it will suit most wrists, the clean dial is extremely legible, and Tudor’s quality is only second to one (big brother Rolex). I love it and I want one. The Tudor Ranger is my pick for runner up here; however, it could well win if my first pick, the M.A.D.1 RED, wins the Audacity prize.
MG: The Ranger is one of the most charming models in the Tudor range, offering a sense of elegance in its straightforward design. It is so honest, and therefore so pure, that you cannot help but like it. Tudor is also clever enough not to let the Ranger be only good looking: the bracelet is well constructed, the case feels solid, the manufacture movement is a gem, official C.O.S.C. chronometer certification underscores its performance, and at 39 mm it really hits the sweet spot in terms of size for many watch enthusiasts.
Quick Facts Tudor Ranger
Case: 39 x 12 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber MT5402 with silicon balance spring, power reserve 70 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: CHF 2,700
Elizabeth: M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red
Ian: M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red
Joshua: M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red
Gary: M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red
Martin: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph
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M.A.D. Editions M.A.D. 1 Red