In the lead up to the awards ceremony of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève on Thursday 4 November, WorldTempus takes you through the categories and their finalists, with a serving of comment and analysis. This is the first article of an ongoing limited series, and opens with the categories Men’s, Iconic and Chronograph.
According to the rules of the GPHG, this category comprises watches that have the following functions — hours, minutes and seconds. Additional functions permissible in this category are simple date (excluding anything more complex such as an annual or perpetual calendar), power reserve and classic moonphase (which excludes precision or complex moonphase indications). Our editorial opinion is that the Men’s category rewards everyday value, wearability and utility, favouring watches that embody the classic interpretation of a masculine timepiece.
Among the six finalists in this category, the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours, the Hermès H08 and the Piaget Polo Skeleton are the ones that best fit the strict definition of the category. The Grand Seiko has a slight edge over the other two in terms of movement performance, the Hermès leads in terms of brand recognition and undeniable style, while the Piaget pulls ahead in the area of watchmaking flair thanks to its slim openworked movement. That said, the remaining three finalists have a few tricks up their sleeves as well. From a consumer’s point of view, the H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Final Edition is a smart (pun intended) twist on the now-ubiquitous connected watch. It also occupies the median price position amongst the finalists, making it a strong contender — especially for the more cerebral watch lovers out there. The unexpected flamboyance of the Louis Erard La Semaine, designed in collaboration with cult-favourite horological creative Alain Silberstein, might not make it the obvious choice for the winner’s spot, but the rising current of market optimism and energy in 2021 might just carry this exuberant (and extremely affordable) watch into first place. Lastly, the MB&F LM101 Double Hairspring appears to have it all — the brand is a favourite with purists, the movement is impeccable, the blue-dial-white-lacquer-Roman-numerals aesthetic will tempt even the most traditionalist watch lover. However, it’s also the most expensive finalist by far, and this will give pause to those who value price accessibility, especially in a category that is meant to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
Trying to define what makes an iconic watch is a tricky exercise at best, with plenty of competing perspectives, but we can state with some certainty that according to the GPHG, an iconic watch comes from an emblematic collection within a brand (no one-hit wonders here, please!) and has made a lasting impact on watchmaking history. Oh, and it should be at least 20 years old. But how do you assess whether a watch has “made a lasting impact on watchmaking history”? Here’s our litmus test: if the watch in question had never been made, would watchmaking today look any different? This category is highly subjective and tends to attract strong partisanship — proceed with discretion and circumspection!
Ask any watch lover to make a list of iconic watches, and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak will come up every single time. The Royal Oak “Jumbo” in steel with “petite tapisserie” dial is an iconic model in an iconic collection, that’s for sure. But is every “Jumbo” variation — such as the platinum-cased, sunburst-dialed model in competition this year — as iconic as the original? The Grand Seiko entry has its iconic status built into its name. It is the re-creation of the first Grand Seiko watch, and if you have any experience of remakes, you know that the basis of any remake is a work universally considered iconic. (The Lion King has had two remakes — a CGI film and a stage musical. No one in their right mind has ever attempted to re-create The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.) Somewhere between the approach of the Audemars Piguet and that of the Grand Seiko are the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43, the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 and the Zenith Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture. These are no-nonsense homages to their originals updated with minor aesthetic tweaks, and they invoke the allure of military watch culture (IWC), Jazz Age romanticism (Vacheron Constantin) and an industry-defining movement (Zenith). The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 is a fascinating and rare example of a contemporary watch that has no direct historical equivalent. Instead, it unites design features drawn from a number of archival models, creating a harmonious blended chord that has strongly resonated with watch lovers since Tudor debuted the Black Bay collection in 2012. Now, which of these watches has influenced the world of fine watchmaking the most? The WorldTempus crystal ball is currently back at the manufacture for servicing, but let us know in the comments what yours is telling you.
In this particular category, the GPHG rules might rely just a little too much on individual interpretation, and I honestly think more official guidance would be useful. Apart from requiring all participating entries to incorporate the category’s eponymous complication, very little direction is given to us in order to help us determine what qualities should allow one chronograph to be judged better than another. In such cases, I always fall back on my triple-criteria scoring system: Design (how good does it look), Movement (how well does it work) and Innovation (how creative is it). I rank each watch from 1 to 6 in each criterion, and the final triple-criteria aggregate score gives us the winner. In case of a tie, the watch with the stronger Movement score takes it, since mechanical performance is essential to a chronograph.
Mechanical standouts in this category are the Angelus U30 Black Tourbillon Flyback and Split-Seconds Chronograph, which combines a prestigious rattrapante chronograph complication with a precision-amplifying tourbillon, and the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, which enhances its already legendary movement with a one-tenth of a second foudroyante hand. Innovation enters the conversation with the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Tribute to 3705, based on their pioneering ceramic model from 1994, now remade in a case of ceramised titanium for a more optimised, streamlined production process. Design geeks will favour either the Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40, which caused a sensation among collectors earlier this year, or the Louis Erard Le Chrono Monopoussoir, another collaboration with Alain Silberstein with the added frisson of a monopusher system for those who enjoy a side of mechanical traditionalism with their main course of avant-garde aesthetics. The all-rounder in this category is the Tudor Black Bay Chrono, which performs solidly in terms of design and movement (which gets a credibility boost from co-finalist Breitling, being based on the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture’s famed B01 calibre), not to mention its extremely reasonable price. There are numerous ways to go about determining which is the best chronograph here. At the end of the day, what you choose reveals what you value.