Highlights: Winners at 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève

The deserving, and one left out.

Having just taken place in Geneva and broadcast live, the 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) ceremony anointed most of the year’s best watches. Whittled down from a large selection to candidates that were evaluated by an all-Swiss jury instead of the usual cosmopolitan mix due to travel restrictions, eighteen watches (and one watchmaker) received prizes. A handful of them are worth a look as worthy winners – albeit winning by default in some of the less competitive categories – as well as a notable watch that did not win but should have.

Awarded to the best watch of the contest, the Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix, went to the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept. The thinnest mechanical watch on the market, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept (AUC) is the culmination of all the progress in ultra-thin watchmaking over the last several decades.

At an unreal 2 mm high, the AUC pushes engineering to the cutting edge, albeit at an extremely high price. While there were other watches in the competition that could reasonably be candidates for the Aiguille d’Or, the AUC has earned it.

The Piaget AUC

Complications and revelations

Another prestigious award is the Horological Revelation Prize, which is awarded at the discretion of the jury to watch made by a nascent brand. It went to the Petermann Bédat 1967, unquestionably one of the highlights of independent watchmaking this year.

Well deserving of the prize, the 1967 is simply marvellous (we explain why here). Though subtle in design, its details live up to the name of the prize, with a sapphire dial that reveals the finely-finished keyless works on the front, while the display back presents the refined jumping seconds mechanism.

The Petermann Bedat 1967

One of the most technically interesting and extremely specific categories is the Chronometry Watch Prize. Candidates have to be mechanical watches with at least one mechanism that improves precision, such as a tourbillon or constant force mechanism.

Unsurprisingly, and happily, the prize went to the Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud FB 2RE, which we were thoroughly impressed by. The movement combines both technical excellence and exceptional craftsmanship, making it the unquestionable winner. That said, it was a close fight: the Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer is equally excellent from a technical perspective, but not decorated as elaborately. Absent the Berthoud, the Bernhard Lederer would have won hands down.

The FB-RE.FC movement in the Ferdinand Berthoud

A broader category is the Men’s Watch Prize, which is open to watches with simple additional functions like date, power reserve, or moon phase.

The Voutilainen 28SC triumphed here, probably because of its impeccable finishing and typical Voutilainen aesthetic. It is a handsome and appealing watch, but it’s not particularly novel: the movement is essentially the cal. 28 that’s been retrofitted with an indirect, central seconds. But the rest of the candidates in the category weren’t special either, except for the Petermann Bedat 1967, which won another prize.

A diametrically opposite category is the Men’s Complication Watch Prize, awarded to the most technically creative and complicated watch.

Unsurprisingly, the Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1 gained victory – although it has to be noted that the tourbillon is not a complication from a traditional point of view, although the modern definition is looser. That said, the Hand Made 1 is mighty impressive with its artisanal manufacturing and finishing, qualities that made it an obvious choice, especially against the lacklustre competition in the category.

The Hand Made 1

While Greubel Forsey is a well-established name in high horology, the Ladies’s Complication Watch Prize went to a new name, Charles Girardier, for its Tourbillon Signature Mustérieuse Fleur de Sel. The surprisingly edged out a strong contender in the form of the Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon, which is a complicated watch from a jeweller famous for its serpent-inspired wristwatches.

Nevertheless, the Charles Girardier tourbillon is technically interesting, featuring a proprietary, self-winding movement with a peripheral rotor. And it also incorporates an unusual complication at 12 o’clock, comprising the brand’s initials of “C” and “G”. The two letters spin freely in opposite directions when the watch is on the wrist, but thanks to weights on their lower edges, return to their original positions once the watch is tilted to read the time.

The Chronograph Watch Prize is self-explanatory, and it went to the Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic by H. Moser & Cie. Unveiled at the beginning of the year, the Streamliner is caters to the current fad of integrated-bracelet sports watches, but manages to do it in its own, distinctive manner. More importantly in respect to the prize, the Agenhor movement inside is perhaps the most interesting recent chronograph movement, with both an ingenious construction and good finishing.

While the Streamliner merited its prize, the Atelier de Chronometrie AdC #8 was a close second, but perhaps hindered by the fact that the movement is not a new calibre, and instead a revamped and perfectly finished vintage Venus 185.

The Agenhor movement in the Streamliner

The affordable but excellent

While many of the winners were exceptional watches, most of them were accompanied by justifiably astronomical prices. But good watches aren’t necessarily expensive, and the GPHG includes two categories for accessibly-priced watches.

Open to watches that retail between 4,000-10,000 Swiss francs, the Petite Aiguille Prize went to the Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II. Being a repeat of a sold-out limited edition, the watch is something of a cop out, but it did help support a good cause: 500,000 Swiss francs from its revenues went to healthcare charities.

That said, the S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin should have taken the prize – it is the most obvious candidate that should have won but didn’t. The Moomin wristwatch excels in all aspects, save for its basic movement, but perhaps S.U.F. was not well known enough to the judges.

Winner. Photo – Breitling

Should have won

The Challenge Watch Prize has an even more stringent budget of below 4,000 Swiss francs. Naturally, the winner was the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight, continuing Tudor’s streak of wins in this category.

The blue Fifty-Eight is admittedly not novel, having merely been face-lifted with a navy blue dial, but it remains the best value proposition amongst all the candidates in terms of fit, finish, and movement – making the win entirely warranted.

The Black Bay Fifty “Navy Blue”. Photo – Tudor

Like earlier editions of the GPHG, this year’s contest did lack candidates from major brands like Rolex, resulting in certain categories being missing obvious candidates. But most of the watches – especially those mentioned above – have earned the right to take the gilded trophy home.


 

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Highlights: Independent Watchmaking at Phillips’ Hong Kong Watch Auction XI

Moomin, Mickey, Francois-Paul and Laurent.

With the Geneva watch auctions having just concluded – and notching up a US$1.51 million record for a Philippe Dufour Simplicity – it’s now Hong Kong’s turn. Taking place at end November, The Hong Kong Watch Auction: XI includes a compact selection of independent watchmaking, most of which are notably affordable.

Here’s a look at a few highlights, including the prototype of the sold-out S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin that will be sold to benefit charity.

The auction happens on November 29  at the JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, while the catalogue and online bidding are available on Phillips.com.


Lot 801 – Marc Newson Hour Glass

Perhaps the quintessential timekeeper designed by Marc Newson, the Hour Glass is a timekeeper filled with nanoballs”, tiny steel spheres that are coated in gold – specifically, a little under 1.25 million of them.

An industrial design known for his Lockheed Lounge and the work for brands like Qantas and Louis Vuitton, Mr Newson has long dabbled in designing watches and clocks. The Hour Glass was unveiled in 2010 by Ikepod, the watch brand cofounded by Mr Newson that later went bust.

It’s a single piece of glass that’s formed by hand with a blowtorch, a rigorous process that requires skill and finesse, which explains the price despite its simplicity. This Hour Glass is the smallest version in the line up, standing 15 cm high, making it a convenient object for the desk. It’s a 10-minute timer; the medium and large versions are 30- and 60- minute timers respectively.

It’s a newer example of the Hour Glass that’s produced by HG Timepiece, the company that now owns the rights to design and produce the object. It has an estimate of HK$25,000-40,000, or US$3,200-5,100, but no reserve. Additional details here.


Lot 837 – S.U.F. Helsinki Sarpaneva x Moomin

One of the most compelling watches from an independent watchmaker this year, the S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin is a whimsical but artfully executed watch created to mark the 75th anniversary of the Finnish comic strip about a family of trolls. This example is the prototype that’s been donated by brand founder Stepan Sarpaneva to benefit a Finnish environmental charity.

The open-worked dial is laser-etched and finished by hand, with its crucial feature being the hand-applied Super-Luminova – in eight colours – that lights up at night.

A limited edition of 75, this example is the prototype of the series. Aside from its unnumbered case back, it is also distinguished by the slight variation of the dial. The dial surface has a more granular, matte finish, which was tweaked and refined for the production run.

This has no reserve and an estimate of HK$30,000-62,500, or US$$3,800-8,000, against the retail price of about US$5,900. Given that the original run of 75 sold out in a day, this should easily sail past the high estimate. All proceeds from its sale will be donated to #OURSEA, an initiative set up by the John Nurminen Foundation, which aims to clean up the Baltic Sea. Additional details here.


Lot 838 – Gerald Genta Arena Sport Biretro “Mickey Mouse”

In Gerald Genta’s heyday as a leading independent watchmaker in the 1990s, its biggest achievements were highly complicated movements, but the brand was perhaps even more famous for its Fantasy watches. Starting in the late 1980s, Gerald Genta licensed the rights to use Disney characters on its watches, the best known being Mickey Mouse and friends but even Snow White and the Little Mermaid.

This is a later example of a Fantasy watch dating from 2008, from a limited edition of 80 made to mark the 25th anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland. As with most of the Disney watches, this has a retrograde display – two of them, in fact. While the jumping hours are indicated in a window, the minutes and date are on retrograde scales.

It has a large, 45 mm case in titanium that contains a Girard Perregaux base movement with Gerald Genta’s own retrograde-jump hour module on top.

While Gerald Genta watches generally sell for very much less than their original retail price, the Disney watches remain sought after and sell for about what they originally cost. This has an estimate of HK$40,000-60,000, or US$5,100-7,700, which is a conservative estimate since the original retail price was in the region of US$12,000. Additional details here.


Lot 840 – Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro-Rotor

A well-regarded brand that’s suffered from frequent management changes, Laurent Ferrier’s watches are value buys on the secondary market, and this is a good example. The low estimate is just US$14,000, but it is equipped with one of the most notable automatic movements of the last decade.

The FBN 229.01 movement features a complex but elegant construction that remains unique, while also being finely decorated and attractively laid out.

While the brand now offers a great variety of dial designs, this example is equipped with the classic dial that’s the definitive look for Laurent Ferrier. It features assegai hands, named after a slender African spear, and similarly shaped baton hour markers.

This watch includes its box and papers, and is estimated at HK$115,000-195,000, or US$14,700-25,000. Additional details here.


Lot 843 – F.P. Journe Octa Calendrier

The sharp rise in popularity of F.P. Journe has meant a rapid escalation in prices, making many formerly affordable watches harder to reach. Those that do remain affordable, relatively speaking, are primarily the later complications with gold movements that aren’t either a tourbillon or Resonance.

This is one such watch. It’s an Octa Calendrier with a 40 mm case and a movement in red gold. Though not particularly rare, the Calendrier is part of the first generation of F.P. Journe calendar watches that have the characteristic oversized arc for the retrograde date. F.P. Journe has since done away with that in favour of a calendar shown entirely in windows, which are more legible but arguably less distinctive.

Accompanied by its box and warranty card dated 2008, this watch has an estimate of HK$195,000-390,000, or US$25,000-50,000. Additional details here.


Lot 844 – MB&F Octopod

One of the many sci-fi inspired clocks made by clock specialist L’Epee 1839 for MB&F, the Octopod is an eight-day clock inspired by a sea monster. The movement sits on a clear glass base plate, allowing it to seemingly float within a glass sphere that sits on eight articulated legs, allowing the clock to be positioned in a variety of ways.

The key-wound movement has the escapement mounted on the minute hand of the clock, which means it makes one revolution an hour, much like the Ulysse Nardin Freak. Additional details here.

This is one of a limited edition of 50 (with another 50 each in blue or black), and has an estimate of HK$80,000-120,000, or US$10,300-15,400. Additional details here.


Preview and auction

The preview exhibition is open daily November 26-28, from 10:00 am-7:00 pm. And the auction takes place on November 29 in two sessions:

Session 1 (Lots 801-931) – 12:00 pm
Session 2 (Lots 932-1052) – 4:00 pm

JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong
88 Queensway
Admiralty
Hong Kong

For the full catalogue, as well as appointments and online bidding, visit Phillips.com.

This was brought to you in partnership with Phillips Watches.


 

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