The winners of the annual Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the watch industry equivalent of the Academy Awards, were just announced and Audemars Piguet is the big winner with 3 this year alone. Not just of the 2019 series, either. AP now has 14 GPHG trophies in their case, 4 more than number 2 Vacheron Constantin, the only other double-digit winner. But with an unprecedented 19 awards this year, the Grands Prix has a little to offer everyone!
The Royal Oak is the Best and Most Iconic Watch
Audemars Piguet was already the most-awarded brand since the start of the GPHG in 2001, but this year was the icing on the proverbial cake. The company took home 3 awards this year alone, a feat unmatched in the history of the ceremony, including the top “Aiguille d’Or” Grand Prix. That went to the new Royal Oak Self-Winding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, ref. 26586, the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar on the market today.
The Ref. 26586 really is a remarkable piece, building on the history of the Royal Oak but taking it in a new direction by dispensing with the traditional “tapisserie” dial. But this is not a radical reinvention of the line, with classic markings and colors arranged in one of the most harmonious and balanced dials imaginable. In my opinion, AP achieved the goal of producing a watch that can stand against the phenomenal Patek Philippe Nautilus Perpetual, Ref. 5740 with which it obviously competes. The GPHG agrees.
But this was only one of three trophies for Audemars Piguet this year, and one more Royal Oak took home an award. This was the existing Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin, Ref. 15202, which won the Iconic Watch prize. This is the equivalent of the Academy Award given to The Return of the King in 2003: The jury rewarded the achievement of an iconic and historic series. This makes the Royal Oak the winningest single watch model of all time at the GPHG, with 6 prizes since 2001 across the line.
The jury specifically selected the Ref. 15202BC, a rare white gold Royal Oak with a pink gold “petite tapisserie” dial similar to the 1992 20th Anniversary model. Everything about this watch screams retro, from the classic 39 mm “Jumbo” case and extra-thin proportions to the classic (Jaeger-LeCoultre-designed) Cal. 2121. And the white gold and pink gold dial just cement it as the most collectible current Royal Oak model.
The third Audemars Piguet model recognized at the GPHG in 2019 was the Men’s Complication Watch winning Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie. This is a controversial choice, given the polarized reaction to the Code 11.59 line as a whole. I’m a fan, though. It’s a mega-expensive watch (MSRP of CHF 317,800) with an excellent complication (at least it’s not another tourbillon). But it’s also an important watch, and I admire AP’s bold choices in the 11.59 line.
Chanel and Seiko Continue to Dominate Their Niche
Just as AP has continued their dominance of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, Chanel and Seiko put forward strong showings in their respective niches. Chanel’s iconic J12, now with their new 12.1 automatic movement, continues a 3-year sweep of the Ladies’ Watch category for the brand. And Seiko’s Prospex LX is their third win in the Sports/Diver’s category.
Like many fashion houses that have turned to watchmaking, Chanel is looked down upon by many. But the company’s J12 has staked out a reputation among female watch enthusiasts and is becoming an iconic piece on the arms of powerful women. Hillary Clinton is a fan, for example. Last year, Chanel invested in F.P. Journe and purchased Kenissi, which had just gone into business with Rolex’s Tudor brand to produce in-house movements. The winning J12 sports Cal. 12.1, the result of these clever moves. Frankly, it’s one of the best watches on the market today and deserves the win. Chanel has taken home 4 of the last 8 trophies in the Ladies’ Watch category at GPHG, and this reflects their strength in that market.
The Sports Watch prize has been given since 2003, making it one of the longest-running awards. This year it was renamed Diver’s Watch to reflect the reality of many winners. And Seiko Prospex won a repeat this year with their LX line, known as the SNR series and powered by the Spring Drive Cal. 5R. Like the J12, Seiko deserved this win by executing a perfect update on their already-strong Prospex diver’s line. It shows strong Seiko heritage, real mechanical and finishing strength, and isn’t just another Submariner homage.
Triumph of the Little Guys
The other bit of news from Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève this year is the strong showing of the “little guys” in the industry. Stefan Kudoke took home a well-deserved award for his “affordable” HANDwerk Kudoke 2, Urwerk is back with the innovative AMC, Kari Voutillainen took home two trophies, Ming Thein destroyed the competition with an accessible yet exclusive piece, and Sébastien Billières burst onto the scene with his Genus brand.
Kari Voutilainen’s 28ti is en exemplar in the field of “technical” mens watches but includes features not typically found. The in-house balance wheel has two escapement wheels with a unique spring configuration. These are visible through the balance and bridge, elevating the movement and the watch. This level of technology and refinement deserved recognition beyond the “humble” Men’s Watch category where it won. Voutilainen also won his third Artistic Crafts Watch Prize with the Starry Night Vine.
One of my favorite watches of 2019 took home the “Petite Aiguille” Prize for watches under CHF 10,000: Stefan Kudoke’s superb, affordable in-house Kudoke 2. The hand-finished Kaliber 1 movement is inspired by traditional English and Glashütte watchmaking and includes some parts from the excellent Habring A11. The design manages to combine hand-engraved classic elements in a clean and modern canvas without looking fussy or mis-matched. This would be a truly remarkable achievement for a small watchmaker but then there’s the price: Kudoke is selling this amazing piece at a price that allows watch enthusiasts like me to dream of owning one. Kudos!
Another remarkably-affordable watch is the Ming 17.06 Copper. Truly a horological revelation, the Malaysia-based team combines a customized Swiss ETA movement with a French strap and unique dial and case to create something that stands out from the explosion of tiny brands today. The more I look at the Ming the more novelty and real design I see in it.
Another upstart is Genus, brainchild of Sébastien Billières. This is much more in the Swiss tradition of talented watchmakers building a studio to support haute horology for the “big guys” before starting their own brand. The result, which took the Mechanical Exception prize, could also be called typical in this very atypical genre. It resembles the wandering hours approach that won Urwerk the Design Watch prize back in 2011 but with a totally novel design.
Ironically, Urwerk won the same award in 2014 for the EMC, which eschewed the “satellite” movement, and won again this year for a successor to that watch. The AMC package includes a 35 kg atomic clock in a base the size of a tower computer and keeps the watch accurately set. It’s an absolutely insane timekeeping package fitting the eye-popping CHF 2.75 million price tag!
Grails For Everyone
The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève features a grail for every price tag, from the affordable Ming 17.06, Tudor Black Bay P01, Seiko Prospex LX and Kudoke 2 to the insane Urwerk AMC with its atomic clock “docking station”. It also heaps praise on the long-running Audemars Piguet Royal Oak line and Chanel’s fantastic J12. Truly something for everyone!