This year, I’m going to take a look at the nominations for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) awards and pick my favorites. Although my selections don’t usually make the cut, I’m going to enjoy making selections rather than try to pick the winners. I’ll also offer some historical perspective on the best entries.
For this post, I will focus on the more attainable entries: The Petite Aiguille and Challenge, Men’s and Ladies’, and Iconic and Chronograph awards. The rest ought to be in a separate field since they represent the best of watchmaking without regard to price or accessibility. Still I will spend a few minutes looking at the rest of the field as well. It is also worth pointing out that the most significant prizes are selected from the field at the jury’s discretion, including the Aiguille d’Or grand prize as well as the Innovation, Audacity, Horological Revelation, and Special Jury prizes. So there’s no use trying to guess these!
- Check out the complete list of watches nominated for the GPHG in 2021
- My complete history of the GPHG awards is on Watch Wiki
2021 GPHG Petite Aiguille: Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter
The unspoken irony of the Petite Aiguille and Challenge categories at the GPHG is that most of the rest of the field is priced out of reach of nearly every buyer. The upper boundary for the Petite Aiguille remains at CHF 10,000 this year, but the dividing line between it and the Challenge has been reduced from CHF 4,000 to CHF 3,500. This is a positive sign for an industry that all too often celebrates the unattainable.
This year’s Petite Aiguille lineup is filled with wonderful watches, with Breitling’s Top Time Deus, Garrick’s pretty S4, and Tudor’s awesome Black Bay Ceramic catching my eye. But I’m giving the nod to the watch that will be best-remembered due to the stir it caused: Louis Erard’s collaboration with legendary independent watchmaker Vianney Halter. Priced at the absolute bottom of the range, this awesome watch brings exceptional decoration at an affordable price. And every example was snapped up instantly.
I love everything about this watch, from the design and decoration to the perfect strap. Erard missed out last year with their Alain Silberstein collaboration, but this one is even better. It deserves the award.
2021 GPHG Challenge Watch: Anordain Model 1 – Payne’s Grey Fumé
As mentioned above, my favorite categories are the two focused on more accessible watchmaking, and the appropriately-named Challenge category pushes watchmakers to produce the best watch under CHF 3,500. There are some truly excellent pieces nominated this year, but I suspect that the buzz-tastic (and wonderfully affordable) Furlan Marri will take the prize. Still, it could go to anyone. Classic brands Oris and Doxa brought worthy pieces to the table, and Massena Lab’s Uni-Racer is a watch I would consider buying. Then there’s the too-cool CIGA Design Blue Planet, with its rotating carved globe, a rare entry from China.
But it’s hard to ignore the truly-remarkable craftsmanship of the Anordain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé. Priced at CHF 2,350, this watch brings real artistry at an affordable price and looks like nothing else on the market. There’s so much creativity here, with the lovely fumé enamel dial taking center stage. But the details are what win me over, including the beautiful typography of the numerals and the brown hands. If the company launched the same watch at 10x the price it would have found a market. The fact that it’s a Challenge watch makes it truly deserving of the award.
Note to Anordain: I refuse to use your weird capitalization (they prefer “anOrdain”) and what’s with the glare on the photo?
2021 GPHG Men’s Watch: Hermès H08
The nominations for Men’s watch are incredibly attractive: I’ve waxed poetic on the H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch, and the Final Upgrade is the last chance for it to claim an award; the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5 is perhaps the best GS watch ever made; MB&F’s LM101 Double Hairspring is everything we love about the brand; Louis Erard’s collaboration with Alain Silberstein brings so much to the table in an affordable package; and the Piaget Polo Skeleton is a synthesis of history and modernism that stands out in the “blue dial steel watch” crowd. I considered buying every single model on the list, and I’m wearing a Swiss Alp Watch as I type this!
That’s why my pick for Men’s watch is a shock even to me. Hermès doesn’t get much love from watch aficionados, especially not when it comes to men’s models, but the H08 is everything a modern watch should be and more. It’s startlingly new, with exciting materials and design touches combined into a wearable and masculine package. Yet it’s not over-the-top macho or techno. The composite case is made with graphene, with a contrasting brushed ceramic bezel, and this melds with the black gold dial and black nickel hands. It’s black-on-black-on-black but the textures and materials provide so much contrast that it gives the watch depth without looking like a coal bin. My only complaints revolve around the weirdly-placed and unnecessary date window at 4:30 and the strange font of the numerals.
At 8,670 CHF, the Hermès H08 represents an excellent value for the money, given the exotic materials, design, and construction. The monochrome-yet-contrasting look reminds me of my much-loved Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX1 Titanium LE, and makes this my pick for GPHG 2021!
2021 GPHG Ladies’ Watch: Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow
Although the six nominations for the Ladies’ watch award at the GPHG 2021 are all worthy, my pick is the most historically-inspired piece. Piaget claims that the Limelight Gala dates to 1973, though I could not find a historic image of that piece. Still, the textured bracelet and dial was certainly a Piaget signature from the 1970s, and connects to the historic Polo model.
The asymmetric design, with a band of rainbow diamonds wrapping around the dial and extending onto alternate sides of the bracelet, is eye-catching and interesting, and continues Piaget’s tradition of diamond-set bezels. Plus, unlike many classic models, this watch features an thin automatic movement instead of quartz. Most importantly, this is a wearable and even lovable watch.
I was also impressed by the Bovet 1822 Miss Audrey Sweet Art, with its hands shaped into a divided heart that comes together at noon. But I’d like to take a moment to reflect how the Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White puts the lie to this whole category: Although it’s specifically designed for ladies, like the Kurono Tokyo 青磁:Seiji, it holds unisex appeal. The same is true of Chanel’s J12, which many men would consider wearing, though perhaps not with the Mademoiselle charm welded to the crown!
2021 GPHG Iconic Watch: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
In 2013, the GPHG introduced the Revival Watch Prize for a model that was a contemporary reinterpretation or reissue of an iconic model. This was renamed Iconic Watch Prize in 2019, which is a better summary of this goal. This prize appeals to me personally since I am such a lover of the history of watches. Past winners include Tudor, with the Heritage Black Bay, Longines Aviation BigEye, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak “Jumbo” 15202, and the Bulgari Aluminium Chronograph. All of these are faithful “retellings” of a historic model, not simply reissues or homages, and that’s what I’m looking for in 2021.
My pick for the Iconic Watch Prize in 2021 was the easiest of any category: Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques American 1921 is an eye-catching re-edition of a classic model dating back 100 years. But like the best new icons, Vacheron Constantin edited the inspiration for modern times. The entire piece is rotated 90 degrees, placing the crown and 12 at top-right instead of top-left, and the small seconds subdial is in the “hunter” position (90 degrees from the crown) rather than across the dial as on a “Lépine” watch. Both of these changes improve the under-the-cuff usability of the model, and the subdial position enhances the quirkiness in my opinion. Kudos to Vacheron Constantin for producing a 36mm version in addition to the 40mm models, and for making this the watch submitted to GPHG.
The rest of the field this year comes across as rather uninspired. Audemars Piguet actually won the award with the same reference just two years ago; the first Grand Seiko is the ugliest (in my opinion) and this year’s entry is not especially notable; the new Big Pilot’s Watch is nice but nothing special; and I’ve seen enough Tudor Black Bay and Zenith Chronomaster revivals for one lifetime. I’m guessing that Audemars Piguet or Tudor takes the award, but I’d give it to Vacheron Constantin.
Next year marks 50 years from 1972, one of the most fertile launch years in the history of watches. Let’s just preemptively give the 2022 statue to Audemars Piguet’s 50th anniversary Royal Oak and be done with it!
2021 GPHG Chronograph: IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Tribute to 3705
The 2021 chronograph field is not what I would have wished for. Breitling entered the wrong model (the pea-soup Premier B09 instead of the luscious parchment B25 Datora) and the Tudor Black Bay Chrono and Zenith Chronometer Sport are solid but uninspiring. Although I love the Louis Erard crossover models, the Alain Silberstein Monopoussoir just isn’t my cup of tea, and the Angelus U30 Tourbillon hasn’t risen above the noise in the techno-luxury segment.
This leaves my choice for the chronograph prize, a re-creation of a significant historic model, IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph “Tribute to 3705.” The first watch with a zirconium oxide ceramic case, the 1994 3705 chronograph was one of the most significant watches of the decade. Although it was not a great sales success, it re-established IWC as a maker of professional tool watches, connecting the classic Pilot’s Watch line with IWC’s Porsche Design, as featured on The Watch Files. The new model is made of Ceratanium, which combines the properties of ceramic and titanium, but hews closely to the look of the original. The only missteps in my eyes are the white calendar background and black pushers. Yet this last detail is actually a true technological achievement, since it was impossible to produce ceramic pushers back in 1994!
Priced at 12,900 CHF, this watch is a little pricey but the historic connections and high-tech materials make it worthy of attention. Although some will criticize IWC’s Cal. 69000 as “Valjoux 7750 based” this is really not appropriate, since this column-wheel movement is completely redesigned and shares no components with that classic workhorse. It’s the right movement for this re-edition, just like the Ceratanium pushers!
2021 GPHG Diver’s Watch: Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400
The Diver’s Watch category is wonderfully competitive this year, with excellent and affordable models from Doxa, Milus, Oris, and Reservoir along with interesting takes from Ulysse Nardin and Louis Vuitton. This last model deserves a moment’s attention since the Tambour Street Diver is really an unpretentious “anti-diver” reflecting the fact that most dive watches never see the ocean. Still, this is the Diver’s Watch category so I am eliminating it first.
Although I truly appreciate the forged carbon fiber case on the Doxa Sub 300 and Super-Compressor look of the Milus Archimèdes, I am giving the nod to the Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400. In a field of divergent takes on the dive watch concept, this is the purest expression and hits all the right notes. Plus, it’s wonderfully affordable and widely available at just CHF 3,200 and features a new in-house movement to boot. There’s so much going for this watch, and it’s great to see independent Oris bringing so much to the table.
2021 GPHG Crazy Time
Now for a quick run through my favorite complicated and unattainable watches in the field:
- Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie is an whimsical use of a classic complication (retrograde minutes), but basically any watch could win the Ladies’ Complication award
- I love the Bulgari Octo Roma Worldtimer and Breitling Premier B15 Duograph, but how can MB&F lose with their LMX Titanium in the Men’s Complication category?
- ArtyA is the “biggest loser” at the GPHG with dozens of entries since 2010, yet this is their first-even nomination. And it’s hard to see Audemars Piguet take the award with the much-loathed Code 11.59. So I guess De Bethune will win the Tourbillon prize.
- I’d love to see Christiaan Van Der Klaauw’s Planetarium take the Calendar and Astronomy prize, but I suspect it will go to the Arnold & Son Luna Magna. Still, my fave Breitling Premier B25 Datora finally shows up here, so that’s the one I’d pick!
- I would love to see the Miki Eleta or Ulysse Nardin clocks take the Mechanical Exception prize, but I suspect that Bernhard Lederer has this one in the bag with his excellent and horological significant Central Impulse Chronometer.
- I am always flummoxed by the Jewellery category, since I am not as familiar with the field. Still, I’d love to see Bulgari take another award with the Serpenti or Van Cleef & Arpels win with the Secret Watch.
- The Artistic Crafts nominations feature a few watches that really belong elsewhere, notably the novel roller escapement of the Voutilainen, the exceptional MB&F, and automata of the Louis Vuitton. This leaves the sumptuous traditionalist Andersen Genève competing with Bulgari’s peacock feather marquetry and Hermès combination of silk threads and enamel. I think the prize will go to Bulgari, but I’d like to see Hermès take it home.
Now for a few more quick thoughts:
- There are lots of “definitely not” watches in the field this year, including the ugly trio: Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather, Christophe Claret Napoleon, and Louis Moinet Space Revolution. Maybe the jury has different tastes than me.
- It’s 2021. I wish we could move beyond “ladies” and mens” categories. Maybe we could have “decorative” and “functional” categories instead? Or “large” and “small”?
- IWC and Breitling have historically been overlooked over the years, in contrast to Audemars Piguet, Chanel, MB&F, and Tudor which seem to win with every watch entered. Breitling’s offerings are much stronger lately, and they took home their first two awards last year. IWC, which has never won, deserves a nod this time.
- As noted, ArtyA is the most-often-overlooked brand to get a nomination, but it’s no surprise that RSW, Corum, Ebel, and Baume & Mercier are absent this year after being left out of the nomination and win column seemingly forever. Among nominated brands, no one holds a candle to IWC, with no awards for at least 10 nominations, but Jacob & Co. (5 nominations), Louis Erard and Louis Vuitton (4 nominations), and Armin Strom, Doxa, and Grand Seiko (3 nominations) are all pretty hungry with nothing to show for their past nominations either.
- Richemont is once again the most-nominated group with 13 to LVMH’s 9, and Swatch Group is completely absent like last year. With Tudor doing so well, perhaps Rolex might appear in the future?
- The AHCI is once again well-represented with 6 nominations for member watches, or 7 if you count the Louis Erard x Vianney Halter!
- It’s nice to see some geographic diversity, with 10 countries outside Switzerland receiving a nomination, including China, Russia, the USA, and the UK. It would be nice to see the rising watchmakers in Japan get some recognition, but favorites Naoya Hida, Hajime Asaoka, and Kikuchi Nakagawa might not be too keen on the entry requirements.
The Grail Watch Perspective: I’m Not Predicting Wins
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years it’s that my picks rarely match those selected by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève Academy. I sometimes find myself agreeing with their choices after the fact, but more often I shake my head over the final awards. This is typical given the subjective nature of awards like these, and I don’t fault the Academy. Indeed, their varied backgrounds and deep insight in other areas of the industry suggest that I’m the one making a poor choice! Still, I would be thrilled to see at least some of these selections make the cut in 2021. Come on, folks: Anordain, Breitling, and IWC deserve a win!