The Finalist Watches of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2021 (GPHG) – our Favourites & more!


Here’s our take on the Academy’s selection of the 2021 GPHG finalists – an event overdue for some fresh thinking…



As always during these days, the entire watch world looks at Geneva for the announcement of those watches who will join the finals of the industry’s equivalent to the ‘Oscars’, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). The votes for 2021 are in and counted, and the selected watches have been announced – here’s our favourites among them, and why they should win.

 

Looking back at 2020 – a (very) special case

2021 marks the second year of the ‘Academy’, a body comprising of about 400 watch industry representatives, journalists, collectors and retailers, who’s tasks it was to (i) initially propose watches to be included in the award (brands are still able to submit on their own initiative) and (ii) to undertake two rounds of voting to determine the finalists (6 watches in each of the 14 categories) and pre-select the winners, who will travel on exhibition only in Switzerland. Of the 2020 entries, there were quite a few watches of questionable merit, and the Academy in our view did a good job of purging those pieces from further participation.

Like in the years before, a Jury will ultimately conclude on the winning pieces. With the COVID pandemics in full swing last year (and the vaccines not yet approved by the competent bodies), the nominated watches could only travel within Switzerland, thereby restricting the international exposure (with no reduction in costs, though…), and the 2020 Jury was exclusively composed of Swiss residents as travels were tightly restricted. And that showed, as the winners in the various categories were exclusively Swiss, and felt a bit too ‘conservative’ for our (eclectic) taste as collectors.

Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève GPHG Academy Award Ceremony 2020 Chabi Nouri Piaget Aiguille d'Or Prize(GPHG Award Ceremony 2020: in front of ’empty’ seats, Piaget’s Chabi Nouri accepts the ‘Aiguille d’Or’ Award. Image © GPHG)

For the 2021 edition the situation appears different, COVID can be addressed with respective precautionary measures, so we expect a more internationally composed Jury. If the nomination of Englishman Nicholas Foulkes as Jury President is a sign than it would be one of a more openminded (and quite eclectic) approach. After all, we felt that GPHG of recent failed to surprise and to enrich the entire industry as a pacemaker that points towards the future of watchmaking. This in the end would undermine the relevance of the Grand Prix.

Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève GPHG 2021 Nominated Watches

With that out of the way, let’s see which watches joined the finals, and which of those we feel deserve a win. We go through the categories in the order chosen by the GPHG.



1) Ladies:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Ladies
The finalists are:

  1. Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White
  2. Bovet 1822 Miss Audrey Sweet Art
  3. Chanel Mademoiselle J12 Acte II watch
  4. Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Seléne Rose Gold White Mop 33mm
  5. Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow
  6. Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra secret pendant watch


the eclecticum’s
take:

In terms of aesthetics none of the selections really feels ‘right’ to us (if not to say, common), however, the Armin Strom Lady Beat Manufacture Edition White at least offers a very clear and tastefully accentuated design. This shows that the industry at least sometimes understands that ladies may have a soft spot for special mechanics, nicely executed, as well. We like that approach!



2.) Ladies Complication:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Ladies Complication
The finalists are:

  1. Bovet 1822 Récital 23
  2. ChopardU.C Flying T Twin Ladies
  3. Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne
  4. Montres KF KF-09-01
  5. Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon
  6. Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Féerie watch


the eclecticum’s
take:

Like so many times before at GPHG, Bovet 1822 demonstrates their excellence when it comes to feminine timepieces, as the Récital 23 once more confirms. There is a strong competition however from the Tambour Spin Time Air Vivienne by Louis Vuitton, a mechanically complex watch with a mesmerising way to tell time, combined with the artful dial execution its on par with Bovet.

We would love to mention also Montres KF or Chopard, but both watches are merely ‘feminised’ men’s pieces and thus fall to second place in this group.



3.) Mens:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Mens
The finalists are:

  1. Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Calibre 9SA5
  2. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade
  3. Hermès Hermès H08
  4. Louis Erard La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
  5. MB&F LM101 Double Hairspring
  6. Piaget Piaget Polo Skeleton


the eclecticum’s
take:

We had a tough time to decide between the Hermès H08 and Grand Seiko’s Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Calibre 9SA5. The latter offers lovely details on a very high level, but we are most impressed about the holistic thinking behind the Hermès, therefore this watch is our choice by a very tight margin. Both Louis Erard as well as H. Moser & Cie are fun watches, and we all need to laugh and smile a bit more…



4.) Mens Complication:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Mens Complication
The finalists are:

  1. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph
  2. Breitling Premier B15 Duograph 42
  3. Bulgari Octo Roma Worldtimer
  4. Chanel Superleggera Edition
  5. Chopard U.C Quattro Spirit 25
  6. MB&F LMX Titanium


the eclecticum’s
take:

A very diverse group, and we cannot make out a clear winner. Our condensed selection would be the Breitling Premier B15 Duograph 42 for its contemporary and well-industrialised view on a rattrapante mechanism, the Chanel Monsieur. Superleggera Edition for its fine combination of Romain Gauthier designed mechanics, finishing and material choices, and finally the Chopard L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25 for its jumping hour combined with extra-long autonomy and its Poinçon de Genève-worthy execution. Between the last two let’s roll some dice?



5.) Iconic:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Iconic
The finalists are:

  1. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra Thin
  2. Grand Seiko Re-creation of the first Grand Seiko
  3. IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch 43
  4. Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
  5. Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
  6. Zenith Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture


the eclecticum’s take:

There are, to be honest, only 2.5 watches that really qualify for this category: The Royal Oak is too obvious an icon, thus we look further and select the Re-creation of the first Grand Seiko and the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921. The Zenith Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture uses a (lovely) dial colourway that was never actually marketed (and had you put such a vintage dial into a vintage Zenith A386 you’d had created a ‘Frankenwatch’). Since the Vacheron Constantin is not exactly a new watch, our choice would be the Grand Seiko!



6.) Tourbillon:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Tourbillon
The finalists are:

  1. ArtyA Purity Tourbillon
  2. Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph
  3. De Bethune DB Kind of Two Tourbillon
  4. Girard Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges – Aston Martin Edition
  5. IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “IWC Racing”
  6. Louis Moinet Space Revolution


the eclecticum’s take:

We really are a bit at a loss why the GPHG had given up the ‘Chronometry’ category and introduced ‘Tourbillon’ instead – a sad move! It is like giving up substance for show… Quite honestly, the selection in this category feels like a logical consequence – more flashy than actually interesting from a watchmaking point of view.

Regardless, we’d chose the De Bethune DB Kind of Two Tourbillon – but not for its tourbillon, but mainly for its fascinating case construction (the watch even feels very well in the hand as if De Bethune finally got their casemaking up to the level of their tried and tested watchmaking excellence). Note that we selected the winner not at all based on the category’s theme – see the crux of this category?



7.) Calendar and Astronomy:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Calendar Astronomy
The finalists are:

  1. Arnold & Son Luna Magna
  2. Breitling Premier B25 Datora 42
  3. Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
  4. Christiaan Van Der Klaauw CVDK Planetarium Eise Eisinga
  5. IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert”
  6. Konstantin Chaykin Minotaur


the eclecticum’s
take:

Two very different yet equally convincing entries are the Arnold & Son Luna Magna and the Christiaan Van Der Klaauw CVDK Planetarium Eise Eisinga. As the former is the really new one and also shows how one can well integrate a large 3D moon display this would be our choice. We love Konstantin Chaykin as well, but the Minotaur in our view does not sufficiently qualify for this category. The Bulgari is technically impressive at its thinness, but it comes with serious aesthetic compromises we cannot overlook.



8.) Mechanical Exception:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Mechanical Exception
The finalists are:

  1. Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer
  2. Christophe Claret Napoleon
  3. Jacob & Co Opera Godfather Minute Repeater
  4. Miki Eleta Svemir
  5. Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Auomatic
  6. Ulysse Nardin UFO


the eclecticum’s take:

For one, this category shows how much ‘Chronometry’ is needed – the Bernhard Lederer would suit a lot better there. On the other hand, we love the inclusion of clocks, and particularly we think that Miki Eleta deserves recognition at GHPG, hence we happily award him our clear recommendation for his Svemir!



9.) Chronograph:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Chronograph
The finalists are:

  1. Angelus U30 Black Tourbillon Flyback and Split-Seconds Chronograph
  2. Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40
  3. IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition „Tribute to 3705”
  4. Louis Erard Le Chrono Monopoussoir Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
  5. Tudor Black Bay Chrono
  6. Zenith Chronomaster Sport


the eclecticum’s take:

Again, not easy. Angelus we think is a bit too ambitious for this category and would do well in ‘Men’s Complications’. Our winner here is the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, a solid “update“ on almost any detail – outside and inside (we appreciate what Zenith has done to push its legendary El Primero movement into the 21st century). Up-to-date yet fits the classical spirit…



10.) Divers

GPHG 2021 Nominees Divers
The finalists are:

  1. Doxa SUB300 Carbon COSC Aquamarine
  2. Louis Vuitton Tambour Street Diver Skyline Blue
  3. Milus Archimèdes by Milus – Orange Coral
  4. ORIS Aquis Date Calibre 400 41.5 mm
  5. Reservoir Hydrosphere Bronze “The Greg Lecoeur Edition”
  6. Ulysse Nardin Diver X Skeleton


the eclecticum’s take:

So much ‘déja-vu’ this year – half of those where already in the run of last year with just slight dial modifications! None of the finalists offers a (serious/new) benefit as a diver, if they can used as a “tool” at all… Hence, with some reservations, we’ll give the ORIS Aquis Date Calibre 400 41.5 mm our thumbs up for the well-done combination of design, watchmaking content and a decade-spanning warranty – up to the theme and without serious flaws.

Louis Vuitton ‘street diver’ – we must ask them next time we meet what this means – intermediate step between a ‘desk’ and a ‘real’ diver?



11.) Jewellery:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Jewellery
The finalists are:

  1. Bulgari Serpenti Barocko
  2. Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton décor Byzantin
  3. Chopard Flower Power
  4. Hermès Kelly Joaillerie
  5. Piaget Exquisite Moments watch
  6. Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo secret watch


the eclecticum’s take:

Watches in this category are always mind-blowing in terms of the jewellery work one can admire. Amongst those, we think the Chopard Flower Power really lives up to its name. Still the Piaget Exquisite Moments is the winner, in our book. It shows the skills of the people/masters working at Piaget very well – all of them.



12.) Artistic Crafts:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Artistic Crafts
The finalists are:

  1. ANDERSEN Genève Jumping Hours 40th Anniversary in Platinum
  2. Bulgari Bvlgari Divas Dream Peacock Collection
  3. Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis
  4. Louis Vouitton Tambour Carpe Diem
  5. MB&F LM SE Eddy Jaquet ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’
  6. Voutilainen Duluth Bridge


the eclecticum’s
take:

It’s a bit like the ‘Jewellery’ watches above – difficult to select a winner. Honestly, all are nice and represent the crafts shown quite well. It’s a matter of personal taste and being eclectic, to choose a winner – your winner.

We think that both the Hermès Arceau Toucan de Paradis as well as the Louis Vouitton Tambour Carpe Diem are exceptional pieces and deserve our recommendation – for very different reasons. The silk threads at the former create a canvas upon which just their respective direction and their colours serve the rendering of the toucan image. The latter excels not only through its artisanal qualities but also mechanically with its jacquemart automaton and retrograde/jumping time display.

ANDERSEN Genève once more, is closest to our taste and we would be proud to wear it – even frequently. However, the same watch was our selection last year, only with a different choice of materials, and we are conflicted by the Kari Voutilainen – it’s the very personal choice of the patron, we fear however that the design distracts from Voutilainen’s core assets.



13.) “Petite Aiguille”:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Petite Aguille
The finalists are:

  1. Breitling Top Time Deus Limited Edition
  2. Garrick S4
  3. Louis Erard Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter
  4. Seiko Re-creation of King Seiko KSK
  5. Trilobe Nuit Fantastique, Grained Black
  6. Tudor Black Bay Ceramic


the eclecticum’s
take:

Garrick S4, no question – great combination of fine English watchmaking cues with a considered inclusion of decorative techniques. We really appreciate the watchmaking of Vianney Halter, but for us it does not work at the price point and the possible level of execution that Louis Erard can offer.



14.) Challenge:

GPHG 2021 Nominees Challenge
The finalists are:

  1. Anordain Model 1 – Payne’s grey fumé
  2. CIGA Design Blue Planet
  3. Doxa SUB 200 C-Graph Caribbean
  4. Furlan Marri Grey Ref. 1041-A
  5. Massena Lab Uni-Racer
  6. ORIS Oris Diver Sixty-Five Cotton Candy


the eclecticum’s
take:

We believe, without having handled such a watch, that the Anordain Model 1 – Payne’s grey fumé stands out from the group – a hand-hammered silver disc covered with enamel is a great value-proposition in this group.

We would have loved to select Massena Lab’s Uni-racer, but while a good interpretation of some of the past’s iconic pieces, our choice would be a different one of their watches that regrettably did not make it to the finals.

Finally, in view of the hype and despite the apparently nice execution, we think that the Furlan Marri is mainly that – hype, created through some clever market research with influencer involvement. It slots ‘nicely’ into the recent abundance of similar watches driven by all the same meca-quartz chronograph movement, and like those, will surely find itself quickly together with them collecting dust in a drawer…



Conclusion:

Last year, after the pre-selections were announced, we at ‘the eclecticum’ were cautiously optimistic about the involvement of the newly founded Academy (see here), but then were disappointed when we saw the laureates – it was all ‘playing safe’ and it also was a ‘Swiss industry-insider fest’ (the latter of which certainly because of the all-Swiss Jury).

When we look at the resonance GPHG 2020 caused, or better, did not cause, then we think it is high time for strong winds to breeze some dire needed oxygen into the sacred halls of the organising Fondation du Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. After all, if taking no risk and celebrating all but the ‘obvious’ contenders dominate the event, then GPHG will compromise its relevance as it just portraits what everyone just looking at the surface will see as well.

Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève GPHG Academy

For us here ‘the eclecticum’ we wish the organisers but also the Academy and Jury to be more daring, more forward-looking, and more open-minded to be as close as possible at the pulse of watchmaking, to be a barometer of upcoming talents, innovation and new paradigms as they unfold. This starts with but is not confined to the delineation of categories, which as we so clearly could see this year, need be better chosen and more strictly enforced. Who found a most original but appropriate solution to a watchmaking problem? Who advanced design, who enriched marketing? Who was a pacemaker for a new trend? A great lot of these fascinating aspects to watchmaking currently are not unearthed by the existing range of categories.

If we look at the composition of the Jury 2021 which was just published today, we note quite a few changes compared to 2019 (we think 2020 was too much of an outlier to serve as good comparator):

  • a great shake-up in respect to the composition and number of journalists and bloggers, with many of the former ‘heavyweights’ (e.g., Elizabeth Dörr, Jack Forster, Gary Getz, William Massena, SJX, Suzie Wong) having left, plus overall a reduction from 14 to 7
  • collectors also have been reduced from 6 to 4
  • this has been compensated by more watchmakers and suppliers, up from 4 to 6
  • retail has been fairly constant with 6 (2019) and 7 (2021), respectively, with more emphasis on vintage watches
  • the gender ratio feels increasingly out of touch with time, from 2019 8w/22m; 2021 6w/24m!

That is (some) fresh wind, but it also signals a closer circle of the industry itself, with less input from those who in the end buy watches and from those who look, as journalists, at the wider picture and interpret the developments. We see the rise of new powers, e.g., the vintage collector’s market, but overall, we don’t notice the answers to questions just like we posed above.

Therefore, allow us to repeat once more what we concluded last year: The “light of passion, creativity and entrepreneurship” it´s still burning if one looks further and hopefully this will be rewarded as well. Be eclectic!

We’re now eagerly counting the days until the laureates will be selected!

the eclecticum

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