The popular phrase “the Oscars of…” isn’t an exaggeration in the case of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). Created in 2001 as a celebration of the very best in watchmaking, the awards are the most prestigious accolades. They honour those considered to be the most outstanding examples of their craft.
And you know what is less celebrated but rather interesting? Unlike many other arenas in the watch industry, GPHG is an even playing field for both established names and independents.
Independent brands have a significant presence every year winning nominations and awards, as official records show. (Well, thanks to my team Skolorr who enjoy the menial digging and tracking.)
If the news escaped you last year: out of the 16 prizes, independent brands have scooped up 10 separate wins, in such esteemed categories as the “Aiguille d’Or” Grand Prix and Innovation. It is an astonishing achievement and one that has set a promising precedent for the “smaller guys”, so to speak.
Word may have got out. This year, the awards have attracted a lot of non-mainstream and independent entrants. GPHG reported 196 watches were submitted for pre-selection this year from 109 brands. 78% of these brands were independents, and 23% made their first attempts.
Talk about inclusion.
Carine Maillard, Director of GPHG, acknowledges its widening recognition, “This 19th edition has attracted large participation with representatives from all the major watch groups, as well as several independent Maisons. We are always happy to have new brands participating for the first time to the GPHG. As for the Oscars or the Cannes Film Festival, independently from who the winner is, it is the excellence and the vitality of an entire economic sector that are highlighted.”
Excellence certainly comes spewing out of the finalist line-up. Independent or otherwise. The shortlist of 6 nominees in each of the 14 categories has now been announced. There is an abundance of head-spinning creations in the 84 watches pre-selected. The blockbusters are strong contenders, and deservingly so. Beyond the buzz, it’s always an exciting time for discovery. I’m one for diversity. So, let us also swing the spotlights on the ones to watch.
My favourite category. I watch it like a hawk every year. For under 4000 Swiss Francs, the nominees are practically making possible their best value propositions against a copious amount of challenges.
Gorilla’s Fastback GT Drift stands out not because of a mainstream appeal like what you see in its opponents, but because of its value package. Developed in partnership with Vaucher, a top-tier Swiss manufacture, this wandering-hours watch comes with a proprietary mechanism and in high-performance materials. This is Haute Horlogerie made accessible. Not to mention the two founders of Gorilla are notable Audemars Piguet creative alumni, who set out with a clear design and development vision. You can see where the confidence comes from to be bold and to break the aesthetic mould.
This is a mind-blowing category. I have a geeky fascination with moon phase watches due to my past involvement in one. Among the masterpieces in the running, Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud’s Far Side of the Moon is compelling in many exciting ways. The watch offers the age and phases of the moon in two separate displays without the common use of a disc. In homage to the brand’s marine chronometric legacy, the age of the moon provides astronomical accuracy for navigation, unlike others. I am decidedly drawn to its distinctive aesthetics: very neat, monochrome mechanical-chic, much like an instrument, and unmistakably FB.
Hermès’ Arceau L’heure de la lune garnered a lot of buzz at SIHH this year. I “got it” at first sight. It’s very easy to love. A whimsical mechanism is embodied in a refined and elegant form. There is something faultless about it, as if it’s so easy to understand it’d just guarantee commercial success…
…which makes Sarpaneva’s Lunations all the more remarkable. The watchmaker’s first in-house movement featuring a fibre-optical moon display is not the most “in your face”. It is no less of a marvel either. You have just never seen a moon phase complication in this execution before. And that’s precisely why this is such a super cool watch. It is so different, and the design is so striking, you feel special by just being able to appreciate it. Did I mention it tops the accuracy contest of the lot, and one of the most accurate on the market with one full day’s deviation every 14,000 years!
There is no clear winner in this category. All six watches are outstanding in terms of their mechanical creativity and complexity. I love everything in the Freak collection. And if you follow my column, you may remember I was bowled over by AP’s Supersonnerie the moment I laid eyes on her at SIHH (here).
In the spirit of discovery, my natural leaning is always towards something different, daring, with an edge, yet all in great style and excellent taste. The one that pops, is D. Candaux’s DC 6 Solstice. If it’s never been on your radar because it’s too high-brow or too foreign, think about why you’d have a problem learning about Koenigsegg along with Pagani and Bugatti. You wouldn’t.
I am no WIS and do not pretend to be a watch critic, but that is precisely the point of approaching these masterpieces, always with curiosity and an open mind. When it comes to DC 6 Solstice, there is so much ingenuity and finesse in this creation, and I could kill the whole article just expressing how much I am in awe with every element of it. I’d rather encourage you to take a look and explore it yourself.
I had a hard time picking one to highlight. Can you see why?
Grönefeld has ventured into the automatic-mechanism frontier to create their first-ever self-winding watch 1941 Principia, whereas Grand Seiko is presenting a new manual-winding movement in their Spring Drive to mark the collection’s 20th anniversary. Laurent Ferrier has launched a brand new case shape and therefore a brand new calibre to be housed in Bridge One.
De Bethune has concocted a new colour formula from their magic cauldron for the first time in 15 years and released the DB28 Yellow Tones. Alchemists Mechanical Healing’s debut watch Cu29 is crafted in a new and revolutionary alloy, that claims to bring benefits to one’s well-being.
Voutilainen is famous for his spectacular dials, and even owns an independent dial manufacturer that supplies to other high-end brands. The variety and complexity of the dial designs have come to define the Voutilainen label just as much as the incredible movements underneath. To catch you off guard, 28ti boasting a movement side up with no dial disc is a stunning surprise.
So here you have it. The answer is simple. Five out of six are independent. Each dares to challenge their own status quo.
The stars are rising for the independents. We can find out if the stars will be aligned again this year at the awards ceremony on 7th November. Those of you on the same trail as the exhibition world tour will have a chance to view them up close and personal: GPHG Schedule.
Sky is the founder of SKOLORR, the curated hub dedicated to the pedigreed independent watchmakers. SKOLORR is official partners with Farfetch and Quintessentially, handpicking fine watches from independent brands for tastemakers and coolhunters. Sky has operated at the heart of... read more