On November 9, Geneva will play host to the Grand Prix D’Horologerie de Geneve, or GPHG for short. It’s widely referred to as the “Oscars of Watches”. And while some of the largest brands don’t participate - Rolex and Patek Phillipe among them - it’s still the event of the horology season. What’s more, it kicks off the biggest auction weekend of the year, with Phillips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s all hosting auctions this weekend (we’ve already previewed the Sotheby’s auction, which has some of the headlining pieces of the entire season). There are 72 finalist timepieces competing across 12 categories (6 finalists in each category). Here, we’ll highlight a few of the biggest categories and the watches we think might win. Additionally, the GPHG will name the “Aguille D’Or,” essentially a best in show prize for the top watch at the event. Looking at the 2017 winners, some familiar watches are on the list, and likely provide a hint as to which timepieces will take home prizes this year. Here’s our preview of the categories and our predicted winners.
The Chanel entry features the French fashion house’s new Calibre 3 movement. A similar timepiece from Chanel won this category in 2017, though it featured their Calibre 2. Still, it seems likely Chanel will take home the top prize in the Ladies’ category - their re-dedication to building fine in-house watches in 2016 has truly paid dividends, as its three in-house movements display some seriously good engineering and design. The Boy-friend Skeleton with diamond-encrusted bezel retails above $50,000, while the diamond-less version is a mere $40,000.
Our Pick: Chanel Boy-friend Skeleton
The men’s category is a fun one this year, as five of the watches come from independent watchmakers, and the sixth - which may be the favorite to win - comes from Vacheron Constantin. Even though it’s a time-only piece, the Akrivia has gotten a ton of love this year for the hand finishing that goes into every aspect of making the timepiece. Even though it’s a beautifully executed timepiece, the Vacheron Triple Calendar may not bring something new enough to the table to take home the prize here.
Our Pick: Akrivia Chronmetre Contemporain
Van Cleef & Arpels won this prize (or its equivalent) in 2017, and seems to be the favorite again this year. Its Lady Arpels Planetarium is a parred down version if its popular Midnight Planetarium watch, but no less magnificent. The dial houses the sun and its closest planets, all made of unique precious metals. Each planetary body moves around the dial at the actual speed they orbit around the sun. For example, the Earth rotates around the sun every 365 days, while the diamond moon rotates around the Earth every 29.5 days. Yes, the information is basically useless, but awards shoes like this are about glamour, not utility.
Our Pick: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Planetarium
Bvlgari’s Octo Finnissimo Automatic took home the Men’s prize in 2017, and it’s moving up this year to conquer the Men’s Complication category. The Octo Finnissimo Tourbillon set another world record for the Octo Finnissimo family, becoming the thinnest automatic tourbillon in production. The movement is 1.95mm thick and the entire watch is just 3.95mm thick (thinner than three dimes, for reference). Look, I think H. Moser’s moon phase watch using Vantablack technology to make that extra black look is an innovative use of the technology (which makes black appear even more black), but how can you look past Bvlgari in this category?
Our Pick: Bvlgari Finnissimo Tourbillon Automatic
To be honest, there’s not a ton of interesting stuff in the Sports category this year, which is unfortunate, seeing as sports watches are overwhelmingly the most popular breed among everyday collectors and enthusiasts like us. The Heuer Monaco is nice, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The Montblanc is… a pocket watch? Not touching that one. The Seiko Prospex is an interesting choice, if only because it’d be a real statement if a Japanese brand came in and beat the Swiss in an important mass-consumer category such as this one.
Our Pick: Seiko Prospex 1968 Diver’s Re-creation
The Petite Aguille is one of our favorite categories at GPHG. It’s meant for watches under CHF 6,500, i.e. watches that normal folks might even buy! Habring is a husband-and-wife operation out of Austria, and they’ve been making clean, accessibly priced watches for the last decade now. The Doppel-Felix is yet another great release from them. Ming is another interesting microbrand, barely a year old. Their watches are the brand children of photographer Ming Thien, who clearly has an eye for design.
Our Pick: Ming 19.01
The Challenge Category is another exciting new category. It’s for watches under CHF 4,000, and was even open to smart watches, though none made the list of six finalists. There’s a great Nomos Tangente Update, and unique pieces from Gorilla and Reservoir. But, our eyes are immediately drawn to the Seiko Presage Shippo Enamel and the Tudor Black Bay GMT. First, the Seiko is a truly elegant dress watch, and the prospect of having an enamel dial for under CHF 4,000 (more like CHF 1,500 in this case) is truly prize worthy. Meanwhile, the Black Bay GMT is just an all-around great watch that receives praise from anyone who sees it in the metal. Sure, it takes some of its design cues from Rolex’s GMT-Master line, but perhaps there is enough uniqueness here for Tudor to take home the prize.
Our Pick: Tudor Black Bay GMT
We skipped over a few of the more pretentious categories (chronometry, mechanical exception, jewelry), to keep this guide to just the highlights. In addition to winners in every category, the GPHG names its Aguille D’Or, or best in show. A watch cannot be named both a category winner and best in show. A few of our favorites for the Aguille D’Or are: Bvlgari’s Octo Finnissimo Tourbillon Automatic, Akrivia’s Chronometre Contemporain, and Greubel Forsey’s Grande Sonneire (a finalist in the mechanical exception category.
We’ll be keeping our eye on the GPHG and posting about the winners soon, so stay tuned!