Anticipation is building for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève award ceremony, the pinnacle of the Swiss watch industry calendar.
Ninety timepieces have been nominated across 15 categories including ladies’, men’s, calendar and astronomy, jewellery and mechanical clock.
The winners will be announced on 9 November following a tour of the nominated pieces in Macao, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, New York and Geneva, culminating in a glittering ceremony held in the Swiss city’s Théatre du Léman.
The winners will be decided by a jury of 30 experts including watch collectors, watchmakers, journalists, auctioneers and the CEO of watch brand MB&F, last year’s winner of the top prize, the Aiguille d’Or.
Nick Foulkes, historian, author, journalist and the president of the jury, said: “More than a competition, [the GPHG] is a celebration of excellence in a field that is historically, culturally and commercially significant to the city of Geneva… What is unique about the GPHG is that it offers a level playing field to all those who participate. Brands and makers unfamiliar to the wider world compete alongside some of the most celebrated names in horology.”
Some of the most promising hopefuls for this year’s competition come from watchmakers who are equally as famous for their jewellery including Piaget who picked up five nominations and Van Cleef & Arpels and Chopard who each have four nominations.
Italian jewellery and watch house Bulgari is nominated in the Tourbillon, Jewellery and Petite Aiguille categories.
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari told Euronews Culture: “[Being nominated] creates a lot of pride and motivation in our teams. They work hard, it’s a tough job: you spend hours and hours working on micromechanical parts. To have your work not only acknowledged by your bosses, and by the final client, but by a jury of experts, is rewarding.”
The brand’s first nomination is the Octo Roma Striking Papillon Tourbillon, a bold design with an octagonal titanium case and lime green features on the face, unique for being a technically complex watch with a more contemporary look.
Its jewellery nomination is the Serpenti Cleopatra, a pink gold cuff, decorated with colourful fine stones and a subtly placed watch face at the centre which pays homage to the brand’s legacy for creating “secret watches” (where a watch is disguised in a jewellery piece). It also draws inspiration from Cleopatra’s historic visit to Rome (the home of Bulgari) and the serpent bracelets she wore.
While the Serpenti Cleopatra is priced at an eyewatering 938,000 CHF (986,000 EUR), its third nomination, the Octo Roma Automatic, is an every-day watch nominated for Petite Aiguille, a more accessibly priced category of watches. Watches nominated in this category must be priced between 2,000 CHF and 8,000 CHF.
Quiet luxury…whisper it loud
Bulgari has some strong entries but Babin wonders if the muted economic landscape might influence the jury this year: “Perhaps they might pay more attention to ‘quiet luxury’,” he said. “Quiet luxury seems to be, today, more accepted than provocative luxury. Probably some jury members will be following fashion and vote for watches that are more discreet.”
Independent brands, which have reportedly grown in popularity in recent years, are also making waves on the GPHG shortlist.
Grönefeld, a Dutch brand run by two brothers, is nominated for its first ever sports watch.
“We want to target younger people with a more active lifestyle so we thought this is the moment to go for a watch that you can wear every day,” explains Bart Grönefeld, co-owner of Grönefeld.
The 1969 DeltaWorks watch has been designed to impart information in a clear, intelligible format. The dial features a frosted salmon surface with blue, luminous hour markers. The orange rubber strap pays homage to the brothers’ homeland.
Grönefeld says it was important for them to also retain brand signatures such as fine, decorated finishings. “Luxury brands, when they make a sports watch, usually they make the movement more industrialised, but we have chosen to keep traditional hand finishing inside our sports watch.”
Another independent brand to watch at this year’s ceremony is Bovet, nominated in three categories.
The Récital 27, nominated for Men’s Complication, features Bovet’s signature “writing slope” case that tilts up at the back, requiring less tilt from the wearer’s wrist to see the time while also displaying three time zones and the moon phases.
Also from the Récital collection is the Astérium watch which is nominated for Calendar and Astronomy. Pascal Raffy, CEO of Bovet, said: “The Astérium is one of the major watchmaking realisations of the house.”
It displays an engraved map of the night sky, a chart of the planets, the signs of the zodiac, moon phases, solstices, equinoxes, and a sidereal calendar (which documents the exact orbit of the Earth around the sun rather than the Gregorian calendar which has to factor in leap years to synchronise with the astronomical year).
Nominated in the Tourbillon category, the Virtuoso XI is Bovet’s first full skeleton timepiece, which showcases the full mechanics of the piece. Raffy describes it as a simple watch that highlights the “quintessence of craft”, emphasising the 60 hours of hand engraving that go into each piece and the “writing slope” case and bow which are both patented by the brand.
While Bovet hopes for a win, Raffy believes its best chance of achieving that is staying true to the brand “I don’t know what is the taste and the appreciation of the members of the jury this year. What I know is that what we do is related to authenticity… I love the way we express our watchmaking, it is related to due respect for tradition and values. At the same time, what we tried to do is to express our modernity, step by step, without selling our soul.”
In an industry so focused on both preserving and pushing its craft artistically and technologically, the jury has a hard task ahead of them to pick the winners. Whether a big-name brand or independent, and whether they win or lose on the night, the GPHG is above all a celebration of another orbit around the sun spent pushing watchmaking to new heights.
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