Last night in Geneva the great and the good of the watch industry assembled for the GPHG awards, crowning Chopard’s LUC Full Strike with top honours. Here’s the full list of winners, plus a few conversation-starting observations.
By Chris Hall
The GPHG awards – the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve – have been awarded since 2001. Founded by (among others) the city and canton of Geneva, the International Museum of Horology, they have come to carry a pretty good deal of weight in the industry. There are a lot of awards out there (a walk through the lobby of literally every watch brand will tell you that) but the GPHG has come to nestle at the top of the tree. Partly it’s the pomp and ceremony, but mainly it’s the rigorous procedures followed by the deciding jury drawn from all over the world, from within the industry and without. These awards are conferred by those who really know what they’re talking about. The “Oscars of the watch world”, they call them.
Every year awards are given in a number of categories (which have changed from time to time) and the competition is stiff in nearly all of them. That’s understandable – whatever direction the industry as a whole might be heading in there are a lot of really outstanding watches being created. An overall prize is also given – the “Aiguille d’Or” – which transcends categorisation and is given to the one watch from all entries that the jury feels is just all-round better than the rest. There are also prizes for innovation (given at the jury’s discretion) and historical revival as well as the Special Jury prize, given to a “a personality, institution or initiative that has played a fundamental role in promoting high-quality watchmaking”. There used to be a public prize, which you could vote for online and was scooped by Czapek & Cie last year, but that’s been abolished for some reason.
Entry is eligible to any watch “commercialised” from March 2016 to November 2017, so despite being an annual award the net is cast a bit wider than you might imagine – quite often watches that are over a year old pop up on the list. There’s a longlist of submissions in the summer, whittled down to a shortlist of no more than six watches per category in the autumn before the final vote, when the members of the jury convene over a weekend in Geneva before the ceremony. Any watch can be entered, from any brand in the world – and for the first time, in 2017 smartwatches were ruled to be admissible in two categories: Best Sports Watch and the “Petit Aiguille” (which is for the best watch costing less than CHF8,000). None were entered.
Without further ado, here are this year’s winners:
The 2017 Winners
Aiguille d’Or: Chopard, LUC Full Strike
Innovation Prize: Zenith, Defy Lab
“Revival” Prize: Longines, The Longines Avigation BigEye
Ladies’ Watch Prize: Première Camélia Skeleton
Ladies’ High-Mech Watch Prize: Van Cleef & Arpels, Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Men’s Watch Prize: Bulgari, Octo Finissimo Automatic
Chronograph Watch Prize: Parmigiani Fleurier, Tonda Chronor Anniversaire
Tourbillon and Escapement Watch Prize: Bvlgari, Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton
Calendar Watch Prize: Greubel Forsey, QP à Équation
Travel Time Watch Prize: Parmigiani Fleurier, Toric Hemisphères Rétrograde
Mechanical Exception Watch Prize: Vacheron Constantin, Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600
“Petite Aiguille” Watch Prize: Tudor, Black Bay Chrono
Sports Watch Prize: Ulysse Nardin, Marine Regatta
Jewellery Watch Prize: Chopard, Lotus Blanc Watch
Artistic Crafts Watch Prize: Voutilainen, Aki-No-Kure
Special Jury Prize: Suzanne Rohr and Anita Porchet
A pretty strong list of watches in anyone’s book, and I’m not here to argue with the wisdom of the jury. There are watches that in other years might well have won but for the strength of the competition – check out the shortlist here. Personally, I would say Audemars Piguet can count itself unlucky, but it has won a lot in recent years. A. Lange & Sohne will also be justified in feeling rueful: the Tourbograph, 1815 Annual Calendar and re-worked Lange 1s are all superb watches.
There were relatively few watches on the shortlist from what we call the “independent”, i.e. small, watch brands this year, and even fewer winners. It might have been nice to see the Krayon Everywhere recognised for offering a genuinely new complication (although how you vote against the Greubel Forsey is beyond me, and of course GF is independent too), or a nod for Agenhor’s work on the Fabergé Visionnaire Chronograph and Singer Reimagined – although having them both there was only ever going to split the vote. But in previous years the likes of Gronefeld, Laurent Ferrier, Kari Voutilainen (who won again this year, taking his total to at least a million) and others have triumphed, so what goes around comes around.
The real question over an awards ceremony with a reputation like that of the GPHG is the criteria for entry. To be considered for the awards, brands must submit their watches (which costs CHF500). This has a couple of consequences. Firstly, the structure of the awards is slightly dependent on who enters – if there aren’t enough watches of a certain category, that award is slightly weakened. For instance, I think I could ask everyone I’ve ever met in the watch industry for their top six calendar watches of the year and none of them would include the Delma Klondike Moonphase. Sorry Delma, but the reality is only six watches were entered in that category to begin with, so they all made the shortlist.
The flip side of this is that the longlist always contains a lot of watches that everyone knows stand zero chance of making it onto the shortlist. At 500 francs a time that’s not exactly a massive revenue-raiser for the GPHG, and similarly it’s not a lot of money for a brand to pay to be able to say “we were entered in the watch world’s most prestigious awards”. But it’s hard to see who really gains from this side of the exercise. Certainly it does little to enhance the credibility of the awards themselves.
The last, and most obvious, consequence of the current structure of the awards is that certain brands never get involved. There’s no Rolex, no Patek Philippe, and rarely is there an entry from the likes of IWC, Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega or Cartier, to mention a few of the big names. In most cases it’s because they don’t want to be judged against other brands; certainly Rolex and Patek have nothing to gain from the exercise. But if the GPHG is really going to be seen as the pinnacle of all watchmaking awards, shouldn’t they be involved?
What I would argue needs to happen is this: drop the longlisting system and the entry fee. I appreciate a lot of industry awards work this way but if you want to be the best, you should be judged against an open field. Let the jury build the shortlist over a period of months, with free rein to select any watch from any brand, and take it from there. Then the GPHG really will be the best award in watchmaking.