The longlist is out for the watch world’s premier awards – and we have a few thoughts…
By Chris Hall
1There are too many watches
By my count, there are 195 watches on the longlist for this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve. That is a lot; an average of 16 for each of the 12 categories. If the awards run along the same lines as usual, we will be saying goodbye to around 120 of them when the jury – assembled from the finest minds in watchmaking – whittles this down in a couple of months’ time. This would be a meaningful exercise if it was remotely difficult to see which watches would be struck from the list, but it’s not. A quick test: if the brand exhibits at SIHH or has a retail presence in London (insert your nearest watch-heavy metropolis here), it’ll make it through. If not, it’ll be seriously lucky.
The reason this gets my goat is the likes of Horage, Greco Geneve, Rlongtou, Strom and many more have a butterfly in a hurricane’s chance of even making it to the shortlist. Is the CHF500 entry fee really worth it? I suppose it got me to mention them, so that’s something. And hey, a few years ago they gave the sports watch prize to an Eberhard, so what do I know? But really, there are too many watches on this list.
Every year the GPHG tweaks the format, and that’s fair enough. It’s their gig, and I can see the logic in keeping it fresh. There’s also not much point having categories with only a handful of entries, if no-one really released a worldtimer or minute repeater that year.
So this year we say goodbye to categories for calendar watches and travel time watches. There’s no “Innovation” prize and no “Revival” prize, which was a bit of a joke anyway given that 80 per cent of Switzerland’s output right now is watches based on old designs. We also say farewell to the “Tourbillon and Escapement” prize, which is sort-of-replaced by a category for “Chronometry”, which is full of tourbillon watches, reigniting the old argument about whether a tourbillon does anything to improve timekeeping in a wristwatch. I’m pretty sure it’s not why Hermes put one in its Arceau Lift Millefiori.
There is actually only one certified chronometer in the entire category, a TAG Heuer Carrera Tourbillon Chronograph Tête de Vipère Chronometer, so surely that should win by default? Leading to the somewhat farcical conclusion that this is the best watch produced in the last 18 months with a focus on accurate timekeeping. Not that it’s a bad watch, but come on.
We also gain a category called “Challenge”. This is aptly named as it is a complete challenge to see what the watches within it have in common – apparently it’s a new category to “highlight the challenge involved” in producing watches that retail for less than CHF 4,000. Which is funny because I thought recognising ‘affordable’ watchmaking is what the Petite Aiguille was for (turns out that has a price cap of CHF 8,000). Anyway, it must have come as a bit of a surprise to Longines, Tudor or Hamilton to hear that making good watches for less than CHF 4,000 is a challenge worthy of an actual prize, because that’s what they do day-in, day-out, all year round.
There are a lot of great watches on sale for less than four thousand Swiss francs. But most of them aren’t here. This is a ragtag bag of timepieces with so little to connect them as to make judging them a fool’s errand – I feel sorry for Nomos Glashutte, Tudor, Montblanc and the handful of Swatch Group submissions for being lumped in with what feels distinctly like an afterthought aimed purely at sweeping up a few more entrants.
Last but not least, we hear that the GPHG will this year honour someone who takes a “bold and offbeat approach to watchmaking” with an “Audacity” prize. You can do your own jokes for this one.
The GPHG longlist is always good for spotting watches which haven’t actually been announced yet, as the brands race to meet the award submission deadline. This year we’ve spotted two that haven’t officially broken cover: the H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Moon Concept Vantablack and the Christopher Ward C7 Apex Limited Edition.
We actually saw the Moser Vantablack at our William & Son collector’s event earlier in the year, and it’s very cool. This one deserves a look-in, although its category (Men’s Complications) is a crowded one. The Christopher Ward, below, is also a very interesting development; it looks vastly different from the brand’s normal fare (and a bit like a TAG Heuer from about six years ago) but in a good way. And hey, we’ve got a British brand on the list – a real rarity in itself.
4Stacking the deck
Because the GPHG is open to all comers and there is no restriction on the number of watches a brand can enter, you often get some that really push the boat out in a bid to ensure at least one award. For 2018, the “stacking the odds shamelessly in your favour” award goes to Bulgari, Montblanc, Hublot and Hermes, which have each submitted six watches. Honorable mentions to Girard-Perregaux, TAG Heuer and Parmigiani Fleurier with five each. Best of luck, chaps!
5May the best brand win?
You want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. So the saying goes. The real problem with the GPHG, and the thing that really gives the lie to the oft-repeated mantra that this is “the Oscars of the watch industry”, is that half of the best brands don’t take part. Rolex and Patek Philippe have never and will never – because you can’t lose if you don’t play – and there are others who don’t join in, like Breitling, but this year we also have no entries from: A. Lange & Sohne, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Blancpain, Cartier, Chopard, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, and only one watch from Grand Seiko, to say nothing of the many world-class indie brands and watchmakers who aren’t in (Romain Gauthier, Gronefeld, Urban Jurgensen, Roger Smith to name a few).
Of course, you can’t compel them to join in, but if the GPHG wants to promote itself as the last word in watchmaking excellence, it needs to lure back some of those big names. As they say in football, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, but think long and hard about whether winning a GPHG award really makes you the best in the world. Unless you’re Habring, De Bethune, Voutilainen, Greubel Forsey, MB&F, Urwerk or Laurent Ferrier…