GPHG 2023's winners tell us where fine watchmaking is headed
There were no controversial winners but a few unexpected triumphs.
The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) is rarely controversial, but it has, at times, thrown up a few surprise wins. With a relatively diverse jury (honestly, it’s 2023; you really need to add some Asians into the mix) that includes individuals from every region and field, the nominees and winners not only inform us of where watchmaking is today but also where it’s headed. This year’s winners were announced on 9 November; what it revealed was the triumph of neo-classicism in watchmaking. Here are some of the key winners this year.
Aiguille d’Or – Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4
The Golden Needle grand prize went to Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4. The impressive timepiece recalls the early noughties when watchmakers were battling it out with mega-complication watches. The Calibre 1000 by Audemars Piguet housed in this half-hunter model features a staggering 40 complications, including a Grand Sonnerie Supersonnerie, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, split-seconds flyback chronograph, and a flying tourbillon. The simplicity of its dial, however, hides its complex nature well and offers a hint of vintage nostalgia, making this a winner to jury members.
Petite Aiguille – Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto
The C1 Bel Canto caused an uproar when it was first released. In fact, we personally know that many watch editors and critics have tried to get their hands on one of these bad boys. After all, this chiming timepiece was available at a fraction of the price of similar watches and a well-made one at that. It’s no surprise that Christopher Ward won this prestigious prize, cementing its identity today as a serious independent and no longer a microbrand. Its design certainly brings several other notable watch brands to mind, with a partially exposed display so you can admire the gong and hammer as the watch strikes the hour. More importantly, the fact that the English brand was up against some notable names and triumphed demonstrates how independents today have room to compete.
Iconic Watch – Ulysse Nardin Freak One
Plenty of icons stood in the running for this year, but the Freak’s latest iteration, the Freak One, utterly deserves this win. After all, it is the turn-of-the-century watch that ushered in an era of forward-thinking timekeeping, materials innovation, and a transformative view of what mechanical watchmaking could be for future generations of watch lovers. The first Freak shocked, wowed, and mesmerised watch enthusiasts. It also brought a generation of Blade Runner-loving, high-tech obsessives to the field of fine and high watchmaking. And today, the brand is reaping the rewards of its 20-odd-year experiment with creativity.
Artistic Crafts – Piaget Altiplano Métiers d'Art Undulata
On the one hand, Andersen Genève’s Jumping Hours Rising Sun Edition thoroughly hypnotised us with its incredible use of guilloche à main, combining the losanges magiques pattern with a clous pattern on a minutes counter. But Piaget’s combination of straw, leather, and wood marquetry all in one single dial makes this a world first and a thoroughly worthy winner of the Artistic Crafts prize. Hands down, the use of different materials and the mixture of hues that complement the individual textures is incredible. It also reminds us of how the seas and oceans change colour with light and at depth, bringing serenity to the undulating display we love.
Ladies’ Complication – Dior Montres Grand Soir Automate Etoile de Monsieur Dior
Dior’s Grand Soir Automate Etoile de Monsieur Dior offers a refreshing take on ladies’ timekeeping today, taking us back to the days of Van Cleef & Arpels automatons with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht. The watch celebrates the night through the generous cast of sparkling gemstones, applications of mother-of-pearl, and hand engraving to create the House of Dior at night, with two shooting stars coming to life triggered with a pusher on the crown. The timekeeping is nearly invisible, which adds to its charm, and the use of different crafts on a dial reminds us of the similarities in the artistry found both in couture and horology.
Tourbillon Watch – Laurent Ferrier Grand Sport Tourbillon Pursuit
A titanium case with an integrated bracelet that’s supple and immensely comfortable, housing a warm salmon-coloured dial in the cool confines of this hardy metal. Underneath and within it all, a stunningly finished movement with a tourbillon is housed, not visible through the dial. Truly, if any watch from this year were an homage to classic timekeeping with contemporary design, the Tourbillon Pursuit by Laurent Ferrier would be it. This winner epitomises the mood of luxury watchmaking today: discreet, sophisticated, and relaxed.
Chronometry Prize – Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 3SPC
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s brand just keeps winning award after award. The Chronomètre FB 3SPC was first launched towards the end of last year, and we felt at the time that it was a delightful interpretation of the marine chronometer on a wristwatch, featuring a cylindrical hairspring that was previously seen only on a couple of other watchmakers. The exacting lines that make up the design of the movement also bring to mind contemporary architecture, with simultaneously fluid and structured forms. The regulating organ required years of development to achieve its precision standard – a dedication that only a few watchmakers would insist on today.
Chronograph Watch – Petermann Bédat Chronographe Rattrapante (Ref. 2941)
We were half expecting Singer’s 1969 Chronograph to take this prize home, but the Ref. 2941 with its incredible workmanship on the movement, case, and dial, brings home a well-deserved trophy. By highlighting certain functions through contrasting finishes on components, the movement brings a pocket watch aesthetic to the wristwatch. It replicates the same again on the dial, exposing just enough of the movement underneath it. The application of an instantaneous minute counter also echoes the past without being stuck in it.
Sports Watch – Tudor Pelagos 39
Up against many other worthy nominees, Tudor’s compact and highly durable Pelagos 39 iconises the modern tool watch today – a rugged yet slim timepiece with a highly legible dial that’s a modern take on the vintage military watch, designed for unisex wear and equipped with a precise timekeeping movement. Add in the dive watch bezel, and you have a winner. Tudor’s design team has this formula by heart, and the result is watches that watch lovers at all levels of collecting enjoy, from newcomers to the hobby to experts in the field. Plus, tack on the excellent pricing the Rolex sibling offers, and you can see why Tudor has earned so many nominations and wins.
Challenge Watch – Raymond Weil Millésime Automatic Small Seconds
Since Elie Bernheim took over the role of CEO, and his brother Pierre stepped away from Raymond Weil to focus on their restaurant business and head the board of Geneva Airport, the brand has really switched gears and made significant changes to its designs. Embracing a refined, almost Genevan aesthetic, the Millésime offers a look at how Bernheim perceives watchmaking. While the brand continues to maintain its association with music and art, the watch is a handsome homage to the sector and scientific dial, vintage and modern, with just the right stylistic touches to make this an everyday timepiece.
Innovation Prize – Hautlence Sphere Series 1
The Sphere has always been a joyful and humorous mechanical achievement by Hautlence. It has the mind-boggling complexity of a three-dimensional gearing system and the delightful expression of a Magic 8-Ball combined with a jumping display. Like the Freak, it’s an icon not just of its brand but of a type of watchmaking that defines our era today. It’s whimsical, but with real technical chops, it’s no surprise that the GPHG jury felt it deserved a win. With the improved design of Hautlence’s TV-shaped case and refinements to the original Sphere movement, it’s an innovative timepiece that moves watchmaking forward.
Horological Revelation – Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans
It’s a nice coincidence that, just as we mentioned Simon Brette in our upcoming print issue he won the Horological Revelation prize, which is essentially GPHG’s up-and-coming award. The 35-year-old Frenchman founded his eponymous brand just two years ago, and the Chronomètre Artisans watch was a highlight at this year’s Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva. Every part of the watch is crafted by hand, from the roughened red gold dial dubbed “dragon’s scales” to the black polished screw tops and more. What’s more impressive is how he came to success – through a souscription formula that recalls watchmaking in the 19th century. What’s old is new again.
Special Jury Prize – Svend Andersen & Vincent Calabrese
Apart from their own successes, independent watchmakers today can largely credit Svend Andersen and Vincent Calabrese for paving the way. The duo co-founded the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI), an organisation that continues to perpetuate the indies in watchmaking today. Without them, people like Vianney Halter, Philippe Dufour, Felix Baumgartner, and even Franck Muller might never have had the opportunity to have their voices heard among the large conglomerates taking over watchmaking in the post-Quartz Crisis era. Today, young names can credit the AHCI with empowering them to create their own brands, whether they choose to go it alone or with the support of other artisans within the organisation. Thanks to Andersen and Calabrese, we are in a golden era of watchmaking today.
For more information, head to the GPHG website.
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