10/26/2021
 8 minutes

GPHG predictions: Which watches are taking the “Oscars of the watch world” home?

By Thomas Hendricks
Grand-Prix-Magazin-2-1

Photo: GPHG

The Oscars of the watch world are upon us again. On November 4th, the 2021 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) awards ceremony will celebrate the most outstanding achievements in watchmaking of the past year. Eighty-four timepieces across thirteen watch categories will be competing for the jury’s attention, and only one will walk away with the top prize of them all, the “Aiguille d’Or.”

Chrono24 is taking you to the night of the nights for watch lovers and will show you some of the best watches currently available. We’ll keep you updated on social media, the Chrono24 magazine, and our Youtube channel. 

So, ahead of the biggest night in watches, we’ve put together our predictions for five major categories and the coveted “Aiguille d’Or” grand prize.

Men’s

2020 Winner: Voutilainen 28SC

2021 Prediction: Hermès H08

Let’s start with the broadest category of the night: Men’s. The only rules here are that the watches not be too complicated (no tourbillons, for example) and have no more than a five-carat gem setting.

 It’s tempting to pick a haute horlogerie entry like the H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade or the MB&F LM101 Double Hairspring. It would also be a safe bet to lean towards the fan-favorite Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5.

However, the real winner here may just be the Hermès H08. The product of a fashion hour, this entry is a dark horse, particularly when considering that the jury is made up of industry veterans with their ties to, let’s say, “old guard” manufacturers. However, this brand may very well end up causing the night’s biggest upset. This watch’s reception was widely marked by pleasant surprise, with many enthusiasts admitting it is actually “kinda cool” in online comments.

Given the rather open-ended nature of this category, it’s important to note what best defines a men’s watch. The H08 embodies the masculine qualities of refinement, confidence, and simplicity. So far, it appears to have generated more buzz than any of its competitors. And even the more traditional factions in the enthusiast world have yet to brush this timepiece off as a mere “fashion watch.”

The Hermès H08 is a simple, classy, modern watch. Photos: GPHG

Men’s Complication

2020 Winner: Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1

2021 Prediction: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph

This category encourages a more logical, scientific approach. While the nebulous Men’s” category has a more intangible, zeitgeisty sense about it, the nominees for the Men’s Complication prize can best be judged by their specifications and features. 

Here we have two jumping hours, a dual time, a world timer, a split-seconds chronograph, and a tourbillon flyback chronograph. A gambler might notice the jumping hour trend and pick one of the two. Or they may simply go with the always jaw-droppingly complex MB&F. Instead, this year, we’re pegging the most complicated of them all: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph.

It’s hard to argue against the mechanical prowess of this watch. After all, that’s a lot of specs squeezed into its name alone, not to mention the timepiece itself. The titanium case and the skeletonized dial also play into the ethos of the category, making the watch feel even more technically forward-thinking. AP describes this timepiece as “muscular,” a claim we have no objection to.

Breitling has been gaining momentum under the leadership of Georges Kern, and their Premier B15 Duograph 42 with its split-second chronograph is a decisive step forward for the brand. Likewise, Chanel has upped their game with the futuristic Monsieur. Superleggera Edition, a jumping hour watch. As great as these watches are, we see the beefed-up, 260,800-CHF ($282,000) Royal Oak taking this category.

Audemars Piguet’s Offshore collection offers some of the most complicated watches on the market.

Iconic

2020 Winner: Bvlgari Aluminium Chronograph

2021 Prediction: Re-creation of the first Grand Seiko

“Icon” is a word thrown around far too often in watch media. The GPHG describes the Iconic category as including “watches from an emblematic collection that has been exercising a lasting influence on watchmaking history and the watch market for more than 20 years.”

With this in mind, you could say this is a rather stacked group of nominees. We have, among others, a Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin, an IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43, an updated El Primero A386, and the enigmatic Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921.

However, the standout here is the Re-creation of the first Grand Seiko. The original was the first watch from the East to challenge its giant Swiss counterparts. This tribute model makes clear the significant respect that Grand Seiko has earned over the years. And the inaugural release of this timepiece represented the brand’s core values: understated elegance and dedication to craftsmanship. 

This watch is like a time capsule taking us back to when the watch world was emerging into the global industry we know today. You can also think of it as a “greatest hit” from a brand that’s already secured its place in watch history. This year is perhaps the best chance for Grand Seiko to win this category, and we think the jury will recognize the moment as such.

Grand Seiko: A true watch icon

“Petite Aiguille”

2020 Winner: Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II

2021 Prediction: Garrick S4

The first of the two budget-friendly categories is the “Petite Aiguille” group highlighting watches in the 3,500-10,000 CHF ($3,800-$10,800) range. The category is split between household names and relative newcomers.

Breitling took last year’s prize with their Superocean Heritage ’57 Limited Edition II, so it’s unlikely that they’ll repeat no matter how easy on the eyes the Top Time Deus Limited Edition is. The Tudor Black Bay Ceramic is in the running, but the Black Bay Fifty-Eight already took home the prize in the Challenge category last year. Although the Seiko Re-creation of King Seiko KSK is likely to sell well, this watch is not as historically significant as the Seiko re-creation we’ve chosen for the Iconic category. The Louis Erard and Vianney Halter collaboration has a bit of an X factor going for it. Still, its regulator-style time display is widely disliked, making it unlikely to win this category.

That leaves the Garrick S4 and the Trilobe Nuit Fantastique, Grained Black. The Trilobe brings a lot to the table with the interplay of its deconstruction, asymmetry, and movement. The caseback is as intriguing as the dial. That said, it’s probably a bit too dark of a dark horse for the jury.

The Garrick S4 certainly feels like a lot of watch for the money. Its engine-turned dial takes a total of four days to produce, and its Roman numerals are ink-filled by hand. Although the watch’s modified ETA movement isn’t exactly setting the watch world on fire, the classic design elements from this upstart English brand are more than enough to make up for it. It’s a bit of a long shot, but this feels like the best overall pick in this category.

Challenge

2020 Winner: Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

2021 Prediction: Furlan Marri MR. Grey Ref. 1041-A

The Challenge category includes watches with a price tag of 3,500 CHF ($3,800) or below. This has been an increasingly important category as the watch world welcomes more entry-level enthusiasts into the fold and they begin to follow the GPHG awards.

Even with such a limited budget, there is a surprising number of oddballs here. The Scottish-based anOrdain brand has been gaining popularity online, particularly for its meticulously crafted enamel dials, as seen here on its Model 1. The Oris Divers Sixty-Five Cotton Candy is definitely the first bronze and hot pink combination in the industry and probably will stay that way for some time to come. And the CIGA Design Blue Planet has a time display so unique that the brand had to produce a new “asynchronous follow” movement for this timepiece.

The fan-favorite Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight took the prize last year, so maybe mass appeal will determine this year’s winner, as well. That’s why we’re betting on the Furlan Marri MR. Grey Ref. 1041-A. The crowdfunding campaign for this watch shattered its goal almost immediately upon going live, so keep an eye out on social media for enthusiasts who got their hands on one and are probably not going to be shy about showing it off. 

The meca-quartz movement in this watch won’t win over any purists, but the two-subdial chronograph pulls from a deep design heritage and feels instantly classic. This combination makes the Furlan Marri a socially acceptable disruptor, positioning it nicely to win the category.

The Furlan Marri MR. Grey Ref. 1041-A boasts a meca-quartz movement.

“Aiguille d’Or” Grand Prix

2020 Winner: Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept

2021 Prediction: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert”

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Who’s our winner for the grandest prize of them all, the best in show, the “Aiguille d’Or”? In all honestly, it’s a tough choice.

Out of 84 contenders, it’s hard to pick the timepiece that best embodies this year in the watch world. The biggest thing in watches right now appears to be the ascendance of female voices in the collector community. This topic has garnered plenty of press within watch media, and more importantly, attracted the attention of major non-watch media outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

But even this doesn’t automatically mean that a women’s watch will take the cake here. First, the watch world is still relatively slow-moving compared to industries like fashion or technology. Second, although change is in the air, the GPHG jury remains male-dominated. And third, the consensus among female collectors is that the “women’s watch” segment of the market is altogether outdated and somewhat frivolous.

Moser & Cie’s Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade could be a contender, especially given how the watch itself is a statement against the rising tide of smartwatches. In the same vein, a nominee from the Tourbillon category could be a wonderful tribute to this pinnacle of old-world craft. Perhaps the pandemic’s economic woes could push the tide in favor of a more widely affordable watch from a brand like Breitling. Or maybe a timepiece like Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, the thinnest of its kind in the world, could seal its place in history as this year’s best in show.

But how about we play it safe and find a watch that covers a lot of bases? The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert” might just be the one. Its ceramic case echoes the industry’s embrace of new materials. Then there’s its desert styling, which reflects the expanding color palette available to consumers. Finally, the perpetual calendar function alongside the IWC brand name has the mechanical and historical credibility to capture a wide range of voters. 

It’s hard to make a full-throated endorsement that doesn’t come across as a personal bias. Many nominees could turn out to be major contenders this year. We suppose it will simply depend on how the jury ends up defining the 2021 watchmaking year. In any case, there’s only one way to find out which watches will reign supreme, so we’ll see you in Geneva!

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About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

Read more

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