This year marked the second time that I attended the Grand Prix d’ Horlogerie Geneva, GPHG. Some call this the Academy Awards of the watch industry. I am not so sure because it is not all encompassing. Many top brands don’t participate and don’t send their watches in for judging. This leaves some gaping holes. However, it is still the best thing this industry has when it comes to awarding prizes for watchmaking and so I still stand behind it. So, too, do many enthusiastic attendees at the event.
This year’s Awards were a bit different in that the cocktail hour was after the Awards instead of before — leaving little time to mingle before taking our seats in the Theater du Leman on quai du Montblanc opposite lake Geneva. This was most likely to keep the timing on target. The event started promptly at 630 — and with just about 20 different awards being bestowed upon brands and individuals — it took a full two hours to complete.
The event is like a Who’s Who of Watchmaking. Not only are brand CEO’s, independent watchmakers and top journalists all there, but also designers, watchmakers and even a few celebs comprise the attentive audience. If you speak French, you’re good to go, but for those who don’t speak French (such as myself), you need to hurry over for the translation ear phones before they’re gone … if you want to know the majority of what is said during the night. While the presenters predominantly spoke English, and some individuals spoke English when accepting their award, the master of ceremonies speaks only in French. Translation headsets are a must or you miss some of the jokes and innuendos.
Attire runs the gamut. While most people dress up (suits and ties for men, dresses for women), some attend in more casual garb from leather jackets to comfortable sneakers. To me, as an attendee of what is a representative event in the industry, I believe in dressing up not down. Nevertheless, you are only seated in the theater and when the lights go down for the main show, no one really cares.
The presentation of the awards goes quickly, and most people are in good spirits. However, afterwards, at the light cocktail party where champagne and wine is served, quiet conversations are had in corners. People ask the jurors their opinions about the winners. Some jurors are happy. Others aren’t. Most try not to weigh in. After all the votes were cast and the winners were the winners. Predominantly at the cocktail, though , everyone is congratulatory and the mood is very upbeat. The time goes by quickly, though, and since this is the only mingle time you really have with the execs (unless you are invited to the after-dinner — but even then you are seated at a table), you need to make the most of it. In the end, you don’t see half of the people who were there.
The Main Event: GPHG 2019
This year’s GPHG saw some interesting developments. To begin with, the number of independent brands being honored was overwhelming. On the opposite side of that scale, certain big brands — including Bulgari and Audemars Piguet — won multiple awards. There seemed to be some expected winners and some unexpected winners. For a look at which brands were submitted originally for each category, visit this story. After the event, certain jurors had somewhat stunned expressions, a few even angry. It is a jury decision, though, and the brands win by the most votes — all cast secretly. So who won this year? Read On.
The Winners of GPHG 2019
Considered the most prestigious award because it recognizes the best overall watch in any category, The “Aiguille d’Or” Grand Prix award went to Audemars Piguet for its Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin. In his acceptance speech, the third of the night, Francois Bennahmias, Audemars Piguet CEO, spoke about how important the GPHG event is to the watch industry, encouraging others to partake and support the concept. He also, naturally, graciously accepted the award.
The Ladies Watch Prize went to Chanel for the new Chanel J12 Calibre 12.1 — a white ceramic watch we are all familiar with but now with a totally new in-house made movement. The win was a surprise for some, especially because it came up against some strong contenders.
Conversely, no one was surprised by the winner of the Ladies Complication award: MB&F for its incredible LM Flying T watch with domed sapphire crystal. It was the brand’s first-ever women’s watch.
Men’s Watch award went to Voutilainen for the 28T.
Voutilainen also won the Artistic Crafts award for its Starry Night Vine watch with intricately pained and enameled dial of wine vines at night.
Men’s Complicated Watch prize went to Audemars Piguet for the Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie.
Iconic watch award went to Audemars Piguet, as well, for its Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin watch with salmon colored dial.
Calendar & Astronomy win went to Hermes for its L’Heure de la Lune Meteorite watch — a spectacular timepiece and a well-deserved award.
The Mechanical Exception prize went to the relatively new Genus brand for its GNS 1.2 WG “Creation” Limited Edition watch.
Chronometry prize went to Ferdinand Berthoud for its Chronometry FB 1R.6-1.
Bulgari won the Chronograph award for its Octo Finissimo Chrono GMT.
Bulgari also won the Jewelry Watch Award for its stunning $1million Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani bangle bracelet watch set with diamonds and sapphires. The totally gemstone-bedecked secret watch features a single sapphire on the snake head, and two sapphire eyes. It lifts to reveal the diamond-adorned dial.
The Diver’s Watch award went to Seiko for its ProspexLX watch, water resistant to 300 meters.
The Petite Aiguille (Small hand) prize went to German brand Kudoke for the Kudoke 2.
Vacheron Constantin won the Innovation prize for its Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar watch.
Tudor won the Challenge prize for its Black Bay P01 watch. This category looks at watches with retail price of less than $4,000.
The Audacity prize — yes there is a category called Audacity — wen to Urwerk for its AMC watch.
Relatively young Ming won the Horological Revelation prize (not sure what the criteria is for this category) for its Ming 17.06 Copper watch — a simply beautiful timepiece.
Each year the GPHG also awards a Special Jury Prize. That honor this year went to Luc Pettavino, the founder of The Only Watch charity auction event that raises funds for Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. Pettavino’s son succumbed to the disease several years ago.
One last award was given for the best watchmaking student. A list of all of the winners, and pictures of the watches, can be found on the GPHG website.