Op-Ed: Did the GPHG Get It Right, or Wrong?

Every year the watch world waits and speculates on the looming results of the Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Genève; some even find time to waste on offering a lengthy list of predictions. Why didn’t we? Because “prediction” stories serve no purpose other than to fill the void of a slow news day, and whether they be right or wrong, they add little to nothing to the collective conversation.

I also don’t engage in speculation on GPHG results, because even as a registered Academy member these past two years, what I see as a clear category winner often fails to align with the end result. Far too often big-box brands conquer categories over their indie challengers, with Goliath failing to fall to poor scrappy David time after time.

This year did not disappoint in that category, however it’s nice to see that even more “boutique” makers made the cut this year — more than ever before. Taking jewelry watches and artistic crafts out of the equation, only four prizes were awarded to what I would dub big-box luxury watch brands.

Where They Got It Right

Of those four big-box wins, two were inarguably the right choice. The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 is a truly epic timepiece, regardless of whether or not you’re keen on the Code’s design language. A complex repeater, perpetual calendar, flyback, split-seconds chronograph, in a 42mm case? Just give them the golden hand already. There were some very nice complicated watches in the pool, but nothing to rival the AP.

Alongside that, the Ulysse Nardin Freak taking home the Iconic category was a no-brainer as well. Sure, the Navitimer, IWC Ingenieur, and even the Royal Oak Offshore reissue held promise, but the Freak is a legend that’s been kicking around for over 20 years and there’s still absolutely nothing else like it on the market.

Moving further down the list, it was a welcome surprise to see the stellar Laurent Ferrier Grand Sport dominate the Tourbillon category, considering it was the only watch in the category with a tourbillon that couldn’t be seen from the dial side of the watch (and for that we thank them). It was also quite cool to see the Hautlence Sphere Series 1 receive recognition for Horological Innovation this year. I still remember being shown this watch during the last edition of Baselworld in 2019 (in the Hyperion hotel, adjacent the fair’s halls). It never really got the buzz it deserved, and it’s a bit weird to see a four year old watch competing at an annual award ceremony (one of my ongoing gripes with the awards), but nonetheless, it’s one of the most unique ways of time telling I’ve seen in years.

Where They Messed Up

I’m not pulling any punches here, because (as with every year) there are just some choices made by the jury that make my ears bleed. For the most part they did well this year, but when it comes to the categories of Sport, and Challenge (watches under CHF 2,000), the winners are dead wrong. Though I want to pick a fight about the Chronograph category and how the Grand Seiko Tentagraph deserved a prize, it’s tough to argue against Peterman Bedat winning that one.

Looking at the Sport category, though, if you consider the five other watches up for consideration, I still can’t fathom how Tudor snuck away with an award. While the Pelagos 39 is most certainly a lovely and capable tool watch, it doesn’t hold a candle to half its field. In particular, it was competing against the Gronefeld 1969 DeltaWorks and the Chopard Alpine Eagle Cadence 8HF. The latter is a 9.5mm thick automatic with a movement running at 8Hz (remember, the El Primero runs at 5), and the former… well, it’s a Gronefeld sports watch. What more do you need to hear?! Hell, even the IWC Ingenieur (which I ranked 4th in my own scoring) is a more interesting and capable watch than Tudor’s entry when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it all.

And finally, there’s the Challenge category, and a win for the only Raymond Weil I’ve seen entered in the competition in recent history. Is it a good looking watch? Sure. Is it well executed for the low-budget category? Sure. That said, it was doing battle with the Kurono Tokyo GMT 1, the Nomos Club Campus 38, and the Studio Underd0g Watermel0n chronograph that the entire industry has been smitten with from day one. Why the RW? Perhaps the Academy was treating it as a “most improved” entry, as it’s the first time in ages we’ve seen cohesive design from the sleepy budget brand? It’s hard to say.

And Now?

At the end of the day, the GPHG has been moving in leaps and bounds to improve how the awards are perceived by the industry and collecting community at large. With the integration of the Academy, and a changing of the guard on the Jury, things are certainly moving in the right direction. Will I remain critical? Absolutely! But one of the joys of awards like these is that there is plenty of room for voices like mine to get scrappy every now and again.

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