Possibly the highlight of Geneva’s watchmaking year, the ceremony for the 11th Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) was held last weekend in the city’s Grand Theatre, in the presence of Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of the Swiss Confederation. “The watch sector warrants these distinctions for the prestige it embodies and for the benefits it brings to our country’s economy,” declared Carlo Lamprecht, President of the GPHG Foundation Council, in his opening speech. “Watchmaking could be the twelfth art. As you know, the Babylonians introduced the number twelve to the measurement of time, and it continues to set the pace of our daily lives.”
Geneva and watchmaking as one
“This Grand Prix shows how important watchmaking is to Geneva,” continued the city’s mayor, Pierre Maudet. “This is all the more true as the measurement of time implies values which are fundamental to Geneva; values of creativity, excellence and continuation. Watches are turned to the future and, through them, we are too.” Pierre-François Unger, State Councillor in charge of the Economy and Health, went further still. Watches are, he said, “the best defence against the crisis, as statistics show: 2011 will be a record year for Swiss watchmaking.”
After giving kudos all round, the moment came to reward individual achievements, and the first award of the evening was the Public Prize. It went to Audemars Piguet for its Millenary 4101 whose dial offers a view of the components that are usually hidden case-side. “This award is the finest proof that the art of design, combined with Fine Watchmaking, is part of our DNA,” declared CEO Philippe Merck. The Petite Aiguille Prize for models retailing under CHF 5,000 went to Montblanc for its Star Worldtime GMT Automatic in steel. “We see this as the demonstration that Montblanc is now a fully credible name in watches,” said the representatives of the firm. The next name to be announced was Urwerk for its UR-110, an unidentified horological object that displays the time via three torpedoes or modules that rotate to show the hour, mounted on a rotating base that indicates minutes on an arc to the right of the dial. It took home the Best Design Watch Prize. Urwerk co-founder Félix Baumgartner described it as “a timepiece for the 21st century, Urwerk style” and promised even crazier things to come.
Poetry in motion
The Prizes for Best Ladies’ Watch and Best Jewellery Watch went to two past masters in the delicate exercise of incorporating the decorative arts into a timepiece. Boucheron was singled out for the first category with its Crazy Jungle Hathi in white gold, while Van Cleef & Arpels took the honours in the second category for its Lady Arpels Polar Landscape, also in white gold. Both demonstrate the infinite possibilities of these crafts, the meticulousness which they impose, and the incredible work that goes into dials which convey the dream and emotion to which watchmakers so often refer. “Time is precious. The very least we can do is to interpret it with art,” commented the representative of Van Cleef & Arpels.
A masculine mood descended on the theatre as the Best Men’s Watch Prize was awarded to Hermès for its Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, already Montres Passion Watch of the Year 2011. This timepiece, which was developed in partnership with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his company Agenhor, has been unanimously praised for its poetry and imagination ever since its launch. Time is suspended at the push of a button to better savour life’s delights; pushing again resets the time. The Best Sports Watch Prize went to a feat of technology and a first in mechanical watchmaking: TAG Heuer’s Mikrotimer Flying 1000 Chronograph whose movement beats at 3.6 million vibrations/hour to measure time to one thousandth of a second. Zenith scooped the Best Complication Watch Prize for its Academy Christophe Colomb Equation of Time. It stands out for a high-frequency escapement that was developed along identical lines to a marine chronometer. “Only two watchmakers in the Manufacture are able to assemble this complication,” explained Jean-Frédéric Dufour, at the head of Zenith for the past two and a half years.
Pushing the boundaries of possibility
After the Special Jury Prize was awarded to the Patek Philippe Museum, opened ten years ago as a showcase for the Manufacture’s heritage, with timepieces that trace 500 years of watchmaking history, the next distinction was for Best Watchmaker, and what a delight to learn that the judges had chosen Vianney Halter. “Standing here with this award, I think I can say that you don’t have to be mad to appreciate what I do! While we independent watchmakers are often thought of as a thorn in the side of the big brands, I’d like to acknowledge the support I’ve received from Nicolas Hayek, and other companies that have helped me do my job. This prize means all the more to me as it highlights the importance of watchmaking as a journey, and the watchmaker as someone who pushes the boundaries of what can be done.”
The highlight of the evening came with the announcement of the Aiguille d’Or, the ultimate accolade. It was presented by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, winners in 2010, to De Bethune. For the past ten years, and with its 40 staff, the company has made its mark with contemporary watches and major breakthroughs in the techniques of time measurement. “The idea behind De Bethune is that watchmaking is both a science and an art,” declared David Zanetta, who co-founded the company with Denis Flageollet in 2002. “We intend to revive the watchmaking of the past with an eye to the future of mankind. Our purpose is not to do more, but to do better.” The final word of the evening went to Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of the Swiss Confederation: “This evening we have seen masterpieces of innovation, elegance and creativity that demonstrate a constant determination to push back the limits of what is technologically possible. The Federal Council is extremely receptive to this task and contributes to it by creating the framework in which it can develop.”
- Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix: De Bethune DB28, titanium
- Special Jury Prize: Patek Philippe Museum
- Best Ladies’ Watch Prize: Boucheron Crazy Jungle Hathi, white gold
- Best Men’s Watch Prize: Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu, rose gold
- Best Design Watch Prize: Urwerk UR-110, titanium
- Best Jewellery and Artistic Crafts Watch Prize: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Polar Landscape/seal, white gold
- Best Complicated Watch Prize: Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Equation of Time, rose gold
- Best Sports Watch Prize: TAG Heuer Mikrotimer Flying 1000 Chronograph, steel
- Petite Aiguille Prize: Montblanc Star Worldtime GMT Automatic, steel
- Best Watchmaker Prize: Vianney Halter
- Public Prize: Audemars Piguet Millenary 4101, steel