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The watch world’s “Oscars” and their original...
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The watch world’s “Oscars” and their original sin

Tuesday, 09 July 2019
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Franco Cologni
President of the FHH Cultural Council

“Talent demands effort, dedication and hours spent perfecting a gesture which, day by day, becomes a gift.”

An entrepreneur at heart, though a man of letters, Franco Cologni was quick to embark on a business career that would lead him to key roles within the Richemont Group.

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4 min read

Organised under the aegis of a foundation since 2011, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is regarded as the Oscars of watchmaking. But behind this glittering event there still lies a problem: the competitors nominate themselves!

Year after year, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) cements its reputation. To compare the event – where the “who’s who” of the watch world gather for an unforgettable evening – to the Oscars is no exaggeration. After all, an award in one of the categories is the assurance of a place on the international stage. In a word, the GPHG has no equivalent anywhere in the world – which is a good thing considering there is only one Geneva, the birthplace and capital of the finest watchmaking. The city and the makers within its radius certainly deserve to be in the spotlight at least once a year. Indeed, one of the GPHG’s principal virtues is to have transformed the ceremony into a gala evening that people talk about from Beijing to Los Angeles, and to organise wonderful travelling exhibitions of the shortlisted watches, much to enthusiasts’ delight.

We must give all due credit to these magnificent efforts, which are all the more tangible since the GPHG has been organised under the aegis of a foundation. That was in 2011, spearheaded by Carlo Lamprecht, former Geneva State Councillor, seconded by a director, Carine Maillard, who now has the support of Raymond Loretan, a lawyer, as the new president. What a long way this Grand Prix has come. Created with laudable intentions, its beginnings were marred by a lingering cronyism that had no place in an impartial selection process. Now organised by the GPHG foundation – whose founding members are the authorities of the canton and city of Geneva, alongside the Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Laboratoire d’Horlogerie et de Microtechnique (Timelab) in Geneva and the Edipresse publishing group (which has sold its Swiss operations) – the awards have gained in credibility what they have lost in cliquishness. It was high time, because the stigma ran deep.

Because participation in the GPHG is on a voluntary basis, those brands that don't acknowledge these distinctions aren't represented.

Not that it’s all sunshine and rainbows. A first remark concerns the positioning of the awards. Even though categories include the Petite Aiguille for watches priced between CHF 4,000 and CHF 10,000, and the Challenge award for those under CHF 4,000, the average price of the winning watches in 2018 came to the “modest” sum of CHF 260,000. Can we truly say the awards are representative of Swiss watchmaking with pieces such as this, that are reserved for an elite? Anyone who knows me also knows my attachment to Haute Horlogerie and finely crafted watches. However, this doesn’t mean we need take such an elevated view to have a good vision of the fine work being carried out inside the Manufactures.

GPHG 2018
GPHG 2018

The second remark is self-evident. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with watch industry prizes will have noticed that certain of the sector’s leading names are conspicuous by their absence. Because participation is on a voluntary basis, with an entrance fee per watch and an additional charge for those watches taking part in the travelling exhibitions, those brands that don’t acknowledge these distinctions aren’t represented. Which is doubtless where the GPHG’s original sin is to be found. Too many brands remain on the sidelines, despite repeated calls from the profession to show a united front during these “friendly” battles. The Ancient Greeks, in their wisdom, called a truce to fighting between city-states so that athletes could measure themselves one against the other at Olympic Games. No such thing in watchmaking circles. In fact for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie whose Cultural Council I preside, Eve may have taken a bite from the apple, we Adams still aren’t hungry!

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