The annual Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, often referred to as the Oscar’s of the watchmaking world, is nearly upon us. Some of the biggest names in watchmaking will compete on November 9th in Geneva to take home several top prizes honoring everything from mechanical innovation to métiers d’art wonders.
As a former jury member of the GPHG from 2012 to 2019, an event that is often called the watchmaking world’s Oscars, I have a pretty good handle on how discussions in the jury room can go. Nonetheless, there are always plenty of surprises on the big night, and 2023 is bound to be no exception. Here are some of my predictions for which brands will come out on top.
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Perhaps the most hotly contested category, let’s remember the jury always loves novelty, and with two highly capable new independent watchmakers entering interesting timepieces, I believe these will capture the attention. The Minute Inerte by Xhevdet Rexhepi (brother of shooting star Rexhep Rexhepi) is a fabulous twist on the chronometer, but I think the jury will elevate this piece to win the Innovation Prize or Chronometry Prize, both awarded at the jury’s discretion. Likewise, Simon Brette’s insanely beautiful Chronomètre Artisans is likely to be elevated as the winner of the discretionary Horological Revelation Prize for a young brand under 10 years old. And this would leave the category open for Chopard-owned Ferdinand Berthoud’s exquisitely finished and highly technical Chronomètre FB 3SPC to take the statuette as the first and only wristwatch with a cylindrical hairspring that has been officially certified as a chronometer by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC). Any of this trio could also take home the discretionary Chronometry Prize too.
As the first split-seconds chronograph in the complicated and bombastic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept line and the first rattrapante in an automatic AP at all—a rather infrequent complication in AP’s arsenal altogether—I can easily imagine the jury leaning toward this fan favorite.
Among the astounding array of tourbillons here, I believe the Bovet Virtuoso XI might be the standout due to its sheer elegance and obvious celebration of the complicated escapement style. However, I also think it could get elevated to win the night’s top prize, Aiguille d’Or, leaving the door open for the glorious HYT Conical Tourbillon Infinity Sapphires, a brainchild of genius watchmaker Eric Coudray that is a highly animated behemoth of a timepiece with no hands (hours and minutes are shown by liquid-filled glass tubes) and a ton of visual impact.
The Louis Vuitton Tambour Opera Automata is a serious piece of artistic horology, but so is the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD4, a unique timepiece in an edition of one featuring 40 functions—just one of which is the brand’s much-lauded Supersonnerie—selling for CHF 1.7 million. I think its sheer audacity and relatively svelte size for all it contains will see it slip past the melodic LV to take this category’s statuette home. In truth, though, either one could also end up with the discretionary Audacity Prize.
I see three serious contenders here: De Bethune DB Eight, a Denis Flageollet-typical svelte take on classical timing operations; Grand Seiko Tentagraph, the Japanese giant’s first mechanical chronograph ever; and Chronographe Rattrapante by independent watchmaker duo Petermann Bédat (winner of 2020’s Horological Revelation Prize). I would love this to end in a three-way tie, but the GPHG doesn’t allow it. Pressed to choose, I believe the cards will fall toward De Bethune’s masterful technical-yet-elegant watch.
In the past, jury deliberations have turned toward nominating watches for the allover winner that are not unique pieces as they should be “representative.” This would take out AP’s unique-piece RD4, perhaps the buzziest contender. The choices that remain still don’t make a prediction easy, but let’s remember that the jury members individually inspect every single watch in the running—even those that we journalists don’t have access to. So it’s not unusual for jury opinion to sway on voting day according to last-minute impressions and discussions. Having held a good number of these watches in my own hands, the most impressive among them for me is Bovet’s Virtuoso XI, a powerful watch that looks and feels as delicate as a flower thanks to the many, many hours Bovet’s artisans spent filing, beveling, skeletonizing, finishing, and engraving by hand to achieve the most transparent watch Bovet has produced to date.
As the Highlander would have said, “there can only be one.” Of course, he was talking about human heads rather than “golden hands”…
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