As a schmucky, self-proclaimed know-it-all who has never agreed with the results of ANY awards program – I stopped watching the Oscars because they infuriate me so much – the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is precisely the sort of affair that’s guaranteed to raise my blood pressure. I’m simply too opinionated, but at least I admit it. Far be it for me, however, to display concerns about the judges, their methods or any other aspects of the selection process, as I know that all have been vetted and are seasoned observers.
Still, I am too cynical to think of any awards regimen – including the Nobel Peace Prize, as give to Barack Obama for doing precisely nothing – as other than being driven fundamentally by politics and commerce, with a soupçon of personal self-interest. As we are all subject to human failings, one simply has to accept that nationalism, hidden agendas, prejudice and other influences – consciously or subconsciously – affect the voting. I would make a lousy judge because I have no obsession with tourbillons nor moon phase, and have as much interest in ladies watches as I do in jai alai, animal husbandry or macramé, which is nil.
Be that as it may, these awards are the absolute measure by which the world assesses the year’s offerings, and it is our duty to report the results.
For 2014, the list of 16 winners looks like this:
Most valid of all, though, is the Public Prize. “Civilians” cast their votes on-line and at international exhibitions, and must surely be immune to any influences related to employment within the watch business. This year, amusingly given the continued belief that ladies’ watches are a growth industry, they chose Breguet’s Classique Dame. One for the feminists, then, and as pure an example of “Breguetismo” and the could possibly be.
At the other end, is the “Aiguille d’Or” – the horological equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or – awarded to another Breguet, the Classique Chronométrie. A truly superb watch, indeed, and one I would be proud to wear, but the greatest achievement of the year? In my humble opinion, that was accomplished by a model further down the list, at No. 5, Chronograph Watch Prize for De Bethune’s DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon. And as I said before, I’m no tourbillionista. Here’s where I have to scratch my head.
Of the assorted victors, the only ones that strike me as innovative, radical or sufficiently different to warrant acclaim are Urwerk’s outrageous EMC, and the wild-looking Voutilainen Hisui. Before I dig myself deeper into a hole, I do acknowledge that all of the winners are serious timepieces, and would also point to Hublot’s and Zenith’s contenders are deserving, while Omega’s latest Moon Watch is genuinely a no-brainer for retro supremacy.
But back to De Bethune, for which I must offer full, prejudicial disclosure: I think that Denis Flageollet is one of the greatest watchmakers alive today, ever inventive, and I consider David Zanetta a personal friend. Even trying desperately to factor out those aspects of self-interest, I can but point out the accomplishment of the DB29’s five-hands-from-the-centre. This is probably only the third or fourth wristwatch ever to achieve this feat; please let me know who else has managed this besides Peter Roberts with his Concentrique, Blancpain, with one of the Fifty Fathoms models and the Maurice Lacroix Cinq Aiguilles.
But even more interesting is the clever way it displays this without a phalanx of subdials. It is lateral thinking that would have found approval from Abraham-Louis B himself. As for the dual win by Urwerk, this crew consistently cooks up surprises. The watches are beloved of those addicted to radical solutions, and I find the marriage of a wholly mechanical timepiece with an electronic “babysitter” to be as novel an offering as any this year. Or even this decade.
Lastly, another award for Walter Lange? And why not? He remains the “eminence grise” of the watchmaking revival, and at 90, he’s still supporting the brand that bears his name. So I guess that makes at least a half-dozen winners that don’t have me reaching for the Ramipril.