Every november the whole watch community has its eyes on Geneva, where GPHG jury celebrates the best watches of the year. Being arguably the biggest professional award of the industry, Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève certainly gives some insight on what is currently considered important and trendy by the watchmakers themselves. Still, the relativity of the first prize is somehow confusing, for there’s no such thing as the best watch. Or is it?
All the GPHG 2019 winners
Often considered the Oscars equivalent in watchmaking, Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève has more than enough gravitas behind its verdict. That doesn’t mean, however, there’s no controversy at all. Some decisions manage to go far beyond the understanding of general public, and that’s the usual flaw of almost any art-related award. If only beauty and artistic ideas could be measured by some bulletproof stats like sport events! But there are other issues involved too. The first one might involve a healthy dose of politics. After all, many brands are closely related through the large groups owning them, others historically tend to work together, and so on. In some sense, it’s easier to think about the luxury watch industry as a kind of premier league, rather than a crowd of chaotically developing enterprises. While the overall amount of politically driven decisions may not be all that fundamental, some obvious intend to please all the parties is present here by default. But than again, almost any major award events including the real Oscars get permanently criticized for similar political aspects.
The audience of Théâtre du Léman in Geneva is the who's who of modern watchmaking
Even if one can doubt some certain decisions, none can’t get any closer to perfect objectivity than leaving the judgement to a team of jury members each with a different watch-related background. And the GPHG’s jury has always been a shining beacon of knowledge and watch-loving passion. But what about comparing apples to oranges? While the competition within the same and categories seem quite transparent, how can one decide between a ladies’ jewelry piece, as genius as it may be, and, a diver? As with any awards, the winner likely represents the engineering, industrial, or marketing path that currently seems the most important or revolutionary. But what if the message is a bit too mysterious? Last year, for example, the ultimate winner was a Royal Oak! Yes, it was a perpetual calendar in a thing case coming from one of the most desired collections on the market, and boy, that watch looked stunning! But the actual revolution behind its creation was still not that obvious.
François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet accepting Aiguille d’Or 2019
And here comes another issue, possibly the biggest of them all. Some of the major brands simply do not want to be involved in GPHG in any way. Yes, the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève is the biggest and the most representative award out there, but there’s no Rolex, no Patek Philippe, no Cartier, and so on. By the way, Patek participated in the past, and even took home first prizes for two years in a row, probably becoming one of the reasons for a politically driven modern rule, putting the Aiguille d’Or winners out of the next year’s competition, but that’s a story for another time.
Shortlisted contenders were exhibited in several cities in Switzerland
The reasons behind such separations are pretty obvious: blue chips don’t want their clients to think they could lose in comparison to anything. And while the additional brand recognition from possible wins never hurts, these are hardly compared to their ever lasting historical and pop cultural significance earned during the XX century: check any serious auction house reports and you’ll get the idea. So no matter how perfect it is, the Aiguille d’Or winner only bears the title of ‘the best watch, aside from Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier & co’. And that’s mostly sad, like anything stopping just a few steps away from a pure perfection.
Exhibitions featured the very same pieces, that are examined by the jury
Anyway, the fun of predicting the winners in each category, and then watching the ceremony to discover your rights and wrongs in real time has no equal in the watch world. Needless to say, the exhibition of contenders and, later, of the winners is surely a sight to behold. Summing it all up, we should be grateful that Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève exists, sharing the love for fine mechanics and driving our inner passions once a year. Like they said in one good old movie: nobody’s perfect.