WITH THE 14TH EDITION OF THE GRAND PRIX D’HORLOGERIE DE GENÈVE WELL UNDER WAY, Sean Li TAKES A LOOK FROM WITHIN THE JURY AT THE RECENT EVOLUTIONS OF WATCHMAKING’S ULTIMATE AWARDS
People are generally competitive by nature. Even though we try to tell ourselves that it’s participation that counts, deep down it does feel good to win, and to be recognised for our abilities and accomplishments, to know that our peers or an educated public see us as standing out from among the crowd. The same applies to the watch world; similar to many other industries, various award ceremonies are organised around the world, generally in the latter part of the year. One of them is the Grand Prix d’horlogerie de Genève, or GPHG.
It’s been my privilege for the past three years to sit on the jury of the GPHG, surrounded by a panel of illustrious people from all walks of life, all with a special interest in watchmaking. There have been some subtle evolutions in the format of the GPHG each time I’ve participated. I’d like to share some of those changes and how I see them impacting the awards.
The jury itself has seen the greatest change; in 2012, there were 12 of us, with the majority coming from the field of specialised media. Some felt that this represented a too narrow cross-section of jurors, a sentiment I would agree with in hindsight. While the debate among the jurors in 2012 was excellent, having 12 people who live and breathe watches on a daily basis, professionally and personally, did not allow for the broader perspective that the industry and the general watch-buying public represents. In response, the foundation that organises the GPHG
expanded the jury in 2013 to 23 members, and invited a much broader range of jurors to participate—a true cross-section of experts in their respective domains (such as music, architecture, design, jewellery and history) who were all passionate about watches.
I had some trepidation about how the jury meeting, which is held over just one day, would go, given that we had some 70 watches to examine and evaluate, and subsequently discuss with a much larger group than before. My concerns were for naught, though; the day went very smoothly, and the new jury members fully participated and added some very valuable comments, aided by their particular fields of expertise.
This year sees the jury remain large, with 16 remaining from 2013 and nine new jury members. However, the evolution of the GPHG continues, as we now see the number of categories grow from 10 to 12, with the new ones being developed for specific complications or functions of a watch, such as a tourbillon or a chronograph. This has allowed the participating brands to be more precise when they choose the specific category in which their watch will compete. This is a very important distinction, because the format of the GPHG calls for the brands to submit their watches to the competition, making them the ones responsible for deciding which category the watch will be entered in. Also, no one brand can enter two different watches in the same category, so the selection must be done very carefully in order to optimise their chances of winning. While it does give the jury some more work, I believe this granularity will be very welcome. The term “complication” can encompass a very broad range of watches and it becomes particularly challenging when watches of very different technical levels are grouped within the same category. This levelling of the playing field, as it were, has attracted quite a number of entries too, with more than 200 watches presented at the first round.
The jury has already done its first round of voting, which is where each jury member shortlists his or her selection from the initial entries. This produces a pre-selection, where slightly fewer than 70 watches will then enter the next round—first for a travelling exhibition that this year will visit New Delhi and Beijing—before returning to Geneva for the third week of October. Every single watch in the pre-selection round will have to be made available for the jury’s meeting, so that we can handle and examine them individually as we make our final selections in each of the categories and for the special prizes, including the coveted Aiguille d’or, with the presentation done at a very special gathering for the industry at Geneva’s Grand Theatre on October 31.
The evolutions that I’ve witnessed in the three years that I’ve participated as a judge, subtle as they may be, have definitely given the GPHG a broader appeal—and in a certain way, more validity within the industry. The number of new brands that have chosen to participate in 2014 proves this, and it’s important to make this distinction; the jury can only evaluate the watches that have been entered. The fact that this number and variety is growing would indicate that the GPHG is only growing in its importance. For that, I’m thankful for the confidence that the participating brands have shown. I hope that in future, it will only lead to an even greater number of watches entered—perhaps driven by that competitive nature in all of us—and ultimately driving the continual innovations and improvements in the timepieces we hold so dear.
Last year’s edition of the Grand Prix d’horlogerie was held at the Grand Theatre de Genève
Bulgari’s Ammiraglio del Tempo is one of the entries for best minute repeater watch
Harry Winston’s Midnight Diamond Drops is one of the entries for best ladies’ watch