Crowning glory With Watches & Wonders now just a distant memory, the next big event on the industry calendar is fast upon us, and this one's a biggie. The Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève is an annual competition to crown the best watches of the year - to use a rather crude simplification, it is the Oscars of the watch industry. As with the Academy Awards, there's a lot of politics and some of the winning choices will leave a few people scratching their heads. The judges do, however, get things broadly right and there's no The Dark Knight-not-getting-nominated-for-best-film-type nonsense - to this day, an absolute travesty.
This year's awards ceremony will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday. Before the prizes are doled out, here's a look at three nominees that tickled my fancy.
The "Mechanical Exception" category is my favourite as it recognises the rebels, the nuts and the loons of watchmaking: the people who make mechanical art that just happens to tell the time. A perennial nominee for this award is the mad scientist of watchmaking, Christophe Claret, but this year's line-up also includes a more classic brand in Jaquet Droz and how-did-they-do-that entries from DeWitt and HYT. But for me, it's the Hautlence Vortex (right) that really stands out. The case shape (52mm x 50mm x 17.8mm) alone is a triumph, a truly three-dimensional piece that's not just a sapphire crystal box, but a deliberate attempt to show off the complication of the movement. Hautlence worked with Parisian design studio BBDC to create the Vortex. They've said they were influenced by contemporary architecture, which isn't immediately obvious to me, but it's certainly an eye-catching design that gives plenty of room for the drama of the movement - a retrograde minutes complication that rotates 60 degrees every 60 minutes. I thoroughly recommend you check out the Vortex in action on YouTube. Limited to 88 pieces, the Vortex is priced at HK$1.3 million.
The "Men's Watch" category has some heavy hitters this year, with MB&F's HMX, which is loved by watch nerds far and wide, and one of the purists, Voutilainen GMR, but my pick is the Louis Vuitton Escale Worldtime (right). It's easy to hate on Louis Vuitton for not being a credible watchmaker but, personally, I take each piece on its own merits and only a stubborn snob would fail to love the Escale Worldtime. Its wondrous, colourful dial design evokes the strong association with travel that defines LV, but the main feature, of course, is the world-time indication, which covers 24 time zones. Other features include a power-reserve display and the in-house-built hand wound movement, which drives 42 hours of power. The case is 39mm and comes in steel, meaning the price is in some ways accessible at 6,650 Swiss francs (HK$54,000). Unsurprisingly, as it's LV, the leather strap is top class.
Finally, I've picked a watch from another brand that has yet to convince the purists of its credibility. Montblanc is still relatively new to watchmaking but it pulled off a masterstroke when it bought the manufacturing facilities and know-how of the now defunct but still legendary brand Minerva, allowing it to create watches such as the ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama Limited Edition (right). You can't help but be impressed by this watch's bravado. Inspired by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, there's a wealth of subtle tributes to him, the highlight of which is the starry-sky effect on the dial that shimmers when you move your wrist. Packed with features, there's a chronograph and a tourbillon as well as a date indicator. Nominated for the "Chronograph" category, the ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama Limited Edition is priced at 48,000 Swiss francs and limited to 60 pieces.