Twelve categories, 72 nominees, 30 jury members and about six months to finalise the winners. The end result? A red carpet award ceremony at one of the best performing arts theatres in the world. We are talking about the Oscars of the watchmaking world—the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Hosted at the Théâtre du Léman in Genève, the GPHG is an annual affair that hosts the top minds from the Swiss watch fraternity. The nonprofit event is currently gearing up for its 18th edition on November 9.
Winning the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève trophy—the outstretched gilded-bronze hand—is a matter of prestige, and 105 brands will be in contention for 15 winning spots this year (12 regular categories, plus three open to all brands). The trophy was designed by graphic designer
Roger Pfund, who is known for having designed the Swiss passport and several currency notes. The hand of the trophy seeks inspiration from Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in which God is nearly touching Adam’s extended hand. It symbolises the passing of knowledge, something which resonates with the ideology of the horological Oscars. “The GPHG underlines the market’s current situation in terms of watchmaking production,” says Aurel Bacs, senior consultant, Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo, and the president of the GPHG jury. “It is often called ‘the Oscars’ of watchmaking, which is a flattering and effective denomination, proving that the watchmaking industry accepts this competition as a culminating achievement.”
As per the rules of the foundation, about one-fourth of the jury is renewed each year. “The GPHG is getting more professional every year, aiming for the highest standards by renewing its jury, adapting categories to the current trends and gathering personalities with established knowledge and competencies,” says Bacs. “As the president of the GPHG jury, my duty is to help the other members of the jury focus on the real and objective elements that lead to an impartial decision, which is as balanced as possible. I personally love provoking an open dialogue.”
This year, the jury consists of 30 members, including industry veterans like famed watchmakers Philippe Dufour, Rebecca Struthers; journalists
like Elizabeth Doerr, Jack Forster; and watch collectors like the French tennis player Gaël Monfils and American photographer Gary Getz. Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, will also be part of the jury. “Our rules stipulate that the winner of the Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix is automatically ineligible for the competition the following year, and its founder or CEO is invited to sit on the jury for one year,” says Carine Maillard, director of GPHG. “As Chopard won the award last year for its L.U.C. Full Strike timepiece, Karl F. Scheufele will be part of our jury this year.”
This time, the brands will also be competing in two new categories— the Challenge award and the Prix de l’Audace. The Challenge category will
cater to the watches falling below the CHF 4,000 (`2.98 lakh approx.) price mark, paving the way for a lot of new, independent watch brands. “These two new prizes are the result of a reflection conducted by our committee of experts,” says the new president of the foundation Raymond Loretan. “This award highlights a current trend and encourages brands to participate in the contest. As its name suggests, it rewards the challenge of creating quality watches at low prices”.
The Prix de L’Audace, on the other hand, will honour the audacious, non- conformist model. “The main criterion for selection will be the expression of a certain creative freedom,” says Maillard. “Such a prize will allow jurors to reward quality, but offbeat creations, which are difficult to compare with more traditional pieces. This prize is optional and can be awarded to any of the 72 shortlisted watches.”
There are 15 awards to be given out this year, including the coveted “Aiguille d’Or” Grand Prix, the Special Jury prize, and the Revival prize. The 2018 edition sees a healthy representation of independent brands including newcomers such as Gorilla Watches— owned by Audemars Piguet’s ex-artistic director Octavio Garcia—and Beauregard, with its Dahlia C1 timepiece. Brands like Bulgari have swept most of the nominations with
five contenders, including the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic and the Diva Finissima Minute Repeater. It is followed by Ulysse Nardin, with the Executive Tourbillon FreeWheel timepiece topping its list of four contenders. However, major names like A. Lange & Söhne, Jaeger- LeCoultre, IWC, Breguet, Blancpain and Omega seem to have given the GPHG a miss this time. “Indeed, every year, there are brands that do not participate. Their reasons are different. While some do not have exciting novelties to put in the competition every year, others simply do not want to compete,” says Maillard. “We warmly thank the brands that accept the challenge of competing. All do not win each time, but they participate in a unifying and competitive spirit for the renown of the entire profession.” About the regular non-participation of brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex and Breitling, Maillard says, “Patek Philippe has won the Aiguille d’Or several times. However, as a foundation we do face the challenge of rewarding a chosen few each year while keeping in mind the competitive spirit. All brands do not adhere to it yet, and it is our hope to see them change their vision and participate in the future.”
With an aim to become a more globally recognised event, the GPHG is slowly moving towards adopting more innovative and digitised strategies. “One of the main challenges of the watch industry is to keep a high level of quality, creativity and recognition in an environment that is rapidly changing because of the digital revolution,” says Loretan. “This involves real risks and great opportunities. We will use all possible digital means to manage and market the GPHG to contribute to the sustainability of the watch industry by slowly changing the business model into an academy type organisation.”
Exciting times ahead, for sure.