GPHG Petite Aiguille Award Explained

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$375 at the hair salon is not sustainable

If you want free wine in France, just say “quand je suis sous, je parle mieux.” When I’m drunk, I speak better. If you’re a watchmaker who wants to win the Petite Aiguille award, just submit an inexpensive watch to The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s (GPHG). A timepiece that sells for a price between . . .

CHF 4,000 ($4374.60) and CHF 10,000 ($10,938.41).

Hang on. How is a four grand to $11k timekeeper considered “petite”? From where I sit, that’s some serious cheddar.

It’s all relative mon ami. The GPHG is a Swiss gig. According to cnn.com, Geneva is the world’s tenth most expensive city. Zurich is tied with Paris for number five. So there is that.

Swiss watch export stats for inexpensive watches August 2020

There’s also the fact that a lot of watches under four grand are battery-powered. Even now, forty years after the quartz crisis, the GPHG’s movers and shakers still turn up their collective noses at battery-powered watches of any kind, sort or description.

Equally germane: the Swiss watch industry is busy getting its collective ass kicked at the bottom of the market (August 2020 export stats above).  If the GPHG awarded a prize to a watch below $4k, it would behoove them to consider big dog digital watches (e.g., G-SHOCK) and world conquering smartwatches (e.g., Apple Watch).

$5200 Hublot Big Bang e Titanium - an inexpensive watch?

But wait! The rules for this year’s Petite Aiguille award state that “smartwatches are admissible in this category.”

Given the minimum qualifying price, I can think of one eligible smartwatch: the $5200-and-up Hublot Big Bang e. And it’s Swiss! And it’s not in the running. Hublot doesn’t want to be the first to harsh the GPHG’s mellow and risk losing votes for its mechanical pieces.

So how do the GPHG judges judge the “inexpensive” watch entries? What separates the horological wheat from the chaff? Whatever it is, the GPHG ain’t sayin’. Perhaps the award’s name will help . . .

Petite Auguille
Image courtesy wikiloc.com (click on image for link)

Google translates “petite aiguille” as “small needle.” The term is an idiomatic expression comparing a watch hand with the Petite Aiguille mountain in the Pennine Alps, near Bourg Saint Pierre, Switzerland.

Which tells us precisely nothing. And leads us to believe the judges simply select their favorite watch from the selection pre-selected by other judges, based on whatever criteria strikes GPHG members’ fancy.

Kudoke Kudoke 2 - winner 2019 GHPG

Last year’s PA prize went to the Kudoke Kudoke 2, a German-made moonphase timepiece that just snuck into contention at 9,670 CHF. The GPHG doesn’t provide any post-award explanatory text. So we don’t know why Stefan Kudoke’s brainchild won.

Doppel Felix - Petite Aiguille winner 2018

The same mystery surrounds the 2018 Petite Aiguille winner, the we-use-Austrian-movements-only Habring² Doppel Felix. The chrono is as complicated as the Kudoke is minimalist, but both entries came from small ateliers. So maybe independent watchmakers get the inside line on the award.

Tudor Black Bay Bronze - Petite Aiguille winnner 2016

Nope. The Tudor Black Bay Chrono took the honors in 2017, after the Tudor Black Bay Bronze (above) won in 2016. Seiko’s Grand Seiko’s Hi-Beat 36000 GMT won in 2014.

I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that the GPHG’s Petite Aiguille award is something of a sympathy you-know-what for watchmakers who don’t have a shot at the major prizes.

Trilobe Secret GHPH Petite Aiguille contender 2020

If so, this year’s smart money’s on the just-under-the-wire-price-wise Trilobe Secret. The real money – we’re talking several billions – is in and on sub-$300 smartwatches. A category for which Switzerland still has no answer.

The GPHG’s meaningless gesture towards smart watch inclusion tells you that the Swiss watch industry can just about maybe kinda sorta see the writing on the wall. Again. Meanwhile, the self-congratulatory champagne for the next Petite Aiguille winner – Switzerland’s idea of the best “affordable” watch – is sure to flow.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I only know what I read here, but this does seem to be a rather incestuous little upscale affair.

    More importantly, how the hell does one read the aptly named Trilobe Secret? Every photo I see shows the little trilobe pointers in the same position, but the number ring apparently rotates. I think that means that we are seeing ~5:55:49 in the photo above?

    • Apt and accurate nomenclature. No idea either despite video clues in French and Luxembourgish. Your clue is the best on the entire internet so far.

  2. A couple things that stand out to me:

    -Why are the Swiss industry groups still separating the city of Hong Kong from the rest of China? If they made the claim that Hong Kong is a separate country in Hong Kong they would likely end up in a mainland work camp. My thought is the Swiss watch industry wants to downplay its massive dependence on China by pretending the city of Hong Kong is a separate market. If the Hong Kong numbers are combined with the China numbers they show a massive China dependence.
    -While most manufactured goods have massively dropped in price due to productivity and logistics improvements, Swiss watches continue creeping up in price. From the 1950s to the 1970s a Submariner was about $1,200 – $1,500 adjusted for inflation. At some point the industry will reach a point that increasing price cuts demand enough that it leads to an overall revenue decline, and will have to choose a price increase death spiral or the embarrassment of price cuts.
    https://www.minus4plus6.com/PriceEvolution.php
    -The under $200 range is being decimated, likely because that is all “Swiss Made” quartz watches. However, the $200 – $3,000 range where the Swatch Group has a lot of compelling mechanical watches is holding somewhat strong. Whether mechanical watches can hold their own has yet to be seen, but it is pretty clear that quartz watches other than smart watches are dead. This time the “quartz crisis” is a crisis for quartz.

  3. Never had so much difficulty reading a graph. The gravity! Now I have my head around it I have a new skill for comprehending Coronaworld.

    @texastime – great link, ta. Also, I did not know that Swatch had mechanical expressions.

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