The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is the watch industry’s Academy Awards. This year, 84 watches are vying for an award in 14 categories. We’ll have a look at some of the contenders in the days ahead. Meanwhile, clock the timepieces competing for the Iconic watch award. What exactly is an iconic watch?
The GPHG rules seem simple enough. “Men’s or ladies’ watches from an emblematic collection that has been exercising a lasting influence on watchmaking history and the watch market for more than 25 years.”
So the winning design must be at least 25-years-old. The watch can be a re-release (i.e. there’s no requirement for continuous production). Designs that have “evolved” are still eligible.
Which is just as well for the Bvlgari aluminum chronograph.
The model is returning to stores after a twenty year hiatus. Bvlgari’s new old watch is larger (40mm), incorporates new materials (titanium), adds a date window and sits on a redesigned rubber strap. Here’s Bvlgari’s pitch to the judges:
By incorporating unconventional materials, Bvlgari was a pioneer in reinventing the idea of luxury, propelling it into the future with signature elegance and daring.
The new Bvlgari Aluminium Chronograph watch is smart and cool, immediately recognisable as part of the Bvlgari DNA while embodying sophisticated, sporty and modern expression: more than 20 years later, it remains a natural-born provocateur that stands out from current watchmaking codes.
The second part of that self-congratulatory text reads more like an ad for the current watch than historical context. Because it is. In fact, every iconic watch in contention for the GPHG accolade is in production.
All of them want the GPHG gong to make money moving the metal. Which is why the rules are written as they are. Yes but . . .
It would have been far more interesting if the GPHG’s members had a chance to vote on iconic watches that aren’t in production. Extinct timepieces that had “a lasting influence on watchmaking history.”
Iconic watches like the Gerald Genta Universal de Geneve Polerouter.
The 1965 Golden Shadow and White Shadow Polerouters were powered by the world’s thinnest automatic watch movements (2.3mm), a record they held until 1978. The Polerouter had an enormous influence on the watch world, both mechanically and aesthetically.
And what of the 1948 Eterna Automatic?
Complete with its wear-and-tear reducing five ball bearing movement, it was one of the first affordable self-winding watches. As the illustration above indicates, it was a genuine game changer.
Speaking of revolutionary watches, surely the 1957 Hamilton Electric deserves GPHG recognition.
Collector Jarett Harkness rightly called the Electric “the first significant innovation in mechanical design since the 16th century.” It blazed the trail for the quartz revolution – and the quartz crisis.
As I don’t see anything in the rules barring pocket watches, the early Waltham watches are – or should be – considered icons. Not only do they mark the birth of mass production (with interchangeable parts), the timepieces were the first mass market watches, period.
You may notice that all of these suggestions for the GPHG Iconic watch prize are mass market products – whereas all the 2020 contenders are pricey pieces (with the exception of the Seiko, which won’t win because it’s not Swiss, the judges are mostly Swiss, and they [still] look down their noses at Japan).
Truth be told, it’s easy to pick an Iconic watch from a modern portfolio. Any design still in production – or returned to production – a quarter century after its debut is a solid contender.
Last year – the first year the category was part of the competition – the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-thin was the GPHG’s Iconic watch. Talk about a safe choice . . .
I’m glad watchmakers are making/remaking pieces whose introduction changed the course of watchmaking history. But the watch industry stands on the shoulders of unacknowledged giants.
While the current GPHG rules ring registers, they should be changed to allow iconic watches whose influence outlasted their commercial success. So that they’re not forgotten.