Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève : Horological Award-Winning Stars
Independent brands are an exceptional breed that has a significant presence every year winning nominations and awards at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), the most prestigious accolades in the watchmaking industry.
The phrase “the Oscars of…” isn’t an exaggeration in the case of the GPHG. Created in 2001 as a celebration of the very best in watchmaking, the awards honour those considered to be the most outstanding examples of their craft.
The other interesting thing about the GPHG, is that unlike many other arenas in the watch industry, it is an even playing field for both established names and independents.
Let’s just look back 5 years; since 2012, out of a total of 86 awards, independent brands have scooped up 25 separate wins in such esteemed categories as the “Petite Aiguille” and Innovation. It is an astonishing achievement by the indies!
The most recognisable name, and not least because he has won every year since 2012 bar 2016, is Kari Voutilainen. The GPHG trophy haul of this renowned Finnish watchmaker, who went from anonymously making watches for high-end brands to being a star in his own right, illustrates why he has become a lauded name.
His wins range from the V-8R, an elegant dress watch, which took home the men’s watch category in 2013, to the beautifully decorated Aki-No-Kure; a timepiece that marries Swiss watchmaking with Japanese lacquering techniques and that took home this year’s Artistic Crafts award.
When it comes to a Voutilainen, everything is made in house, which makes production limited. Voutilainen is a zen-like, soft-spoken gentleman in person. And as the man himself says, “Doing it any other way would disturb the balance here in the atelier that I have worked so hard to build up exactly as I want it.”
Another GPHG-winning brand that has gained in popularity doing exactly what it wants is Urweck. It is known for its space-age concepts for design and construction. The very first model it created featured a revolving satellite. In 2014, it took home two GPHG awards for Mechanical Exception and Innovation for EMC. It is an electro-mechanical hybrid that allows the wearer to adjust their own watch to ensure it is always the peak of its chronometric performance.
Among the 25 winners, there’s also Romain Gauthier, who has just lent his expertise and his workshop staff to helping Chanel developed its first two in-house movement calibres.
Ressence burst onto the scene, by being not a watchmaker but an engineer, with an innovative construction to make the time displays submerged in oil for its regulator-style timepieces. While HYT wowed the judges with its pioneering fluorescent test tubes to show time.
SKOLORR stablemate Czapek Genève was 2016’s recipient of the Public Prize, a category that is the only GPHG award to be voted for by members of the public rather than the esteemed jury.
As for the one to watch, Claude Meylan would be worth putting money on for a win in the not-too-distant future. Nominated three times in four years, this Swiss name is a master of the art of skeletonisation, which produces breathtakingly beautiful timepieces inspired by the serene isolation of the Vallée de Joux, the epicentre of Swiss watchmaking traditions.
Although independents aren’t yet on parity with more renowned brands when it comes to mainstream awareness, what you get with these boutique names is innovation; a sense of them having created something that breaks the mould and challenges the received wisdom.
It’s a way of doing things that, it could be argued, has inspired more established names to take a chance, bend the rules and be more independent.
Header picture from the GPHG official website
Kari Voutilainen Horlogerie d’Art by Theodore Diehl
Urweck EMC Pistol picture from Salon QP official website
Czapek Quai Des Berges picture from FratelloWatches