Mechanical Exception Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014
by Ian Skellern
From now until the end of October, we will bring you round table discussions on the pre-selected wristwatches in each category of the 2014 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
This will give you the chance to listen to well-known tastemakers and journalists in the world of horology talking about their favorites in each category and the watches’ chances. And please don’t hesitate to let us know if you agree or not: taste is subjective.
Note: each contributor is responsible for his or her own opinion, and it may not reflect the stance of Quill & Pad.
Quill & Pad editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr may not participate in these round tables as she is one of the judges for the 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and must retain neutrality. In today’s edition you will read the following participants:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
JM Joshua Munchow, resident “nerdwriter” for Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector for Quill & Pad
BW Bernard Werk, editor-in-chief of Watching
FS Felix Scholz, editor at Time+Tide Watches, Australia
It should be noted that our panel members did not discuss their final choices with each other beforehand and chose their predicted winning watches individually.
The Mechanical Exception category involves watches featuring a special mechanism, such as an innovative or sophisticated display, an automaton, a belt-driven movement or any other original and/or exceptional horological concept.
IS: While there is text on the GPHG website explaining what watches are eligible in this category, it doesn’t provide many clues as to what the jury should be basing its decision on. So I’m going to use the title to guide my choice: Mechanical Exception. And I’ll define an “exception” as an instance or case not conforming to the general rule.
The problem is that all of the watches here are exceptional in one way or another.
JM: This is the toughest category for me to choose a winner from, because it is clearly obvious that it was a good year for incredibly complex and unique watches. In this category alone are some of the coolest watches that are out right now.
GG: This is a category with so much diversity that I think a great deal will rest on the jury’s fascination, or lack thereof, with new forms of micro-mechanical wizardry. If they are in the mood to reward novelty, the Urwerk and TAG Heuer will rise to the top of the list. If they are of a more traditional mind, the choice will, in my view, be between the subtly excellent Strehler and the all-ringing, all-winging Jaquet Droz.
FS: They’re all deserving and impressive watches. I have a very soft spot for the MB&F, so I would be very happy if the LM2 won, but I suspect it won’t given how its predecessor cleaned up in 2012.
[You can see a wrap-up of the 2012 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, where the MB&F LM1 won both the Public Prize and the Men’s category on The WATCHES TV by clicking www.thewatches.tv/en/editorial/mens-watch-public-prize-the-lm1-by-mbf and www.thewatches.tv/en/editorial/results-of-the-2012-gphg-with-elizabeth-doerr/.]
IS: Very few wristwatches have featured multiple balances, and rarer still are multiple balances connected − and their rates averaged − by a differential because that is so hard to execute. The advantage of using a differential is that it allows the individual balances to oscillate at their natural rates rather than one slowing down or speeding up the other, thus creating tension between them.
But what really puts the MB&F’s Legacy Machine No. 2 in a league of its own isn’t the fact that it has two balances connected by a differential; it’s the fact that those dual balances are mesmerizingly oscillating suspended way-on-high above the dial like a micro-mechanical Cirque du Soleil. Simply stunning.
JM: The MB&F Legacy Machine 2 with dual balance and differential is my “favorite” all-around watch up to this point in my life. But I can barely come to terms with the idea that they can’t all win in this category!
IS: Though it isn’t my first choice, Joshua, I would not at all be surprised if the GPHG jury picked the Hublot as the winner of this category. The MP-05 LaFerrari looks to be an evolution of the 31-day power reserve, multiple-vertical-barrelled, movement of the Quentin that Hublot’s R&D director Mathias Buttet helped create for Jacob & Co. when he was a partner at the now-defunct BNB.
However, there are two reasons I rate LaFerrari very highly in this category: its incredible 50-day power reserve from 11 mainspring barrels and the fact that it looks absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.
FS: I think the watch that will win this year will be the Monaco V4 Tourbillon from TAG Heuer. And deservedly so. It’s an amazing achievement that I think really lives up to the category of Mechanical Exception. The V4 Concept watch of 2004 was one of the first watches I remember that made me go “whoa” – so it’s nice to see it in production. But aside from that, tiny belts made from space-age plastic! It really is an exceptional first, and a micro engineering marvel. The real question for me at least, is will we ever see this technology become a little more democratized?
IS: Felix, the work that went into the development of the TAG Heuer Monaco V4 would have put the realization of this belt-driven concept way beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of brands. The Monaco V4 Tourbillon is simply a sensational watch . . . and at 41 x 41 mm it is also a very wearable sensational watch. With its patented belt drives (no thicker than a human hair) and linear mass automatic winding system the Monaco V4 Tourbillon is certainly an exceptional timepiece.
But for me, and I suspect the jury as well, the addition of a tourbillon doesn’t make up for the fact that the underlying technology has been presented before: the non-tourbillon Monaco V4 was released back in 2009, though admittedly in very small numbers.
JM: The runner-up, I think, will be the Monaco V4 Tourbillon from TAG Heuer since there has been more than a decade’s worth of research and development invested into this belt-driven “impossibility.”
FS: I’d most happily wear the Andreas Strehler, though. It looks stunning and I’m a sucker for a nice moon phase. One that only needs adjustment every 14,000 years? Sold. I’m just not sure such a reserved timepiece will shine amongst this flashy crowd.
IS: You’re right. Andreas Strehler’s Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle looks relatively unassuming at first glance, and you would be forgiven for wondering how a watch that looks to have just a moon phase indication even managed to be pre-selected in this demanding category. However, Strehler is one of the most inventive watchmakers alive today, and the first clue as to what makes the watch exceptional is in the unusual escapement visible dial side. This is actually a remontoir d’égalité (constant force device) escapement developed by Strehler himself.
But the real star of the show is Strehler’s moon phase as it is one of the (and most likely THE) world’s most accurate moon phase. That’s exceptional in my book.
JM: Originally accurate to one day every 14,000 years, it has now been improved to be accurate to 10 minutes every 14,000 years and only needs advancing by one day every two million years. Whoa. How can anything compete?
For me, however the Urwerk EMC is the front-runner to win. It is the most technically advanced out of all the pieces, and Urwerk deserves some recognition for it. If for some reason it doesn’t win, then the choice is between the TAG Heuer and the amazingly accurate moon phase of the Andreas Strehler Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle. With its remontoir d’égalité, it is a WIS dream as well. This category will be a highly debated contest for sure.
GG: For a combination of real-world wearability and excellence of conception and execution, it’s the Strehler for me. I’m a big fan of Mr. Strehler’s work, and have followed this line of creation – starting with the lovely, but somewhat illegible, Papillon, moving through the equally lovely but perhaps more practical Cocon, and then on to last year’s Sauterelle with its innovative remontoir and this year’s Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle – with admiration.
The “perpetual moon” complication, involving only four moving parts according to Mr. Strehler, is accurate to one day in either every 14,189 years or every two million years, depending on whether one refers to the Strehler website or to the GPHG nominating materials. In either case, that’s a long time! Almost as a subtle in-joke, the watch’s description goes on to note that when the time comes, the crown-based moon phase adjustment works both forwards and backwards – I’ll have to keep that in mind.
Finally, in direct contrast with some of the other watches in this category and in the competition overall, this watch is made without any of the exotic new materials that we are hearing so much about these days. As a result, in 100, 14,000, or two million years, any skilled watchmaker should be able to perform a full service.
I’d be pleased to include any of the TV-screen-style Strehler watches in my collection, but for me this one is at the top of the list.
BW: My winner in the category Mechanical Exception has to be the Bird Repeater by Jaquet Droz. I have to say that all the pre-selected watches are winners, but I got the chance (lucky me) to touch, feel and play with the Jaquet Droz. Stunning!
IS: Creating a minute repeater is an exceptional achievement in itself, but adding an automaton is simply sublime, especially one as poetic as birds feeding their chicks beside a constantly running steam. The Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater (with cathedral gongs) isn’t just mechanically superlative, the sculptured, relief-engraved dial is a work of art in its own right.
BW: Agreed, Ian! For me personally it is the most beautiful complication, but to add an automaton like this! That’s a superb addition with no less than eight different animation mechanisms that act in synchronism: the movement of the birds’ heads and wings, the movement of the fledglings, the hatching of the egg, the sparkle of the flowing water.
JM: The addition of a bird automaton animation takes this piece from exceptional to gorgeously perfect. With that lovely sculpture of the bird family, it is the embodiment of beauty and time on the wrist.
GG: That Jaquet Droz piece is a marvel! Along with its sister piece, the Charming Bird, to me it represents traditional watchmaking based on levers, springs, and wheels, but taken to a new level for a wristwatch.
Time will tell whether belt-driven, tourbillon-based or electro-mechanically controlled mechanical watches will actually deliver any benefit; I can say right now that the Jaquet Droz is going to be delighting its current and future owners for a long time to come, and I pick it to win.
IS: Five of the six watches in this category are exceptional developments and interpretations of mechanisms that have been seen before, i.e. moon phase, vertical barrels, long power reserve, dual balances, minute repeater, automaton, and belt drives. However, one watch has something that has never seen before: Urwerk’s EMC.
While it is often misunderstood, EMC is really quite a simple concept: a 100% percent, high-precision mechanical movement (the first developed by Urwerk in-house) with an electronic monitoring system that can provide an instantaneous readout of the movement’s rate (delta) in +/- seconds per day. The wearer can then use that information to adjust the watch’s timing via an easy to use screw on the back.
JM: The Urwerk EMC blurs the lines between computer control and mechanical expertise.
IS: EMC isn’t a pretty watch by any means, it is a proof-of-concept instrument and, in fact, the dial side deliberately looks like the instrument-like control board first seen on Urwerk’s UR-103.
The EMC electronics have absolutely no influence on the mechanical movement at all, but just consider what is incorporated into the watch: a miniature generator with crank handle folding neatly into the case, integrated micro-computer, 16,000,000 Hz reference oscillator, and an optical sensor over the balance wheel . . . all developed to Urwerk’s specifications and refined until they fit into a nicely proportioned watch case.
I have two predictions:
1. EMC will take first prize in this category.
2. EMC will be the first of a new generation of wristwatches (both by Urwerk and other brands) blending traditional mechanical movements with additional electronic functionality.
The results are in, and the panel’s split decision comes out at two for the Urwerk EMC, two for the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater and one for the TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon:
Ian Skellern: Urwerk EMC
Joshua Munchow: Urwerk EMC
GaryG: Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater
Felix Scholz: TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon
Bernard Werk: Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater
For more information on the pre-selected Mechanical Exception watches:
You can partake in the fun as well by checking out the competition and voting for your favorite in the Public Prize category. If you vote, you will be in the running for a Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 XXL Petite Seconde model worth more than 10,000 Swiss francs. Note: you only have one vote in total, not one vote per category, so choose wisely!
Click here to vote www.gphg.org/watches/en/grand-prix-dhorlogerie-de-geneve/2014/PRE.
For more information on this year’s GPHG, please read New Jury And Categories At The 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
For more about the Andreas Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle, please read: Blood Moons, Lunar Tetrads, And The Andreas Strehler Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle.
For more about the Urwerk EMC, please read The Difference Between Urwerk’s EMC And A Toyota Prius (Not As Obvious As You May Think) and Back In Black: First Live Photos Of The ‘Smart’ Urwerk EMC Black.
For more about the TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon, please read Belts, Belts, Belts. And The TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Tourbillon.
For more about the MB&F Legacy Machine No. 2, please see Heartbeat: Legacy Machine No. 2 By MB&F.
For more about the Hublot MP-05 LaFerrari, please read Hublot Creates Ferrari Engine Block For The Wrist.
To read other GPHG round table discussions, please click:
Ladies’ Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Ladies’ High-Mech Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Men’s Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Chronograph Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.
Calendar Pre-Selected Watches: Round Table Discussion Of The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2014.