Luxury Watches: Timepiece creativity soars in a post-pandemic landscape

For more than 20 years, the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix (GPHG), often referred to as the watch industry “Oscars”, has been an emblematic competition in the watchmaking calendar, one which enables an international audience to follow the evolution of the art of watchmaking.

The 22nd edition, which took place on Thursday 10 November, awarded the prestigious “Aiguille d’Or” Grand to Swiss watchmakers MB&F, Maximilian Büsser & Friends for their Legacy Machine Sequential Evo model.

Once again, the ceremony rewarded some of the most eminent players in the art of watchmaking and highlighted innovations in the sector. And while last year’s ceremony marked the return to normalcy after a socially distanced ceremony the previous year, the effects of the pandemic, which were mentioned during this year's ceremony, can still be felt.

For the positive.

(And not that kind of positive.)

A force for innovation

The pandemic closed stores, limited traveler numbers and resulted in a 21 per cent decline in watch exports; but things seem not only to have bounced back rather swiftly but triggered a new wave of creativity within the watchmaking industry.

“The Covid pandemic and the periods during which we were obliged to stay at home forced us to be even more creative and innovative across all departments,” says Vittoria Pelà, the PR and Influence Project Manager for Zenith.

“We found new ways of interacting with our press, clients and retailers by maximising our social media and digital activities. This in turn generated further originality and new ideas in the way we work.”

Zenith, who were nominated three times this year – with their sober but effortlessly classy Calibre 135-Observatoire model in the Men’s Category, the Defy Revival A3642 in Iconic and the Defy Skyline in “Petite Aiguille” – see the overall watchmaking industry as witnessing good performance. Their Defy Skyline and the Chronomaster Sport, for which Zenith won the Chronograph award at last year’s GPHG ceremony, remain key drivers for the brand.

But beyond trends influencing the market, Zenith have other pressing concerns.

“At Zenith, more than trends, we look for authenticity in our products and stories,” says Pelà.

Case and point: their Defy Skyline model has a silhouette that is extremely bold yet inherently familiar within Zenith’s repertoire. It draws inspiration from the unique octagonal geometry of the early DEFY models and is “dedicated to those who follow their light and forge their own path on their journey towards their star.”

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Zenith's Defy Skyline - GPHG

And it’s this storytelling that remains at the heart of Zenith’s creativity.

“Storytelling is very important to us overall and key to our launches, just like with the most recent Felipe Pantone, or what we have been doing with Kari Voutilainen and Phillips, or our breast cancer awareness message behind the Chronomaster Original Pink with Susan G Komen organization.”

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Zenith's Chronomaster Original Pink, boasting a breast cancer awareness message - Zenith

Companies also have found that people continue to look for luxury products, if not more so after the lockdowns and during times of hardship.

Pascal Raffy, the owner of BOVET 1822, the Swiss brand of luxury watchmakers celebrating its bicentennial this year, reckons that in a post-lockdown world faced with high inflation levels, interest remains high.

"Regardless of the economic situation, people still love beautiful timepieces,” says Raffy. “We are fortunate that there is a great deal of interest in BOVET timepieces from collectors in every corner of the world."

But what maintains this interest?

"In today's luxury world, uniqueness is valued above everything else,” explains Raffy. “No one wants the same timepiece everyone else is wearing. We have seen a great deal of interest in bespoke timepieces, something that we specialize in. For the House of BOVET, we have to remain true to our traditions and our heritage, while also pushing the envelope when it comes to design, materials, mechanics, and innovation."

This spirit of innovation can be seen in full force with BOVET 1822’s Amadeo Amadeo Skeleton Tourbillon, Récital 20 Astérium and Virtuoso V models, which were all shortlisted for awards this year. These detailed and incredibly ornate models stood out in the GPHG 2022 shortlist, showing off the luxury watchmakers as “a singularity in the watchmaking world.”

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Bovet 1822's Amadeo Amadeo Skeleton Tourbillon - GPHG

“We are a House that produces nearly 100% of all the components in our timepieces in-house in our own facilities, up to and including the hair spring and regulating organ,” says Raffy. “A House that actively promotes the artistic crafts and focuses on excellence in every single detail. These three Official Selections of the GPHG showcase what is unique about BOVET: exquisite artistic crafts, complex mechanical, and stunning designs.”

And speaking of exquisite artistic crafts…

A new year, a new category

For its 22nd edition, GPHG added a new category: the “Mechanical Clock” selection.

This meant that six clocks competed alongside 84 watches this year. And it was, by far, one of the most intriguing selections of craftsmanship on show, celebrating the past and ancestry of watchmaking while feeling completely modern, boasting a vibrant sense of timely innovation.

The impressive and memorable designs included Utinam’s mechanical clock, which highlights sustainability due to its autonomous nature of working with gravity; Miki Eleta’s The Passage of Time – a golden astronomical clock depicting a walking figure in motion with rotating X and S symbols, respectively representing Chronos and the symbol for infinity when it forms an ‘8’ due to rapid rotation – and Van Cleef & Arpels' GPHG 2022-winner Fontaine Aux Oiseaux automaton, pictured below.

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VAN CLEEF & ARPELS FONTAINE AUX OISEAUX AUTOMATON - GPHG

However, one of the most striking models nominated this year was the stunning design of Matthias Naeschke NT 8 GT Table Clock below.

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Matthias Naeschke's NT 8 GT table clock - GPHG

This model looks like a red rocket ship reminiscent of Tintin’s adventures on the moon, decked out with filigree details and silver gears that are nothing short of mesmerizing to admire, all domed in a bell jar display that gives the wheels more visual depth.

“I am very pleased that the clock has now become part of the GPHG,” says Sebastian Naeschke. “After all, clocks are the ancestors of all pocket watches and wristwatches. That is often put in the background and I have been fighting for more acceptance of clocks for many years.”

And with the new category, clocks received some overdue attention, with independent clockmakers showing off the full potential of their creative drive.

“Today we still have so many possibilities to build new clocks with new technical ideas and innovations,” notes Naeschke. “This also applies to the participating NT 8 GT table clock from our company. It is the first clock from our production that is largely made of aluminium.”

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Detail of Matthias Naeschke's NT 8 GT table clock - GPHG

Naeschke shares that clockmaking has always been niche, but during the pandemic, clockmakers have had more time to think about new ideas and the future.

“I don't need to think in big turnover and quantities of clocks. What we do is a maximum of individual making. Each clock is a masterpiece of its own.”

“We are very proud to have been shortlisted for the GPHG. To have a place next to the other 5 masterpieces means that our product is accepted by the professionals and watch- and clock lovers,” he continues. “It is a confirmation of our work. And I am happy that almost all of us belong to the independent clockmakers. This shows how innovative the small manufactories are and what potential there still is in clocks in general.”