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Precision Still Matters
We are often told that you don't buy a luxury timepiece just to tell the time. A handphone or Japanese quartz watch will do it - more cheaply and accurately.
Luxury timepieces, which cost upwards of S$5,000 and run into seven-figure sums, serve higher needs. Owning one of these mechanical wonders with a long history and rich heritage is like owning a piece of artwork rather than just a time-telling device.
Precision in time-keeping proved to be the clincher for key winners at this year's annual Grand Prix D'Horlogerie De Geneve (GPHG), the watch industry's equivalent of the Oscars.
Chronometrie Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1, the overall winner which took the "Aiguille d'Or" Grand Prix 2016 prize, was lauded for its "exceptional precision and rating regularity".
The winner of Men's Watch Prize, 1941 Remontorie, was commended for its "superior precision" in time-keeping. Girard-Perregaux's La Esmeralda Tourbillon, which won the ultra-high complication Tourbillon Watch Prize, was applauded for living up to the over-two-century old watch brand's quest for "ultimate accuracy".
All three prove that the art of accurate time-keeping - made all the more appealing by the mechanical wizardry that delivers it - is still a desired feature of luxury timepieces.
While the intangible charm of a watch brand's history and heritage provides the connection that tugs at your heartstrings (and to a certain extent, also your purse strings), the pursuit of precision in telling time is also what underscores it.
The name has been dormant for quite a while - and the FB 1 is the first wrist-watch of a resurrected Ferdinand Berthoud. The watch's octagonal-shaped case is similar to the architecture of traditional chronometers, and is inspired by Ferdinand Berthoud's marine chronometer No 6 from 1777.
Chopard, the Swiss watch and jewellery brand which now owns the Ferdinand Berthoud name, says the FB 1 is the contemporary watch that the French master watchmaker would have created if he still lives today.
1941 Remontoire also harks back to the past, with the idea for the watch coming from a church clock in a town in the Netherlands where its watchmakers, brothers Bart and Tim Gronefeld, grew up. The clock's hand-wind remontoire movement in particular, a constant force mechanism, made a big impression on them; and the watch's elegant case is named 1941, a dedication to the brothers' dad who was born that year.
Montblanc's 1858 Chronograph, which is picked as the year's best chronograph watch, also pays tribute to history - to the Minerva watch-making house (now belonging to Montblanc) which produced the most accurate chronographs in the 1930s. The watch is modelled after a monopusher chronograph from this period.
Ultra-high complications The 16 GPHG 2016 winners, announced at end-November, include a Special Jury Prize for the late British and legendary watch-maker George Daniels' Educational Trust. The other prizes are for categories like Ladies' Watch, Artistic Crafts Watch, Chronograph Watch, Jewellery Watch and Sports Watch.
Though there's a Tourbillon Watch Prize, clinched by Girard-Perregaux's entry noted above, it's telling that winning timepieces picked for some of the other categories also feature a gravity-defying tourbillon complication.
Among them: Chronometrie Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1, Girard- Perregaux's Cat's Eye Tourbillon with Gold Bridge in the Ladies High-Mech Watch category and Audemars Piguet's Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie in the Mechanical Exception Watch category.
It appears that the tourbillon, regarded by some as the king of mechanical complication timepieces, hasn't lost its lofty appeal despite recent talk to the contrary.
GPHG 2016 hasn't written off the other ultra-high complication watches, the minute repeater and perpetual calendar.
Independent watch-maker Maximilian Busser & Friends' Legacy Machine Perpetual, which was created from scratch and broke new ground in the perpetual calendar complication watch, was honoured with the Calendar Watch Prize.
Audemars Piguet's Concept Supersonnerie, which won in the Mechanical Exceptional Watch category, is not just a tourbillon, it's also a minute repeater that propels "acoustic performance in chiming watches to unparallel levels".
Winners like the Legacy Machine Perpetual and Concept Supersonnerie, was eight years in the making, show that innovation is still very much alive in the watch world, even though the industry is tightening its belt in these tough times.
Revivals and Indies Others, however, are largely re-workings of old iconic timepieces, reflecting the play-it-safe strategy watch-makers are adopting at the moment when launching new models.
There's even a category for such reissues, the Revival Watch Prize. And the winner this year is TAG Heuer's Heuer Monza Chronograph, which first appeared in 1976.
The updated version retains the two key functions of the watch 40 years ago - the pulsometer and the tachymeter scale - with its original font. But the case, which was made of steel, is now in ultra-light and shock-resistant titanium.
Piaget's Limelight Gala Milanese Bracelet, the best ladies' watch of 2016, was originally launched in the 1970s. It makes its latest appearance in gold with a seamless Milanese mesh strap, which is a perfect match with the bezel and its diamond-set elongated asymmetrical lugs.
Tudor's Heritage Black Bronze, the winner in the great but affordable watch category, the "Aiguille" Prize, looks very much like the past red, blue and black models of the brand's popular Black Bay collection - except for the bigger bronze case. Unlike the earlier models, it's also powered by Tudor's first own movement.
Yet GPHG 2016 is not an exact mirror of the luxury watch industry in at least one key aspect.
While the industry is dominated by big groups like Richmond and Swatch as well as established brands such as Chopard and Audemars Piguet, these big boys didn't do a clean sweep of the GPHG prizes.
Small independent players, newcomers and lesser known names like MB&F, Gronefeld, Czapek Geneve and Eberhard show themselves capable of producing winners as well - especially where it matters most.
Which should be good news for an industry that needs to stay dynamic and innovative to move forward.