5 questions about the GPHG you were too afraid to ask, including how voting worksAndrew McUtchen
This year, for the first time in history, the complete collection of nominees for the 2019 GPHG – the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève — were presented in Australia. All 84 of them, by a sum total of 50 brands. And this stellar mega-team, worth well over $30 million AUD, is visiting only four locations before the big show in Geneva on November 7. So, in other words, Australia is being figured into the global future of watchmaking. We matter. And we sure turned out to witness this explosion of creativity and colour in droves.
The exhibition ran over last weekend in partnership with The Hour Glass in Sydney, and what we witnessed at the launch event were people five and six deep encircling each showcase, craning to see, and photograph, the crème de la crème in person. On this occasion, we sat down with Ms Carine Maillard, director of the Foundation of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, and asked the questions that have perhaps been on the tip of your tongue about the still relatively new (it started just eight years ago) landmark event for the industry.
1. What is the mission of the Foundation of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and why are you including Australia on this year’s very short itinerary?
We are a nonprofit foundation. The mission is really to promote and to celebrate the creativity, the diversity, of watchmaking as an art form. We’re not really promoting the industry, as such, because it’s not commercial what we do. It’s important that we take our message to the world. We are quite young. The Foundation for the GPHG was only created in 2011. It’s not long ago. And if we want to be the Oscars of watchmaking, we have to work and be more international and that’s why we’re taking the exhibition around the world, starting here in Sydney.
For many brands, Australia is a place to be. While many of the brands in the exhibition are already quite known here, there are also some that are likely to be a discovery for Australians. And it’s also our job to go to new places because we have this uniqueness, this creativity on show. We have so many brands in one collection. You cannot find other exhibitions where you can find 50 brands all together and so many watches and so much diversity.
2. What is the total value of the collection this year?
More than 20 million Swiss francs, and that is just the figure they are insured for. The true value is much higher.
3. How does the voting process work and who are the judges?
That’s a question we always have. Actually it’s 30 people in the jury. We have a president, Aurel Bacs. There is also a group, or a committee of experts, that advise us at the Foundation because the board of the Foundation is more to do with the politics from Geneva. This committee takes time, from January each year, to select the jury and make sure there’s the right balance. We try to have enough women, which is difficult to find in the watchmaking family. And try to have a different way to see watches, you know, not only technicity. We have watchmakers like Philippe Dufour, who has a technical and, I want to say, classic view. And he’ll be sitting next to Aldis Hodge who has another way to look at watches, which is perhaps more about aesthetics, because he’s a designer as well, and a collector.
The judging occurs on just one day. It’s a time we love, it’s really amazing because it’s one day of incredible discussion, you know? There are so many competencies in the room, and also so many nationalities, with really different visions. And at the end, even if they discuss and you can feel that there is influence shifting and happening, they vote with a secret ballot. So, in the end, they are totally independent and even if they say something in front of the others at the end, you don’t know what they are going to vote. Even us, we don’t know what they are going to vote at all.
There is a notary, and all the ballots go directly to the notary and he’s the only one who knows the results. We just get the global results at the end. We don’t know anything about their votes.
4. You’ve added some new categories over the last couple of years – ‘Divers’ (fairly self-explanatory), ‘Iconic’ and ‘Challenge’. Why did you do that?
We created the ‘Iconic’ category to recognise an emblematic collection for a brand that has been seen to have made a lasting influence in watchmaking history for more than 25 years. The ‘Challenge’ category is to recognise that it was difficult for the jury to judge between something which is 3000 Swiss francs and something which is very high price. So, putting all these watches less than 4000 Swiss francs in the same category makes a comparison a little easier. We called it ‘Challenge’ because it really is a challenge to make a very good watch for that price.
5. Why does the GPHG matter?
The Foundation for the GPHG is important because we are working alongside the industry in a unifying spirit. We are working for the entire industry and the brands. We are the only instrument for the entire industry, for their promotion, and they need that as well.
I think the art of watchmaking, it’s an obsession for life, you know? It’s to discover the mystery of life, the mystery of universe, and watchmakers are trying to transport that mystery onto your wrists. It’s the mystery of time. And time is really something very precious for all of us.
When I meet some of the watchmakers, they are just mad, you know. When they are at the beginning of what they want to do, these ideas that they have, to make this watch or that watch … Sometimes human beings, they want to make something happen – like oil in a watch – they want to strive to be better, to get that perfection, and that’s the most incredible thing in life.
But also when I look at a watch, I’m always thinking it is something which is living, because it moves and it has something like a little heart. I’m always thinking about that sentence from Francis Bacon, who said, “Art is an obsession for life.” You look at a watch and you see that it’s art, and it’s life. That is why it is an obsession for life for me.