Luxury watches: how brand strength over brand size can prevail at GPHG

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The world’s most recognized luxury companies have once again showcased some of their best watches in the hope of securing one of the coveted Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix awards – the Industry Oscar.

Eighty-four watches are in the running to be recognized as the best in one of 14 categories – which include Ladies, Men, Jewelry and Diving – and for the most distinguished award, the Aiguille d’Or.

The models are presented to the public at the Rath Museum alongside all the previous Aiguille d’Or winners in a special exhibition on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).

The GPHG entrusted craftsman Xavier Dietlin with the task of exhibiting the watches without a display case and each of them is cleverly connected to a metal rod to float in space like a field of reeds. The security of the museum has been specially adapted for this exceptional exhibition.

The awards ceremony, on November 4 at the Théâtre du Léman in Geneva, should bring together 1,200 people.

Created in 2001 by two watch enthusiasts, the GPHG has established itself over the past 20 years – and the creation of its eponymous foundation – as the most international, the most recognized, the most comprehensive and the best structured watchmaking award. and is now known as the industry award equivalent to the Oscars.

Winning a GPHG prize in one of the categories represents a triple reward: for the public, the winning brands use it in their communication and sales tools; internally, the manufacturer’s teams are proud to see their work distinguished in this way; and in the industry, by bringing recognition from its peers.

A GPHG trophy can therefore make the difference for a customer who is struggling to decide between two models.

An uneven recovery

This 20th edition of the GPHG takes place in a very particular context.

Last year, the watch industry had its worst year since the quartz crisis of the 1970s as stores were closed due to the global health crisis and exports fell 90% in the spring.

The industry has since returned to pre-COVID levels, but in a very uneven fashion.

During this catastrophic period, strong brands with cash reserves, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, increased their market share and their desirability. But the brands already suffering from structural weaknesses or dependent on certain markets did not catch their breath.

The recovery was thus stronger for brands well established in China and the United States, where the take-off was dazzling. Those who are more focused on Europe have been more unhappy because the retail trade has not yet fully recovered on the Old Continent.

However, a phenomenon unprecedented in its magnitude has taken place. The small, well-established contemporary independent brands are experiencing a moment of glory with their order books which have exploded since last year. These brands include Bethune, FP Journe, Greubel Forsey, H. Moser & Cie or even MB&F – already awarded at the GPHG – but also the most recent Czapek.

These “small” collectible brands have proven to be more nimble, more desirable and more resilient. Their size allowed them not to completely shut down their production facilities, and to stay in touch with their small networks of loyal customers who were no longer solicited by the big brands.

Almost all of them also participate in the biennial Only Watch charity auction, which will also be held in Geneva two days after the GPHG ceremony.

Piaget takes the lead

A GPHG Academy now selects the winners.

“The Academy involves the industry in the selection and voting process,” said GPHG director Carine Maillard.

“Today, we have 500 members of the Academy representing a vast network of ambassadors of watchmaking passion, who participate in all the selections and together reward contemporary creations, contributing to their promotion and influence,” he said. she adds.

The independence of the jury and the importance of the GPHG have become so important that some brands no longer want to take the risk of participating and not winning.

This is unfortunate for the public as for the watchmaking collegiality, especially for an industry whose prestige is inversely proportional to its size – its annual turnover amounts to 20 billion Swiss francs (18.7 billion euros ) or the equivalent of a single quarter for a company like Nestlé – and which would benefit from speaking with one voice at least once a year in order to attract the attention of consumers so coveted by other luxury sectors much stronger.

Fortunately, many brands play the game regularly, if not infallibly.

Chopard takes part every year, and regularly wins awards.

The perseverance medal goes to Bovet, who participated in it for 15 years, seeing his watches among the finalists each time, but not getting a prize until he won the Aiguille d’Or in 2018. with its Récital 22 Grand Récital model. This year, the jury again selected four Bovet watches as well as Breitling, Bvlgari and IWC.

Audemars Piguet, Chanel, Chopard, Hermès, Louis Erard, Louis Vuitton, MB&F, Tudor and Van Cleef & Arpels are all represented, the latter getting three nominations. Piaget, winner of the Aiguille d’Or last year, has already taken the lead with five finalist watches.

The awards ceremony will be broadcast live on Euronews on November 4.


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