Luxury watches: how brand strength rather than brand size can win the day at the GPHG

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The world’s most recognizable luxury companies have once again showcased some of their finest timepieces in hopes of securing one of the coveted prizes at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève – the Oscar of the industry.

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

The GPHG entrusted artisan Xavier Dietlin with the task of presenting the watches without display cases and each of them is cleverly connected to a metal stem to appear to float in space like a field of reeds. The museum’s security has been specially adapted for this exceptional exhibition.

The awards ceremony on November 4 at the Théâtre du Léman in Geneva is expected to attract 1,200 people.

Created in 2001 by two watchmaking 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 exhaustive and the best structured watchmaking award and is recognized today as the equivalent of the Oscars.

Winning a GPHG award 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, bringing recognition from his 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 sector 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 very unevenly.

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

The recovery was thus stronger for well-established brands in China and the United States, where the take-off was dazzling. Those more European-focused have been more unfortunate as travel retail has yet to fully recover on the Old Continent.

However, a phenomenon unprecedented in its magnitude has occurred. Small, well-established contemporary independent brands are having a moment of glory with their order books exploding since last year. These brands include Bethune, FP Journe, Greubel Forsey, H. Moser & Cie and even MB&F — all of which have already won awards at the GPHG — but also the most recent Czapek.

These “small” collector brands have proven to be more nimble, more desirable and more resilient. Their size allowed them not to completely close their production tool, 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 take part in the biennial charity auction Only Watch, 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 Carine Maillard, director of the GPHG.

“Today we have 500 members of the Academy representing a vast network of ambassadors of watchmaking passion, who take part in all the selections and jointly reward contemporary creations, contributing to their promotion and their influence”, he added. -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 well as for 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 to attract the attention of consumers so coveted by other luxury sectors much more strong.

Fortunately, many brands play the game regularly, even without fail.

Chopard participates every year, and regularly wins prizes.

The perseverance medal goes to Bovet, who participated for 15 years, each time seeing his watches among the finalists, but without winning a prize until he won the Aiguille d’Or in 2018 with his model. Recital 22 Grand Recital. This year again, the jury has selected four Bovet watches as it has done for Breitling, Bvlgari and IWC.

Audemars Piguet, Chanel, Chopard, Hermès, Louis Erard, Louis Vuitton, MB&F, Tudor and Van Cleef & Arpels are all represented, with the latter earning 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 4 November.

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