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GPHG - Looking back on 20 years of GPHG

GPHG Looking back on 20 years of GPHG

Twenty years! The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is an institution rooted in friendship and fraternity. Some of its main contributors share their memories

Watch the ceremony

It’s a family affair, that family being haute horlogerie. From its roots in Geneva, the family has grown to welcome friends from the neighbouring valleys, then neighbouring countries, even other continents. Like any family, it has its characters, its stories, its highs and lows that remain fresh in everyone’s mind.

“Animated” discussions

Aurel Bacs (Phillips, Bacs & Russo) chaired the jury for almost a decade. He recalls “some very animated discussions. Members of the jury would put forward their opinions and convictions with knowledge and passion.” It’s a view shared by Carlo Lamprecht, founder of the GPHG Foundation and former president of the Grand Prix for whom watchmaking is “a passion like no other and a prestigious image for our country.” Dominique Fléchon is a historian who sat on the judging panel from 2009 until 2014. He remembers how “the designer Philippe Starck and the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte were invited to join the jury in 2013. Neither were familiar with horological complications or watchmaking vocabulary and didn’t hesitate to ask for help, which their colleagues on the panel were happy to provide.”

Looking back on 20 years of GPHG

Aurel Bacs, Chairman of the Jury for 10 years © GPHG

Dominique Fléchon, historian, member of the jury from 2009 to 2014, remembers when, "in 2013, the designer Philippe Starck and the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte were members of the GPHG jury. Unfamiliar with the world of complications and watchmaking vocabulary, they did not hesitate to call for help, which they immediately received from their colleagues at the time.” This confraternity also charmed Claude Sfeir, also an emeritus juror: "I have excellent memories between rich encounters and new watchmaking discoveries. And I am fascinated to see the impact of the GPHG and its international resonance.” Master of ceremony Edouard Baer has introduced a touch of humour to proceedings. His tongue-in-cheek asides, aimed at the industry’s quirks and customs, are those of an observer eager to understand terms that a layperson may find hard to grasp. “We’ve had some marvellous ceremonies, thanks in particular to Edouard. He brings a poetic touch to his role as master of ceremony,” says Carine Maillard, director of the GPHG Foundation.

Laughter and tears

There have been roars of laughter as well as other more solemn, though equally heartfelt moments such as the tribute to Walter Lange, the man behind the rebirth of A. Lange & Söhne who passed away unexpectedly in 2017, at the age of 92, during SIHH week. Or the Special Jury Prize presented to Jean-Claude Biver as he moved gently towards a retirement he had spent his life avoiding. Then there is “Carlo Lamprecht’s last GPHG as president,” offers Carine Maillard, who recalls the 2012 ceremony and how much it meant to her as her “first in my role as director.” Aurel Bacs has his own memories of particularly emotional moments: “Some of the most moving were the presentations of the Special Jury Prize. Winners have included such eminent personalities as Philippe Dufour, Walter Lange, Jean-Claude Biver, Luc Pettavino and Antoine Simonin.” “I still remember when Vianney Halter collected his prize for best watchmaker. That was the start of the independents at the GPHG,” adds William Rohr (TimeZone).

Looking back on 20 years of GPHG

Carine Maillard, Director of the GPHG Foundation © GPHG

This sense of community and friendship runs through the GPHG. Laurent Picciotto (president and founder of Chronopassion) co-presented the ceremony for three years. He confirms that “it’s always that little bit more special when your mates win!” while insisting on the fact that “as masters of ceremony, even we had no idea whose name was inside the envelope until we opened it.” William Rohr concurs: “In 2015 I presented two awards to Félix Baumgartner and Martin Frei. They were thrilled as well as extremely proud. Winning two GPHG prizes, which doesn’t happen often, was an acknowledgement of Urwerk’s achievements and well-deserved.”

All you need is love!

The overwhelming sentiment is one of fraternity. For a few hours, virtually the entire watchmaking ecosystem joins in a moment of mutual encouragement and recognition. “It’s about coming together, not to buy or sell but simply for the pleasure of being in the same place at the same time,” says Laurent Picciotto. “It’s something I look back on with a great deal of fondness,” affirms Aurel Bacs. “These exchanges come down to a shared love of haute horlogerie and mutual respect between members of the jury.”

Carlo Lamprecht has nothing but praise for the event and its success: “Twenty Grands Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in front of a packed audience, including several members of the Swiss government. The remarkable innovation and diversity of the watches in competition each year, and always a high level of media interest at the press conferences in the countries where the watches go on show.”

Looking back on 20 years of GPHG

Raymond Loretan, President of the GPHG Foundation © GPHG

Indeed, the GPHG is no longer just a ceremony in Geneva. It is also a world tour attended by hundreds of enthusiasts and, since 2020, an Academy. “The creation of the Academy, which already has 500 members from all continents, is a paradigm shift that establishes the GPHG’s values of neutrality, impartiality and universality. It confirms the GPHG as the ‘Oscars of watchmaking’ and confers a much-needed unifying force at a time when, more than ever, we are stronger together,” says Raymond Loretan, president of the GPHG Foundation.

One image remains engraved on everyone’s memory, including that of Carine Maillard: “2020: 50 people in the theatre and a thousand red balloons representing the rest of the audience.” Rest assured that this year will be different.

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