The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is the most prestigious award in the watch industry, it’s essentially the Oscars for watchmakers. As such, it’s a pretty big deal for a brand to have a winning watch. With the 2023 edition of the event set to take place on November 9th, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at one of the awards biggest underdogs. So let me take you back to 2021 when CIGA Design became the first ever Chinese watch brand to win a GPHG award. The watch in question is the CIGA Design U Series Blue Planet – what is it about this watch that makes it the best Chinese watch ever (at least in the eyes of the GPHG)?
Let’s not beat around the bush, the answer is that the CIGA Design Blue Planet is seriously impressive in virtually every metric. Particularly in comparison to other watches eligible for the Challenge Prize category of the GPHG which is their entry level category for watches priced at less than CHF 2,000. It’s beautiful, well built and has an interesting movement.
Starting with the case, it has a 46mm diameter lugless design made from titanium with a brushed surface (also available in steel or ceramic with golden gilding). 46mm does make it a very large watch however because it’s lugless, it’s designed to wear a lot smaller on the wrist and be suitable for those who are comfortable wearing 42mm, even 40mm, watches. Completing the round shape of the piece are the curved sapphire crystals on top and bottom that almost seem to mirror the curve of the globe found on the dial.
We should definitely talk about that globe because it is spectacular. A three-dimensional representation of the Earth with metallic landmasses and rich blue oceans. It’s been produced using micro-engraving to create a scale accurate version of the planet in immense detail, right down to prominent landmarks such as mountain ranges and valleys. Located out in the ocean you’ll also see a maritime navigation symbol and it’s this symbol that serves as the watch’s single hand.
That’s right, the entire globe rotates functioning as the hour hand with the compass patterned indicator pointing towards the peripheral 12-hour scale like a regular hour hand. However, what makes this more special than a traditional single hand watch is the minute track. Typically, with a single hand watch, the minutes are displayed as a tiny track between the hours and it’s somewhat of an estimation game to know the precise time, here though the minutes are represented on a disc that rotates around the edge of the globe.
The unique aspect of this is that the minute scale has a gear ratio that means it keeps up with the rotation of the hour hand. Which means the current time in both hours and minutes can be read straight from the position of the single hand, removing any ambiguity as to the time. In simple terms, a disc-based minute scale normally rotates 360 degrees in one hour, but the CIGA Design Blue Planet rotates 390 degrees per hour to keep up with the 30 degree movement of the globe. It’s one of those things that takes a moment to wrap your head around but then you realise it’s an incredibly elegant solution.
As for the movement, it’s described only as the CIGA Design Self-Design Movement. Looking at the construction of it through the exhibition caseback it appears to be inspired or based on an ETA movement with the adaptation of the aforementioned minute scale gearing system. It features a solid 40-hour power reserve and an accuracy of -15/+30 seconds per day, specs not uncommon in the Challenge category of the GPHG.
Ultimately, it makes sense why this watch won a GPHG award. It’s not just a great Chinese watch, it’s a great watch full stop. It looks amazing, the case is cool and the unique method of timekeeping is inventive and interesting. Plus, it maintains a high degree of accessibility as a price of in £1,321 titanium or £1,155 in steel. Even the Gilding Version would still qualify for the Challenge category at £1,816. In fact from October 27-31, they’re having a 30% Autumn discount making them even more accessible.
Price and Specs:
More details at Ciga.