Last year, Girard-Perregaux celebrated its 225th anniversary – two centuries of rich history that has become the brand’s modern DNA. But respecting traditions doesn’t mean neglecting the future. While manufacturing watches with a great respect for haute horlogerie, Girard-Perregaux has been an innovator, synthesizing cutting edge technology as well as age-old watchmaking techniques.
Girard-Perregaux was founded in 1791, and can be legitimately considered as one of the grand dames of Swiss watchmaking. Technology has had a long tradition at Girard-Perregaux: in 1965, GP created the world’s first ever high frequency, self-winding movement, the Gyromatic HF, which ran at 36,000 vibrations per hour.
A few years later, Girard-Perregaux presented the first quartz watch ever produced in Switzerland in 1971, with a 32,768Hz frequency that was later to become the benchmark for quartz watch manufacturers worldwide.
With the mechanical watch renaissance that started in the late 1990s, Girard-Perregaux got back in the game. In 1995, the first mechanical Laureato was released, quickly followed by a version with the brand’s signature tourbillon with three bridges. It was modern and bold while showing off its complex and hand-decorated movement.
Later, in 2006, this same Laureato tourbillon lept into the 21st century by replacing the gold bridges with clear sapphire bridges. The Laureato Evo 3 Tourbillon was remarkable not only for being one of the first watches to use sapphire in the movement, but also because of its daring design, which was far from what collectors usually expected from Girard-Perregaux.
What might easily be the pinnacle of the innovation at Girard-Perregaux certainly is the Constant Escapement of 2013. The result of several years of research and development, the concept was invented in the late 1990s by an engineer at Rolex, which did not pursue the idea and let the patent lapse. The concept was then brought to life when the engineer joined Girard-Perregaux.
Using cutting-edge technology – namely a butterfly-shaped silicon blade that flicks back and forth in a consistent motion – the Constant Escapement solved an age old problem in watchmaking: falling accuracy as the mainspring wound down, or put in a more technical manner, falling amplitude of the balance wheel as torque from the mainspring declined as the power reserve inches towards zero.
The Constant Escapement L.M. achieved an unprecedented level of constancy in torque delivered to the escapement, regardless of the state of wind of the barrel, resulting in the exact same amplitude for the regulator. When this watch was presented back in 2013, many thought it would remain an intangible concept. Girard-Perregaux thought differently, and since then has delivered a good number to the wrists of collectors.
Despite the tech inside, the Constant Escapement L.M. is a superb example of tradition meeting innovation. Its movement, to the exception of the escapement module, is decorated down to its details, with grained surfaces and chamfered edges.
Modernity has also been evident in more accessible watches, such as the recent Neo Bridges. While not boasting the level of technical innovation in the Constant Escapement, the Neo Bridges is a modern facelift for the brand’s century-old DNA. Girard-Perregaux took the signature gold bridges first seen on pocket watches and transformed them into modern, architectural elements that give the watch a resolutely modern look, but one that still uses traditional decorative methods to embellish the movement.
Last but not least, just last year Girard-Perregaux reinterpreted the Laureato in a larger size with more modern lines, breathing new life into one of its icons. Alongside the base models with three hands, Girard-Perregaux also unveiled a true mechanical marvel, the Laureato tourbillon. Perfectly blending a sporty, modern look with classical watchmaking, the Laureato tourbillon possesses a fresh style aimed at younger connoisseurs of haute horlogerie, while reminding everyone that Girard-Perregaux hasn’t forgotten its roots.
In 2017, the brand is pushing the boundaries further by unveiling two skeletonized Laureato watches, the first a time-only automatic and the other equipped with a flying tourbillon. Once again, modernity is key, with its bridges executed in a clean, stylized fashion with geometric forms and arching bridges that maximize transparency and lightness. Yet, the decoration on the movements is impressive and relies on the century-old savoir-faire of the brand, with prominent polished edges on the skeleton bridges. These two recent introductions prove once again that Girard-Perregaux is not the sleeping beauty that some say it is, but truly a manufacture running at full steam, where tradition meets innovation.
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Frank Geelen – The Netherlands
Frank Geelen is an expert on Haute Horlogerie and beautiful hand-finished mechanical movements make his horological heart beats faster. He loves to explain all technical details of complications like tourbillons, minute repeaters, constant force escapements and column-wheel chronographs and he has been doing that for nine years.