New Watch! • 19 Sep 2016

The Iconic Three Gold Bridges Of Girard-Perregaux

by Frank Geelen


Every brand has its own hallmark. That can be a movement feature, a logo, or a special tale behind the timepiece. For Girard-Perregaux, it is all about a movement, about the very special construction of a movement, in fact, something that reveals the prowess of the manufacture – the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges.

Girard-Perregaux isn’t a new brand, it is one of the oldest Swiss watchmaking maisons, born in 1856, when watchmaker Constant Girard married Marie Perregaux, herself a member of a well-known watchmaking family. From the beginning, the young company specialized in high-end pocket watches, some of them even featuring a tourbillon with detent escapement. And in 1860, the now-famous movement architecture was introduced: the three gold bridges.

Girard-Perregaux three bridges pocket watch movement

At that time, movement architecture and decoration were more about reliability rather than pure aesthetics. As such, the three gold bridges of Girard-Perregaux can be seen as pioneering the combination of a technical solution and the beauty of haute horlogerie. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, the industry was less interested in creating visually appealing movements in terms of shape and design, as that had little to no effect on the precision of a watch, the most important feature at that time. However, when you look at the three bridges configuration of Girard-Perregaux, you can’t help thinking how logical this movement is: the barrel is on top, the centre wheel is in the middle and the balance wheel is on the lower part.

Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda

To hold these main components, instead of a large bridge covering the entire movement, Girard-Perregaux developed three large but highly decorated bridges, crossing the movement in parallel. The three gold bridges were born, combining the reliability of traditional watchmaking with the beauty of haute horlogerie. The most famous and certainly most beautiful example of such a watch is the 1889 “La Esmeralda” pocket watch, that was once owned by the President of Mexico and is now in the Girard-Perregaux museum.

Girard-Perregaux pocket watch

But this superb movement architecture was forgotten until the design was revived in 1981, with the modern day Three Gold Bridges pocket watch. Ten years later, Girard-Perregaux presented a version of the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges miniaturized to wristwatch size. Since then, the Three Gold Bridges has been a fixture in Girard-Perregaux’s line-up and synonymous with the brand.

What makes the three bridges architecture so special is its linearity and balance, as everything is perfectly aligned on the dial side. However, as simple as it seems, this is far from being simple to achieve. First of all, it requires hiding some components on the other side of the movement to keep the dial fuss-free. Then, in the tradition of this manufacture, these bridges are highly decorated by hand. Made of solid gold, they are painstakingly polished and bevelled by hand to achieve a perfect round profile for the arms and some sharp angles for the edges.

Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda 2016

After the first wristwatch in 1991, the collection watches with three gold bridges expanded to include with complications: for instance, a bi-axial tourbillon and more recently, combining the Three Gold Bridges with a minute repeater. But whatever the combination, the three bridges are still proudly showcased on the front, the latest being a wristwatch inspired by “La Esmeralda” introduced at Baselworld 2016.

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Frank Geelen

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.


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