In 1889, Parisian architecture changed forever. For it was in this year that the City of Lights saw two major light bulb moments in design innovation– both announced to the world via global exhibition. The first was the Eiffel Tower: a structure that would become synonymous with Parisian identity – a beating beacon lighting up the night sky. The other was also a pulse maker – a timekeeper, to be precise. It was Girard-Perregaux’s original Three Bridges pocket watch.
Both structures showcased the cleverly opulent, grand and innovative potential of great architecture and craftsmanship, albeit on two very different scales.
Whilst the Eiffel Tower has up to three hundred metres to stake its claim on the Parisian landscape, the original La Esmeralda made its mark with just three little strips of metal. The achievement of Constant Girard-Perregaux’s “Three Bridges” pocket chronometer model lay in its striking appearance, its enigmatic machinations and its performance accuracy. Tall, brooding and handsome indeed. However, all bridges did not lead to Paris.
The intricate and innovative design of the watch quickly garnered renown, and soon found itself bridging cultural and geographical divides. Projecting out from its home in the burgeoning global megacity of Paris, it soon found itself in the pocket of then President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, as well as increased market present in Asia and wider Europe. For a small pocket chronometer to have such a global reach in an age where global interconnectedness and influence was often an elusive luxury, the “Three Bridges” design was an inspiration.
In 2016, Girard-Perregaux celebrated its 225th anniversary. The company marked the occasion with the release of a wristwatch inspired by the design that had won it a universal exhibition more than two centuries prior. La Esmeralda Tourbillon is a bridge between the brand’s past and future, with its highly decorative case proudly announcing itself as historically connected yet modern. La Esmeralda presents us with a viable alternative to the modern obsession with minimalism, without being garish. Like its ancestor, La Esmeralda is multi-layered; it retains some of the best features of its progenitor, whilst also incorporating the advantages of more modern technologies.
Historical nods include the 18k pink gold casing and rounded bezel ring, which, along with the case back ring, overlap the middle case band – alluding to the covered, enigmatic layers of the original.
In terms of functionality, the 44mm diameter is room enough to house a 14.3mm tourbillon carriage and a 10.5mm diameter balance wheel. These parts come together to form the unique Calibre GP09400, which has a power reserve of at least 60 hours thanks to a rotor positioned concentrically under the barrel.
It is here that Girard-Perregaux have incorporated the complementary advantages modern technology can offer to classical tastes; the wearer of La Esmeralda will pleased to note that their model has a power reserve advantage of at least 12 hours over its predecessor.
Despite this focus on precision, the watch’s finishes are not left at the wayside. Its arrow surfaces are mirror-polished, its edges chamfered by hand, its bridges meticulously rounded by a hand-operated burnisher. It almost feels as if Constant Girard-Perregaux is watching over the craftsman delivering this updated model – adding classical touches and craftsmanship to give the Three Bridges landmark status once more.
La Esmeralda reminds one of gazing up at the ceiling of grand theatre, where history, aestheticism, function and craftsmanship all meld into a platform that finds grandeur in its artistic service.
If La Esmeralda is the grand theatre, then the Neo Tourbillon is the glittering night skyline.
First released in 2014, the Neo Tourbillon is thoroughly modern metropolis of metal – defining the iconic Three Bridges through sleek gun metal curves and cut outs that form the watch’s intricate alleyways and streets.
This shape-shifting effect supports the slimline mechanics of the watch, with a generous 45mm diameter making a glance at the watch’s interior feel like observing a city ablaze with motion from a sky-high observation deck.
Like all great modern cityscapes, the Neo Tourbillon’s beauty comes from its balance between function and aesthetics, energy and information. The watch’s micro-rotor sits concentrically with its barrel, delivering the needed power for a reserve time of around 60 hours.
This energy flow is, of course, governed by the 80-part titanium tourbillon, which keeps the traffic busily flowing over the bridges cool, calm, precise and accurate. Spinning on its axis once per minute, the tourbillon is driven by wide balance wheel and a hairspring which features a Phillips terminal coil and Swiss lever escapement. All this culminates in producing precision, functionality and beauty for the wearer to enjoy. Sydney Harbour Bridge, eat your heart out.
All this is framed by two sapphire protrusions that offer an architectural skin for the mechanisms underneath, like two pulsing air traffic control lights topping the highest of skyscrapers.
Girard-Perragaux’s original Three Bridges pocket watch may have made its indelible mark on the city of Paris. However, the company are now making cities within their watches.
From the romantic, gilded, neo-Classical beauty that is La Esmeralda, to the images of glittering metal sheen against a night sky conjured by the Neo Tourbillon, Girard-Perregaux’s watches continue to surprise and delight.
After all, for a watch to tell the time precisely and accurately is an achievement in itself. For it to create and define its own time is quite another, and for a watch to trap and preserve this invention within the folds of its casing is a remarkable feat indeed.