Luxury watchmakers are quick to use the term “innovation” when referring to both the visual as well as technical aspect of their products. What do they mean when they say this? A hundred years ago watchmakers were innovating all the time because timepieces were used and relied upon by the majority of people who required them as necessary tools in their lives. Back then, innovation referred to performance enhancements such as watches that could withstand more abuse and that would tell the time more accurately. Flashing back to modern times, what role does innovation play in the luxury watch industry and how is it manifested at the storied maison of Girard-Perregaux?
Continuing the generations-old practice of producing watches by hand with ongoing relevance and appeal certainly requires a degree of innovation. On top of that watchmakers are seeking to use modern technology to solve some of watchmaking’s oldest problems such as the design to build long-lasting, worry-free, and highly accurate mechanical devices. Girard-Perregaux was founded on such principles in 1791, a tradition that continued in the 20th century when it was a pioneer in high frequency movements with the 36,000 bph Gyromatic of 1966. And today it continues to build on that legacy of watchmaking innovation.
Bridging the past and future
The story of Girard-Perregaux as an innovator begins with the brand’s unique sense of design that has origins in the mid 19th century at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889. At the event Girard-Perregaux presented a pocket watch fitted with a tourbillon movement that used three golden bridges as part of the technical and aesthetic design of the movement. Brilliantly beautiful and functional, the pocket watch earned Girard-Perregaux a gold medal at the exhibition. More recently over the last decade or so Girard-Perregaux rediscovered its roots in the three gold bridges tourbillon – a design element which has been applied to the majority of the modern tourbillon-based movements which the brand continues to produce today.
With arrow-tipped ends the “gold bridge” from Girard-Perregaux shows up as one, two, and often three bridges on a range of models such as the Vintage 1945 Tourbillon With Three Gold Bridges in its distinctive Art Deco-inspired rectangular case, to the more traditional Tourbillon With Three Gold Bridges that uses a similar movement in a round-shaped case. Each of these models is produced with a degree of historic accuracy and modern relevance which helps define the design ethos of the brand.
Perhaps the most formidable compliment to the innovative design of the three dial-mounted gold bridges is how Girard-Perregaux has adapted the concept for ultra-modern watches that echo the values of the more traditionally designed watches with but a flair for contemporary flavor. Not long ago Girard-Perregaux released the aptly-named Neo-Tourbillon With Three Bridges which transforms the original style of the three gold bridges concept into something very much of today. A redesigned case and even the actual aesthetic of the bridges themselves offer a more open look at the movement while retaining all the grace and poise of the original concept. While more artistic than purely technical, the Neo-Tourbillon With Three Bridges models are a serious testament to the staying power and fascination Girard-Perregaux achieved with the three gold bridges concept more than 150 years ago. Perhaps the best thing about many of the Tourbillon With Three Bridges watches is that they are designed for regular wear. Combining legible, yet visually impressive, dials with self-winding movements, one innovation is to take the showpiece out of the display case and on to one’s wrist for daily wear.
More recently, the Tourbillon with Three Bridges has been combined with a minute repeater, which clinched the Striking Watch Prize at Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) 2015. Putting together two prestigious complications was no mean feat, as the movement constructors had to incorporate the minute repeater while preserving the symmetry of the golden bridge tourbillon movement.
Adding an extra dimension
Single axis tourbillons are the most common variety – spinning the regulation array that includes the escapement and balance wheel on their own axis, typically every sixty seconds – but they do not represent the full breadth of Girard-Perregaux’s tourbillon offerings.
Just to outdo themselves Girard-Perregaux then developed a triple-axis tourbillon with the Tri-Axial Tourbillon collection. This triple axis tourbillon timepiece is easily one of the most complex tourbillon-based timepieces produced by one of the major Swiss brands today. Its regulator comprises of a tourbillon with three cages, with the smallest making a one-minute revolution. That in turn is contained inside another cage making one revolution every 30 seconds. And finally the largest, outermost cage takes two minutes to complete one rotation. Because each cage is rotating on a different plane, and at different speeds, they eliminate gravity-induced timekeeping errors.
Tourbillons were originally designed to improve the performance of timepieces but it’s not the only solution. Another approach to achieving timing consistency is the constant force mechanism. To this end watchmakers of prestige are coming out with innovative ways of ensuring that as the mainspring in a watch winds down the timing results, in other words its accuracy, don’t change. A constant force mechanism, attempts to ensure that a constant amount of force flows from the mainspring to the gear train that powers the heart of the watch.
Girard-Perregaux used modern technology for their approach to this very important matter of isochronism with the Constant Escapement, winner of the GPHG “Watch of the Year’ prize in 2013. This highly innovative watch uses a system of silicon blades to consistently transmit equal pulses of power from the mainspring to the regulation system no matter the power being generated by the unwinding spring. This is just the latest in a long and creative line of innovative high-horology from Girard-Perregaux.
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