Girard-Perregaux - 222 years of fine watchmaking
222 years of fine watchmaking
Just try to tell a 222 year history of fine watchmaking in a (few) lines. You would run the double risk of being too superficial and of overly condensing the story, a risk you just couldn’t avoid. And yet that’s exactly what’s we are going to try to do because what we saw on a November day in La Chaux de Fonds deserves to be told. The pictures, more than any words we could write, are proof that no watch enthusiast, no true devotee, can remain indifferent. If you are among those who just follow the latest fashion then you can stop reading now, but it would be your loss. The history of Girard-Perregaux is the history of two very important figures in Swiss watchmaking, the first being Jean-Francois Bautte, born in 1772 in Geneva, watchmaker and jeweler who founded the Maison Bautte, a savvy businessman who inaugurated the maison by making the first watches in 1791:
The second person, and the one who gave his name to the Maison, is Constant Girard, born in 1852, founder of the maison “Girard &Cie”, that will officially become Girard-Perregaux when Constant marries Marie Perregaux:
This is the man who, in 1889, created the famous Tourbillon with three gold bridges, the "Holy Grail" of Girard-Perregaux, a watch awarded the gold medal at the Universal Exhibition of Paris:
In 1906, the Maison Butte and Girard-Perregaux merged, leading to the birth of the modern Girard- Perregaux, placing all the skills of watchmaking under one roof. Jump forward 80 years and Girard-Perregaux is once again in the forefront under the leadership of the Macaluso family. Walking through the various departments of the manufacture today, everything is more modern, with computers, numerical control machines, highly advanced tests for the latest technologies, all housed in the historic building of La Chaux de Fonds, and this is as it should be. But what has remained unchanged is the spirit and sobriety to which the Girard-Perregaux maison has accustomed us. No loud publicity campaigns for this brand, but rather sober marketing and communication strategies that fortunately have not yielded to the temptation of modern day fashion, and that are fully in accord with the spirit of a true Maison. Watchmaking: to observe the various steps that transform a simple steel billet in the case of the 1945 Vintage, the Sea Hawk or the Traveller is fantastic, it’s your watch that is coming alive:
And just when you think the work is finished there emerges the real difference between manufacture and mass production: a craftsman who checks the dimensions of the case to the caliber, another polishing the gold transparent case back of your Girard-Perregaux by hand:
Never stopping until it is perfect. Because some of the activities required continue to be performed by hand. In this description we are not following the classical logical outline normally used to describe the watchmaking process from beginning to end, but providing a more emotional description, for how else could you describe this perfect watch case?
It is almost as if handmade chocolates have been removed and the spaces now occupied by the newly finished cases of the Traveller. And how could I neglect the assembly of the mechanical movements, the work required for the plate and bridges? The Sea Hawk that you see on display here seems to be another watch altogether, especially after you’ve spoken with the person who assembled it, checked it, polished it, brushed it, regulated it and prepared it for final packaging.
But the best part of the entire visit, in our opinion, is when you enter the section reserved to haute horlogerie, where they finish the Girard-Perregaux's icon, such as the bridges mounted on the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges.
The polish of course is all by hand, lovingly performed by highly specialised craftsmen who carefully finish even the very smallest part, including the one you will never see because it is hidden from view but that for these artists is just as important as those that are visible! With the same absolute passion and dedication, as 222 years ago.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Girard-Perregaux; Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting inside GP's manufacture)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter - Watches & Luxury