1957, Girard-Perregaux pays tribute to a chapter of its History
At first glance, it looks like a simple watch with three hands, a date, a timeless and sober dial with a few vintage touches here and there… But a closer inspection tells you that it might well be an icon.
I looked somewhat warily at the piece that had been lent to me for a hands-on test and I told myself that I could easily imagine it on the wrist of my paternal grandfather. I never knew him but his integrity, devotion, discretion and modesty that are still constantly evoked at family gatherings shaped my image of him. In short, he was one those modest individuals, those who know how to be humble while still letting their light shine and sharing their skills with those surrounding them??
Original aesthetic codes
Upon re-reading what I’ve wrote about my first impression of this year’s limited-edition of 225 numbered copies – a reference to the number of years the brand has been operating – I realize that my description could stop here. If it were not for the fact that its 40-mm middle corresponds to current trends (that is, it is slightly bigger than usual, yet not too big) since the return to 'normal' sizes bid goodbye to the XXL wave that hit the start of the 21st century, I would have thought that this design came straight from the 1960s. That was the period before the quartz crisis when Chronometry competitions still existed which pretty much dictated the hopes and efforts of watchmaking labels.
While I was digging through archives and viewing some old pictures, the 2016 version of this Girard-Perregaux 1957 kept catching my eye with its retro champagne-colored dial. Covered by sapphire glass, it is box-shaped and evokes the unbreakable plexiglass that was at the time a favorite option over the too-fragile mineral glass. Its dauphine-shaped hands each have a slit filled with luminescent material. The subtleness of the hands’ tips results in optimal readability.
Crossed by a thin line, the indexes indicating 12, 6 and 9 o'clock evoke the polished and shining nib of a fountain pen. The one at 3 o'clock, though, has been cut to allow for a better view of the small and discreet date aperture. Once again, there is no extravagance here and the tiny lettering right below the logo indicating the Manufacture's foundation year (1791) as well as the 'AUTOMATIC' inscription further down – an indication of the functioning of its mechanical caliber – shows that the Manufacture still pays particular attention to detail. The whole is contained at the heart of a steel case, with a polished-satiny finish as historical reference.
The Gyromatic, a historical innovation
And so, the watch takes us back to some momentous events of the collective watchmaking memory. Indeed, in 1966, the Neuchâtel Observatory's Centenary Prize, which no longer exists because of its high cost of maintenance,went to Girard-Perregaux for the "Gyromatic", a mechanism launched in 1957 that introduced the standards of good mechanical functioning of automatic winding. Furthermore, the following year, the Observatory attributed 73% of its rating certificates to the brand's pieces that had filed for those same patents at the time.
The micro-mechanical principle housed in the Gyromatic at the time is still quite revolutionary today. The researchers of the La Chaux-de-Fonds-based Manufacture replaced the ratchet wheels – indispensable for the back and forth movement of the oscillating mass winding the watch – by unidirectional roller-equipped clutches that looked like coaster brakes. The ingenuity of this system was simple, reliable and effective and featured a refined look, which only the elegant aesthetics of a thin model can offer. Thousands of GP watches were thus equipped with this technology. A Gyromatic HF, in other words “High Frequency”,was even created and it's the Formula 1 of watchmaking accuracy.
In the eyes of my late grandfather
I think about my untimely late grandfather, he who is the perennial incarnation of a watchmaking spirit hailing from the mountains and who was defined by devotion, simplicity and skills. Before he died victim of a heart attack, he had worked as the right hand of the director of Solvox, a small watchmaking factory that doesn't exist anymore.
I think that he would have been very surprised and fascinated to see this watch today, which I bet he must have known when he was alive since he lived in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He would have spotted the familiar look and would have been amazed to observe the current in-house GP03300 caliber, with Côtes de Genève finishes, through the transparent back, which did not feature in the original piece. He would also have been very happy to learn that Girard-Perregaux, the brand he knew so well, has not only survived the cyclic downturns of a blessed sector, but is also celebrating its 225th anniversary this year with the same inventive vigor that has always characterized it. May he rest in peace.