Girard-Perregaux Watches (Est. 1791 – ) The watchmaking firm, Girard-Perregaux – also known as ‘GP’ – traces its beginnings to Jean-François Bautte (1772-1837) who signed his first watch creations at age 19. Orphaned while still very young, Bautte was twelve when he began an apprenticeship where he learned the trades of case assembler, guilloché applier, watchmaker, and goldsmith.
In 1791, with his talents as a craftsman complemented by a good head for business, he developed his own manufacture in Geneva, Switzerland. The origins of Girard-Perregaux are associated with this date.
Astute beyond his years, Bautte’s manufacture combined all watchmaking processes and developments under one roof. This was a first for any watchmaking establishment and enabled the creation of watches from conception to the final hand-assembling and polishing of each timepiece.
Bautte specialized in slender pocket watches that fit neatly into trousers so tight a wearer could not sit down in them. Bautte was also a master of miniaturization and could create wafer-thin watches with Lilliputian mechanisms.
He excelled in watch jewelry known as ‘watches of shape.’ These were watches disguised as miniature musical instruments, butterflies or flowers. He also created a watch in the form of a perfume-dispensing gun that was an enameled pistol that fired perfume. It was this technical approach that made Bautte unique. He understood the importance of new technology and adapted it into his highly desirable and aesthetic pieces. With his talent for business administration, Bautte developed Geneva’s most complete watch manufacture of the time.
Some of Bautte’s prestigious clients included the future Queen Victoria and the French writer and socialist, the Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre. As a brilliant industrialist and businessman with an impeccable character, Bautte traded with all the European courts and became one of the most famous watchmakers of the period.
On Bautte’s his death in 1837, Jean-François’ son, Jacques Bautte and his son-in-law Jean-Samuel Rossel, inherited an efficient, well-run company that already claimed a rich cultural heritage. Later, Rossel continued his work alone but was soon assisted by his son. The chronometry work of both Jacques Bautte and the Rossels appeared in international exhibitions and garnered several awards.
Among the notable creations made during the elder Bautte’s years was an ultra-thin hunter watch signed “Moulinié, Bautte & Cie” from around 1805. One of the first watches of its kind in the world, it was engraved in a guilloché yellow gold case and decorated with enamel in different shades of gold with an enamel dial.
Another was the Florentine Ducat from about 1840 which was also ultra-thin, produced in yellow gold and signed “J. F. Bautte & Cie.” It was engraved with a guilloché gold case. The dial and was fitted into an 1828 Florentine double ducat.
The Bautte – Rossel collaboration was also the creator of groundbreaking theatre glasses signed “Rossel & Fils,” circa 1860. The case was in yellow gold decorated with blue enamel and floral patterns in diamonds. These spectacles could be folded and placed into a case fitted with a watch.
Watchmaker Constant Girard (1825 – 1903) established his firm, Girard & Cie in 1852. Two years later, he married Marie Perregaux (1831 – 1912), the daughter of a noted watchmaking family from Le Locle, Switzerland. It was through this partnership that the couple acquired the Bautte–Rossel manufacture and their two surnames became associated with the firm and by which it is known today.
Girard-Perregaux quickly established itself as one of the finest names in the Swiss watch industry. In 1889, Constant Girard presented his masterpiece, the Tourbillon With Three Gold Bridges. Its unique architecture remains a significant feature of many of the watches the firm currently creates. The quality and beauty of Constant’s creations resulted in the firm receiving numerous prizes at international exhibitions and competitions.
La Esmeralda is the most celebrated example of the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges. This pink gold hunter watch was sumptuously engraved with the “CG” monogram. It had an enamel dial, a movement with three parallel gold bridges, a tourbillon detent escapement, and gold wheel plates. This watch was reportedly given to the President of Mexico at the end of the 19th century.
The Three Gold Bridges design is the most well-known example of GP watchmaking and is emblematic of the firm. In 1884, Constant Girard submitted a patent for the design to the United States Patent Office.
In this submission, the three bridges were redesigned in the form of arrows and placed parallel to each other. The movement was adjusted so it was no longer simply a functional and technical element but also became an element of the design. In 1889, the watch received a gold medal at the Universal Exposition of Paris.
The three-bridge architecture is now the oldest mechanical-movement design still in production anywhere and is widely considered among watchmaking’s most beautiful designs. The bridges in the form of aligned parallel double-headed arrows —symbolizing the past, present, and future of time—has become the brand’s emblem, illustrating how important bridge architecture is to Girard-Perregaux’s identity.
In 1880, Constant Girard developed a wristwatch concept for German naval officers that was ordered by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm I. Two thousand watches were made in a production that represented the first major market sale of wristwatches for any firm. Despite this revolutionary idea in the time of the pocket watch, it was not followed up. It would take until the beginning of the 20th Century for the wristwatch to attain its wide-spread success.
In 1903, Constant Girard-Gallet (1856 -1945) took control of the firm from his father. By 1905, Girard-Perregaux had been appointed a permanent jury member of the most popular international watch exhibitions and recognized the firm’s singular and enduring quest for precision. In 1906, Girard Perregaux took over the old Bautte manufacture and merged it with Girard-Perregaux & Cie.
For the next several years until the onset of World War I, the firm prospered but the war nearly wiped it out. In 1928 the Graef Group bought what was left of GP and reintroduced the brand with a line of affordable and reliable watches.
Otto Graef, a watchmaker of German origin and owner of the MIMO Brand (Manufacture Internationale de Montres Or) bought up the capital stock of Girard-Perregaux. By 1930, the sale of wristwatches exceeded those of pocket watches for the first time. This was nearly fifty years after Constant Girard had made wristwatches for the Kaiser’s naval officers.
During World War II, Girard-Perregaux marketed its creations in both Europe and the Americas, especially with the SEA HAWK water resistant model. The MIMO Brand was primarily distributed in European markets.
When the war ended in 1945, GP created a rectangular Art Deco inspired model that would be revived fifty years later and dubbed, Vintage 1945.
In the firm’s high-end watch collection, the most well-known Girard-Perregaux styles are the Vintage 1945, ww.tc (standing for worldwide time-control) that displays 24 time zones on the dial), the Girard-Perregaux 1966, Laureato Evo3, and a woman’s model, the Cat’s Eye.
Technical and elegant, the watches in the ww.tc line are all characterized by a single system providing the simultaneous reading of local time and the time in all 24 time zones. Another sophisticated feature makes the ww.tc – Financial the first watch to display the opening hours of the world’s major stock markets.
When, in 1969, the Swiss watch industry was revolutionized by the introduction of the quartz movement, many well-known companies were wary of the new innovation. However, Girard-Perregaux was not one of them and mass produced a Swiss Made quartz model. The oscillation frequency of its pendulum at 32 768 Hz would later be adopted as a worldwide standard.
In 1987, the market saw the introduction of the GP 7000, chronograph that became a classic of modern sports watches. Its appearance propelled the company into close contact with the worlds of sport. In 1995 the company introduced a complete collection of models devoted to the Italian car firm Ferrari and called Girard Perregaux for Ferrari.
In 1980, Girard-Perregaux made twenty pieces in the spirit of the Three Bridge model of 1889: To celebrate its bicentenary in 1991, the company created a miniaturized wristwatch version of the famed Tourbillon with three gold Bridges. Since then, it has offered the mechanism in different versions that are sometimes associated with other watchmakers’ complications.
In 1992, the Italian entrepreneur, architect and former race car driver Luigi Macaluso became the head of Girard-Perregaux. It was under Macaluso’s leadership that Girard-Perregaux began its co-branding agreement with FERRARI and incorporated a stamp with the latter’s legendary prancing horse.
Between 1994 and 2004, this partnership gave rise to a remarkable collection of sporty and grande complication models as well as a new line ultra-thin calibres named GP3000 and GP3100.
In 1999, for its entry to SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie), Girard-Perregaux presented an automatic winding version of its famous Tourbillon with three gold Bridges. They could achieve this due to the introduction of an ingenious platinum micro-rotor system positioned under the barrel. The Manufacture also developed a new column-wheel chronograph movement that is only 23.3 mm in diameter.
In the first decade of the 21st Century, the firm continued to offer enhancements to its models. In 2011, the Kering Group, a market leader in the sport and lifestyle sectors, became the majority shareholder of Girard-Perregaux. That year also marked Girard-Perregaux’s 220th Anniversary.
For the occasion, the firm presented the Haute Horlogerie collection enhanced with the inspirational story of the Tourbillon with gold Bridge Girard-Perregaux 1966. This collection was made available in fifty individually numbered pieces.
In 2012, the firm presented the Hawk Collection and resumed the brand’s long tradition of creating sporty watch models. The Hawk Collection was a culmination of the firm’s historical expertise and designed to position itself clearly in the 21st century.
In 2013, Girard-Perregaux presented a remarkable innovation: a constant force escapement, the first prototypes of which were introduced in 2008. The Constant Escapement L.M. is revolutionary from its design to the materials used.
In 2015, GP began re-positioning itself to welcome Generation Y into its storied dynasty. Stainless steel is intended to be the centerpiece of more affordable and accessible models designed to appeal to a new generation of younger customers. New CEO Antonio Calce plans to use 2016’s Baselworld watch fair to launch a new family of watches encased in stainless steel. Many watches will be presented in white, pink or rose gold, or ceramic. Several will also have a steel-encased offering within the larger range.
The new steel-only offering will be positioned to allow GP to transcend the pricey intimidation of models that currently start at around $14,000 and soars well into seven figures. Says Calce, “The most important thing is exclusivity. It’s not price point.”
A sports chronograph model is expected to headline the new model range and will retail for less than $14,550. This entry will be a steel version based on the simplicity of the famed “1966” model and cost about $11,000.
Calce describes the coming chronos as “chic” and says the line it anchors will be available in men’s and women’s models. “[The chronograph] is not a big watch, it is not show-off, always classic with a manufactured movement at a very, very tasty price,” he says.
With Swiss watchmakers facing a challenging time selling watches into markets like China and the United States, Calce says the time is right to welcome a newly affluent, younger generation into the brand using a more affordable price range.
“The mature people in the watch industry know GP. Today we have to present the brand to people 20, 25 years old …but we need the right product,” Calce says.
The firm remains regarded as a top-tier brand even though it is not well-known to the wider public. This is due to the brand frequently revising its mission during its 224-year history. Changes of ownership, periods of inactivity, and the reinventions all inflicted harm, Watches like the 1940s Sea Hawk looked cheap, However, G-P’s devotion to the three-bridge tourbillon throughout its erratic history has been the key to its survival. That is the design that Kering — the French luxury conglomerate formerly known as PPR that took control of G-P – is counting on to re-invent and re-establish the firm’s mystique.
Girard-Perregaux relies on being a manufacturer of movements and watches and a manufacturer of cases and bands. They bring together multiple components of artisans: watchmakers, engineers, movement decorators, polishers, etc. This global approach, founded on the traditional know-how of watch-making craftsmanship, lets them to create and direct high-quality watches and movements from the assembly stages all the way to the final encasement.