I was first mentioned in 1350. People escaping from religious oppression found home within my cradle. Fire devastated me, but I revived even stronger. I turned all my windows to south-east and let the sun be our companion forever. I gave birth to legends, like Le Corbusier, Corum, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, Daniel Jeanrichard and Omega. I witnessed the marriage of Constant Girard and Marie Perregaux. I have no rivers, but I’m famous for the 3 parallel bridges.
– I am La Chaux-de-Fonds, I am the Watch Valley.
Can you imagine the speed of my pulse when my train finally pulled in to La Chaux-de-Fonds railway station? It was certainly well above the maximum doctors measure out here in the Jura.
The streets of the city stretch in a south-west to north-east direction, which is attributed to an engineer called Charles-Henri Junod. He redesigned the dwelling after the great fire in 1794 destroyed it completely, having fire safety and the best natural sunlight for watchmaking as major principles. According to city policies, buildings cannot go beyond a certain height to leave enough light for all the houses queuing up on the hillside with huge windows facing the sun. La Chaux-de-Fonds has a unique character also for another reason – it developed a significant Art Nouveau heritage, which can be observed in tiles, windows, stairways, interior and exterior decorations. Ironically, probably the most beautiful of all is the Crematorium. The city bears Le Corbusier’s touch in various Villas, such as the Villa Fallet, Maison Blanche or Villa Turque.
I was shown around in the “Manhattan of the Jura” by my fantastic host Willy Schweizer, who has been working for Girard-Perregaux for almost 30 years and with his extensive knowledge about the history of his company as well as that of the city he has been curating the Girard-Perregaux Museum too (it is presently being restructured).
Walking in the Manufacture with a history that spans back over 220 years in a region which has been known for watchmaking for even longer, the last thing I was expecting was meeting so many young watchmakers. In fact, the number of fresh minds working at GP brings down the average age to somewhere around 30. When in 2011 Kering acquired the majority of Sowind Group (owner of Girard-Perregaux and JEANRICHARD) the winds of modernity arrived to La Chaux-de-Fonds with a huge momentum. The two brands have crystallized their identity and started to beat with contemporary dynamism.
Willy suggests that beyond much clearer strategies, the greatest influence on the brand is accounted to young watchmakers. Girard-Perregaux has been nurturing talents for many years; however in 2012 they took it to the next level by announcing the Young Masters Tour – a travelling exhibition, where master watchmakers in their twenties showcase their incredible capabilities. “The New Face of Tradition” as GP puts it, adheres to the accomplishments of the past but welcomes the fresh innovative spirit of the youth. Having a master watchmaker with a rather fluffy beard instead of gray hair certainly has surprised many, but as fine-watchmaking had to reinvent itself after quartz, this can surely deliver groundbreaking new ideas, unusual designs and uniqueness to a House that is over its second century of existence.
Everywhere you look in the workshop, photos of the Tour look back at you. The same faces sit at the desks, leaning over the workbench with a dr. Dre headphone on and about to complete the next part of the movement. Complications are assembled by hand just as they were a hundred years ago, but new techniques and materials are employed. Emerging ideas are tested in CAD software first followed by the creation of prototypes with brand new CNC machines.
During the Manufacture visit I had the chance to pop-in to the Research & Development unit too. The brand is one of the few that has its own in-house R&D division. In the mid-90s they showcased the first high-frequency movement with 36,000 vibrations per hour. The Gyromatic HF was created to achieve even greater precision. (See a really detailed article about this movement here.) A recent development of the unit was the Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement, which Willy presented to us earlier this year at Les Ambassadeurs in Zurich.
Following my explorations at the Manufacture we went over to the Villa JeanRichard and browsed a few Girard-Perregaux timepieces.
Lines inspired by Art Deco are not only evident of the Girard Perregaux Manufacture building but also on the Vintage 1945 watches. The popular model is available in numerous versions and functions, and they are equipped with a Manufacture automatic movement, rectangular, curved shape and slightly domed dial.
Vintage 1945 XXL Chronograph pink gold, Vintage 1945 XXL Small Second pink gold with blue numbers on the ivory dial, Vintage 1945 XXL Small Second steel case with blue dial.
The Girard-Perregaux Cat’s Eye collection celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It has feminine lines, shapes and motifs with mechanical movements. Even the movement has a little tapestry-like detail: the oscillating weight is engraved with GP letters. One of the anniversary editions is the white gold version with black onyx dial, with 73 brilliant cut diamonds, forming decentralized rays. To me it looks like a flying, sparkling white gold dandelion.
Flowers from the Cat’s Eye Bloom are peonies, in the form of extremely delicate motifs on the natural mother-of-pearl dial. The artisans of the Manufacture developed a special technique to achieve the lace-like look of the dial – seven layers of material are successively applied to create a three-dimensional effect. One layer is also given a silver powder coating to create a shiny finish. Peony is a traditional floral symbol in China, they called it the “flower of riches and honour” or “king of the flowers”, and it is often used symbolically in Chinese art.
The Girard-Perregaux 1966 collection includes very clean and crisp pieces, such as the 1966 with seconds and date, and also more complex ones, like the Column-wheel chronograph or 1966 with annual calendar and equation of time.
Other novelties at Basel this year were the two versions of the Traveller WW.TC. One with a silvered opaline-, the other with a black opaline dial; both have a pink gold case with chronograph function and a rubber strap coated with alligator leather. Girard-Perregaux has long been associated with travelling. The stylish Traveller shows 24 time zones, each represented by cities on the dial. These times zones refer to any of the 24 regions of the Earth’s surface, loosely divided by longitude, in which standard time is kept.
If you go for very masculine, robust pieces here you have the Hawk collection. The steel and rubber Sea Hawk with a screw-down case back is water-resistant up to 1,000 metres, it could be your heavy-weight diving companion.
Finally two fantastic Girard-Perregaux haute horlogerie classics: one is the delicately elegant and sophisticated 1966 Tourbillon with Gold Bridge, anniversary edition. The watch has a silvered dial, set around with diamonds, Breguet-style numerals, and blued steel leaf-shaped hands. The other timepiece might be the dream-come-true of any hardcore fine watchmaking fan. The Golden-Bridge Skeleton Tourbillon Automatic is a painstakingly hand-crafted timepiece with the emblematic Tourbillon with three gold bridges. These bridges are in the form of arrows and are placed parallel to each other.
Photo credits: Loupiosity.com.
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