Nomenclature aside, the Girard-Perregaux 1966 collection was actually only launched in 2006. It’s something that escapes most journalists, especially in the context of the numerous and impressive pieces that have emerged in the round, slim-bezeled watch over these few short years. Last year’s 1966 Tourbillon with Gold Bridge presented a Girard-Perregaux icon — the double-arrow-headed bridge that represents the manufacture’s Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges — in the elegantly understated fashion that has come to define the collection. The 1966 Chronograph is an exercise in classic two-counter chronograph aesthetics that continues to enjoy significant popularity, as evinced by the continued introduction of new variations in dial color and case material. Even when the 1966 takes on rare and complex horological feats such as the equation of time, it does so without any undue flash and glamor, leaving the star-studded dial-side design fireworks to other brands.
It’s entirely fitting, then, that the 1966 Minute Repeater, despite housing one of the highest complications in watchmaking, comes with a relatively unadorned white enamel dial. From the front, the only indication of what lies within — besides the lever on the case middle between eight and nine o’clock — is the “Repetition Minutes” inscription in fine print above the small seconds counter. Contrary to its modest appearance, its chime is robust and crisp, with that easy euphony that ironically only comes via tireless amounts of work and experience
with striking watches.
After all, Girard-Perregaux’s expertise in this area is not exactly meager. The Opera series of watches was a collective tour de force in chiming watches — a tourbillon with Westminster carillon minute repeater (Opera One), a tourbillon perpetual calendar with Westminster carillon minute repeater (Opera Two) and the phenomenal Opera Three musical watch, which played a selected tune (options were Mozart and Tchaikovsky) au passage. As a whole, the Opera collection served to highlight the level of watchmaking savoir-faire at a manufacture that does not always choose to exhibit the true extent of its competencies.
The Girard-Perregaux 1966 Minute Repeater, therefore, is a timely reminder that, despite its recent focus on strengthening its reputation for classically elegant watches and building on its heritage of the tourbillon with three bridges, the brand is still more than capable of putting out a work or two of unadulterated virtuosity.
The exhibition caseback of the timepiece, as well as the openworked hand-wound caliber E09-0001, allows views of the minute repeater components such as the separate barrel spring for the chiming complication, the flying
regulator and the gongs and hammers. The various other paraphernalia that make up the minute repeater mechanism, such as the hour, quarter and minute racks, the snail cams and the gathering pallets are hidden from view by the baseplate. Keeping the number of moving parts in the vicinity of the hammer and gongs low aids in sound transmission, similar to how sound amplification is better achieved in a small, empty room as compared to a larger, but more cluttered, one. The case interior and the curve of the caseback are also precisely engineered so as to produce the optimal chime quality within the given space. The caseback is also diamond polished to improve the resonance of the chime.
The finish of the movement is as beautiful as can only be expected from Girard-Perregaux. The alignment of the Côtes de Genève on the bridges, jewels nestled in gold chatons with polished countersinks, the mirror-finish of the minute repeater hammers that visually emphasizes the smooth purity of the chime they create — these are all hallmarks of quality from the company that first started in Geneva in 1791. Even without any hints from the engravings on the rear bezel and movement bridges, the single-headed arrow that forms the balance cock is a clear statement of the 1966 Minute Repeater’s provenance. The arrow is distinguished by its bassiné construction, which involves rounding the arm of the arrow such that it takes on a semi-circular cross section. This is accomplished by hand and requires exceptional skill to produce an unmarred, even curve throughout the length of the arm.
This happens to be the final year that Girard-Perregaux will be exhibiting at the Geneva fair (2013 will see the brand at Basel alongside its PPR stablemates). The Girard-Perregaux 1966 Minute Repeater can be seen as a signal from the brand that, despite leaving the hushed luxury of SIHH for the relative dynamic bustle of BaselWorld, it can still hit some horological high notes. It’s a signal we’re hearing loud and clear.