What I’ve always liked and admired about Patrick Pruniaux the CEO of Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin is his honesty and openness. Helming not one but two significant watch manufactures, and ably guiding them both through the precarious shoals of 2020, means understanding where the consumer mindset is.
“Mechanical watchmaking will survive this challenging period. It has already survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and the Quartz Crisis in the 20th century. But I think the COVID pandemic will change our patterns as consumers,” says Pruniaux. “You already see that the underlying ethics and authenticity of companies are more important than ever. Collectors will still want beautiful executions of mechanical timekeeping; perhaps now more than ever, we want objects that inspire us and make us dream, but at the same time, I think there will be a return to discretion, understatement and internal content. Because in the context of society today, where many people are experiencing economic challenges, the message related to wearing something very extravagant or overtly opulent might not be the right one.”
That having been said, in many ways, Girard-Perregaux’s latest Infinity collection of watches — comprising the spectacular Cosmos in a limited edition of eight pieces, a new model named the Free Bridge that capitalises on the merger of form and function that is the Three Bridges movement, a Vintage 1945, a 1966, and a Laureato in both 38mm and 42mm, all in onyx dials — brings an added layer of significance and emotional resonance.
“Of course we didn’t know what the world would be like today when we planned it, but there is something very relevant about the use of the stone onyx,” says Pruniaux. “In mythology, it has always been linked to the casting away of negative energy and thought. It is a stone that is believed to have a powerful ability to heal. And while it is a material that is wonderfully refined and extremely elegant, it is the paradigm of discretion. You might mistake it for a simple black lacquer dial unless you examine it closely and see that there is a depth there than cannot be replicated by any manmade material.”
When the Girard-Perregaux Cosmos was launched last year, I already found it highly appealing. This year, in a new execution with an onyx dial as well as miniature globes crafted in onyx, I find it even more so. Let’s look at the underlying mechanism for the Cosmos and the powerful artistic representation of time it achieves. On the dial side of the watch, you’ll find the hour and minute indicator in a sub-dial at 12 o’clock. Occupying the main real estate of the dial are two miniature globes. These were crafted in titanium in the regular production model introduced last year, and in onyx for this year’s Infinity collection.
The globe on the right represents terrestrial time, while the globe on the left represents celestial or sidereal time. Each of these globes relates to the most ancient ways in which human beings have told time. Terrestrial time relates to how the Earth completes a rotation every day. In fact, the Earth completes a full rotation every 23 hours 56 minutes and four seconds. But at the same time that it rotates on its own axis, it is orbiting around the sun. Over the course of a day, the Earth moves about one degree along its orbit, which creates an additional four minutes each day, hence we have the 24-hour day here on Earth. (There is, of course, a small overage each year — which is why we create the leap year every four years at the end of February.)
What is sidereal time? Well, because the Earth is rotating, if we look up at the night sky, we see a rotation of the canopy of stars above. These stars are actually fixed in place and it is our planet that is rotating. Each night, looking up at a specific time, stars will appear in the same location at a given time. Because the Earth completes a full rotation in 23 hours 56 minutes and four seconds, this is the exact length of a sidereal day. Thus this is the time it takes for the sidereal globe on the left of the Cosmos to complete a full rotation while the terrestrial globe takes 24 hours to account for the additional four minutes created by the Earth’s rotation around the sun.
Even when the sun is out, the stars are still present overhead; it’s just that they are now obscured with light reflecting off our planet and into the sky. What is wonderful about the Girard-Perregaux Cosmos is that it is the first watch that miniaturises these two ancient methods of time-telling and places them side by side in the same watch.
Now I want to discuss some comments I’ve seen by Internet keyboard warriors stating that the Cosmos is overtly reminiscent to Greubel Forsey’s GMT earth. This is incorrect and is based on a superficial observation of both watches without a deeper understanding of their underlying mechanics or purpose. Greubel Forsey’s GMT watch, which is also an incredible timepiece, is a GMT/world-time watch with indications for local and home time, which are complemented by a beautiful animation on a miniature globe which shows time across locations in the different zones when you align their longitude with the time indicator around the globe. There is also a flat world-time indicator on the back. To be honest, function-wise, the GMT Earth has more to do with Montblanc’s very cool Geosphere watch which also has two half-domed miniature representations of Earth for the northern and southern hemispheres, which can be aligned with a time indicator to tell time in all 24 zones at one glance, if you are good with Geography.
The objective of the Cosmos is very different. Its function is to reach back to the very roots of timekeeping and simultaneously capture the essence of the two most ancient ways of telling time and express them in a wonderfully evocative way. If you think about it, the perspectives represented by these two globes are polar opposites. The globe on the right gives you an understanding of time on Earth if you were able to stand on the surface of a fixed star high up in space, while the globe on the left gives you a representation of time with you standing on a fixed location on Earth looking up into space. Of course the stars that appear overhead during a given time period varies depending on your location on Earth, which is why Girard-Perregaux will adjust the celestial globe to your selected location. To me, the visual poetry of the Cosmos is to remind us of how insignificant we as a race are, relative to the universe as a whole. At the same time, the Cosmos reminds me of how powerful we’ve been as a race to be able capture and measure time based on our observation of our planet’s rotation around its own axis and the sun.
“More and more, these kind of highly technical but very poetic representations of time are becoming part of our core identity. The point is that no one needs a mechanical watch to tell the time. We want a watch to inspire us and I think that this is certainly true with the Cosmos,” says Patrick Pruniaux.
The two versions of the Cosmos are also starkly different. The regular production watch features a titanium case with titanium globes and even has the application of luminescent ceramic on the continents and constellations of the two globes. The effect of this in ambient light or darkness is incredible, with the entire watch coming to life with luminous animation. The Infinity Edition is different in that both the dial and the globes are crafted from onyx and then painted with red gold for the constellations and the continents, which not only brings the craftsmanship involved to another level, but also lends a more sober, reflective and meditational mood to this majestic complication. Lest we forget, located at six o’clock on both models is a Neo Bridge, the sculptural shaped bridge in titanium that bears a tourbillon. Pruniaux says, “For me, the Cosmos is a wonderful merger between visual poetry and technical watchmaking.”
What is also extremely innovative about this model is the watch case, which borrows several elements from the case developed for the award-winning Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement. This comprises an aggressively boxed and dome-shaped sapphire crystal, as well as the removal of any crown or adjustors for the various indications. Instead, laid out on the back of the watch are four keys — one for adjusting the terrestrial globe, one for adjusting the celestial globe, one for setting the time and one for winding the watch. This particular setting mechanism based on the four rotating bows is called “bélières” and is also reminiscent of pocket watches in the past. Says Pruniaux, “We wanted to optimise the wearability of this watch, which is why we selected titanium for the case and incorporated all these functional innovations.”
The Cosmos Infinity Edition will be made in eight examples and is priced at CHF 274,000.
One of the most iconic movements in horology’s great canon is Girard-Perregaux’s TOURBILLON WITH THREE BRIDGES. This movement, first created in 1860 in a pocket-watch tourbillon, is a masterpiece of form and function united. The unique blueprint of the movement architecture is as follows: three bridges are arrayed horizontally, each precisely symmetrical in length and width; the top bridge retains the barrel, the middle bridge bears the cannon pinion and the last bridge at the bottom supports the tourbillon. Between the bridges, the extremely clear transfer of energy to the third wheel (this wheel takes centre stage in the watch just under the hands) — which engages the pinion of the tourbillon cage to drive the escape wheel around the fixed fourth wheel — is a marvel of logic. Adding to the beauty of this system, the gear train is arrayed on a perfectly vertical axis, so you can clearly see how energy is transferred to the tourbillon and balance wheel. Looking at this amazing microcosm is to see the entire history of mechanical timekeeping.
While the tourbillon with three bridges has remained one of the most enduring and appealing movements in Girard-Perregaux’s arsenal, it has also become a canvas for expression. A Laureato was made with sapphire bridges, which has since developed a fan base that counts renowned collectors such as Auro Montanari, aka John Goldberger, amongst its proud owners. (Montanari had purchased a watch formerly belonging to famed retailer Laurent Picciotto.) In February 2020, the single most stunning execution of the three bridges movement was unveiled in the form of the Quasar Light, which combined a completely transparent sapphire case with three sapphire bridges. The stunning sapphire bridges in this watch followed the form of the Neo Bridges, which transformed the three-bridges architecture into a curvilinear modernist masterwork. Pruniaux says, “For some time, we’ve been thinking about how to apply the use of the Neo Bridge to a watch that was more accessible in price than a tourbillon, but at the same time was extremely innovative and visually exciting. The result is our new Free Bridge.”
The new Free Bridge uses a sort of three-quarter dial. The top of the dial is dominated by the skeletonised barrel, which is retained by a V-shaped bridge that is part of the dial and fixed with a ruby. What is cool about this barrel is that simply by looking into it and observing the mainspring, you can tell the state of wind for your watch. Also integrated into the dial is a second bridge that supports the cannon pinion and hands. Then just under this bridge slightly to the left is a seconds wheel, which is driving a blue silicon escape wheel that is also fitted to yet another small bridge. This escape wheel interacts with the silicon anchor that is driving the massive proprietary balance wheel that is fixed to the single Neo Bridge that traverses the width of the dial in an open space at six o’clock. The balance wheel is itself shaped like a bridge and crafted from silicon; it is free sprung and utilises opposable weights for its regulation. It should be noted that Girard-Perregaux (and its sister brand Ulysse Nardin) benefits from the expertise of Sigatech, a company that specialises in manufacturing incredible silicon parts, including proprietary escapements.
Girard-Perregaux’s own reputation in silicon technology was forged with the Constant Escapement Watch, where a buckled and spring-loaded blade powered each and every impulse to the balance wheel, making the watch totally autonomous from the mainspring’s variable torque as it unwound. Here in the impressive new Free Bridge, silicon technology has once again been tapped to create a visual dynamic feast of innovative new design for the oscillator. Pruniaux says, “The Free Bridge alludes to the three bridges design, but also brings its own design language and asserts our position as one of the leaders in silicon innovation. We feel that the resulting watch perfectly expresses Girard-Perregaux’s spirit of continuous horological evolution in the pursuit of excellence.”
The Free Bridge’s movement is self-winding, beats at 4Hz and it will be made in two versions — one in steel and one in DLC-treated steel with an onyx dial and rose-gold indexes in the Infinity edition. The watch measures 44mm in diameter. The price of the Free Bridge watch is CHF 16,250 and the price of the Free Bridge Infinity Edition is CHF 19,410.
New for 2020 are two version of the 1966, in 30mm (for ladies) and 40mm, also featuring onyx dials. To me, the 1966 has always been something of a Zen watch —something to strap on when you want to create a state of mental calm, which, let’s face it, has been of significant importance over the last few months. Indeed, to me, one of the few antidotes to the maelstrom of sensory overload that is the news, is turning my television off and gazing into the grand feu enamel dial of my white-gold 1966. What is nice about these two models is that looking into the onyx dial, you’re transported to a state of serenity. (Multiple negronis may also help enable this state.) Pruniaux says, “These watches are a great example of what I was discussing earlier: timepieces that are discreet and understated, but have a real depth to them because of the use of onyx. You can only get this kind of perfection in a black dial using grand feu enamel or onyx, and with these watches you’ve got a kind of extra level of richness you can keep discreetly to yourself.” The 1966 Infinity Edition at 40mm costs CHF 9,100 while the 30mm with diamonds cost CHF 10,780.
As always, the Vintage 1945 overdelivers in terms of pragmatic complications relative to its price point of CHF 15,690. The watch features both a date mechanism as well as a moonphase indicator at six o’clock integrated with the small seconds indicator. Pruniaux says, “The resulting watch is incredibly charming. This is my first Vintage 1945 and the use of onyx with this elegant Deco-styled case, offset by the gold indices and seconds hand, is highly appealing.” The Vintage 1945 will be made in a limited series of 88 watches only.
Along with the Nautilus and the Royal Oak, the Girard-Perregaux Laureato is one of the famous sports-chic integrated-bracelet watches that were the prevailing style of the ’70s and which still resonate with collectors today. By selecting onyx for the dials of the two new Laureato versions in 42 mm and 38 mm (with a diamond-set bezel), Girard-Perregaux has chosen to enrich the “chic” dimensions of this model with appealing results.
Once again, that added level of depth by the onyx dials endows the Laureato with a soupçon of dressiness that suddenly makes it highly suitable for black-tie functions. Pruniaux says, “To me, the onyx really makes the Laureato even more adaptable. It elevates its dressiness, yet the material’s lustre is so subtle that it is still equally at home in a sporty environment.”
This limited-edition Laureato will be retailed exclusively at Wempe Jewelers. Pruniaux says, “It is a statement of our belief in partnerships with the world’s best retailers such as Wempe or The Hour Glass. For us, our retailers are our partners and we always enter into dialogue with them, even related to our product development, because we feel that they truly are in touch with the hearts and minds of the world’s greatest collectors.”
The Laureato onyx-dial Infinity edition in 42mm is priced at CHF 12,260 while the 38mm version with diamonds cost CHF 15,600.