Girard-Perregaux is one of the true greats of the Swiss watch industry and one which long held one of the most glamorous images in high-end watchmaking. The company developed and produced in-house, some of the most technically advanced watches ever made – notably Tourbillons, Minute Repeaters and other refined Grande Complication models. It was one of the many great Swiss watch companies to struggle through the ‘Quartz Crisis’, but it is now back in its stride once again and commanding the respect it rightfully deserves.
In the novel “From Russia With Love”, and no less than on the first page, author Ian Fleming wrote, “a gold Girard-Perregaux on a Brown Crocodile strap is one of the typical membership badges of the rich man’s club”. More recently, the company has worked very closely with Ferrari, releasing chronographs under both brand names.
The company recently celebrated its 225th anniversary, making it one of the oldest remaining watch companies continuously engaged in production. Girard-Perregaux is credited with many firsts and claims to fame, having registered over 100 patents and won numerous exhibition medals and observatory prizes. Notably, a gold medal presented to Constant Girard for a Tourbillon at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867, then again in 1889, the famous Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges, Constant Girard’s masterpiece and the fruit of many years labour, received the gold medal at another Universal Exhibition in Paris.
As early as 1840, one of the founders, Constant Girard, began to develop the innovative concept of wearing watches on the wrist and later in 1879, his wristwatches were ordered personally by Emperor Wilhelm I for officers in the German Imperial Navy. Two thousand were made, making this the first large-scale commercial production of wristwatches in history.
In recognition of its ongoing quest for precision, in 1905 Girard-Perregaux was elected a permanent member of the jury at the largest international watch fairs.
The golden age for Girard-Perregaux really began in the 1920s, continuing through to the 1970s, seeing the company grow rapidly in both its expertise and strength across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. In the 1940s, the company produced a popular range of sports and military watches using the strap-line “For Active Service”. These waterproof, shockproof, antimagnetic, and luminous watches carried names such as the Mermaid, Sea Hawk, Amphibian and the ‘M.D. Waterproof’. The Sea Hawk remained popular up to the end of the 1960s when it was withdrawn. However, this model has recently been revived as a highly competent, professional divers watch.
In 1956 Girard-Perregaux introduced its first automatic watch, the Calibre 21, 39 Jewels ‘Gyromatic’ which used a highly advanced Gyrotrone automatic reverse gear winding system, which caused a sensation across the watch industry. The Gyromatic was continually developed until in 1966, the Girard-Perregaux Gyromatic Chronometer HF was launched. This was the first ever high-frequency movement with a balance vibrating at 36,000 times an hour, or 10 beats per second. In 1966 this unrivalled movement was awarded the Centenary Prize by the Neufchatel Observatory and brought what is now recognised as true precision to watchmaking for the first time. A year later in 1967, 70% of all the Chronometer certificates issued by the Swiss Neufchatel Observatory went to Girard-Perregaux’ Chronometer HF models. These were some of the most accurate mechanical wristwatches of all time.