Heritage & duty
Jean- François Bautte
Girard-Perregaux’s oldest roots lie in the work of Jean-François Bautte, the Geneva watchmaker-jeweller who presented his first creations in 1791 and whose succession was acquired in 1906 by Girard-Perregaux, born in 1856 from the union of Constant Girard and Marie Perregaux.
Bautte was born on March 26th 1772 in Geneva. At just 12 years old, having been orphaned at an early age, he began serving a series of apprenticeships as a jeweller, goldsmith and case assembler. Endowed with lively and passionately dedicated mind-set, he also gained a knowledge of watchmaking and engine-turning (guillochage). His undeniable qualities as an artisan were backed by remarkable commercial abilities. From 1795 onwards, Jean-François Bautte began travelling to sell his creations. He developed his fabrique (the French name for watch production facilities), which was the most comprehensive that had ever existed, employing 180 workers there, assisted by 120 home-based artisans.
In addition to his boutique in Geneva, Bautte also owned a branch in Paris, as well as another in Florence. Correspondence from the Russian and Danish courts testify to his close ties with European elites. His renown was such that no eminent foreign visitors to Geneva missed out on the opportunity to visit his Maison, following the example of Balzac, Dumas and the future Queen Victoria.
’ Watchmaking metropolis’ is the nickname acquired by the town of La Chaux-de-Fonds. The city has been living in step with the rhythms of watchmaking since the late 17th century. From the early 19th century onwards, after the great fire that devastated the town in 1794, a brilliant urban planning scheme was implemented. The streets were to be wide and straight, running from east to west and thus following the path of the sun. The height of the houses was strictly regulated. In an age when artificial light was ineffective, watchmakers thus enjoyed the best possible lighting, that of the sun. This distinctive feature that is unique in the world has earned La Chaux-de-Fonds a place on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
It was thus a natural move for Girard-Perregaux to establish its Manufacture there. But rather than housing its workshops in a brand-new, soulless construction, Girard-Perregaux installed them in a beautifully restored early 20th century building.
Pilar of the Swiss Watchmaking
By developing and manufacturing its components entirely in-house, Girard-Perregaux can legitimately lay claim to the status of a ‘Manufacture’. The brand seeks perfection expressed not only through the immediately visible external appearance of its timepieces, but also through their hidden faces: their movements.
Constant Girard-Perregaux considered movements as a technical element of his watches, yet enhanced their architecture to the point of making them an unmistakable signature feature. His immediately identifiable watches earned Girard-Perregaux the highest distinctions, as was the case with the Esmeralda, Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges presented in 1889 at the Universal Exhibition in Paris and rewarded by a gold medal.
Conquering the World
During the second half of the 19th century, it became vital for Girard-Perregaux to find new markets. In an age when journeys were long and often perilous, watchmakers were prepared to set off for remote destinations.
In 1859, Constant Girard-Perregaux’s brother-in-law François Perregaux headed for Singapore where he spent over a year, before settling in Japan. He noted that the time measurement system was completely different to that prevailing in the West, which meant that watches were of no use there. He thus decided to have Girard-Perregaux produce authentic objects of curiosity greatly appreciated by rich Japanese clients. This marked the start of the brand’s longstanding presence in the country.
In 1865, Girard-Perregaux opened a dealership in Buenos Aires, headed by another of Constant Girard-Perregaux’s brothers-in-law, Henri Perregaux. It was to welcome some of the Manufacture’s finest creations: tourbillons, minute repeaters and other refined Grande Complication models with weighty, richly decorated cases that delighted wealthy South American clients.
The Quest for precision
The birth of chronometry dates back to the mid-19th century. Constant Girard-Perregaux took an early interest in the tourbillon, which served to achieve superior regularity of rate. He focused his research on the actual structure of the movement and the shape of its components. From the mid-1850s onwards, he began working on creating a timepiece equipped with a tourbillon regulator fitted on a calibre with three parallel bridges. Presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867, this watch won him a first medal.
In 1957, the watchmakers of the Manufacture introduced the Gyromatic, an ultra-thin high-performance automatic winding system enabling the production of remarkably thin watches. This principle reached its peak in 1965 in equipping the world’s first ever high-frequency mechanical self-winding movement, the Gyromatic HF, beating at a rate of 36,000 vibrations per hour.
At the end of the 1960s, Swiss watchmakers, who considered watches above all as precision instruments, decided to take a further step in this direction by resorting to quartz. In 1971, Girard-Perregaux presented the first quartz watch ever produced in Switzerland, whose 32,768 Hertz frequency has become the benchmark among manufacturers worldwide.
Research & Development
Progressing from the first idea of a watch to the finalised object takes time. Throughout a process involving studies and analyses, as well as scale models and prototypes, the initial concept is repeatedly verified and adjusted. Once the machining, decoration and assembly operations have been determined for each of the components, production of the new mechanism can begin.
Presented as a first prototype in 2008 and manufactured as of 2013, the Constant Escapement L.M. represented a technological revolution in the watch industry. It enabled Girard-Perregaux to solve a problem that had been occupying the profession for over five centuries: that of constant force. And yet the idea is in fact brilliantly simple: a silicon blade placed at the heart of the escapement stores up the decreasing energy from the barrels and transmits it in a smooth and regular manner.
Above and beyond visible aspects
Because a watch must be as beautiful inside as it is on the outside, and because the tiny imperfections of machining are detrimental to the smooth running of a mechanical movement, today – just as in 1791– all components pass through the hands of experienced bevellers.
In producing its movements, Girard-Perregaux works with the most innovative technologies, particularly in the development and machining phases of the various components. The decoration, assembly and adjustment stages are entirely performed by hand, using traditional methods. Long months at the bench are required to accomplish these feats, even though they often remain concealed behind the steel or gold exterior of the case.