Eve’s Watch is your first port of call for everything in the world of women’s watches and today we meet revolutionary watch brand, Girard-Perregaux
Revelled as the ‘Mechanics of Time’ and now as the ‘Mechanics of Style’, Girard-Perregaux is the watch brand of evolution, development and absolute class. Gathering inspiration from all over the globe and the matrimony of two families, Girard-Perregaux is currently celebrating 222 years of success through unrivalled influential watchmaking. The brand is continuously creating timepieces that ‘never go out of style’.
The Beginning of History
The story begins in the late 18th century in the depths of Geneva. A young Jean Francois Bautte began learning the watch making trade at the age of 12 and produced his first collection aged just 19. This collection became renowned for its extra thin cases and for being entirely produced under one roof. Innovative of the time, Bautte received the most prestigious visitors to his factory including Queen Victoria.
In 1837, Bautte’s son, Jacques, and his son-in-law, Jean Samuel Rossel, took over the accomplished empire. This mantel was then passed to Rossel and his son who became exceptional watchmen with their superior chronometry skills and expertise rewarded at international exhibitions across the globe.
Family Girard and Perregaux
In the heart of the Neuchatel Mountains a future horological master, Francois Perregaux, was born. Little did his family know of his imminent influence on the history of watchmaking notably as the first Swiss watchmaker to set up in Japan.
At the time of Francois’ birth in 1834, Switzerland was fast becoming a concentrated field of watch experts. From the Vallée de Joux to the Neuchâtel Mountains, small businesses appeared all over specialising in watch parts which were then delivered to merchants for the ‘stamping of names’. At this time there was little evidence of brands as we know them today, factories didn’t appear until the late 19th century when power houses such as Girard-Perregaux imposed its name. This is when watchmaking entered the industrial era.
Francois Perregaux and his brothers Henri and Jules followed in their late father’s footsteps and took over the family’s watch business. It is reported that Francois Perregaux set off to America during the Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations (which opened in New York in 1853), to set up and represent the H Perregaux & Co firm and to continue the works started by his father. He stayed in New York for six years, during which the family consistently explored new markets and export opportunities. The brothers were becoming the biggest watchmaking merchants in Le Locle.
Across town in La Chaux-de-Fonds – the horological metropolis – the Girard brothers were also making a promising impact on the watch industry after Constant Girard’s apprenticeship with watchmaker La Sagne. In 1852, alongside his brother Numa, he worked under the name of Girard & Cie. Coincidentally, two years later Constant Girard married the sister of Francois, Marie Perregaux. The families were now joined and the birth of the powerful Girard-Perregaux arrived.
Relations with Asia
The Watchmaking Union was founded after the construction of the railway connecting Le Locle and La Chaux de Fonds, which was essential for the future of the watch industry. The Watchmaking Union brought together watch manufacturers to promote Swiss watchmaking to the world in the hope of acquiring new export offices overseas. The focus was directed towards Asia, in particular Japan, which was the market to break after it had opened up to international trade a few years prior. This was a mission set for Rodolphe Lindau and our friend Francois Perregaux.
After an epic 40 days travelling the high seas, Francois arrived in Singapore on 31st May 1859. The plan was to establish an office for the family business which he could run whilst Lindau set off for Japan, but things are never that simple and Perregaux was soon appointed to take over from Lindau in Yokohama. At that time, there was no free trade treaty signed between Switzerland and Japan so it was near impossible for Francois to set up the Girard-Perregaux empire. His time in Yokohama was mostly spent experiencing a transformation in the country known as ‘Bakumatsu’ when Japan opened up to international trade and Western culture.
The measurement of time was also undergoing changes in Japan with ‘civil time’ – a traditional form of Japanese timekeeping divided into six periods from dawn to dusk and six periods from dusk to dawn marked via signs of the animal zodiac – becoming obsolete on 1st January 1873 with the adoption of European time and calendars. Although this meant that regular imports could begin, the sale of timepieces was challenging as the Japanese were not familiar with watches and considered them a luxury item. The Girard-Perregaux family didn’t have it easy.
After a period of struggle and the dissolution of various trading companies, F. PERREGAUX & Co. was established. Francois was the official agent of the Girard-Perregaux Firm and its only representative in Japan. With the signing of the free trade treaty between a small Swiss delegation and the Japanese Government on 6th February 1864, the market finally opened. This became the beginning of a very special relationship that is still evident in today’s trading world.
Back over in Switzerland, Constant Girard was making his mark by devoting his time to designing and making various escapement systems – a ‘Tourbillon’ to be precise (see Eve’s Watch glossary). In 1867, Constant took his Tourbillon (the first watch of its kind featuring straight bridges with pointed ends) to the Paris Universal Exhibition. This became a timepiece he would constantly refine and is iconic of the brand today.
Japanese consumers considered watches to be ‘curious’ at this time. The development of traditional European timepieces continued in Japan and watches with see through case backs revealing movements became a firm favourite. These movements were often covered in eye-catching engravings.
The Perregaux family worked hard to develop watches that would appeal to the wider Japanese market and eventually the Lepine type pocket watch (without a cover on the dial) became popular. Preferences for silver pocket watches with white enamel dials adorned with fine Roman numerals and elegant hands were also coveted by the Japanese. Francois had found exactly what the consumer wanted and was finally able to import modern watches that appealed to the growing local taste. Pocket watches were starting to become an essential instrument for modern life. It was around this time that Francois passed away, however the Girard-Perregaux brand was now very much established.
The Story Continues
Constant Girard worked hard to keep the brand at the forefront of timekeeping. In 1880 he developed 2000 watches for German Naval officers ordered by German Kaiser Wilhelm I. This was the first major commercial sale of wristwatches, however as the market was saturated in pocket watches the demand for a wristwatch was very small. This was not apparent until the following century.
Girard-Perregaux’s success continued. The family returned to the Paris Universal Exposition in 1889 with its famous Tourbillon. The model had been in redevelopment for many years and now featured three gold bridges. This was finally awarded the medal it deserved – gold! The model was hugely successful at universal exhibitions, winning numerous accolades and awards, and eventually declared ‘out of competition’ in 1900.
In 1906 Girard-Perregaux took over Bautte. The two companies were merged together to create a new, innovative powerhouse. At this time Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (famous for those giant balloon-looking aircrafts) measured his famous aeronautic tests using a Girard-Perregaux timekeeper. The brand was becoming dominant in the market.
Later in the 1900’s the sales of watches changed; there was now a greater demand for wristwatches which allowed Girard-Perregaux to extend its portfolio globally. The brand dominated America and Europe launching the new ‘SEA HAWK Water Model’ and shortly after the iconic ‘Vintage 1945’ Art Deco.
Girard-Perregaux was one of the first watch brands to move a research and development team in-house, becoming the first to adopt trends and styles which was key to its continuing success. In developing the first high frequency movement ‘gyromatic’, it continued to re-affirm itself as a true influencer of the horological market. Later in the 1970s, Girard-Perregaux began creating the first Swiss Made quartz movement by setting the frequency to 32,768Hz which has since remained the universal standard. This was a poignant moment for the brand.
During the last 30 years the Girard-Perregaux brand has gone from strength to strength. Redeveloping old classics and launching new timepieces for the modern lifestyle. Take a look at our Top 10 moments of Girard Perregaux’s ‘modern family’.
Top 10 Moments to Mention
1975 – Launch of sports model with Octagonal bezel and satin strap
1981 – Remake of Tourbillon including quartz movement and three bridges, in 1991 this was again developed into a wristwatch
1993 – Co-brand agreement with Ferrari launching a grand complication, split second chronograph complete with the ‘prancing horse’ on the clockface.
1994 –Development of Ultra thin Calibres – GP3000 & GP 3100
1999 – SIHH entry – Tourbillon with three golden bridges and new column wheel
2001 – New date display and world timer watches – ww.tc watch combining world timer and chronograph
2003 – New development of Quartz technology
2004 – First ladies collection with petite complications – The Cat’s Eye collection (hooray for us girls!)
2006 – SIHH entry – Tourbillon updated with winding mechanical movement
2007 – Tourbillon and ‘quirky’ slot machine design followed by boutique openings in China, Beijing and Shanghai
TOP FACT – Girard Perregaux has an archive of over 100 variants of authentic Swiss movements –extremely impressive!
For an explanation of the more complex horology terms in this article check out our Glossary.