Girard-Perregaux Free Bridge
Girard-Perregaux chose the 2020 Geneva Watch Days event to launch two exciting new models, the ‘Free Bridge’ and ‘Free Bridge Infinity’. Both are stylish timepieces paying homage to the legendary Three Bridges concept, which has delighted fans of the brand since the 19th century. Carl Eady reviews the Free Bridge edition and discovers how this enduring brand has managed to fuse contemporary design with the Manufacture’s expertise, amassed over its 230 year history.
Constant Girard’s watchmaking career began as a teenager at La Sagne in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Swiss Canton of Neuchâtel. However, his considerable talent and ambition for independence were such that by the age of 20 he had already partnered with fellow watchmaker C. Robert to establish Girard and Cie. In 1854 he married Marie Perregaux, herself from a family of watchmakers, and together they formed their Maison ‘Girard-Perregaux’ in 1856. The quality of their work soon gained them an enviable reputation, firstly in Europe and then throughout the New World.
Girard was an avid student of horology with a keen interest in various types of escapement mechanisms. Most notably, he focused on the work of Breguet and his endeavours to counteract the effects of gravity through his revolutionary invention, the tourbillon. This fascination for precision led to Girard-Perregaux producing its own tourbillon pocket chronometer. This was a technical marvel given that, in addition to the tourbillon, it incorporated a dead-seconds display and a detent escapement. Equally noteworthy and utterly unique was the architecture of the entire movement and the disclosure of three prominent arrow shaped parallel bridges. The “Tourbillon Sous Trois Ponts d’Or” (Tourbillon under Three Gold Bridges) became one of the most sought after watches of the period and won a gold medal at the prestigious Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. Later, in 1889, the same forum awarded Girard-Perregaux with yet another gold medal for its exquisite 18k gold three bridge tourbillon ‘La Esmeralda’, housed in a case intricately engraved by renowned artist Fritz Kundert.
With the proceeds of their success, Girard-Perregaux invested wisely and the company was one of the pioneers in the development of wristwatches, which ultimately superseded pocket watches.
Long after the passing of its founders, the Manufacture’s entrepreneurial spirit has endured and over the years the company has repeatedly proven its ability to innovate. In 1965, it delivered the Gyromatic, the first high-frequency movement with a balance beating at 36,000 vibrations/hour. It then solved the technical challenge of how to produce a constant force escapement when it launched a new model in 2013, deservedly winning the “Aiguille d’Or” at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).
To this day, the brand produces exceptional Haute Horlogerie creations. With tourbillons and minute repeaters commanding 6 figure price tags, it is refreshing to see that such a capable brand can also produce exciting collections at the more accessible end of the market. The ‘Free Bridge’ model has the lowest price point in the Bridges collection, yet its modern aesthetics, attention to detail and rich DNA mean this model will find favour with the most discerning watch aficionados.
The dial is part skeletonised, boldly revealing the mainspring, part of the gear train and the escapement. The name ‘Free Bridges’ is certainly apt as the watch does not conform to the styling of existing models within the Bridge collections. To quote Patrik Pruniaux, the CEO of Girard-Perregaux, the bridges have been ‘reimagined’ by the company’s master watchmakers. A distinctive arrow tipped Neo balance bridge sits beneath the mainplate, commanding the six o’clock position. Whilst its shape upholds the Girard-Perregaux tradition, there is a modern 3D architecture which serves to highlight the ornate construction of the balance it supports.
There is a sense of industrial art that pervades throughout this timepiece, dominated by a large hour bridge which frames the mainspring barrel. The long straight lines of the bridge contrast with the model’s numerous curves. The bridge encompasses both linear brushwork and hand bevelling and is held in place by four mirror-polished screws. Key to the aesthetic success is the wonderful sense of symmetry conferred by the two bridges.
To complement the Free Bridge’s modernism, Girard Perregaux has featured a pair of part-skeletonised Dauphine-style facetted hands. Their luminescent tips reach out to the rhodium-plated pincer-like luminous hour markers that adorn the dial perimeter. The hand widths are perfectly judged for maximum legibility. Their proportions suit the watch’s masculine identity and industrial design language, yet are finished with a high polish that confirms the model’s luxury credentials.
Powering the Free Bridge is a modified self-winding GP01800-1170, a tried and tested in-house calibre also used in the brand’s highly successful Laureato collection. Silicon is emerging in the watch world as a wonder material and its properties are numerous. It is corrosion-resistant, anti-magnetic, unaffected by temperature and extremely hard wearing thanks to its low coefficient of friction. It has been heartily embraced by the maison as is evident with this movement. As well as improved performance and accuracy, owners are likely to enjoy longer intervals between servicing. Also important for Girard-Perregaux’s engineers is the ability to form silicon into the most intricate shapes. Most of the escapement is fashioned from silicon as is the large variable inertia balance, which can be precisely regulated using tiny inertia blocks positioned on the periphery of the balance wheel’s spoke-like blades.
On the reverse side, a sapphire exhibition caseback brings the movement’s high-end finishing into view, including Côtes de Genève, hand bevelling, sand blasting and snailing. The Maison’s initials are presented in golden tones, positioned atop an openworked oscillating weight. The blend of golden and grey tones on the movement and rotor proves attractive and underscores the sense of luxury.
The variable inertia balance has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz). The GP01800 movement features 185 components including 23 jewels and, assuming the mainspring is fully wound, it will run independently for approximately 54 hours.
The case is fashioned from stainless steel and measures 44mm, placing it within the ‘large watch’ segment in today’s market. It combines brushed and high polish finishes to dramatic effect, presenting a harmonious framework for the artistic dial.
Considering its agreeable price, the Girard-Perregaux Free Bridge includes some pleasantly surprising details. The Free Bridge is fitted with a sublime box sapphire crystal which exhibits a discernible dome shape. Obtaining this arcing profile necessitates many hours of polishing, culminating in a ‘distortion free’ finish.
Girard-Perregaux has carefully selected a strap to enhance the modern attributes of the Free Bridge. It is a colour-coordinated, fabric effect strap and is paired with a triple folding clasp. A delightful detail on the strap, which now features on some of Girard-Perregaux’s latest collections, is the addition of two stiches of contrasting colour, positioned adjacent each lug. It may be a small detail perhaps, but in the realms of luxury the smallest details are always appreciated by real enthusiasts.
It is no surprise that the Girard-Perregaux Free Bridge exhibits first class craftsmanship, given the revered stature of the brand. The firm’s watchmakers have employed new materials like silicon and demonstrated incredible avant-garde flair. This adds an overtly contemporary dimension to the Bridge collection that should attract a youthful audience. Any brand that can release designs that embrace the future without alienating its existing patrons deserves success, especially at a time of economic uncertainty. The Girard-Perregaux Free Bridge represents excellent value, which will undoubtedly become a popular addition to the brand’s Bridges collection.
- Model: Girard-Perregaux Free Bridge
- Reference: 82000-11-631-FA6A
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 44 mm; height 12.20 mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and exhibition caseback
- Functions: Hours; minutes
- Movement: Calibre GP09320-1440; self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 23 jewels; power reserve minimum 54 hours; components = 185
- Strap: Black calf leather strap with a fabric effect paired with a triple folding buckle in steel
- Price: $17,400 (RRP as at 28.12.2020)