Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure
The Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure is a contemporary watch, housed in a blue sapphire crystal case. It is endowed with a tourbillon, features three distinctive Aerial Neo-bridges and is automatic, courtesy of an unobtrusive micro-rotor. This remarkable timepiece encompasses a high quotient of traditional hand finishing, upholding the brand’s reputation for fine watchmaking.
The esteemed Maison, Girard-Perregaux, has a rich history dating back to 1791. During the 19th century the firm won many prizes and awards for its watches, both at national and international level. In 1889, the Swiss marque produced its most iconic watch, La Esmeralda. This pocket watch featured three gold bridges which were both functional and attractive.
Over the years, Girard-Perregaux has continued to look ahead, conceiving new ways of enhancing the desirability and functionality of its products. Despite the prestigious marque creating some neoteric timepieces, it also continues to uphold the ethos of the original three bridges, namely, pairing functionality with aesthetic appeal. In particular, GP often reveals mechanical components usually hidden from view for the delectation of purists.
Earlier this year, Girard-Perregaux unveiled the Quasar Light. This model is equipped with a tourbillon, incorporates three prominent ‘Aerial Neo-bridges’, displayed front of house, and is presented in a 46mm colourless sapphire crystal case. The movement and its refined finishing are worthy of the term, Haute Horlogerie, and play to the Maison’s legendary talents. However, the housing belongs to another world, where science and innovation have set aside watchmaking convention.
Sapphire crystal is grown using molten aluminium oxide. In terms of the Quasar Light, the whole of the case, including the crown and lugs, is made from a single sapphire disc. The material is sculpted and polished, a process which takes over 200 hours to complete and requires much expertise. Furthermore, Girard-Perregaux in its quest to augment the glossy appearance of the case and entice more light to illuminate the movement within, uses three times more sapphire than normal and utilises a unique diamond and chemical polish. The Neo Bridges are also formed of sapphire crystal.
Recently, the Swiss watch brand unveiled the Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure, another sapphire crystal creation sharing much in common with the Quasar Light, albeit, in this instance, the case is enriched with a blue tint. Although both models share an obvious family likeness, the making of the Quasar Azure is even more complicated and protracted.
The Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure eschews a conventional dial, showcasing the Calibre GP09400-1035 to glorious effect. Like the aforementioned Quasar Light, the Quasar Azure is equipped with three Neo Bridges, but in this instance they are formed of Grade 5 titanium.
The bridges are affixed to a NAC treated, skeletonised mainplate. Dauphine-style hour and minute hands efficiently express meaning. While these are a traditional style of hand, GP has designed them with a slightly plump profile. Moreover, the hands are partially openworked and feature a smattering of blue luminescent coating. All of these elements imbue the hands with a notable quotient of modernity.
Indeed, throughout this composition, the Maison has deftly blended modernity with soupçons of traditional, familiar GP details. For example, the tourbillon cage at the base of the dial area is lyre-shaped, a historical design dating back to the 19th century.
An aspect of the design that I particularly like is the linear arrangement of the barrel, train and tourbillon arranged along a north-south axis.
Measuring 46mm in diameter with a case height of 15.25mm, the generous proportions of the Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure are likely to overwhelm some wrists. However, while the case is sizeable, the short lugs help mitigate the overall sense of scale.
Producing the blue tinted case is even more labour intensive than making the clear housing for the Quasar Light model. Firstly, to achieve the desired blue colour, the sapphire crystal is doped with oxydes. The precise composition of these oxydes is a trade secret. The doping takes place while the crystal is grown. This crystal growing technique is termed ‘Kyropoulos’, named after Spyro Kyropoulos who first proposed the technique in 1926. Making an ingot of sapphire can take several days to several weeks.
Furthermore, the milling process takes 50% longer with the blue case than the clear version and the polishing process is said to be more complicated and protracted. Put simply, the making of the Quasar Azure case requires vast amounts of time and skill to realise.
As per the case for the Quasar Light, the crown and the lugs are made from the same sapphire disc. The sapphire material is checked for homogeneity, ensuring the shade is consistent throughout and there are no unwanted inclusions.
Interestingly, despite its contemporary appearance, the watch is fitted with a box sapphire crystal dial side, a detail often seen on traditional watches. A further box sapphire crystal is also fitted to the rear of the watch. This design aspect allows natural light to bathe each component within the case. Moreover, the shape of the glazing allows the wearer to fully appreciate each nuance of the movement and its peerless finishing.
The Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure is equipped with the Calibre GP09400-1035. Although at first glance the movement may appear hand-wound, this is not the case. A white gold micro-rotor sits unobtrusively behind the barrel, proffering the convenience of a regular automatic watch but without marring the model’s sublime front to rear views. The automatic winding system is unidirectional.
Often tourbillons have a tendency to quaff energy, culminating in a modest power reserve. However, no such issues afflict the Calibre GP09400-1035. The tourbillon cage is comprised of 80 components, yet it only weighs a mere 0.25g. This negligible mass is a contributory factor to the movement’s impressive 60 hour power reserve.
Despite the Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure appearing overtly contemporary it still upholds the traditional, revered standards of the Maison. Various bridges are sandblasted but also encompass polished bevels and hand drawn sides. While NAC treatment abounds, various types of movement decoration are performed by hand, the same way they have been executed for generations at this prestigious firm. Indeed, just to illustrate the brand’s fastidious approach to watchmaking, consider the screws for a moment. Despite measuring approximately 1mm in diameter, they are all bevelled and polished by hand. The brand’s fastidious approach is manifest wherever you choose to look.
It takes about 16 hours to decorate the mainplate and over 10 days to decorate the movement throughout. Be under no illusion, the Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure is a brilliant exemplar of haute horlogerie.
A problem affecting many openworked dials is that a plethora of exposed details invariably inhibits readability. Thankfully, no such problems afflict the Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure. By adding blue luminescent tips to the hour and minute hands as well as cleverly presenting numerous components at different heights, the Swiss company has skilfully indulged curious eyes while ensuring the dial remains intelligible. Furthermore, by playing with differing depths, this model once again invites light into the case, illuminating the movement wonderfully. The delightful appearance of the movement resembles a piece of architecture where beams provide support and strength but also contribute to the beauty of the composition.
I would have loved to have been present at the meeting when someone suggested the case be made from blue tinted sapphire crystal. Having spoken to various people in the watch industry over the years, I know that making a ‘regular’ sapphire crystal case presents numerous challenges. By adding a blue tint to the sapphire crystal, many additional obstacles have come into play, heightening time and costs.
Often avant-garde styling comes at the expense of traditional craftsmanship, however, no such accusations could be levelled at the Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure. Indeed, this distinctive and highly original watch is rich in watchmaking craft. Each facet of the movement is refined to the highest order. The three bridges fitted to La Esmeralda are honoured with the design of the Quasar Azure, a cutting-edge composition which doffs its hat to the past. However, there is no escaping that this watch demonstrates that Girard-Perregaux continues to look ahead, embracing new technology and advancing towards new horizons.
- Model: Girard-Perregaux Quasar Azure
- Reference: 99295-43-002-UA2A
- Case: Blue sapphire crystal; diameter 46 mm height; height 15.25 mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and exhibition caseback
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds on the tourbillon
- Movement: Calibre GP09400-1035; automatic movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 27 jewels; power reserve minimum 60 hours; components = 260
- Strap: Anthracite fabric with a metallic effect including anthracite hand-stitching. Paired with a triple folding buckle in titanium DLC
- Price: CHF 274,000 (world price as at 19.8.2020)
- Limited Edition: 8 pieces