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Girard-Perregaux’s Latest High Horology Timepiece Was 20 Years in the Making

“It’s been 20 years in the making,” Girard-Perregaux‘s CEO, Patrick Pruniaux told Robb Report at a recent meeting in New York last month of its latest high horology release, the Neo Constant Escapement. “I mean, it took almost three years to make that movement. So, it took almost 10 years on the first version and almost 10 years for the existing version, where we actually redesigned the whole movement.” The first version of this new release that he refers to is the Constant Escapement L.M., which debuted in 2013 and took home the top prize, the “Aguille D’Or,” at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (the Oscars of watchmaking) that same year. Its claim to fame was a constant force mechanism—a device that delivers a high rate of stability, no matter the amount of available energy. The new Neo Constant Escapement improves upon its predecessor both technically and aesthetically.

Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement

Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement Girard-Perregaux

But first, let’s get you up to speed on the background of this technology. Pruniaux likens the idea to running a marathon. The average person might start running quickly at the beginning and then get slower and slower as fatigue sets in over time and more energy is exerted. However, a professional runner, particularly those at the top of their game, might have a constant average speed throughout the race from start to finish. That level of endurance is exactly how the constant force escapement works. Girard-Perregaux, of course, is not the first company to introduce this concept in a wristwatch. F.P. Journe famously introduced the idea in his first wristwatch, the Tourbillon Souverain, which he created in 1991—a tourbillon with a remontoir d’égalité a.k.a constant force mechanism. It was inspired by the mechanism of a Breguet clock, but miniaturized for the wrist. Journe’s approach was decidedly more classic in terms of traditional watchmaking standards in terms of the components, but Girard Perregaux’s take took a modern approach by incorporating machined Silicium silicon components.

So, what is the point of using silicium? It ensures the amplitude of the balance remains constant despite the amount of energy stored in the barrel, meaning no matter how low the power reserve gets the precision of the timekeeping remains constant. Watch lore has it that the idea for the silicium blade (first introduced in watchmaking by Ulysse Nardin in 2001 in its Freak model), was the brainchild of a watchmaker playing with his ticket while waiting for a train by bending it between his fingers. The c-shape it creates causes a buckling which causes a uniform amount of energy to accumulate to a point of instability before snapping back to create an inverted c-shape. The switching from compression to bending is the essence of the company’s constant escapement. Energy from the wheels is sent via a rocking lever to the buckling silicium blade (pictured above in purple), which is six times thinner than a strand of hair, the constant escapement exploits its flexibility and the blade engages with a lever to serve an impulse delivering energy to the balance wheel.

Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement Caseback

Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement Caseback Girard-Perregaux

All of this technology was present in the 2013 Constant Escapement L.M., but there are several new updates in the new Neo Constant Escapement. “We extended the use of the silicon, which means that we improved the power reserve from six days to seven,” says Claude-Daniel Proellochs, marketing and product manager at Girard-Perregaux. “We have more torque, which is fundamental for us and then we have a self-starting mechanism. And we are COSC certified.” Unlike its predecessor, which featured the hours and minutes in an off-center dial, the Neo Constant Escapement has skeletonized rhodium-plated hands that emanate from the middle of the dial. It also features a central sweep seconds hand with a sky-blue tip and an arrow-shaped counterweight.

It all comes housed beneath a sapphire crystal “box” encased in grade 5 titanium. At 45 mm, it’s a rather big watch by today’s standards where tastes are increasingly headed towards smaller watch sizes. It is reduced by 1 mm from the 2013 version, but for those hopeful that an even smaller version will come out down the road, Proellochs says (for now at least) that it is impossible to reduce dimensions any further because the movement cannot support it. Pruniaux seems to think differently, however, when pressed. “Maybe, who knows,” he says of whether or not a smaller size is in the future. “As long as it’s long and painful, we’ll do it.” [Laughs] Nevertheless, because of its curvature and lack of a bezel, it wears a bit more like a 42 and thanks to its titanium case and silicium components it is ultra-light. The purple hue of the silicium components are much more muted in person than these photos suggest for anyone preferring a less colorful approach (although, a brighter purple is certainly cooler in our book).

The piece will retail for approximately CHF 80,000 (approximately $88,360 at current exchange) and it is not limited, but, naturally, due to the complexity of the timepiece, the brand says it will only be able to produce 50 to 70 a year. Today, Girard-Perregaux has about 25 SKUs that are considered high horology, but Pruniaux says, “this watch is almost the center of gravity, from a technical point of view, for the brand.”

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