Girard Perregaux Factory Visit and Some Tourbillon Watches
Lately You might have noticed that I’m writing many factory visit articles, yet mostly focusing on the watches themselves; this time, when I visited Girard-Perregaux manufacturing facilities in La Chaux de Fonds I’ve decided to talk more about the production side of it. Not that the watches are bad, I’m a big fan of the complicated collections from GP, but a factory like that is definitely worth talking about.
Although Girard-Perregaux’s history dates back as far as 1791 the official year of the factory being created is 1856, when Mr. Constant Girard (who already had a firm called Girard & Cie.) married Marie Perregaux and established the manufacture. Since then it has been largely expanding, not just in size (as it is not only one building anymore) but also with the amount of work and products the firm makes. Today only the manufacturing of the Girard-Perregaux movements (all done in house) consists of the 2 separate buildings, one for the rather regular watches, and another for the exclusive high end collections. As well as that GP also has their own museum, and is associated with a more modern and sporty brand JeanRichard. My journey in the factory started with the look at the machinery and creation of casings (yes, they actually make in-house cases!)…
Each case is crafted out of the full blocks of raw material (which is later recycled) then manually and carefully polished and after assembled. Apart from the cases I took a look at the manufacturing of the movements and their very detailed control. Girard-Perregaux is a very large brand today, so obviously when it comes to the standard collections, like Hawk or Vintage 1945 they are produced in big quantities, and that means some heavy machinery needs to be used. When it comes to technological machines I’m not very fascinated as to me most of them look same. However with a bit of explanation by my guide Willy I realized how important it is to have the latest technology when it comes to efficiency and space saving.
Nevertheless what I enjoyed the most was the hand crafting of movements, and processes like decoration of the plates and hand polishing. After every part is made the assembly of the watches starts. That process was actually presented to me in this way for the first time. Each watchmaker has a table with a big round hole in the middle, where a disk, with many slots (for movements) is placed. The round disk is covered, but can be open and rotated to whichever movement the watchmaker needs. So whenever he wants to work on one of them he closes the table and only opens up part of it to reveal the needed mechanism. It automatically is elevated from the disk, and as soon as the watchmaker is done, the movement is placed back, and a new one comes up. Each of the movements after being assembled is going through a very strict control process, with cameras (capturing over a thousand images a second) and machines testing the watches in all ways possible, even up to throwing the movement to a wall… (yep, with a hammer). Now imagine the a constant escapement movement being smashed with a hammer. That hurt your nerves more than the actual watch, as they all can easily pass that ‘exam’.
After visiting the first part of the manufacturing we went to the most historical place of the factory, the manufacturing museum, that contained all the ancient and previous generation machines that were used to craft the watches. What was very surprising to me is that in just over 30 years the technology has changed drastically in size and function, from a huge box just drilling 3 holes to a smaller machine doing the entire skeleton of the movement.
Last stop of the Girard Perregaux factory was my favorite, the building with the manufacturing of high end watches. And while there were many machines at the previous department, as well as many people working on movements, here the entire movement from start to finish is done by one watchmaker, which takes him about 1-2 months overall. I’ve seen one of the masters there working on polishing a tourbillon bridge with what seemed to be a wooden chopstick, and she was very good at it, telling me it usually takes up to 2-3 days just to polish such a small part like that.
Of course my most awaited part came a bit later, when the masters revealed some of the pieces they’ve just recently finished, and that included my personal favorite bi-axial tourbillon made of Tantalum, a material new for Girard Perregaux, but already mastered As well as that I got to see some triple bridge tourbillons, that later I will be seeing in the already finished models..
As my factory trip came to an end I could not go until I had a look at some of the watches, and a vey nice presentation was awaiting me in a showing room. First up I saw some of the more simple pieces, like the Traveller collection, and the Hawk, the GP’s version of a sports watch, that combines a cool looking case with a mixed leather-rubber strap. Not my personal favorite but it sure looks pretty cool for an everyday watch.
What came next was the very famous vintage 1945 collection, with some of the classy and traditional rose gold pieces, today known to most people as the brand’s signature. In my head I always compare them to the Reversos by Jaeger Le Coultre, and even though I’m a die hard JLC fan especially of the Master Control collection, I’d prefer a Vintage 1945 over the double faced Reverso..
Now, moving to an even more classy collection, the round shaped pieces like the full calendar or equation of time and annual calendar (being my personal favorite), laying just next to what at first seems to be a simple looking watch, but in reality is a high end awesome minute repeater, that we can see much better when looked at from the back.
Now, to end the experience from my visit I’d like to just share a couple more pieces that I saw there and almost couldn’t resist from just taking off with them! I present you the three tourbillons: one triple bridge, and two traditional 1966 golden bridges.. That’s five bridges right here!
Finally, that we’ve all received a fair dose of the good old ‘horogasms’ I’ll have to end this article, and I hope you’ve fully enjoyed it. If you did please leave me feedback on which watch brand you’d want me to visit, as well as some Facebook Likes & Shares!