Girard-Perregaux, the prestigious Maison from Girard-Perregaux La Chaux de Fonds has a long history of making tourbillons and other expressions of Haute Horlogerie. Recently, the Manufacture unveiled its La Esmeralda Tourbillon “A Secret” Eternity Edition, a watch that combines the brand’s legendary three gold bridges with an array of artistic crafts. Join the US-based journalist, Meehna Goldsmith, as she explores the composition of this remarkable creation. For its 230th anniversary, Girard-Perregaux pulled out all the stops with the creation of the La Esmeralda Tourbillon “A Secret” Eternity Edition. To understand this piece of wrist art, we need to delve into the brand’s history. In 1867, Constant Girard proved his prowess in chronometry by winning first prize at the Observatoire of Neuchâtel competition for his pocket watch outfitted with a tourbillon, detent escapement and three nickel silver bridges. He presented this same watch at the ‘Exposition Universelle’ held in Paris the same year, where the watch was awarded a medal. The three bridge construction, which is both a functional and artistic element, has been passed down as a defining characteristic. When you see those three horizontal bridges on a watch, you can immediately identify it as a Girard-Perregaux.
Girard took the model of his award-winning pocket watch to showcase precision as well as artistry for the ‘Exposition Universelle’ in 1889. This time he housed the movement with a tourbillon and detent escapement in a lustrous pink gold 56mm case with three gold bridges to match. In addition, the case featured intricate engraving by Fritz Kundert. After winning a diploma and gold medal at the Exposition, Girard decided to sell the award-winning piece through a jewellery retailer with stores called ‘La Esmeralda’ located in Paris and Mexico. The pocket watch caught the eye of Mexican president Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915) who purchased it. La Esmeralda stayed in the Diaz family until 1970 when Girard-Perregaux acquired the acclaimed pocket watch for its museum. To recognise and honour its roots, Girard-Perregaux released the Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon “A Secret” Eternity Edition in November of 2021. Doffing its hat to the original, this 21st century rendition offers a modern interpretation that exhibits the brand’s array of talents.
When you first lay eyes on her, La Esmeralda Tourbillon “A Secret” Eternity Edition is a lot to take in. (Let’s call her the LETASEE for short.) Although there’s an overwhelming feast of detail, it’s one where you’d be missing out if you didn’t take a seat at the table. Like its predecessor, LETASEE uses pink gold as a motif for its 43mm case and bridges. And wow, those bridges! Over the years, the three bridges have evolved to become more refined and used as a platform to demonstrate finishing finesse. Here you’ll find a particular treat. Usually, bevelling is rounded or flat and done at a 45° angle. In this case, Girard-Perregaux has created a concave bevel that plays delightful tricks in the light: the shade of the gold changes and sometimes the surface will appear convex, offering an added dimension for the eyes. And then there are the sinewy horses, sculpted to depict them in motion. They are incorporated as part of the bridges anchoring the tourbillon and winding barrel. As magnificent as they are, what possessed Girard-Perregaux to choose horses instead of say penguins or giraffes? The answer (somewhat) lies on the back case of the 1889 La Esmeralda, where there are horses engraved. Still, the reason for why they appear on the original remains a mystery. The barrel and mainplate offer up the artistry of traditionally applied guilloché patterns, applied by an artisan operating a lathe. Thereafter, they are dressed in Grand Feu enamel, providing a wonderful contrast with the pink-gold, dauphine-type hour and minute hands journeying around the dial. Not to be outdone, the case is elaborately engraved with a leaf motif in a bow to Kundert. You see the rich blue on the side and flanks? That’s enamelling also, which carries over to the back cover of the watch, along with the equine theme. Enamel outside the dial is practically unheard of, but Girard-Perregaux expands the canvas for this technique. Nice thinking out of the box, or, in this case, the circle. As for the movement, pressing the pusher on the crown opens a “secret” cover that reveals the in-house produced calibre GP09600-1506, impeccably decorated, and that’s saying a lot coming from my admittedly critical eye. The pink gold motif continues with the motion-work bridge and marking plate, whose finishing reflects the shape of the Gold Bridges. While Girard-Perregaux puts on display its virtuosity with handiwork, it also wants you to know its cutting edge technical capabilities. Indeed, an example can be seen with the mainplate, which is milled to incredibly small tolerances with a CNC machine. Girard-Perregaux isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Sohne or Greubel Forsey. With Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon “A Secret” Eternity Edition, the brand makes a strong statement that it belongs on the same podium. Perhaps the watch might even reveal the mystery of the horses to its owners.