Let’s be cruel and assume you can only have 5 watches in total. As we are the GP Chronicles, let’s make that a 5 watch collection from Girard-Perregaux. So which five should it be?
Let’s set us no boundaries, vintage or modern, affordable or grail, no $ limits. I will make my personal judgment and part of it will be that those will be very wearable watches. If I would only have 5 watches in my collection, I surely don’t need a safe queen or a super-expensive watch you hardly dare to wear.
In addition, while the five below reflect my personal taste, I’ve tried to pick models that are easily available, even I admit the very desirable vintage watches are not easy to acquire, I picked models that with patience can be found. There are some very rare watches that would be in my grail list, like the Chronograph 90170 or even my ww.tc “Tribute to John Harrison”, but finding those is extremely hard, so I have not included such watches in this selection as I would like to present something anyone can aim to get.
1: A Vintage 1945
There are a few designs that are identifying a brand and in the case of Girard-Perregaux, you have the widely recognised Tourbillon under three golden bridges and equally the curved rectangular watch collection of the “Vintage 1945”. Of course, the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso is even older and most likely the most famous rectangular watch, but the Vintage 1945 does many things very differently than the Reverso and is just an equal iconic design. While the case is rectangular the watch is all about curves. Vertical and horizontal curves of the case and even curved dials provide a glove-like fit on the wrist. The only part not curved of course is the movement, which does present quite a challenge to fit that into an all curved case while keeping the watch thin.
Picking just one Vintage 1945 is no easy task. There is a wide variety starting with the time-only manual wind first series (Ref. 2595) from 1995 all the way to models from the current collection like the Large Date / Moon Phase with sapphire dial. In between, the Vintage 1945 has seen some high complications, like the three-golden bridge tourbillon, a perpetual calendar chronograph or the Chronograph a Rattrapante Foudroyante to name just a few. I currently have 5 “Vintage 1945” in my collection if I include the original vintage version from the 1940s into it and frankly, I’m lusting for a few more, like the Perpetual Calendar (90285) or the stunning single bridge tourbillon (99850), but let’s not get carried away. You can be very happy with a very fine Vintage 1945 at a much easier entry.
Hence our first pick for our five watch collection will be the Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 Chronograph, Ref. 2599. Introduced at the turn of the millennium, it was an immediate winner. A clean Chronograph design with two registers, no date in a very elegant and also narrow case. The case of Ref. 2599 is only 30mm wide, so it required a relatively small movement. For that, GP developed the Caliber 3080, a full in-house column-wheel chronograph in a modular design. The previously used Dubious Depraz modules would not have fit into the case. Most manufactures would have taken the easy route and just made a wider case, but not so GP, the coherent case design took prime and so they developed the smallest column-wheel chronograph caliber. It was also used in the Ladies Richeville Chronographs for example. The 30 minute Chronograph counter also has a jumping hand, which is a nice touch.
The Chronograph 2599 was manufactured mostly in precious metal and with one version in steel. In 2001 however, GP did a special limited edition of 2001 pieces in Steel with unique dials in either cream or black. This Chronograph had skeleton hands and the Art Deco design was even more emphasised. So here we have our first watch in our collection, the Vintage 1945 Chronograph steel with cream dial: 259188.8.131.5286.
2: A vintage Deep Diver
Let’s go vintage with #2. For me having a good mix of vintage and modern watches is very important. I like the reliability and ease of use of modern watches and frankly, I also like the fact that they are kinda new, but ignoring vintage altogether would be a great mistake and understanding the heritage of a brand is key to appreciate a modern collection. There are a number of great and very reputable watch manufacturers that may have a historic name but there aren’t really any vintage (wrist) watches of interest. Lange & Söhne for example comes to mind. It’s perfectly fine and they surely deserve their place in the market (and yes, I could even fancy one or two Lange’s) but for a collector that wants to go deep into a brand (like I do), such brands are less interesting.
Our first choice above kind of bridged between vintage and modern as the modern Vintage 1945 is inspired by a vintage model from the 1940s which lives on in the current collection; the Deep Diver on the other hand has not (yet) any modern heirs. Well, the Sea Hawk collection of modern GP diving watches is not too far off, but there is certainly a break in the line and naming somehow.
Diving watches really caught on to a wider audience in the 1950s with the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms but very soon most manufactures followed with the trend with their own Diver models. In the 1950s, the skin divers became popular often still without rotating bezel or compressor cases or screw-in crowns. It is quite amazing how water resistance ratings could be achieved with the relative basic technology of that time. Girard-Perregaux released its first Deep Diver Ref. 7245 in 1957. At that time the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was already established, but the GP Deep Diver topped it with a 100 Fathoms rating. A fathom is an old measure of depth equalling to 6 feet, approx. 1.80m. So the Deep Diver 100 Fathoms could be taken down to 180m. Well, certainly today I wouldn’t even take it into the rain.
There have been a number of really great Deep Diver models, but if we pick one for our ultimate collection, I would go with the 8867 from 1967/68. Why? It is the most elegant while coming in a good sized, 39mm case. The same case has been used by quite a few manufactures but that does not make it less interesting. The most prominent feature are the fantastically drawn numerals on top of the Tritium lume. The “2” is written like a “Z” and “6” and “9” are drawn with right angles. So we have our second watch in our collection, the vintage Deep Diver 8867 V.
3: A 1966 Chronograph
A collection of Girard-Perregaux watches without a model from the 1966 line would not be complete. It goes back to history again as well. The year 1966 marked a significant achievement in the history of Girard-Perregaux and Chronometer accuracy in general. It marked the development of the High Frequency Gyromatic caliber beating at 36000 vph or 5 Hz. For the first time in history, a manufacturer simply submitted its entire production run of calibers to the Neuchatel Observatory for Chronometer Certification and all 662 passed with flying colours. To honour this achievement, Girard-Perregaux received the Centennial Award from the Observatory. Girard-Perregaux celebrated this achievement with a special release of “Observatory Chronometer” dials.
When the new modern 1966 line of dress watches was reborn, the year 1966 was the name patron of these elegant dress watches that paid tribute to the historic achievement. The very first 1966 was Ref. 49525, a time and date dress watch in pink or white gold and automatic movement in 38mm. The pure elegance of that watch was striking and besides some very nice details, the case design of the 1966 clearly stands out from the crowd. Extremely comfortable with perfectly shaped lugs, simple pin buckle and thin alligator straps, the entire 1966 line shares that common feature.
So putting a 1966 into the 5 watch collection was a very easy decision, not so on the other hand which model to pick. One of my favourite watches is the 1966 Annual Calendar Equation of Time. But I also very much love my two 1966 Chronographs. In the end, I picked the 40mm white gold Chronograph with sunburst blue dial. A stunning look and the combination of blue dial and white gold ticks a lot of boxes for me. In the end, blue is the signature colour of Girard-Perregaux and the blue house on the hill at La Chaux-de-Fonds, so I needed to have a watch with blue dial in that minimal collection. Number 3 in our 5 watch collection therefore is the 1966 Chronograph 49539-53-451-BK65.
4: A vintage Olimpico Chronograph
And yet another Chronograph? Shouldn’t I have chosen more diversity on a small collection of only 5 watches? Perhaps, but diversity was not a primary criterium, I picked what I like most and I do like Chronographs very much. Besides, we are going back to the 1960s and when it comes to vintage GPs, the Divers and the Chronographs are the most desirable in my view.
So we are heading back to 1968 and the Olympic Games in Mexico-City. It were memorable Games, with the long jump of the century by Bob Beamon to an incredible 8.90m, Germany for the first time entered with two teams for East and West and Tommie Smith, the winner over 200m protested during the medal ceremony with a black power fist against racism.
If the admittedly sketchy records are right, Girard-Perregaux for the first time released a Chronograph with “Olimpico” on the dial. At least two versions, Ref. 8862 and 8846 came to light in 1968 as Olimpico Chronographs. The series continued all the way until 1996 until the IOC suddenly demanded royalties for using the name.
The 1968 Olimpico’s had all a 3 register design and sported GP Caliber 07, a manual wind chronograph based on the Excelsior Park 40 but enhanced with the third sub-register. Ref. 8846 had an all stainless steel case in close to 38mm, mushroom chronograph pushers and either a black or a silver sunburst dial. It has both a Pulsation (red print) and a Tachymeter (blue print) scale and syringe hands with tritium lume.
I’m in the lucky position that I do not have to choose between silver and black dial as I own both. They have a very different characteristic but then for our little exercise here, I can only take one into the 5 watches watch box, and it would in the end be the silver dial. We are getting close to the grand finale, with number 4 in the box, the Girard-Perregaux Olimpico Chronograph 8846 N from 1968.
5: The Grail: A three-bridge tourbillon
We have come to the end, well, almost the end of our plan to limit us to 5 watches only within a Girard-Perregaux collection, but one spot we have still to give in our virtual watch box. While the first four watches I actually picked from my collection, I allowed myself a little indulgence for number 5. Still keeping it within achievable levels and as per our thoughts at the beginning, I wanted to pick watches I could wear every day without hesitation, I still believe that when it comes to Girard-Perregaux, the ultimate signature watch is a tourbillon under three bridges.
If we go down to five watches only, it would (in theory) provide funds for a more expensive watch. A classic tourbillon under three-golden-bridges is a piece of mechanical art but also sparkles like an expensive piece of jewellery. The bridges are meticulously finished until the polish is literally like a mirror. I’m not sure I would be comfortable in all situations wearing such a watch, especially if in pink gold.
In 2014 however, Girard-Perregaux catapulted the classic three-golden-bridge design into the 21st Century with a modern interpretation of its classic design. The bridges put away the arrow-shaped ends and instead turned into skeletonised bridges made in titanium, finished with sandblasting and black PVD coating. That matt finish brings out a three-dimensional depth and a modern, cool look. Otherwise, the design remained true to its roots with the main barrel and the automatic platinum micro-rotor under the top bridge and the tourbillon in the classic lyre shaped cage under the bottom bridge, caliber 9400 is a feast to the eyes. Furthermore, Girard-Perregaux made sure that light comes into the movement with a retracted case at top and bottom and a box-shaped crystal.
One year after the first Neo-Tourbillon as this new design was rightly dubbed, GP went one step further releasing an all-black Neo-Tourbillon in 2015. The base-plate is now also black giving a little less contrast to the bridges, but not taking away any three-dimensionality. The case is made from titanium and black DLC finished. DLC finishing is controversial but when it comes to black watches, Titanium is a great material and I probably prefer it over ceramic. Black ceramic cases were only made by GP a few years later, but then if you ever get a scratch on the DLC Titanium, I’m sure a service can take care of that, while a chip in ceramic may end up with an expensive repair.
With 45mm, the Neo-Tourbillon is a big watch, but on the edge to be okay and with its lightweight titanium case easy to wear. The folding clasp puts the strap underneath the clasp, which is quite comfortable. Oh yeah, one myth I need to destroy. You can read again and again, that people believe that the screws that fix the bridges to the baseplate have been sloppily inserted and that the slits should be lined up. No! These are real screws and they need to be tightened with the correct torque and there is no way to align slits like that. Watchmakers use slit screws and not allen key screws on movements, so let’s stop that silly discussion. Taking the last spot in my 5 watches only collection from Girard-Perregaux, the Neo-Tourbillon 99270-21-000-BA6A.
So, did we cover all grounds? Not even scratched the surface. We could have done the same exercise with 50 watches and it would have been still hard, but the task was to limit it to just five. I could possibly be happy with this 5 watch collection. Each one can be worn without hesitation and the collection would still be very diverse. Okay, a nice Calendar watch instead of a Chronograph would be an alternative for sure and maybe a watch I can take swimming, but anyhow, everyone’s five watches list would look quite different and why not enjoy quality over quantity. An interesting thought experiment that did get me thinking…