THE LEGENDARY JEAN-FRANÇOIS BAUTTE
1791 - 1852
The origins of Girard-Perregaux are associated with two legendary figures of Swiss watchmaking.
The first, Jean-François Bautte, was born in Geneva in 1772 in a family of modest laborers. Orphaned when still very young, he was given an apprenticeship at twelve years of age and trained in the different trades as case assembler, guilloché applier, watchmaker, jeweler and goldsmith.
He created his first watches in 1791 and, since his talents as a craftsman were matched by a sound commercial instinct, he soon developed his own manufacturing company, bringing together under a single roof all the watchmaking trades of the time. Here he organized the production of timepieces, jewels, animated dolls, music-boxes and other objets de vertu.
With clients including many of the crowned heads of Europe, this astute industrialist and businessman of brilliant character also traded with Turkey, India and China. Dumas, Balzac and Ruskin, among others, all wrote in praise of the famous watchmaker and jeweler from Geneva who was one of the inventors of the ultra-thin watch.
CONSTANT GIRARD, THE VISIONARY
The second legendary figure in the history of Girard-Perregaux was a native of the Swiss locality of la Chaux-de-Fonds. Born in 1825 in this small city in the Neuchâtel Mountains, Constant Girard founded the firm of Girard & Compagnie in 1852. Two years later, he married Marie Perregaux (1831-1912 ), who came from a well-established family of merchant watchmakers in the neighboring city of Le Locle. The Manufacture Girard-Perregaux was created from the combination of their two last names, in 1856, in la Chaux-de-Fonds.
Constant Girard-Perregaux distinguished himself in particular by his research into the field of escapement systems, and especially the Tourbillon. Thanks to their quality and esthetic beauty, his creations were awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, both at national and international competitions and at various Universal Expositions. In 1867 he presented a Tourbillon, which eventually went on to win a prize at the Universal Exposition in Paris. The consecration came in 1889, when his famous Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges, which had by now become the icon of Girard-Perregaux watchmaking, won a gold medal at the Paris Universal Exposition. He was indeed a visionary watchmaker. In 1880 he developed a wristwatch concept aimed at German naval officers and ordered by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm I. To protect against accidental knocks, the watch glass was sheltered behind a metal grid.
Two thousand of these watches were manufactured, which represented the first major market sale of wristwatches.
However this idea, which was revolutionary at the time, had no immediate follow-up. It would not be until the beginning of the following century that the wristwatch found the success that it enjoys today.
Under the guidance of the Girard-Perregaux family, the Manufacture developed its reputation far beyond the frontiers of Europe. It was one of the first firms to introduce Swiss watches to the Americas, where Constant Girard-Perregaux, with his brothers-in-law Henri ( 1828-1893 ) and Jules ( 1838-1903 ) Perregaux, established commercial offices. It was in October 1865 that Henri set sail for Argentina. He set up business in Buenos Aires, and spent sixteen years of his life promoting the Brand’s fortunes, successfully establishing its presence throughout the American continent.
Girard-Perregaux next extended its presence into Asia in quite a remarkable way, with Marie’s third brother, François Perregaux (1834-1877 ), becoming one of the pioneers of Swiss watchmaking in Japan. He set sail in 1859 for Singapore, with a mandate from the Swiss watch Federation to establish an export office there.
From 1860 he settled in Yokohama, thus becoming the first Swiss merchant watchmaker to work in the land of the rising sun. He went on to found there in 1865 the firm F. Perregaux & Co. Becoming a prominent figure in the French-speaking community in Japan and one of the oldest foreign residents, he acted as official agent for Girard-Perregaux until his death in 1877.
THE EXPANSION CONTINUES
At the dawn of the 20th century, Girard-Perregaux enjoyed uncontested prestige. Its supremacy at the various international expositions was such that the Brand was selected as a permanent member of the Jury, and was excluded from competing in these international events. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin himself measured his aeronautical trials using a Girard-Perregaux timepiece.
On the death of Constant Girard-Perregaux in 1903, his son Constant Girard-Gallet (1856-1945) succeeded him at the head of the Manufacture. In 1906 he took over the famous Bautte Company and merged it with Girard-Perregaux et Compagnie. Thus, two illustrious names in Swiss watchmaking came to be permanently united.
In 1928, Otto Graef ( 1862-1948 ), a watchmaker of German origin who had settled in La Chaux-de-Fonds and owned the watch brand MIMO (Manufacture internationale de Montres d’or), acquired the share capital of Girard-Perregaux. His company would soon become a major player in the industry.
In 1930 the sales of wristwatches overtook those of pocket watches for the first time, 50 years earlier Constant Girard-Perregaux had first anticipated this way of carrying time.
In the 1940s the Girard-Perregaux brand continued its development both in Europe and the Americas, particularly with the water resistant Sea Hawk model, while the MIMO brand was mainly distributed in European markets. 1945 saw the creation of a rectangular Art Deco inspired model, which would be revived fifty years later and dubbed the “Vintage 1945”.
THE SENSE OF INNOVATION
In the early 1960s Girard-Perregaux was one of the few watch manufactures to have an in-house R&D team. This research department enabled the Brand to develop several revolutionary movements.
In 1966 it introduced the first high frequency movement, with a balance beating at 36,000 vibrations per hour : the Gyromatic HF. This breakthrough was to change fundamentally the world of timekeeping. Watches equipped with this movement achieved excellent rate performance.
As a result, Girard-Perregaux won certificates from the Neuchâtel Observatory with serial production watches in competitions for which previously only specially prepared models had been successful. On that same year the administrative Council of the Canton of Neuchâtel recognized the research and development carried out by Girard-Perregaux by awarding the Brand with the Observatory Centenary Prize.
Still the innovations continued : in 1970, the Basel Watch Fair saw the first commercial presentation of Swiss quartz watches, including the Girard-Perregaux Elcron model. In 1971, Girard-Perregaux unveiled the first watch in the world equipped with a quartz movement with a frequency of 32,768 vibrations per hour, which was after universally adopted by all manufacturers.
THE RETURN TO MECHANICAL WATCHES
1970 - 2000
At the end of the 1970s, with the rise of quartz, the Swiss watch industry was in deep crisis. Girard-Perregaux was one of the first prestigious watch companies to take up the challenge of a return to traditional mechanical timepieces.
Girard-Perregaux’s master watchmakers undertook the remaking of twenty pieces of the famous Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges pocket watch, with the first piece being presented in 1981.
Ten years later, to celebrate its bicentenary, the Manufacture pulled off the feat of presenting a version of the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges miniaturized to wristwatch size. In 1992 the Italian entrepreneur, architect and former racing car driver Luigi Macaluso took over the reins of Girard-Perregaux.
Under his guidance, Girard-Perregaux became one of the major players in modern Haute Horlogerie. Between 1994 and 2004 the Brand's partnership with Ferrari gave birth to a remarkable collection of sport and grand complication models stamped with the legendary “prancing horse”.
At a time when many Swiss watchmaking companies procured finished movements or ebauches from external suppliers, Girard-Perregaux undertook a massive effort to develop its own internal logic as a traditional watch Manufacture. Major investments were undertaken, particularly in the field of research and development and in 1994 a new family of ‘GP 3000’ ultra-thin mechanical calibers was launched.
The Brand’s heritage was also showcased with the opening of the Girard-Perregaux Museum, to bear witness to the firm’s extraordinary history.
A PERIOD RICH IN NEW DEVELOPMENTS
2000 - 2014
The early years of the new millennium saw the creation of the most exceptional developments, including the Vintage 1945 Jackpot Tourbillon, applying the precision of Haute Horlogerie to the gambler's game of chance, or the fascinating example of Multi-Axial Tourbillons. Girard-Perregaux’s women’s collections were also equipped with superb watch complications.
In 2011, Kering, a world leader in apparel and accessories, became the majority shareholder of Girard-Perregaux.
The following year, the presentation of the Hawk Collection resumed the Brand’s long tradition of creating sporty watch models.
In 2013 Girard-Perregaux presented the first watches equipped with its revolutionary constant force escapement, thus opening the way to the creation of watch movements of unrivalled precision.
Girard-Perregaux received numerous awards for this groundbreaking development, including the most prestigious one : the Aiguille d’Or of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.