Though the tourbillon’s rightly associated with the name of its inventor, A. L. Breguet, it is also associated, in the minds of many students of its history, with another name: Girard-Perregaux. One of the greatest practitioners of the art of tourbillon making was Constant Girard, who founded Girard-Perregaux in about 1852, and who invented a configuration for the tourbillon that still influences tourbillon design today: the tourbillon under 3 bridges, often gold. One of the most legendary of all these tourbillons was the one know as “La Esmeralda.”
The tourbillon known as “La Esmerelda” has had an interesting life. La Esmeralda – Girard-Perregaux tourbillon no. 168230. La Esmerelda was and is famous for its beauty – the characteristic, arrow-head golden bridge configuration was invented by Constant Girard, and was the subject of a US patent in 1884 – but in addition to being very beautiful, she was, like all tourbillons designed by Constant Girard, intended to be a very serious timekeeper indeed, and, in addition to being awarded a bulletin at the Neuchâtel Observatory in 1889, she also won a gold medal in Paris at the Universal Exposition in the same year; Girard Perregaux tourbillons are said to have performed so well that in 1901 the Paris Exposition stopped accepting Girard Perregaux 3 Golden Bridge tourbillons because they won so frequently, it was thought unfair to allow them to enter.
You may recall our previous coverage of an early Girard Perregaux tourbillon under three bridges, from 1860 – GP records are unfortunately incomplete for this period, but the first such tourbillon was indeed made in 1860 and it’s possible this one was the very first.
The three bridges tourbillon configuration has been used extensively by GP in recent years. After 1901, for various reasons (probably including everything the rise of the wristwatch to the economic crises of the 1930s, to the advent of two World Wars) production ceased, but it began again in 1982 when Girard-Perregaux undertook to construct, as a limited series, 20 pocket watches under 3 golden bridges. The series is still not complete but we can say that those pocket watches were built as precision timekeepers as well as works of art; no. 14 of the series was tested by the COSC (Swiss office of chronometer certification) in 1987 and 1993, with excellent results.
The La Esmeralda Tourbillon wristwatch is, in a certain way, a return if not to basics, certainly to fundamentals. There is no experimentation with exotic materials or unusual design here: the La Esmeralda wristwatch has all the visual excitement of Girard-Perregaux’s tourbillons under three golden bridges from the mid to late 19th century. The design is in every key respect identical, to all intents and purposes, to the La Esmeralda pocket watch – the only major difference, in fact is that the La Esmeralda wristwatch is selfwinding. The automatic winding rotor is mounted co-axially with the mainspring barrel, and the larger size mainspring this permits gives the watch a total power reserve of 60 hours.
Other than that technical detail, the La Esmeralda wristwatch is very much a purist’s tourbillon, right down to the characteristic lyre-shaped tourbillon carriage so characteristic of Constant Girard’s work – it’s an homage to a major part of watchmaking history, and the history of Girard-Perregaux, and it’s every inch a piece of history itself.
The Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon: movement, Girard-Perregaux caliber GP09400-0004, 16 lignes/36.60mm, height 8.41mm. Self-winding with 60 hour power reserve. Tourbillon carriage: GP “lyre” configuration, steel, weight 0.305g. Case, 44mm x 14.55mm, pink gold, 30m water resistant. Visit Girard-Perregaux online here.
Read our coverage from earlier this year of two remarkable pocket watches from the Girard-Perregaux museum, including what may be the first tourbillon under three bridges, here.
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