Postmodern Manifesto: Energy Resource

<< Back to Watch Collector, January 2014

The idea behind girard-Perregaux’s latest showpiece, the Constant Escapement, is neither a new one, nor is it, strictly speaking, original. The company’s engineering and construction, however, qualify the piece as an exceptional example of postmodern watchmaking. A constant force escapement is meant to solve a problem endemic to mechanical watches as they are currently constructed. As the force of the mainspring winds down, the amplitude of the balance—and consequently the accuracy of the watch—decreases. Watchmakers have applied all sorts of devices, including the remontoir spring, the chain and fusee, as well as multiple barrel power trains in hopes of solving it. Girard-Perregaux’s innovative approach to this dilemma is as impressive aesthetically as it is intellectually, elegantly adding a steady level of power to the balance directly at the escapement, which governs the balance wheel.

The inspiration for the device, according to the widely recounted story, came to Swiss constructor Nicholas Dehon aboard a train in the 1990s, while casually snapping his cardboard ticket back and forth. The impulse imparted by the thin, semi-stiff material when slightly compressed from the top and bottom was strong and regular, and Dehon tried to emulate this on a small scale. But metal, the only practical material at the time, did not produce reliable results and, reportedly, Rolex, Dehon’s employer at the time, passed on the peculiar design.

Years later, Girard-Perregaux’s then-owner and CEO, Luigi “Gino” Macaluso, decided to take a chance on the design using the new silicium plasma erosion technology to make the parts. This advantage proved decisive. The complex construction, enabling a compression force to be exerted on the flipping blade, can be made in one part. The blade itself that provides the impulse to the balance is just 14 microns thick. These feats would be impossible with conventional techniques. “By 2008 we had a working model of the escapement, which we unveiled to the press,” says Girard-Perregaux engineer Stephane Oes, who has worked on the escapement since the company took on the project. “In the years since then, we have worked to miniaturize it, make it reliable, and build a movement around it.”

Collectors will appreciate this last accomplishment most of all: Girard-Perregaux has successfully married the new escapement with the design symmetry that made its Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges so desirable. The first edition to house the Constant Escapement is a large-scale open-works watch with an inset dial and blackened bridges. The escapement itself takes almost the entire bottom half of the watch, commanding attention in the fashion of a tourbillon.

This fact begs the question as to whether Girard-Perregaux has merely crafted a tourbillon replacement at a time when the complication is suffering in the market. While the architecture of the company’s latest Constant Escapement might suggest it, the long history and utter uniqueness of the design stands for itself. One of the qualities of this particular escapement is that the impulse and the fine workings of the escapement and balance can be seen and understood as the watch is worn—to a much greater extent than any conventional construction. This visual quality is matched by a compelling chronometric performance. “We will be regulating the Constant Escapement to around plus two or three second per day,” remarks Oes. “And throughout the power reserve, the amplitude stays absolutely constant.”

Girard-Perregaux, 877.846.3447, www.girard-perregaux.com