November 23, 2021
by David Bredan
Wowzers! Inspired by La Esmeralda, the brand’s prize-winning pocket watch made for the ‘Exposition Universelle’ in 1889, the Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon “À Secret” Eternity Edition watch is as much a mouthful as it is an eyeful. Having seen it in person, I’m quite thrilled to be able to present it to you in real-world images because, my goodness, is it a thing to behold in person.
The craziest thing about it? Nope, not the engraved enamel and gold case, not the horses, not even the 323-part movement… To me, it is the size. Measuring in at 43.00mm by 15.10mm, it is large, but somehow so beautifully proportionate and condensed that the La Esmeralda Tourbillon actually feels at least a few millimeters smaller than that figure would suggest. And while I’m smitten by hugely complicated huge watches, the fact that they’re often unwearable takes a big chunk off their edge. By contrast, the Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon in its wristwatch form looks like it’s been shrunken by the sheer weight of all that gold, enamel, and outrageousness.
Even on my narrow 17cm-circumference wrist, it looked like a watch with its roots set somewhere in the realm of timeless dress watches than in the no-holds-barred game of oversized six-figure-priced wrist monsters of the 21st century. So, that is something I did find refreshing. In other words, if I saw this on an oligarch, oil rig/coal mine owner, amateur cosmonaut, or president, I’d think at least a little bit higher of his/her taste, than if they wore something equally outrageous – that is also visibly way too large for comfy wear. Oh, and why “president?” Because the original La Esmeralda pocket watch was sold to Porfirio Diaz, then president of Mexico (1830-1915) and the world isn’t exactly short on presidents whom we could imagine rocking something like this. Some even like horses very much.
Even when worn in a golden presidential office, the Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon “À Secret” will successfully draw attention to itself – only for it to then punch spectators straight in the eye. It’s just so much watch. Wrapped in entirely hand-engraved 18k pink gold – just like the 56mm pocket watch of 1889 – it mixes the bright glow of gold with the endlessly varying shadows of the hundreds of leaf-pattern engravings. The case profile is also engraved gold, which is then covered in enamel that comprises a mixture of silica, minium, potash, soda, and various metal oxides to give it its color, all fired at around 800 °C (~1,500 °F). This unashamedly vintage-looking band (that looks like it could also be on a luxurious piece of old tableware) does a lot in the way of minimizing the apparent thickness of the case, too.
The dial is also in engraved gold with blue enamel over it, although a lot of it has gone missing to make room for the brilliantly straightforward layout typical to the Girard-Perregaux Triple Bridges: a mainspring at the top, a massive golden wheel in the center, and a beautifully finished tourbillon at the bottom. The tourbillon is composed of 78 parts and weighs a total of just 0.3 grams. All the bases of all three bridges are excellently mirror-polished (which, come to think of it, is the only way to do mirror polishing). That’s a big deal because these surfaces are absolutely vast and therefore an utter chore to get right: Mirror polishing is done by hand as the craftsperson applies the evenest amount of pressure to the piece while moving it over an abrasive surface usually in a figure-eight pattern. The little screw-heads are also mirror-polished with flanked and polished edges, of course. According to the brand, “It requires 40 hours to finish each bridge, while the additional engraving found on the barrel bridge and tourbillon takes an extra 50 hours to complete…”
…That’s 40 hours, or a full week, in labor just to finish the three bridges for one watch. No pressure, then, on whoever is installing those screws.
“Despite having extensive archives,” Girard-Perregaux admits to “finding no record regarding the significance of said horses [seen on the original 1889 pocket watch]. Indeed, the horses have now become known as the equine mystery.” Anyhow, the galloping horses add newfound energy to the Triple Bridges layout, and while luxury brands often get animal-themed watches super cheesy when it comes to proportions and use of colors, here these 1.5-or-so centimeters (0.6-inch) horses do manage to add to the whole rather than making it all ridiculous.
On the caseback, the theme continues as a combination of cloisonné enamel (for the horses) and engraved enamel (for the rest of the case back) come together. The whole thing feels soft and beautifully made to the touch, wrapped by the intricately fluted periphery of the gold case back. At times the enamel appears almost black and a glossy, singular surface, while if light finds its way through it, the expanding engraved pattern underneath reveals itself. We are talking proper old-money-heirloom level of things here.
From the image above, you have probably already guessed why this epic watch is called the Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon “À Secret” – it’s for its hunter-style caseback that features a hinged outer lid which can be opened by pressing the crown pusher to reveal a sapphire crystal (fully sealed) caseback which in turn reveals the GP09600-1506 self-winding movement. “Self-winding?” I hear you ask. Although there is no massive rotor to be seen over the movement, nor a peripheral movement along the edge, the GP09600 tourbillon movement is, indeed, automatic: a white-gold micro-rotor sits beneath the barrel, out of sight, energizing the mainspring with, according to Girard-Perregaux, “minimal user input.”
Finished to an extremely high standard with more mirror-polished components, beveled spokes on wheels, beveled edges elsewhere, polished screw-heads and countersinks, along with a new form of finishing that the brand claims is an industry-first exclusive to Girard-Perregaux. This would be concave beveling that involves creating a curved recess between the surface and flank, that transitions from one shade to another. All in all, it is a spectacular, albeit not exactly neatly balanced, movement – its absolute absence of symmetry stands against the signature equilibrium that is the dial side of the Triple Bridges caliber.
A truly spectacular watch commands a truly spectacular price: The Girard-Perregaux La Esmeralda Tourbillon “À Secret” Eternity Edition is priced at 360,300 Swiss Francs. You can learn more at the brand’s website.