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Swiss Watches

Swiss watchmakers are taking timepieces to a bold newlevel
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

(continued from page 1)

Macaluso left SSIH in 1982 to establish his own watch distributorship, Tradema, which handled Girard-Perregaux, Breitling and other brands. By 1987, thanks to the relationship he had cultivated with Girard-Perragaux head Francis Besson, Macaluso owned a 20 percent share in the company. At the time, the brand was "tied to a conservatism that badly hurt us," according to Willy Schweitzer, who works on product development with Macaluso. "We didn't promote ourselves. It hardly mattered that we were one of those rare companies that made its own movements. We were unknown."  

Though Girard-Perregaux won few accolades at the time, Macaluso seized the opportunity to acquire the company. Convinced Girard-Perregaux could be reinvigorated "with a shot of horsepower," he quickly set out to revamp the brand by negotiating a deal with Ferrari that allowed him to use the fabled stallion logo on watch dials. He has designed many of those dials (and other features) himself and is particularly proud of his 1994 debut work, the limited-edition, automatic split-seconds chronograph, which paid tribute to his friends at Ferrari.  

"It was very natural to honor them this way, since these cars and GP watches are extremely accurate in their technology," says Macaluso, who also styled a $150,000 Ferrari watch with a diamond bezel and a stallion logo carved out of rubies in 1995. "Having a watch with the mythical Ferrari name is certainly a way for us to reach a male audience. But mainly it's a brand that inspires unique emotions among all people, and the same can be said about Girard-Perregaux watches."  

The link with Ferrari was further celebrated in 1996 with the limited-edition F50, an automatic chronograph with perpetual calendar that honors the car maker's legendary "ballistic missile," the 203-mph F50. (A perpetual calendar is a complication that adjusts automatically to account for the different lengths of each month, including February during a leap year.) Girard-Perregaux later developed a full line of sporty Pour Ferrari timepieces. One of the most coveted pieces in that collection, introduced last year, is the SF Seconde Foudroyante, an automatic split-seconds chronograph with a coaxial pushpiece for "jumping" seconds, in a platinum, white, yellow or pink gold case.  

With the assistance of the Ferrari racing department, Macaluso recently unveiled another revolutionary aluminum alloy piece, a chronograph with a case that he claims is 50 percent lighter than titanium. He also recently received help from Asprey & Garrard's Philip Warner, who helped develop the concept of the limited-edition Ferrari F156 chronograph, an 18-karat-gold $13,500 tribute to 1961 Formula 1 world champion Phil Hill, the first American to win the championship for Ferrari ($4,950 in stainless steel).  

"We wanted a vintage-looking piece unique to our company, and what appealed to me was Girard's zealous attention to detail in the complications," says Warner. "My wife wears the steel chrono and I love the gold. All of Girard's complications are beautifully designed and built."  

That's particularly true about Girard-Perregaux's signature work, the Tourbillon with three gold bridges. This much-lauded $65,000 timepiece (best appreciated when styled with a "skeleton," or transparent, case, which allows the wearer to view the watch's movement) brought firm founder Constant Girard a gold medal at the 1867 Paris World Exhibition. (In 1906, Girard's son, Constant Girard-Gallet, acquired the assets of a watchmaking company that was founded in 1791 by Jean François Bautte.) The tourbillon remains the ne plus ultra of the watchmaker's art.  

All the finer houses produce a tourbillon, a device that compensates for the negative effects of gravity on the regular running of awatch movement, particularly when in a vertical position. Girard-Perregaux's creation is especially elaborate; it takes six to eight months to construct the 74-part, 0.3-gram tourbillon and the three gold bridges--each of which is enhanced by a glittering ruby--that span the delicate movement.  

A three-bridge tourbillon also distinguishes the new Opera One, a minute repeater that nearly replicates the exquisite chimes of Westminster Abbey.  

Another minute repeater that the firm is showcasing is a tonneau-, or barrel-shaped watch with a delicate striking mechanism, a moon-phase indicator and a perpetual calendar. The watch is an update of a classic design that first appeared decades ago. Another new piece, the Vintage 1999, part of the the Vintage 1945 line, is Girard-Perregaux's new curved and spherically shaped chronograph that gives the numerals an easy-to-read, three-dimensional effect. The sporty, yet still elegant F and Laureato collections feature stunning diamond- and gem-studded pieces to broaden Girard-Perregaux's appeal to women.  


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