Brother of the Blade: Girard-Perregaux Launches the Neo Constant Escapement
Having presented a unique, rose gold update of its trailblazing constant force escapement concept for Only Watch 2023, Girard-Perregaux has now announced a contemporary-looking production version in natural titanium with black and anthracite dial.
Only Watch, the biennial charity auction of one-of-a-kind watches, often serves as a good indicator of the production models that brands may go on to launch.
At Only Watch 2021, for example, Girard-Perregaux presented an updated version of its iconic 1970s LED driver’s watch, the Casquette. This forged-carbon and titanium pièce unique – created in partnership with Bamford Watch Department – was followed up less than a year later by the release of the full-production version, the Casquette 2.0, which featured a black ceramic upper section and Grade 5 titanium caseback.
Unsurprisingly, the Girard-Perregaux included in this year’s edition of Only Watch, a technical and aesthetic evolution of its groundbreaking Constant Escapement L.M., is no different. Dubbed the Neo Constant Escapement Only Watch Edition, Lot No. 26 features an eye-catching rose gold case accompanied by an all-gilded movement and dial.
However, unlike how the brand proceeded with the Casquette and Casquette 2.0, the La Chaux-de-Fonds-based watchmaker – equally known for its Three Bridges and Laureato timepieces – has unveiled an impressive, contemporary-looking, full-production edition of the Neo Constant Escapement in natural Grade 5 titanium before Only Watch has even finished its pre-auction world tour.
Released in 2013, the Constant Escapement L.M. was Girard-Perregaux’s answer to the watchmaking conundrum of constant force, whereby the diminishing torque delivered by a watch’s mainspring as it unwinds leads to a drop in the balance wheel’s amplitude and the movement’s timing rate.
Historically, watchmakers have proposed different solutions to either limit or compensate for the effects of this phenomenon. The Geneva stop-work, fusée-and-chain, and remontoire are three classic examples of mechanisms devised to deliver more constant force and better rate stability irrespective of the state of wind.
With the Constant Escapement L.M., Girard-Perregaux conceived of a totally new, ingenious method of obtaining constant force: Using a butterfly-shaped silicium escape spring featuring a central buckling blade that is just 14 microns thick – six times thinner than a human hair.
By receiving energy from two escape wheels – each fitted with three teeth to match the 3Hz frequency of the movement – the thread-like blade engages with a lever that delivers a regular impulse to the balance wheel, ensuring its amplitude remains the same regardless of how much the mainspring has unwound and how much energy is stored within the twin barrels.
The feat was all the more impressive given that constant force was achieved over the movement’s whopping six-day power reserve. So revolutionary was it that the Constant Escapement L.M. took home the Aiguille d’Or top prize at the Grand Prix d’Horologerie de Genève (GPHG) for 2013.
The 2013 Constant Escapement L.M. featured an hour-minute sub-dial at 12 o’clock and central sweep seconds. A linear power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock was balanced out by the inscription “Constant Escapement L.M.” at 3 o’clock. “L.M.” stood for the late Luigi Macaluso, the erstwhile president of G-P’s then-owner Sowind Group, who had been a key driver in developing this constant escapement and first unveiled in the company’s 2008 concept watch.
The Constant Escapement L.M. even managed to carry a nod to brand co-founder Constant Girard’s pocket watch tourbillon, developed over the 1860s, which featured a triumvirate of parallel, arrow-headed bridges: The trio of bridges supporting the Constant Escapement L.M.’s two escape wheels and balance wheel echo the bridge design of Girard’s masterpiece.
The 46mm natural titanium edition of the Constant Escapement L.M launched in 2013 was subsequently followed by a black carbon-titanium version as well as iterations in white gold and in rose gold, the latter of which sported a 48mm diameter.
On to today’s release: the Neo Constant Escapement, which packages together a range of technical improvements and design refinements to bring Girard-Perregaux’s constant escapement well and truly into the 2020s.
On a technical level, the new GP09200-1153 movement has been optimized to feature fewer components – 266 instead of 280 – while the power reserve and efficiency of the escapement have been improved, such that the total power reserve is now seven full days.
The chronometry and efficiency of the balance wheel have also been enhanced such that the brand now subjects each watch to COSC certification to obtain an official chronometer-grade label.
Of the 13 patents Girard-Perregaux has filed for the Neo Constant Escapement, a third of them are new, including the protection of elements such as the “complete angular locking of all sequences of the escapement.” Still, the brand says it will be filing further patents covering a variety of additional innovations related to the geometry of components that enable the automatic starting of the movement as well as those that enhance the efficiency of the escape wheel.
While exposed parts of the original Constant Escapement L.M.’s movement were already on display, especially via its exhibition caseback, the Neo Constant Escapement’s dial has been opened up even further, which helps reveal more of the calibre’s moving parts – including the purple-tinged escape spring and buckling blade.
The result is a heightened sense of depth as stepped, sloping, and undulating surfaces abound. Black PVD and anthracite NAC treatments duly endow the dial with a stealthy, contemporary look.
Over the past decade, G-P has refined its “Bridges” design, moving from an angular shape to something more sculptural – a so-called “Neo” design – and the escape wheel and balance bridges have taken on this modern form, in the process helping to lend the watch its name.
Hours and minutes are now displayed on central lumed hands, and lumed hour indices punctuate a peripheral flange, a feature absent from the L.M. The linear power reserve at 9 o’clock is back, looking slicker, and offsetting it at 3 o’clock is the inscription “Constant Escapement Chronometer” to reflect the watch’s COSC-approved status.
All in all, the dial is better proportioned and airier than the original, with numerous symmetrical touches at play, a theme carried over onto the back of the movement where the emphasis is placed on the central, vertical train of gears by giving each one a silver tone, with the ratchet wheels and barrels blackened.
The contemporary look is matched by contemporary dimensions because, at 45mm in diameter, the Neo Constant Escapement’s polished and satin-finished titanium case is slimmer than its predecessors. Plus, it’s thinner – 14.8mm in height instead of over 15mm – while the lugs curve sharply downwards around the wrist.
The sapphire crystal is also boxier, allowing the three-dimensionality of the dial to come to the fore – the L.M.’s crystal was a relatively flat affair – while the crown is beefier and grippier, with generous notches rather than fine fluting.
The watch comes on a black rubber, fabric-effect strap with a triple folding buckle in titanium fitted with a micro-adjustment system for optimum comfort.
Patrick Pruniaux, Girard-Perregaux CEO, feels that G-P has pulled out all the stops in creating an all-around better interpretation of its constant escapement invention, saying: “The Constant Escapement L.M. was a remarkable watch. It is now part of our maison’s patrimony. However, we did not want to leave it on the shelf gathering dust. We wanted to build on our know-how, push the performance envelope, and make an up-to-the-minute evolution of the original concept.
“The Neo Constant Escapement is superior in every way. It stands testament to the dedication of our talented team and represents a new era in watchmaking.”
Price & Availability
Priced at $99,600, the Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement – reference 93510-21-1930-5CX – is available in all official Girard-Perregaux retailers. Due to the complexity of its creation, it will only be produced in limited quantities. For more information, please visit the Girard-Perregaux website.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)