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Vintage Girard-Perregaux Watches for Sale
We always try to have a good selection of vintage Girard-Perregaux watches for sale on this site. These were very expensive when new and remain costly as collector’s items today, but their build and finish quality is exceptionally high and they make excellent alternatives for anyone wanting a vintage watch that is a little less obvious than those by Rolex, Omega and Jaeger LeCoultre.
Founded in 1791, Girard-Perregaux is one of the oldest of the major Swiss houses and one of the few that was established in the Georgian rather than Victorian era.
From the outset, it was primarily a producer of extremely high grade watches for a wealthy niche client base and over two centuries on, its position in the marketplace hasn’t really changed. Girard-Perregaux has never pursued the mass market and while it is held in very high regard by serious vintage watch aficionados, it remains largely unknown to the man in the street.
Queen Victoria was a Girard-Perregaux customer and by the mid-19th century, the brand was famous among the royal houses of Europe. Around 1880, a watch was supplied to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. At this stage, production was limited to pocket watches, the wristwatch having not yet been invented.
Remarkably, Girard-Perregaux can lay credible claim to being the first ever serial producer of wristwatches. In 1879, Kaiser Wilhelm I placed an order with Girard-Perregaux for two thousand watches that could be worn on the wrists of officers in the German navy after discussing the possibilities of creating these items at the Berlin Exhibition of the same year, where Girard-Perregaux had a trade stand. These were duly delivered and, so the tale goes, the wristwatch for male use was born. This seems fairly easy to swallow. In nearly thirty years of daily involvement with vintage watches, in our business we’ve never encountered a man’s wristwatch that pre-dated this Girard-Perregaux batch and believe that we can pretty much accept at face value that this was the genesis of what we would regard today as the luxury wristwatch.
The majority of the vintage Girard-Perregaux watches for sale here were manufactured in the period running from the early 1920s through to the late 1960s. This was very much the golden age for Girard-Perregaux and indeed the high end Swiss mechanical watch industry in general. A well preserved, all original vintage watch from this period by any of the top tier makers will be outstanding and of a quality that has never been equalled since.
Interestingly, Girard-Perregaux wasn’t an entirely autonomous movement manufacturer, but instead took the route of purchasing ebauches ( this is the Swiss term for a movement in its most basic, completely raw, form, without components or finishing) from a small number of highly respected sources and then using them as building blocks for its own creations. The extent to which these were re-worked is quite remarkable, to the degree that in the past, we have sometimes had the devil of a job here trying to identify the ebauche calibre that had been used when describing some of these watches prior to putting them up for sale. Vintage Girard-Perregaux movements are the perfect argument that can be used in favour of ebauche use. Girard-Perregaux realised that as a relatively small concern, its resources were better spent in refining and perfecting movements by other makers rather than trying to create these from scratch. The results are spectacular and we would defy anyone to examine one of these vintage Girard-Perregaux mechanisms and find any aspect of it that is inferior to that of an in-house built Rolex, Omega or Zenith movement from the same period.
From the point of view of the collector looking for an epitomical model of Girard-Perregaux’s most innovative work, a good choice would be a Gyromatic from the late 1950s or early ‘60s. Launching its first automatic watch in 1956, Girard-Perregaux was a late adopter of self-winding, but came up with a brilliantly ingenious switching system that enabled motion of the rotor in both directions to be converted into mainspring tension. This switching was achieved by two so-called “Gyrotrones” and from a technical perspective, these movements are so different, and so beautifully executed, that they are an essential inclusion in any collection that aims to chart the progress of the automatic watch during its glorious post-war heyday.
Another must-have purchase for the purist collector would be any of the models that contain the Girard-Perregaux calibre 32A movement. Launched in 1965, it was the first commercially available fast beat movement and stands today as being of great historical importance. The technical teams at all the major Swiss houses had realised that, all else being equal, the faster the oscillation rate of its balance wheel, the more accurate a movement would be. Accordingly, in mid 1960s, there was a race to bring to market ever faster movements, these culminating in those units that ran at a lighting quick 36000 half beats per minute. The engineering skill required to design a reliable movement that could perform at this breakneck speed is staggering, and to this day, even more than forty years on, these are still some of the most remarkable watches that the Swiss factories have ever built. Fast beat watches are lovely things to own ( and to hold to one’s ear…), but they can be a minefield and it is very easy to purchase a worn example that will be troublesome and require constant attention. We always have a small selection of these models for sale in the best possible state of mechanical preservation, including the ground breaking vintage Girard-Perregaux version.
It is rather ironic that Girard-Perregaux, one of the most prestigious of the traditional luxury houses, should have been responsible, along with Jaeger LeCoultre, for the first commercially available Swiss battery powered quartz wristwatches. Launched in 1970, the calibre 352 movement, created as a collaborative project between these two grand old brands, started the quartz revolution of the 1970s that almost terminated the mechanical watch making industry. Today, these first generation Girard-Perregaux quartz watches are of great historical significance and while they can still be sourced in excellent order for as little as £500 or £600 pounds, it seems inevitable that they will rapidly appreciate in value in the near future. Again, we try to hold some stock of these but increasingly, replacing items sold without compromising our very high standards in relation to condition and authenticity is proving difficult.
Possibly because of the high cost of its watches and their sharp aesthetics, Girard-Perregaux has a very glamorous image. On the first page of the James Bond Novel “From Russia With Love”, author Ian Fleming wrote that a gold Girard-Perregaux on a brown crocodile strap was one of the “typical membership badges of the rich man’s club”. In more recent times, in 1996, Girard-Perregaux worked closely with Italian sports car manufacturer Ferrari to release a range of watches that bore the signatures of both brands.
As investments, it seems almost certain that vintage Girard-Perregaux watches have a bright future. At no point since the company’s foundation has Girard-Perregaux’s superb quality ever lapsed and as a result, there are no weak eras of production that could have otherwise tarnished the firm’s reputation. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams always include a selection of vintage Girard-Perregaux watches for sale in their specialist fine horological auctions and while these sell for substantial sums, they fail to attract the same level of interest as their Rolex equivalents, not because of any intrinsic inferiority but simply on account of the former concern being less widely known.
Importantly, Girard-Perregaux today appreciates how much can be gained by publicising its past glories. Both the firm’s website and its printed advertising material constantly references the excellence of its vintage watches and indeed, it uses these as a basis for a series of current re-issues, the most notable of which is the rectangular Girard-Perregaux Vintage 45, so named because of its stylistic similarity to a watch first offered by Girard-Perregaux at the end of World War II. Since 1999, a Girard-Perregaux factory museum has been open to the public in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland with an extensive collection of the company’s vintage pocket and wristwatches. A superb book “Girard-Perregaux” by Francois Chaille has recently appeared on the market specifically about the history of this important house, with the full co-operation of the management there. Following this policy is excellent news for the collector who owns, or is intending to purchase, a classic Girard-Perregaux. While the objective with this advertising is obviously to give a sense of history and credibility to brand new watches, it has the side effect of promoting the company’s vintage pieces at the same time. There is a clear correlation between the attitude of modern day watch brand owners and the values of that brand’s vintage watches. Girard-Perregaux today uses its past glories in a very positive way and as awareness of this remarkable institution grows and more buyers appreciate both the new and old watches of this venerable company, it seems almost inevitable that the worth of its vintage output will rise sharply over the next decade.