When it comes to innovations in horology, we often wonder, what’s next? Have we seen it all? Have brands reached their breaking point? While watch enthusiasts look for answers, timepiece makers can surprise us with a fitting reply. This is exactly what Girard-Perregaux has done by bringing back a concept, deemed an interesting development in watchmaking in the past — constant escapement. Driven by a constant desire for innovation, the timepiece maker has now launched the Neo Constant Escapement (Ref. 93510-21-1930-5CX).
While it took 250 years to develop the Swiss lever escapement, Girard-Perregaux perfected its constant escapement in just 20 years. In 2013, Girard-Perregaux launched the Constant Escapement L.M. and won the ‘Aiguille D’Or’ at the GPHG (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève) in the same year. A year after winning the coveted award, Girard-Perregaux unveiled the Neo Bridge, an elaborately shaped form made possible by using cutting-edge Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. As the name suggests, the Neo Constant Escapement is the latest expression of this important watchmaking innovation. The Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement represents avant-garde aesthetics and modern technology. The design pays homage to Constant Girard’s 1867 pocket watch, which transformed the concept of bridges into artistic elements. This philosophy is now instilled in the Neo Constant Escapement.
The latest timepiece incorporates several new technologies; 30% of the patents employed on the latest model, 13 in total, are new. Compared with its predecessor, the new model has fewer components — 266 in total while the earlier model had 280 components — emphasising optimisation over complexity. The innovative constant force mechanism is still at the heart of the watch though. The Neo Constant Escapement includes a unique escapement mechanism, based on a buckling silicium blade, created using advanced ‘photolithography’ techniques. When a train ticket is flexed, it assumes a ‘C’-shaped form and becomes unstable, a scenario termed ‘buckling’. The silicium blade undergoes a thermal treatment, which creates an oxidation layer that not only improves resistance but also gives it a unique colour.
The latest timepiece comes in a 45 mm Grade 5 titanium case (downsized from 48 mm to 45 mm), complete with lugs and a crown. The dial sits beneath a sapphire crystal ‘box’ and is located underneath a separate Neo Bridge, serving as the base of the dial, which further supports the balance wheel. From 10 o’clock to 11 o’ clock and from 2 o’clock to 3 o’clock, there are two barrels which are now two smaller stars fitted with three teeth (matching the 3Hz frequency). As the two wheels rotate in the same direction, these are asymmetrical. In particular, the goal of this new arrangement is to avoid the sliding frictions seen with the previous escapement wheels.
Although the two wheels that are very similar to the previous escapement wheels have been retained, they perform an inertial function only. As the balance wheel swings in its free arc, one of the escapement wheels pushes its rocking lever. The locking lever ensures that the system is locked. As the blade flips, it provides an impulse to the balance wheel. The escapement is then freed. The movement features a fifth wheel, which is connected to the gear train. The fifth wheel transfers energy to the two escape wheels, each fitted with three teeth (matching the 3Hz frequency). Energy is received from the escape wheels alternatively, i.e. not simultaneously. Thereafter, the energy is sent via a rocking lever to the buckling silicium blade. The Constant Escapement exploits the ‘elastic and bi-stable’ properties of the buckling silicium blade. Six times thinner than a human hair, the blade engages with a lever that serves an impulse to the balance wheel.
The dial showcases skeletonised, rhodium-plated, dauphine-style hour and minute hands with luminescent elements. The hour markers are on the outer flange, all in blue luminescent material. The linear power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock displays how much autonomy is left. Powering the watch is the in-house, manual winding Calibre GP09200, which is also a COSC-certified chronometer. The watch boasts a power reserve of at least seven days, thanks to its twin barrels. Turning the watch over showcases a sapphire caseback and reveals more of the hand-wound movement.
The symmetrical design of the dial also extends to the caseback with twin barrels at the top and two neo bridges at the base. Also, the silver-toned gear train, visible to the rear of the watch, is freely disclosed and stands out from the adjacent black movement components. With its fabric-effect rubber strap and titanium folding buckle with micro-adjustment, the Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement offers not only precision, but also exceptional comfort for the wearer. All in all, the Girard-Perregaux Neo Constant Escapement bears testimony to the brand’s remarkable technological prowess.