When we look at a wristwatch, we typically see only a small portion of what makes a mechanical timepiece such a fascinating toy.
The movement of the watch is hidden by the dial and the case, thereby making the case the most visually dominating part of the watch itself.
Cases however, have many more functions other than visual appearance, some of which include
One example by Girard-Perregaux is the GyroDate.
- to contain and protect the movement and dial
- to hold and protect the crystal
- to allow certain functions (such as date and time zone indications)
- to emphasize, sometimes dominate the style of the watch.
This watch is not only waterproof (the case protecting the inner works), but indicates the weekday over one month on the bezel (the case enables a special function).
We see, the case is an extremely important part of the watch and yet it is the part most exposed to exterior dangers such as shocks, scratches and moisture.
Subsequently, the watchcase serves a vital and important function.
With this in mind, it may be worthwhile to have a closer look at some vintage GP cases.
....but first, a bit of history
The case of a vintage GP is helpful to determine
the age and the origin of the watch.
Since 1932 GP maintained a subsidiary factory in New York, probably established to avoid the payment of import taxes. Most GP watches destined for the US market had movements of Swiss origin but were encased in US manufactured cases.
These were supplied by different makers such as Wadsworth, Star Watch Co, Keystone and Bell&Ross.
The difference is obvious: Swiss made watch cases boast the GP logo as
pictured above, while US made cases only bear the signature "G/P".
European makers were not allowed to use the hallmark "gold filled" due to hallmark limitations.
Not pictured here are cases from South America: These are often made in Argentina, thus stating "Industria Argentina", while others bear no obvious GP-related signature (making the genuine ones a bit hard to verify).
Letīs have a look:
(cases for identical movements
left: swiss made case, right: US made case by Wadsworth)
A closer look reveals the difference: The US made case has markings indicating the provenance and a different
reference code, usually with the initial letter "B":
(outside: Wadsworth marking)
(inside: Wadsworth marking, reference B1196 and serial number T41069)
Conversely, the Swiss made case has the GP logo and utilizes a different reference code - a 4-digit number:
(inside: GP logo marking, reference 5410 and serial number)
GP's referencing system changed several times; the references codes above place these cases between the 1940īs to 1950īs thereby allowing some conclusions about the date of production.
Letīs have a look at some other US made cases:
(1956, round case with form movement)
and now for some swiss counterparts:
(early 1950īs, "Staybrite" case of the later shown gold cap watch)
(late 1940īs, a steel GP)
(case back of the above watch)
(lower "container" case for a 1940īs "bumper" automatic; a water
proof automatic was quite a novelty then)
(swiss 18K gold case, hallmarks and Minervaīs head with reference on the outside)
Same problem, different solutions ...
One of the basic functions of the case is to protect the dial and movement
from moisture. Since the first serial production of wristwatches started in
1880 (actually, GP made 2000 pieces by order of HM King Wilhelm II. for the German Navy - but that's another story), this problem has been tackled in different ways:
Hereīs an early 1950īs case:
(1950īs rectangular case)
This case is interesting in that rectangular cases are difficult to seal. However, GP offered an unusual solution - the use of case clamps.
(back view, clamps attached)
The movement and dial is held by the lower part; the crystal and a seal will
be attached to the upper part. The lower case, which is exhibited below, is obviously milled out of a solid block of steel which requires considerable precision and work.
(lower case part)
The lower part is attached to the upper part by two case clamps and screws;
each of the clamps is made of two welded individual parts (which also requires
considerable precision and effort).
All 7 parts (upper and lower part, crown tube, 2 case clamps and 2 screws) have to be made extraordinarily accurately in order to successfully make the case waterproof.
It takes a bit more effort than the rectangular cases pictured earlier.
A slightly different solution can be found on early rectangular Gyromatic
watches like the mid 1950īs reference 7046:
The basic principle is very similar to our earlier example; but here the lower case part - which contains the movement, dial, crystal and gasket - is attached to the upper case part by four screws - yet another way which requires some extreme precision. Not only does the lower case part have to be in the correct position, but it has to be tight enough to provide sufficient pressure on both the crystal and the gasket.
(upper case part, notice the 4 screws)
(lower part attached)
(lower part, containing the movement, dial, crystal and gasket)
... and different functions.
The GP reference 7114 and 7442 watches do have an alarm function; based on AS
movements introduced in 1954, their "buzzing" sound is produced by a
hammer rapidly hitting a metal pin.
As seen in the picture above, the pin is attached to the back of the watch to achieve a greater resonance and transfer the vibrations directly to the wearer's wrist.
(back and screw-in ring)
The back is fixed in place and than subsequently secured to the case utilizing a screw-in ring - a very clever working solution.
A question of style...
GP made several watches with gold caps; these watches have a stainless steel case, covered with a solid gold plate. In their time, this was a cost-efficient method of producing an elegant watch without incurring the costs associated with producing a solid gold case.
(1950īs GP gold cap)
(GP gold cap)
... and natural enemies
A variety of watches in the 1960īs utilize an antimagnetic inner
shielding, mostly found in chronometer-rated watches.
(GP fast beat chronometer)
The inner back and the movement spacer are apparently made of brass plated
soft iron, a non-magnetic shielding whose purpose was to protect the escapement from magnetic influences and subsequently ensure accurate functionality.
In 1968/1970, GP introduced the "Suspense Case" with
additional shock protection by rubber rolls attached between the case and
movement spacer ring (similar to IWCīs Yacht Club and Ingenieur models).
(GP suspense case)
click for bigger picture
A final conclusion: The past, the present and the future
Just as there are a variety of vintage movements from the simple outsourced ebauches, through to more sophisticated "in-house" movements, and finally, the ultra-precision solutions featuring major technical breakthroughs - so it is the same for the cases of vintage GPs. Starting with the affordable (and sometimes mediocre) chrome "daily beaters" through to the sophisticated solutions for special purposes, there were various collectable models spanning from 1930īs all the way to the late 1970īs.
Most of the vintage cases are not made by GP, especially if made for the US and South America markets.
Nonetheless, like the outsorced movements several of these cases are used
exclusively by GP.
The quality of cases and bracelets is an important factor if determining the
overall quality of a watch.
A high quality watch does not only consist of an unusual or "manufactury"
movement, but a case and bracelet which was made with the same level of craftmanship
Since 1992, GP has been focusing on haute horlogerie and exclusive "in-house" products and subsequently have come a long way. Today, GP offers a wide range of watches that not only utilize their own "in-house" movements, but "in-house" cases and bracelets as well.
The (parent) SOWIND group does not only consists of two watch brands (Girard-Perregaux and Daniel Jean Richard), but a movement branch and, with EMG, the case/bracelet
making unit as well.
GP watches manufactured today are of significantly higher quality than their vintage predecessors. Even within the very recent past, an immense increase of quality can be noticed.
GP's current direction is just one more step that GP is taking towards establishing a leading role among the few remaining independent haute horlogerie brands. There is little doubt that this new and exciting path points to a very promising future - a future that includes unusual, interesting and some of the finest watches made for the enthusiast's community.
(inside the GP factory:
left: milling a gold case from a solid block, right: drilling holes in a case)
(GP Laurato case)
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