In the past I have written (as one clearly can’t write in the future) about how all too often companies downgrade from manufacturers to assemblers. Occasionally though there are companies that go the other way. Girard Perregaux is a company that went from manufacturer to hybrid assembler/manufacturer, and back to a manufacturer again. They now produce a number of innovative, well designed, and well made movements and watches.
To their credit, even when they based their pieces off of other movements, they still managed to innovate. Examples include the first high-frequency movement in 1966 mentioned in my previous post on the Longines Ultra-Chron. They also produced a quartz watch that vibrated at 37.768 Hz. To put that in perspective of mechanical watches (and briefly explain what makes quartz so accurate) a 36,000vph watch is only 5Hz. This rate became the industry standard for all quartz watches.
For a long time, they were a watch group without a strong identity. They bounced back and forth between the uses of their own super high-end manufactured movements like the famous Three Bridges Tourbillion and assembled ones, such as the example here and the well-known Gyromatic series. They dabbled everywhere which meant they were never really identifiable as a brand with a particular characteristic. This has changed under the leadership of the current CEO Michele Sofisti. They have moved to be almost exclusively manufacturers and have built a strong brand identity. While that means I will not be able to service those pieces for now (as in-house manufacture tends to mean the supply of parts is highly restricted) I must applaud and respect them for their step into full-on manufacturers. They have produced a myriad of new innovations and awe-inspiring pieces that bode very well for the future of the brand.
This particular Sea Hawk uses a manual ETA caliber 1081. While this is a well-made movement it is a far cry from the modern calibers that currently come out of their factories.
I got this watch with a broken balance, knowing that because it is an older ETA, parts are relatively cheap. The good condition case and perfect patina are what drew me to this particular example. The unique hands make this stand out as a Sea Hawk of the time and are unmistakably Girard Perregaux.
Once I got it all together and polished the case, I got a band that helps to accentuate the patina. While it is most certainly a far cry from the current Sea Hawks, it is a great piece that shows that even when they were an assembler Girard Perregaux still added fantastic touches big and small to make pieces their own.
This 1950s Longines Automatic I just finished provides a number of interesting talking (or writing) points. I apologize in advance for the length of this post on a seemingly normal watch, but I can assure that you will not regret reading it to its end (or at least hope you don’t.)
Firstly it provides a great example of what perlage is. This is a process where a drill press with a special tip is lightly applied to create the overlapping circles seen on the main plate. This purely decorative touch is rarely if ever seen by a wearer, but for a watchmaker it sets a particular tone as to the prestige and craftsmanship that can be expected from the piece.
While working on this watch I was at first intrigued by the uniqueness of its build and mechanism. The automatic rotor takes up an unusually large amount of space relative to the movement. Its rotation is also unbelievably smooth and barely makes a whisper. Additionally, while most movements and their parts lie relatively flat, the movement on this Caliber 19AS is very thick and the wheels are set in rather than laid on. While it was somewhat of a challenge to work on, this watch represents a time when watches were differentiated on craftsmanship and design of the movement rather than just the dial and the name.
The dial is clearly aged, but not in a way that detracts from the vintage beauty. It is both multi-leveled and multi-textured making it additionally interesting visually. The only real damage on this watch has been inflicted by someone who was so adamant about removing the engraving on the back that they actually stripped the edges down to the base metal. Other than that the case is very well preserved. On the design of it only one word comes to mind: circle. While most movements and crystals are circular, cases provide a near infinite amount of variations on the shape of a watch. This watch is a circle with four lugs attached to it. Even the crown feels like it doesn’t belong (its also relatively hard to operate.) That said, the dial, hands, and shape all come together to produce that wonderfully anachronistic feel necessary to qualify a piece as aesthetically “vintage.”
In the 1950s Longines was a manufacturer. They designed and built some fantastic calibers. Some, like their chronographs, are highly sought after collector’s pieces. Other movements, like this 19AS were forgotten, but they also represent the legacy that was destroyed by shifting the company from manufacturer to just another assembler. Bringing this 57 year-old machine back to working condition sort of makes me feel like I am doing my part in keeping the watchmaking legacy alive.