Graduate Degree

The Laureato has long been a sleeper classic of ’70s watch design. This year, the sport-luxury model finally graduated and became a complete collection.

By: Jonathan Bues

As the 1960s drew to a close, the Swiss watch industry was in the throes of a crisis. Coming from the East, Seiko’s quartz oscillator had rendered the mechanical watch—as much a specialty of Switzerland as cheese, chocolate, and high finance—a superannuated technology. A tiny crystal vibrating at a supersonic speed upended watch buyers’ expectations of accuracy, slashing the delta of a chronometer-rated timepiece from seconds per day to seconds per month.

The Laureato Tourbillon

Twelve of the major Swiss watchmakers formed a consortium and mounted a response in the form of 1969’s Beta 21, a movement destined to be remembered as the first Swiss foray into quartz, despite its own rather forgettable square shape and banal design. While technically first in Switzerland, its technology wasn’t meant to last, and the Beta 21 went the way of the Betamax.

Meanwhile, in 1975, Girard-Perregaux debuted its own solo effort in the form of the Laureato, which utilized an in-house movement designed, developed, and manufactured at Girard-Perregaux headquarters. While the Beta 21 was an eerie foreshadowing of consolidation and shared movements, Girard-Perregaux hunkered down and produced a manufacture quartz watch.

A vintage Laureato ad.

This go-it-alone approach paid off, not just for GP but also for its neighbors. The Swiss watch industry ended up adopting GP’s proprietary quartz technology and frequency, which debuted with the Laureato, a watch whose name derives from the certificates—or diplomas—awarded by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.

Laureato, which means “graduate” in Italian, came and went from the Girard-Perregaux collection over the next four decades. It was a timepiece that the cognoscenti always knew about, even if it never managed to inspire a complete collection with options for different types of watch lovers.

This year, upon its return to the SIHH from Baselworld, Girard-Perregaux cemented the Laureato’s place by releasing more than 20 new models that together comprise that long-awaited collection.

Original design notes on the Laureato.

“This is the first time that a true strategy based on the iconic Laureato has been developed,” says Girard-Perregaux CEO Antonio Calce. “A watch with such a strong identity deserved a complete family of products.”

To that end, Calce and his team set out to build a complete family of Laureatos for modern tastes and watch-collecting habits. This meant proposing a good range of sizes; a variety of cases, bracelets, and strap options; and, on the smaller models’ bezels, a bit of discreet Swiss bling. There is a 34 mm size clearly intended for women; a 38 mm midsize, capitalizing on the current trend in favor of vintage sizing, that can go either way; and a 42 mm version aimed at winning favor with the traditional male collector set.

At the top of the refreshed Laureato line, Girard-Perregaux introduced its first-ever tourbillon priced under $100,000. The 45 mm Tourbillon Laureato comes in two versions, both of which are two-tone combinations of gold and titanium. The rose gold comes in at $93,700, while the white gold version costs $98,400. In each version, the case itself is crafted from titanium. Gold forms the bezel, the crown, and the end links that attach to each model’s black alligator strap.

The Laureato 42 mm

Replacing last year’s well-received 41 mm Laureato introduction, Girard-Perregaux came with eight different versions that have been incrementally nudged up to 42 mm in diameter. The versions encompass six steel timepieces and two in gold and titanium. In its new size, this range debuts a new in-house movement, Caliber GP 01800, which fills a void in the company’s catalogues for an in-house automatic movement that can be used in larger cases.

Caliber GP 01800 beats at a frequency of 28,800 bph, or eight times per second. The movement measures 30 mm across, allowing it to fill the larger visual space of the see-through caseback without the compromised use of obtrusive spacers. Power reserve isn’t a concern here, given the movement’s automatic winding feature, but it nonetheless boasts a respectable 54 hours of reserve on a single wind.

While the 42 mm stainless-steel Laureato garnered most of the initial attention and was considered the hero piece by horological pundits, the sleeper star was its 38 mm sibling. Watches in the 38 mm range have been popping up across fine watchmaking these past few years as collectors have found a renewed interest in not just vintage styling—as the market saw as early as eight years ago—but also vintage sizing. Sub-40 mm timepieces also have the added benefit of appealing to collectors across the gender line. What can be a bold, larger-than-expected choice for a woman can double as a discreet and understated option for a man. And, for a husband and wife, it can even be a shared piece.

A historical example of a COSC certificate, bestowed upon highly accurate timepieces by the
independent Swiss organization.

At the smallest end of the range is the 34 mm quartz Laureato for women. With its quartz crystal oscillator and COSC certification, this timepiece has the most direct lineage to the original Laureato. Girard-Perregaux continues to manufacture quartz movements in-house in La Chaux-de-Fonds, complete with the the perlage and beveling that characterize its mechanical offerings.

Across the collection, a visual consistency prevails. The Laureato is an eight-sided sport-luxury watch that recalls its 1970s origins while asserting its relevance through the timelessness of its design and the quality of its construction. On all the new models, a hobnail pattern with rich depth and texture defines the legible, instrument-like dials. The hours—save 12 o’clock, which bears an applied GP log—are punctuated by large, luminescent stick markers that match the hour and minute hands. The 42 mm and 38 mm mechanical options are each water-resistant to 100 meters.

Assembly of an in-house movement at the Girard-Perregaux manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

This is a large collection that is designed to give collectors plenty of options. Diamonds begin to make their way onto the collection’s bezels starting with two versions of the 38 mm unisex size, and by the time you get to the 34 mm ladies’ size, all but one of the versions—a two-tone model matching rose gold and titanium—are set with glimmering stones.

While the 2017 SIHH was regarded as a strong commercial showing for the Chaux-de-Fonds brand, the adoption of a new in-house movement and the debut of an affordably priced tourbillon are achievements that can hardly materialize without heavy investment. The company also innovates through the use of new materials like silicon in its Constant Girard escapement, which took the top prize at 2013’s Geneva Grand Prix.

“Our R&D department is the heart of our manufacture, which means that innovation is a real objective that we set for ourselves daily,” reflects Calce. “The history of Girard-Perregaux also demonstrates this: The brand has always attached importance to innovation (more than 80 patents). We are continuing on this path.”

Assembling the new in-house GP 01800 movement.