Our reviewer takes one of 2016’s best auto-inspired chronographs through its paces.
It was an interesting pack of offerings that Girard-Perregaux rolled out at Baselworld this year, to say the least. Not a brand to miss out on a trend, many of GP’s pieces—the Heritage 1957, the Laureato, and most of the 1966 line—were particularly on point, though the 1957 and Laureato both felt just a hair larger than they should have been once strapped onto my wrist.
The big and bold Constant Escapement LM was worthy of a nod as well, not to mention the beautiful Esmeralda Tourbillon, though for the majority of the press the Laureato was the belle of the ball. I, on the other hand, was attracted to something completely different. The Competizione Chronograph may as well have been hiding in a dark corner, given how little attention it received upon its release. Girard-Perregaux has a great history of building racing chronographs dating back to the ’50s and ’60s, and the first two offerings of the line paid tribute to this history in vastly different ways. The Stradale unsurprisingly played the vintage card (yes, we get it, vintage is so in right now), providing a compelling alternative to things like Zenith’s countless El Primeros and their “Classic Cars” sibling. But the Circuito offers a more modern interpretation of the classic chrono.
Before getting into the details of its case and dial construction, the bones of a vintage-style chronograph are all still here. Its pushers are pronounced, its case is about as traditionally shaped as they come, and its simple and classic tri-compax chrono configuration with date window isn’t anything that pushes the boundaries of, well, anything, really. Measuring 42 mm across, the Circuito is in a sweet spot, size-wise; however, I can’t help but think it would have performed even better with at least slightly shorter and/or slimmer lugs. Perhaps using a carbon titanium composite required lugs as pronounced as they are.
On the topic of materials, by now we’ve seen all sorts of variations on carbon cases, but nothing quite like this. Molded or forged carbon fiber in the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver, traditional woven carbon fiber by everyone from Hublot to Oris, and 3DTP and NTPT carbon processes from Linde Werdelin and Richard Mille give each piece a particularly unique character. In the case of Girard-Perregaux, what appears to be a fine dusting of titanium particulate (or “inclusions,” per GP’s documentation) has been mixed into the carbon to create a stunning stone-like material that feels as sturdy and lightweight as any other carbon composite without the glossy sheen that comes with many other variants. In the right light the titanium flecks give the case a slight shine, but overall the material is quite matte.
The Circuito’s cutout honeycomb dial is an interesting and well-executed nod to the world of motorsports, though it wasn’t a particularly inventive choice. Sure, it’s not the kind of design being used by a ton of different brands, but upon seeing it I was instantly reminded of the Hamilton Ventura XXL from Baselworld 2012. In this model we’re meant to be reminded of the honeycomb grilles from race cars of all eras, and to be fair, it’s “mission accomplished” on that front. GP’s use of red as an accent color was a bit of a no-brainer here, being that it’s pretty much the accent color of choice for the majority of all things motorsport. Using red for the five-second interval numerals around the minute track and the chronograph’s central seconds hand were great choices, though I’m still struggling with their use of it as the running seconds subdial as well. Visually speaking, having a single red subdial hand feels perfectly balanced, but logically, one would think that the use of red would be reserved specifically for chronograph functions in one way or another. Again, this may sound a little nitpicky and is unlikely to bother most, but it’s one of those little details that deserves mention. On the business-end of things lies one of GP’s smarter design choices, which is sadly only seen with the piece off the wrist—a smoked sapphire crystal caseback. While a standard crystal would have looked perfectly fine, the smoked crystal blends in with the caseback and gives its owner a glimpse at the fine detailing of the Circuito’s automatic movement.
On the wrist, I quickly began to appreciate its remarkably light weight. Coming in at only 58.5 grams (a hair over two ounces), the Circuito is a featherweight. To put this in context, the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Automatic Skeleton Carbon on this issue’s cover—which comprises a movement, two thin slabs of sapphire, and barely any case material at all—weighs about half an ounce more. Paired with a supple calfskin strap with a woven exterior designed to mimic carbon fiber, it looks and feels great on the wrist, though if your watch collection is filled with chunky divers or precious metals, its lightness could take a little getting used to. Small gripes about hand colors aside, the Circuito is legible in all conditions, and there is a particularly satisfying firmness to the action of its pushers that is akin to many a vintage chronograph from back in the day.
All told, even though I have my particular cavils about the Circuito, Girard-Perregaux has done an excellent job of creating a watch that balances vintage design, modern materials, and automotive influence. It wears well, it looks great, and it packs one of GP’s solid in-house automatic chronograph movements. The only stumbling blocks I could see it facing are its $13,400 sticker price, and another particularly notable black and red motorsport-focused release from Baselworld this year—the TAG Heuer Monza. Sure, the Monza uses plain old titanium, and runs a tweaked ETA movement, but it also comes in at less than half the price of entry. This may be enough to sway those merely wanting to add a particular aesthetic to their collection, but there are plenty of folks out there who are more interested in pedigree, who will side with Girard-Perregaux all day long. —Justin Mastine-Frost