Time for Innovation
by JASON HEATON
GIRARD
PERREGAUX
CONSTANT
ESCAPEMENT
Watchmaking may be an old craft, but never let it be said that it doesn't keep up with the times. While the same basic goal has remained since the dawn of, er, time -- that is, precision timekeeping through mechanical means -- techniques and materials have evolved. Consider the conundrum of the constant force escapement, a rare, exceedingly difficult and almost mythical solution to the most basic problem in mechanical timekeeping. 


Since the invention of the timepiece itself, the issue of decreasing mainspring torque has tormented watch- and clockmakers. As the spring gives up its coiled power, its strength diminishes little by little, causing irregularity in the oscillations of the regulating organ, the escapement. This undermines the watch's precision. As far back as the eighteenth century, watchmakers tried to solve this problem by various ingenious but imperfect means, such as a fusee and chain or a remontoire díegalitè. Near the end of the 1700s, the father of modern watchmaking, Abraham-Louis Breguet, patented a device he called the "constant force escapement" that, as its no-frills name implies, kept the escapement's oscillations steady by providing a little kick at every cycle. Breguet's invention was a breakthrough, but it was extremely difficult and impractical to replicate; few have attempted to use it in the three centuries since its creation.


Fast forward to the 1990s. Watchmaker Nicolas Dehon, working for Rolex at the time, was riding the train to work one day, absent-mindedly flicking the ticket that he held bridged between his fingers. As is the case with so many great inventions, this simple act was a lightning bolt of inspiration for Dehon, who took the principle of the flicked train ticket and applied it to a watch escapement. Dehon's escapement added a flat blade spring (the train ticket) that was held curved in tension and then "flicked" up and down on opposing sides to provide just the right impulse to the balance wheel, thus supplementing the irregular torque coming from the watch's mainspring. It was a brilliant solution, but one that was again ahead of its time. The materials available in the late 1990s were not suited for its application, and the movement could not be built serially into a wearable wristwatch.







When Dehon moved to the venerable La Chaux-de-Fonds watchmaking firm Girard Perregaux in 2008, he took his idea with him. G-P, a renowned builder of refined and complicated timepieces, was a better match for this challenge than a builder of simple and reliable watches like Rolex. They embraced the challenge. In the years since Dehon's escapement idea, exotic materials had been introduced into watchmaking. One of these materials, silicon, would prove to be the key to making the constant force escapement more than a mere idea. Fatigue-resistant, lightweight silicon could be milled into the exact shape needed for the tiny one-piece blade spring and bracket Dehon envisioned. Girard-Perregaux spent years working in secret to perfect the design. The result was finally unveiled to much fanfare on a snowy day this April in Zurich: the Constant Escapement was a reality. 



 CONTINUES BELOW

 


The name of the watch, which may at first glance seem unimaginative for such a groundbreaking timepiece, not only describes its namesake feature but also pays fitting tribute to one of Girard-Perregaux's founders, Constant Girard. Despite its complexity, the Constant Escapement's appearance is decidedly modern and downright sporty in its 48mm white gold case. Of course, the escapement is front and center, the shimmering blue silicon blade spring and dual escape wheels ticking over at a leisurely 3 Hertz under the openworked dial. The upper half of the dial displays the hours and minutes while a full-size red-tipped sweep hand counts out the seconds. A subtle power reserve meter shows the power remaining in the mainspring and is a reminder that even at low power the watch will keep steady time. It's for this very reason that G-P fitted this innovative escapement in a hand-wound watch: since it would constantly be wound by the wrist's movements, a self-winding piece wouldn't adequately demonstrate the raison d'étre of the constant force mechanism. 


The importance of the Girard Perregaux Constant Escapement cannot be overstated. It's nothing short of a huge milestone in the history of watchmaking, a true constant force escapement born from an ingenious idea and realized through the use of modern materials and innovative techniques. Thanks to its uncomplicated yet complex escapement, this is a watch that keeps to within a two-second daily rate variance and consistent balance amplitudes across the mainspring power curve. It's a refreshing example of victory within the relentless pursuit of the most fundamental goal of watchmaking: precise timekeeping.


$123,000, girard-perregaux.com

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STATEMENT


Excellence, innovation, craftsmanship, and an unwavering desire to challenge expectations -- these are the constants that have captivated our attention since Gear Patrol's inception in 2007. This year we're proud to announce the next step in our role as a champion of quality in product design and execution: welcome to the GP100. Our inaugural product awards are dedicated to honoring the 100 best consumer products released during the calendar year by companies of all sizes and scope. 


The GP100 is not a ranking or a contest. These selections represent the collective expertise of our entire editorial staff, who have scoured every corner of the vast product universe -- from automotive and electronics, to men's style essentials, home goods, spirits and outdoors -- to find the inspiring and the practical, the ground-breaking and the traditional, the priceless and the accessible. In short: products that define or defy their respective categories to better the life of the modern man.



METHODOLOGY


The GP100 is not a contest influenced by marketers or brands, nor is it a ranking by specifications as determined by uniform tests. Instead, it starts with a comprehensive list of nominees released in the calendar year, researched and compiled by our editorial team of obsessed experts across all of Gear Patrol's major areas of interest including Motoring, Technology, Style, Home, Spirits, Outdoor and Watches. Brands are not part of the selection process. Nominees are then debated in context of the past, present and future of their respective fields. Which selections stand as significant innovations, category busters or faithful monuments to the icons of history? Do they adhere to Gear Patrol's core tenets of excellence, design, utility and the spirit of adventure? Distilled to the following 100 items, the GP100 represents the best products on earth released in 2013 -- easily inspiring consumers and creators alike during their search for guideposts of excellence in a vast world of products.



THE CATEGORIES


Motoring   Watches   Style   Technology   Sports   Outdoors   Home   Spirits

WRITERS


Jeremy Berger

Ben Bowers
Alex Bracetti
Nick Caruso
Ed Estlow
Jon Gaffney
Jonathan Gallegos
K.B. Gould
Bradley Hasemeyer
Jason Heaton
Mike Henson
Amos Kwon
Matt Neundorf
Scott Packard
Austin Parker
Henry Phillips
Peter Saltsman
Chris Wright
Eric Yang


CREDITS

Produced by Ben Bowers, Chris Wright, Eric Yang
Designed by Eric Yang
Edited by Chris Wright
Photography by Henry Phillips, Eric Yang
Special Thanks to BraunScroll Kit and Say Media

RESOURCES

Inquiries, Corrections  support@gearpatrol.com
2014 Submissions  100@gearpatrol.com