Girard-Perregaux Classique Elegance Ref. 49520 - or: the praise of a simple, but thoroughbred watch

by Magnus Bosse
March 1st, 2004
(please click on grayscale thumbnails to view full-size images)

When I start to reflect upon my tour de force through the rich and highly diverse philosophies of watchmaking, I begin to shake my head after comptemplating about my first interstations (and even more about my foolish believe that I found the 'holy grail'!!). I often felt like at the end of a long journey, but these feelings faded away too soon, and I most likely traded the watches for another one: another time - another chance! A few years later, some experiences richer (and luckily not much poorer!), a certain tiredness came up, combined with some slight scepticisms whether the world of Haute Horlogerie is the right playground for me. Remember the advertising for the Davidoff cigarettes: A man in his best years, subtitled with the unfinished sentence: 'The more you know...'!

I performed a little thought experiment: What would you search for if you intend to buy just one watch, suitable for most occasions, a reliable compangion, designed and constructed with the same excellence, depth of thought and love to the detail inside and outside. Boring???? you may ask? I honestly feared the same! In fact, my search and above all the result opened my eyes:

Girard-Perregaux Classique Elegance Ref. 49520!

Actually the watch catched my eyes a few years ago upon a post by Hans Zbinden about watches with in-house movements. I forgot about the Girard-Perregaux over the time, and never really thought back. Then came John Davis' detailed examination of the Cal. 3300 base movement on, and at least the manufacturer came back into the 'there's something about...' section of my cerebellum.
Then it hit me: It is the case!!! It is the case that made me struck on Girard-Perregaux watches. I cannot really explain it other than to characterise it as 'juicy'! They show such a distinct joy of life, such an understated if not even hidden refinement while at the same time being lustrous and shyly flippant. There are only very few other manufacturers who master this tensing balance. No wonder, since Girard-Perregaux even makes the own cases, bracelets and buckles in-house!
It was a question of less than 24h which I needed to decide on the watch. The offer was that tempting that I could not resist. I contacted the seller, and next day I woke up almost in the middle of the night, and took one of the first superfast ICE trains in the morning from Zurich to Mannheim, and from there to Worms. What a main station there: almost in an as neglected, sad condition as if it was located in eastern germany during the 'best' times of the commmunist regime of the long gone GDR. It had to pick up a suburban train to the next station, where the railroad tracks were still without electric power supply line and the signalman had to operate gates and the mechanical (sic!) signals by hand. I was not really sure if this was the place to pick up a fine piece of haute horlogerie!
Radical change: The seller came with his new anthracite Porsche Carrera 4 convertible (a brilliant example of how classic cars can lose their charme and appeal if made too perfect) and drove me to his office. Turned he was an avid watch collector, and we had a pleasant chat. Then she came: My watch! I sat there, without words, only trying to catch and understand this beauty!
The Girard-Perregaux Classique Elegance Ref. 49520 comes in a nice box made of pale wood (beech?) and honey coloured leather. I quicky strapped her on, we said our goodbyes and I headed back to Zurich with a smile on my face. Needless to say that I celebrated with a nice burgundy wine in the restaurant coach on my train back!
The exterior - case and dial:
This watch has so many impressive details to discover that I apologize for the following blow-by-blow description.
The rose gold 38mm case (perfect for any occasion!) is elegantly shaped and with a nicely accentuated curvature of the lugs, which make the watch appear to hover once placed on a table. It is about 8mm high (not including the lugs, of course). It features sapphire crystals on both side, the front one being domed. While looking simple, the case reveals its secrets on the second view: First, there is the contrast of brushed and perfectly polished surfaces, which make the watch appearing slimmer than it is. Second, there is the slightly domed, bold but very slim polished bezel, which catches the eyes with great effect. Its curvature flows perfectly over into the domed crystal. The crown is nearly 7mm in diameter and is adorned with a lovely engraved G-P logo.
The watch looks much bigger than the 38mm diameter may promise. This I think is due to the long lugs. It makes a very bold statement with a understated, nearly skulptural look. Just as an example that a most appealing design can come along with perfect functionality: I do not know about another watch that fits my wrist as if it was custom made for me like this one!

The watch's face is a dial of creamy colour, adorned with applied rose gold indices and arabic numerals, and the small seconds hand at 9 and last but not least a date window at 3 o'clock.
The dial is one of the most fascinating features of this watch: One a more detailed view it reveals some remarkable care to perfection. The cream-coloured surface has the very finely made structure that resembles the grain of calf leather. The ensemble of small seconds hand and the indices at 6, 9 and 12 o'clock is elegantly balanced by the large crown and the date at 3.

The hands are made of rose gold inlaid with SuperLuminova and show the time on precisely applied (rose gold) indices and perfectly polished, very well visible arabic numerals. The alignment of all the indices is without any aberration from the set point. I'm very happy with the scarce use of luminous material on the dial since I do not like it very much on 'dress' watches. The softly polished and bevelled small seconds hand rotates above a recessed subdial and contrasts the warmth of the dial with a heat-blued colour - perfect!
Even the standard (tang) buckle surprised me when I first used it: This well made piece, also carrying the G-P logo, features recessed holes for the springbars that fix the (fantastic honey-brown aligator) Camille Fournet strap with the buckle. The result is that the strap is bent only to a much lesser extent than with other buckles. The longevity of the strap will probably increase, and my wallet will be happy...
The back-side of the watch is of course the highlight for every connaisseur: The display-back that allows the admiration of the superb Girard-Perregaux Cal. 3300 movement.
But before I comment on the movement I want to draw your attention to the case back. The sapphire glass is held by a small bezel secured by 6 screws. Applause to Girard-Perregaux for chosing this more eleborate and subtle solution (imagine the intimate moment when a watchmaker unlocks one screw after the other to open the case!), and a double applause for leaving out unneccessay engravings. There are only the name of the manufacture, the reference number and the case number to be found, and not the ubiquitous remarks on water resistance, jewels, sapphire crystals etc - they would be completely out of place on such a high-grade watch!
The interior: the manufacture movement Cal. 3300:
The movement is the great automatic Girard-Perregaux Calibre 3300. Based on the movement Cal. 3000 and 3100, which debuted at the Basel watch fair in 1994, this movement family represents what can be considered as Girard-Perregaux's impressive re-entry into the world of true manufactures. Now the Cal. 3200 and 3300 have completed the stable. Meanwhile, this movement evolved into a base movement for an impressive range of complications, from large-date moonphase watches to column-wheel chronographs and world time watches.
power reserve
3000 10-1/2 lignes 2.98mm 27 50h  
3100 10-1/2 lignes 3.28mm 28 50h yes
3200 11-1/2 lignes 2.98mm 27 50h  
3300 11-1/2 lignes 3.28mm 28 50h yes
The movement beats at today's standard 28800 bph (=4Hz), which is, together with the generous power reserve of 50h, good for a great accuracy. I've not measured it, but within 1 week I didn't had to adjust the time.
The movement shows a care to the detail that prove the watchmaking capability of the house of Girard-Perregaux. Despite a very fine (but not top notch) finishing it also delights the connaisseur with mechanical delicacies: an elaborated handsetting mechnism which allows for precise control during time-setting, a highly efficient automatic winding system (unidirectional) and a modern, well executed escapement with Nivarox 1 hairspring which is lased welded on a Glucydur balance and which can be adjusted using the Spirofin micro regulator. If you want to read more about this amazing little movement I'd refer to John Davis' excellent in-depth review on Girard-Perregaux's Vintage 1945 Large Date watch, which uses the same base movement.
As mentioned above, the finish is very fine. It consists of blued screws, really tendely applied côtes genevoises and anglage on the rotor and on the bridges, perlage on the main plate and on a part of the automatic winding bridge and a sunburst grinding on the mainspring barrel. The perlage on the relatively splendid surfaces of the main plate gives an impression of a starry sky.
Conclusion & comment:
If I were in the position to critizise Girard-Perregaux about this watch, I could mention some minor points, which are all of course relative and subjective. The case has some sharp edges on the back (which one does not sense while wearing this watch). The finish of the movement could be a bit more elaborate, I'm especially missing the polished anglaged bridge edges and the slots of the blued screws should also be blue. I'd like to have the front glass coated with anti-reflective material on both sides, and finally I think that the watch is worth a box that is made a bit more affectionately (not that the existing one is bad. It just is not as luxury as for example the burl wood cases I know from Blancpain). Last but not least I'd like to have a shorter strap (side with the holes is too long for my wrist).
All in all, these 'complaints' are not really severe. The strap is my personal problem, and I'm happy that Girard-Perregaux invested the money in the watch and not in the box. But the front crystal and the finish remain two points the manufacture should think about.
At the end of the day, this Girard-Perregaux Grande Calssique Ref. 49520 seems to be a true gem for me: A genuine in-house product (even the case and the buckle are made by the manufacture!). A very carefully designed and constructed case with many lovely detail solutions houses an excellent manufacture movement, which altogether make this watch one of the most consequently thought-of watches I've ever seen. Everything seems to fit the package, I cannot detect many unneccessary shortcuts taken at one point to save money. Every detail of this watch seems to meet the same stringency of construction, quality and execution. This in-house made watch (in the best sense of the word!) shows that Girard-Perregaux's heart for watchmaking art beats not only for thier impressive Tourbillons sous trois ponts d'Or: Really, a throughbred watch, which carries her name with pride!

Magnus Bosse © March 2004 Last update 10 December 2006

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