What do real timepiece collectors look for? Watch bridges – and Swiss luxury brands Girard-Perregaux, Corum and MB&F elevate this vital mechanism to an art form
Quite simply, bridges are essential – and overlooked. “Without bridges you have no movement,” says Clémence Dubois, Girard-Perregaux’s chief marketing officer, hailing the watch movement’s key supporting actors, without which the mechanical story would simply fall apart.
Girard-Perregaux created the Three Bridges, one of the industry’s most coveted designs, 154 years ago. Since then, the symmetrical concept has undergone several stages of evolution – the most radical coming in 1991, when the whole movement was turned upside down in order to showcase the bridges from the front.
And now, the watchmaker, based in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, has upped the game with the new 18k rose gold 44mm Tourbillon With Three Flying Bridges, an extremely skeletonised design which offers the bridges a starring role.
“On this watch the bridges are also the mainplane,” explains Dubois. “They are a continuation of the case, which is essentially two sapphire boxes with a sideband. To give the bridges maximum visibility, there is no bezel, no case back, and the micro rotor is hiding behind the barrel so as not to disturb the view.”
Its curved, contemporary, architecturally inspired execution of the bridges is called Neo Bridges, and they are made in gold, shaped by a five-axis CNC machine and coated with black PVD. Finally, they are chamfered by hand to reveal a shimmer of gold at the angles.
In the spring of 2021, Antonio Calce, former CEO of Girard-Perregaux, took the helm at Greubel Forsey. The company, founded in 2004 and also based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, is famous for its seven ingenious inventions and extremely artisanal approach. Currently around 100 people make only 140 or so timepieces per year.
“All our bridges are outside the box,” Calce says. “It is a big process to decide the right design for a bridge – a process with eight-to-10 people involved, analysing every step of the way. The most difficult to shape is the Handmade 1, which takes 10 hours – and if you look at the Quadruple Tourbillon, there are four bridges, and each of them takes eight hours of handwork to decorate and finish.”
It comes as no surprise that the biggest department in the company is the decoration department. “Usually the movement cost is one-third decoration, one-third production and one-third assembly and adjustment.
At Greubel Forsey the decoration is half of the total cost. And this may sound arrogant, but we simply have skills that you don’t find in other companies. We want to have the best and something different – this has been our motto since 2004,” adds Calce.
MB&F is another company paying plenty of attention to bridges. The brand recently announced an auction of one of its initial Legacy Machine No 1 (LM1) prototypes this November to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the collection. The LM1 Longhorn piece features a beautiful arched bridge suspending the signature flying balance wheel.
Then there’s the LM2, where two mountainous bridges climb 5.9 millimetres to hold separately oscillating balance wheels. Each of them requires at least six hours of work by hand and machine.
“The whole idea of the LMs is ‘what would I create if I had lived in the 19th century?’,” says founder Maximilian Büsser, reflecting the deep historical research that preceded the collection.
“Of course, it would have to be something kinetic and three-dimensional giving time – and something reflecting this fantastic era of the first flying machines and science fiction with Jules Verne going both to the moon and 20,000 leagues under the sea.”
The bridge design is completely inspired by the Eiffel Tower, inaugurated for the Paris World Expo in 1889. “It is an absolute drama to polish a bridge with this shape as it is not circular anywhere. It splits like a chicken wishbone; it is completely curved,” Büsser explains. “We start with an ingot of brass, which is turned by a five-axis CNC machine. After the rhodium plating, the polishing process starts – one single line at the time due to the complex shape.”
This painstaking process befits the technical complexity. “It is a nightmare to regulate a watch with two balances. The Witschi machine used for regulation goes crazy – just like a doctor would if he were to put a stethoscope to a chest and try to listen to two hearts beating instead of one. And they are supposed to beat independently of each other – this is what a lot of people misunderstand.
“They are not in resonance, and yet you do get a chronometric advantage since the balances average each other out – if one is 10 seconds too fast and one is 10 seconds too slow, you get zero deviation.”
“Spectacular bridges, where design and functionality come together, are very popular among collectors because of their visibility,” he says. “In the last decades design has become as important as functionality, and a bridge is a design aspect that anyone can grasp and understand.”
However, design alone does not determine secondary market value. “The pre-owned market is more driven by the scarcity of the brand, the model, the market and provenance,” he adds.
Another bridge construction that brought a revolution on its arrival 41 years ago is the Corum Golden Bridge, invented by Vincent Calabrese: a movement shaped like a linear bridge stretching the length of a glass box and made of gold – hence the movement’s name.
Since 2011, the brand has been able to construct an automatic version with a vertically moving oscillating weight, and Corum’s product director Marc Wälti is particularly proud of the current avant garde model of the Automatic Golden Bridge.
“The case is a panoramic sapphire box in a titanium frame, through which you can really enjoy the beauty of the movement from the top and from the sides,” he says. “Both [versions] can live side by side, and the Golden Bridge – one of the icons of watchmaking history – will always be part of Corum,” he says.
- Girard-Perregaux has upped the game with the 18k rose gold 44mm Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges – bringing the often-overlooked, vital component to the fore
- MB&F’s LM1 and LM2 took inspiration from Jules Verne and the Eiffel Tower, while Corum’s celebrated Golden Bridge was invented by Vincent Calabrese