Watches: Girard-Perregaux The Chamber of Wonders (+live pics)

By Thierry Ané on May 5, 2015

Girard-Perregaux’s “1966 Automatic” in pink gold is the epitome of the classical timepiece. With an extremely pure but utterly elegant round case and refined leaf-shaped gold hands, this well-proportioned model powered by the in-house self-winding GP03300 calibre looks absolutely stunning in all dial renditions from opaline silver, to anthracite grey sunray or even a deep burgundy colour like the new limited edition for the 150th anniversary of Paris department store Le Printemps.

The balance of its design is such that it is also the ideal frame to express more artistic skills: sophisticated enough to justify the pairing with decorative techniques but at the same time simple enough as not make it look over-the-top.

Fully aware of the incredible potential of this piece of Fine Watchmaking, the Manufacture selected it last year to showcase their skills in the delicate art of cloisonné enamel: the 1966 Automatic Pur-Sang, The Map and The World all used this century-old technique in figurative works enhanced by the sparkle of diamond hour markers. Earlier this year, the brand let their engravers express their creativity with a superb Flinqué guilloché model.

For Baselworld 2015, Girard-Perregaux raised the bar to an entirely new level, though, with the outstanding “The Chamber of Wonders” collection, as series of three exceptional creations, namely the 1966 Terrestrial Map, the 1966 The New World, and the 1966 The Pearl of Wonders featuring highly sophisticated decorative techniques for a mind-blowing result!

Regular readers of Watch Agora are fully aware of my unconditional love for “Métiers d’Art” timepieces. And, although several brands can claim to offer decorative models of the highest standards, it is usually Vacheron Constantin that impresses me most in this domain both by the sensational diversity of the crafts and techniques they resort to, but equally for the amazing regularity with which they offer such incredible treats (This month’s surprise coming from this renowned Manufacture being the Métiers d'Art Savoirs EnluminésWatches: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d'Art Savoirs Enluminés that I strongly encourage you to discover in my previous article). With “The Chamber of Wonders”, Girard-Perregaux definitely show the same level of creativity, showcasing unheard-of decorative methods to bring us fabulous visions of the world through the ages.

With three dials limited to 18 pieces each, the talent of the artisans expert in miniatures allows the Manufacture to showcase three areas, three worlds interpreted with exceptional expertise through maps of the past. For the civilizations that produce them, these cartographic illustrations were imaginative conjectures on the unknown (what lies beyond the frontiers) as much as they were a scientific testament of spaces and borders. It is this subtle mix of science and myths that the brand revived with this exquisite collection.

The inspiration...

... and the 1966 The Pearl of Wonders

The first timepiece, 1966 The Pearl of Wonders, draws its inspiration from a map of the first half of the fifteenth century. Centred on the Arabian peninsula, this amazing creation uses the blue colour of sodalite stone to represent the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Indian ocean. Meticulously carved and engraved by hand, it is paired with a 0.25 mm thick papyrus cut to perfection and stabilized with a coat of lacquer. Miniature painting is also used to reproduce the map’s numerous illustrations.

The original Chinese map...

... and the result

The elegance of white jade was the obvious choice to reproduce the old Chinese map that adorns the dial of the 1966 Terrestrial Map model. Surprisingly, the sixteenth century work of an Italian Jesuit that inspired this second work of art already maps out the five continents. Miniature painting with Chinese ink yields a remarkable depth on the translucent jade and required no less than 17 hours of painstaking work by an experienced painter.

The New World map from the Cosmographia Universalis...

... and the dial of the 1966 The New World

As its name implies, the 1966 The New World focuses on the Americas and features a drawing from the Cosmographia Universalis, a richly illustrated and detailed cartographic collection from the sixteenth century. Miniature fragments of blue and pink aventurine, calcite, and nephrite are skilfully assembled to form this incredible stone marquetry work. The most colourful of the three maps also resorts to miniature painting in six different tones to reproduce the beautiful illustrations of this ancient map.

“The Chamber of Wonders” is quite simply an extraordinary collection with the power to make us dream and travel back to a time when decorative arts were an integral part of the transmission of knowledge. They belong to this rare breed of timekeepers that transcend the limits of Fine Watchmaking to become pure masterpieces.

Although the 1966 Terrestrial Map, 1966 The New World and 1966 The Pearl of Wonders can be purchased separately, I believe it is as a trilogy that the astonishing creations truly reveal their emotional strength. These are not watches one should wear. Nor are they to be hidden in a safe. They should be displayed in a window and admired as you would a fine painting or sculpture. They really are a work of art…

For more information please visit the Girard-Perregaux web site.