Girard-Perregaux presented the Free Bridge along with its Infinity version at the end of August during the Geneva Watch Days. This watch is in line with the brand's strategic direction, which aims to strengthen the two key collections in the catalog: the Bridges and Laureato collections. I appreciate this approach. Girard-Perregaux has suffered for many years from a lack of identifiable models that could have brought a positive impact on the entire catalog. The current market is such that the brands that work best are those with famous watches, which are described as "iconic" in their offerings. These models account for the bulk of sales and it is difficult for other brands to be successful in this context. It was therefore vital for Girard-Perregaux to work on this aspect. Of course, there is no miracle recipe for creating an "iconic" watch. It's the customers who give it that status and no one else. This is done over time, when the success is lasting. However, there is an essential ingredient to this success: the watch must be identifiable. For several years now, through the relaunch of the Laureato collection and the emergence of the Bridges collection, Girard-Perregaux has been communicating on the various distinctive features of its watches that could make them easily recognizable in the eyes of enthusiasts and even a wider public.
Pink gold details make the Infinity version recognizable:
This work is easier with the Laureato collection. Created in the 70's, with a design characteristic of the time and taking advantage of the current craze for sporty-chic watches with integrated bracelets, the Laureato collection can take advantage of a favorable trend. For the Bridges collection, the context is more complicated, but that's what makes it exciting. Girard-Perregaux thought about the symbols, the characteristic elements of its rich history and it emerged that the 3-bridge pocket watch from 1867 was one of the most representative of its past watchmaking production. The arrow-shaped end bridges, the geometrical construction of the dial, the architecture of the movement made this watch much more than an ambassador of this rich history. It is squarely integrated into the brand logo as its name is underlined by a stylized representation of one of the bridges.
This is no coincidence: the bridge becomes a signature and eventually customers should be able to recognize a Girard-Perregaux watch without even writing the brand name on the dial. The concern is that this emblematic 1867 timepiece was far from being a simple watch since it featured a tourbillon. In fact, Girard-Perregaux has been producing tourbillon models with 3 bridges (in gold or other materials) for many years. A tourbillon watch will never have the projection, the volume to become an emblematic watch, at least in the mainly targeted price segment. This is why the Manufacture has decided to capitalize on the bridge concept by developing a complete collection of models in a wider price range and therefore with more affordable prices.
The astonishing Neo-Bridges was the answer to this challenge: it was distinguished by the presence of several bridges on the dial with the balance bridge in the foreground, a visible micro-rotor, a contemporary architecture and a glass box that plunged the open dial into a bath of light. Its price of around 25,000 euros made it de facto much more affordable than a Tourbillon model. And this year, Girard-Perregaux is continuing this collection expansion with the Free Bridge.
My first feeling is to describe it as a simpler Neo-Bridges. It's true that it has a more conventional automatic winding system, with a central winding mass, located above all at the back of the dial. Moreover, it has only one arrow-shaped "Neo" bridge. But the advantage of such a presentation is to focus almost exclusively on this bridge. The two other bridges (hands and barrel) have different shapes so that the Free Bridge looks less structured and geometrical than the Neo-Bridges.
The winding mass is in gold on the Infinity version:
If the Free Bridge seems more conventional, it is still an original watch. What is most surprising is the astonishing shape of the variable inertia balance wheel: first of all its diameter is relatively large, and secondly it is distinguished by its airy, serge-free design. I had the impression of observing the oscillations of a star. The use of silicon makes it possible to make such a shape. Moreover its lightness allows to limit the energy consumption. The power reserve is more than 54 hours for a frequency of 4hz.
Then, the movement remains inverted. It is not because the winding mass finds a natural location that the whole movement is built in a traditional way. This movement, the GP0100-1170, remains an inverted caliber as evidenced by the presence of the regulating organ and the barrel on the dial side. The decorative treatment of the open dial is well done: the watch offers nice relief effects and I also like the small inclined gear bridge between the balance and hands bridges. As with the Neo-Bridges, the whole is highlighted thanks to the curved glass box and the anti-reflection treatments of a rare efficiency. The light comes in from above, from the sides and the dial offers superb grey reflections with these components that contrast more or less. Depending on the light conditions, the bridge of the balance wheel can fade away and a few moments later reappear with a strong contrast... this is the advantage of its satin finish. The hollowed out hands allow a completely satisfactory reading of time and fit harmoniously into this technical and contemporary design.
The standard version of the Free Bridge sold at a price of 17,600 euros:
The back of the watch, although it does not have the spectacular side of the front, is still carefully finished with a coherent chromatic palette. The open winding mass makes it possible to enjoy the careful decoration.
The steel case of the Free Bridge has a diameter of 44mm. The watch is imposing but its limited thickness (12.2mm) makes it rather fluid. This size seemed to me to be appropriate in this particular context. The dial is harmoniously organized and this diameter allows to take advantage of the effects of the glass and of the reliefs brought by the suspended indexes. The lugs are short and curved and the watch is worn comfortably. However, the extreme thinness of the bezel tends to increase the perceived size. This is the same effect as with the 45mm Neo-Bridges: the watch can be worn without any problem, but it still requires a large enough wrist for a pleasant look.
The Free Bridge is sold at a more attractive price than the Neo-Bridges (17,600 euros vs. 25,100 euros). The difference is significant. As the owner of the Neo-Bridges, my heart obviously goes out to the Neo-Bridges. I like the visible micro-rotor, the design that seems to draw a face, the better filled dial, the better integration of the barrel, the more marked recall of the 3 bridges. The price difference is logical, the watchmaking content of the Neo-Bridges being superior. But the Free Bridge is not to be outdone. It has several similar advantages thanks to its visible balance wheel, and the shape of the latter is a particularity to be noted. The choice is difficult, but in any case I think Girard-Perregaux was right to bring out this model in order to position itself well below 20,000 euros. The Bridges collection is thus effectively completed and I hope that the Free Bridge will be able to contribute to the success of this collection. This is an important issue for the brand and the Free Bridge therefore has a strategic role to play.
It should be noted that the Free Bridge is also available in an Infinity version at a price of 21,000 euros combining Onyx and components with a pink gold winding mass.
+ the visible regulating organ on the dial side, which allows you to take advantage of the oscillations of the original balance.
+ the presentation of the open dial and the relief effects
+ the quality of the anti-reflection treatment
- the perceived size is significant
- the dial has empty areas when compared to the Neo-Bridges dial