A 1950s Girard-Perregaux Gyromatic
by C. Bradley Jacobs

On display here is a watch from a line that I think has been overlooked, especially considering the modern marvels being produced recently by Girard-Perregaux.

The Gyromatic line included some interesting variants during its lifetime. From what I’ve read, the Gyros were introduced in the early- to mid-1950s and remained part of the G-P line into the 1970s. There are 17j and 39j models from the early years—I think some 25 j (maybe A. Schild & ETA movements?) were used later in the line, but I’ll need confirmation of this. Some models had dates, some ran at 36,000 bhp, some were just simple, attractive timekeepers. The model I’ve chosen here to represent the line is noteworthy because of its beauty and its 39j chronometer-grade movement.

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The Case
The case is 14k Gold-Filled with bold lugs, a large bezel & a screw-back. It was made by Ross (I assume in the US…G-P probably exported the movement and dial to be cased in America. There were serious trade restrictions & tariffs on imported watches at the time). It’s a lovely design, but one that was apparently not exclusive to G-P. I once owned an Omega (bumper auto Cal. 342) that had nearly the exact same case design. It was surely just an earlier version of this same case.

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The recessed crown is signed, which was not unusual on G-Ps from that era. We sort of take it for granted with mid- to high-end watches today that the crown will be signed but I am still pleasantly surprised when a watch this old has a signed crown (even though Bulova and Hamilton and Wyler watches of the era often have signed crowns).

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To me, the beauty of this watch is its flying-saucer profile. The big lugs and the wide, flat bezel are great and give the watch a tremendous presence head-on. This is all amazingly accentuated in profile, however. The bezel actually has a knife-edge quality because the case sides fall away sharply to form sort of a bowl, the bottom of which is the screw-on back. An indented ring around the full perimeter, and lying just beneath the lugs, contributes sort of an art moderne touch. This is, after all, a mid-century design.

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The Dial

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The dial on this example is all original and features lovely applied markers and logo. One thing to be aware of with G-Ps of the era is that the dials often have lost their lustre or finish, but those with applied markers hold up pretty well. One fun element is the bold 39 that announces the movement’s jewel count. It’s ostentatious, to be sure, but it’s a neat reminder of the days when the public perceived a watch’s jewel count to be an indicator of quality. Never mind that Waltham marketed a 100-jewel watch that contained dozens of decorative jewels on the rotor and movement…this 39j automatic is truly a thing of quality.

The Movement

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This beautiful piece of machinery is G-P Cal. 21.19, which was introduced ~1957. Adjusted to 5 positions, it’s a true chronometer-grade movement, although it was not tested by an observatory nor issued any certificate to attest to its accuracy.

The Simple Pleasures
You’ll notice that this watch has a signed buckle. The buckle may be a later addition, but it’s one of those things, like a fine wooden box or a leather folder for the chronometer certificate, that just adds to the whole watch-owning experience in a positive way. Similarly, the wonderful polish on the bezel, the notched recess for the crown, the indentation around the case middle…these things make one realize that this is a quality watch. Time and care was taken to ensure that each element was appealing and harmonious.

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For The Collector
Those of you who wish to acquire a vintage G-P for yourself should find no lack of them on the market. The good news is that eBay has plenty of them each month and other on-line sellers offer them regularly. This piece was bought at an NAWCC Mart and given a little TLC. The bad news is that prices keep going up, especially for the 39j models. The best advice I can give is do some research. There are a couple good websites devoted to G-P and Gyromatics, particularly. Find them and study them before you take an expensive plunge.

Also, it is good to have some idea of what you seek before you are ready to spend. Case sizes of Gyromatics range from ladies’ sizes to big 34mm squares, but most models are in the vintage 33 or 34 mm size. You will have to look hard to find a model that will hold its own in the Big Watch Wars of today. Other G-P models (SeaHawk, tanks, etc) are similarly sized and available in a wide range of designs, but most are of similar quality. G-P watches of the 1950s could probably be compared to those of Ulysse Nardin, Eterna, Longines. They were not the haute horlogerie timepieces like the tourbillon and repeater G-Ps of today, but they were very good, durable watches.

Text and images © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com