Silicon Tick

The words ‘buckling’ and ‘train track’ were never a good combination… until Girard-Perregaux reinvented the beating heart of the mechanical watch

The flexing heart of Girard-Perregaux’s Constant Escapement – a single, diaphanous component

Like so many strokes of genius, the idea for the Neo Constant Escapement didn’t spring from a drawing board – it was a moment of incongruous tedium. In Girard-Perregaux’s watchmaker’s case, his eureka moment happened on the daily train commute.

Switzerland’s famously punctual rail network still dispenses card tickets. Flicking his idly between forefinger and thumb, he noticed that in buckling from ‘C’ to reverse ‘C’, lateral pressure caused the card to accumulate a uniform amount of energy before snapping back. And it’s this dynamic that lies at the heart of Girard-Perregaux’s most daring innovation, made possible by a wafer- thin silicon technology pioneered by stablemate brand Ulysse Nardin and its Sigatec skunkworks buried in the Alps.

A skeletal silicon butterfly (or razorblade, if you like) six times thinner than a human hair, twitches at the ticking heart of things, three times a second. Its central ‘S’ spoke also buckles three times a second, impulsing every oscillation of the pendulum (or balance wheel), which ekes out the flow of energy from winding barrel to geartrain (and thus the steady course of the hours, minutes and seconds hands). The symmetrical shape of the blade and uniform force of its ‘flick’ means the energy flow is constant, regardless of how unwound the barrel might be.

The fact the historic Swiss marque was founded in 1852 by a certain Constant Girard was a naming opportunity too apt for the modern watchmaker to resist; but given his obsession over the escapement’s precision, M. Girard would undoubtedly have approved of this leapfrog of horology, regardless of punning nomenclature.