The Girard-Perregaux Laureato has gone through so many mutations and transformations since the design was first introduced in 1975, that it’s hard to think of a single model that really embodies its essence. The first Laureato, after all, was a thin quartz watch and it represents a period when not only GP, but the Swiss watch industry as a whole, was struggling to find a way through the Quartz Crisis.
Some people find the Laureato’s design derivative of the Royal Oak, but I don’t see it that way – there are some, I think, fairly trivial similarities, including the use of an octagonal bezel, but if you put the two watches side-by-side they seem to me to clearly be going after different effects. The Royal Oak has a much more visually aggressive, overt angularity which the Laureato manifestly is not trying to ape; instead, it’s shooting for a slim, relatively unobtrusive vibe that, the steel case and eight-sided bezel notwithstanding, has much more to do with the mid-century ideal of a thin, elegant dress watch than it does with the flashy geometry of the Royal Oak. Whether this is or isn’t a good thing is a matter of taste, but the original Laureato is, I think, fundamentally a much more conservative design than the Royal Oak, at least in terms of its underlying aspirations.
That the first Laureato was a quartz watch, not a mechanical one, is significant as well; GP was one of the first Swiss brands to offer a quartz watch. The first in-house GP quartz movement was the Elcron caliber, which came out in 1970 and ran at 8,192 Hz. In 1971, however, the GP-350 caliber debuted – this was the first quartz movement with a crystal vibrating at 32,768 Hz, which has become the frequency standard for almost all quartz movements made, right up to the present.
The original Laureato, therefore, wasn’t just an attempt to use a modern design idiom to achieve the feel of a traditional thin dress watch – it was an attempt by Girard-Perregaux, and by extension the Swiss watch industry, to assert itself as a leader in both aesthetic and technical modernity; not for nothing did it proudly say "chronometer" on the dial of the original Laureato. It’s on the same continuum with later, even more extreme examples of ultra-thin quartz horology, like the Omega Dinosaure or Concord Delirium, and it’s also an ancestor to later thin, integrated bracelet quartz watches such as the 1980 Piaget Polo (another now-classic design that started out as a quartz watch, with the caliber 7P in 1979 and 8P in 1980).
Laureato was exclusively a quartz watch for quite a long time (it was used as a vehicle for quartz complications as well) and, interestingly enough, the first mechanical Laureato didn’t come along until fairly late in the game. In 1995, GP introduced a mechanical Laureato with its in-house automatic caliber 3100. The 3000 family of movements was first introduced, just the year before, in 1994, and like the original Laureato, they are rather conservative in certain respects – they’re relatively small by modern standards, at 11 1/2 lignes, or 25.60 mm x 3.36mm, for the caliber 3300 (the caliber 3000 is a 10 1/2 ligne movement). However, this is comparable to the ETA 2892, which is also an 11 1/2 ligne caliber (and 3.6mm thick). The 3300, which is used in the just-released 38mm Laureato watches, is a fairly high-beat caliber, at 28,8000 vph.
The 3000 family of GP movements, by the way, has found its way into some interesting watches from other brands. MB&F uses the 3300 caliber as the basis for a number of its Horological Machines, where its dimensions and general reliability give a lot of flexibility in overall design and mechanical implementation; in 1996, Vacheron Constantin used the GP 3100 as the Vacheron Constantin caliber 1311, in the first series of the Overseas watch – the first new model launched by VC after it was acquired by the Vendôme Group.
My own first encounter with the Laureato was in the early 2000s, when I had a ref. 8010 in the rotation for a time. This series, from the mid-1990s, used the caliber 3100 and it’s a 36mm watch; mine had a slate-blue Clous de Paris (hobnail) dial. On the wrist, it was a very pleasant watch; thin, genuinely elegant, very versatile thanks to the integrated case and bracelet, and with a movement that, while not an haute horlogerie product on the level of a Patek caliber 240, say, or an AP 2120, still had a respectable history, an advantage of originality over the ubiquitous ETA 2892 (in those pre-Sellita days) and, as well, pleasantly gracile dimensions.
The new 38mm Laureatos have a lot of what made the ref. 8010 so appealing – a 3000 caliber family movement (in this case, the 3300) and appealing dimensions as well, at 38mm x 10.02mm. The hobnail dials are back as well, although the bezel and hands are slightly heavier – you get a bit more visual impact, as well as better legibility (not that the ref. 8010 was hard to read but the older I get the more I realize very little bit helps) and an integrated bracelet with the same slightly biomorphic elegance you have in the 8010. In fact, the 38mm Laureato feels very much like a pre-20th century watch, and like the original quartz Laureato from 1975, it’s as much geared towards satisfying mid-century thin, daily-wear dress watch codes as it is geared to satisfying modern market demands. In that respect, it’s almost anachronistic. Oddly enough, the slightly heavier bezel emphasizes its incidental similarities to the Royal Oak far more than the thinner bezels of the 1975 model, or the mid-90s 8010, ever did.
I think the new 38mm Laureatos make a solid case for themselves, especially in steel. Fit and finish are very good; there’s some very subtle beveling on the case flanks which is especially nicely done and the transitions between brushed and polished surfaces give you a lot of texture and variety, emphasizing the case geometry without seeming garish or harsh. The various 38mm models are available on straps or bracelets, and the effect on a bracelet is quite handsome but for my money, the bracelet is the way to go as it’s so much part of the design history, and current design language, of the Laureato. Not that the strap looks bad, but as with the Royal Oak, getting a Laureato on a strap is something of an exercise in contrarianism.
Now, here’s the thing: I like these a lot, but I said earlier that there have been so many models of the Laureato over the years, that it’s hard to think of one that’s truly iconic for the design. For me the most iconic Laureato is always going to be the reference 8010 – it came along when I was really exploring modern watch design intensively for the first time (after being interested, for many years, mostly in antiquarian horology) and as well, when I first ran across the 8010, the enthusiast landscape was different. I got to know GP as the company that had made amazing things like the Esmerelda Tourbillon pocket watch and which had originated the tourbillon under three golden bridges design in the 19th century; the company that had dared to innovate in quartz tech early on and which had taken a technically leading position; the company that had made the amazing Chronometer HF (a high frequency automatic chronometer which, in the 1960s, was so precise that GP guaranteed accuracy to within one minute per month).
I think the Laureato 38mm in steel, on a bracelet, is a great watch with a lot on offer but it also underscores the basic problem GP has nowadays, which is figuring out how to take all the indisputable assets it has in its history, and creating some sort of narrative that makes sense to modern consumers. The company has been something of an index, ever since the end of World War II, for the ups and downs of the Swiss watch industry and it’s never occupied a high-end position exclusively; it’s made everything from very middle-of-the-road watches with third party movements (like the first series of post World War II Sea Hawk watches – solid value watches, by the way, just not haute horlogerie) to extremely elevated stuff like its pocket tourbillons, to crazy complications like the Jackpot Tourbillon, to pretty much anything else you can imagine.
(Above, a 2010 HODINKEE video of the Jackpot Tourbillon.)
There have been any number of historically important and truly fantastic watches along the way but what GP clearly needs, moving forward, is a clearer public expression of its own identity and a realistic assessment of the position it actually inhabits in the mindset of its consumers. All the pieces are there and I’m sure the temptation to try and be all things to all people is strong (especially if your history and technical capacities make it actually possible) but a narrower focus is often a clearer one.
And the Laureato makes me think – again – just how subjective tastes in watches really are. Appreciation and connoisseurship are funny things. You start out by accumulating knowledge as a way of giving depth to experience, but at some point, if you live long enough, the exercise of connoisseurship starts to become an exercise in nostalgia as well. You start out collecting experiences and you end by reflecting on the experiences you’ve had in the past. Maybe that’s one reason why disagreements among enthusiasts can become so heated; you’re not so much arguing over objective specifics as you are debating validity of how you experienced something in the past, which of course really means you’re arguing over your identity.
I loved the Laureato ref. 8010 when it came along, and I really like the new 38mm Laureatos, however that’s grounded not just in a more thorough grasp of the company’s history and accomplishment than a lot of relative newcomers to mechanical watches are likely to have, it’s also grounded in a particular time, and a particular personal experience. If other enthusiasts don’t share my affection for the model, I can hardly blame them for not sharing the context behind that affection.
What I do hope for though, in general, is a little more appreciation for the value of context in understanding what a watch actually represents. If you don’t know anything about when the Laureato came to be, and what it’s been over the last 42 years, then yeah, you might be apt to think of them as poor man’s Royal Oaks on first examination. However if you do dig a little more into the history of both the Laureato, and GP, I think things start to look a little different. The Laureato is an outlier, sure, but not being in the mainstream of most identifiable watch designs is not necessarily a bad thing. It would be a dull old world indeed if we all wore Rolex Submariners (not that we don’t sometimes seem to be trying). You can call picking a Laureato a gesture of contrarianism, or one of individuality – which one, depends at least as much on where you’re coming from, as it does where the Laureato came from.
The Girard-Perregaux Laureato in 38mm, as shown: stainless steel on strap, $9,700; stainless steel on bracelet, $10,400; rose gold on strap, $19,900. Case dimensions, 38mm x 10.02mm. All watches with GP caliber 3300, 25.60mm x 3.36mm; 27 jewels, 46-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph. Water resistance 100m for steel models and 50m for gold models. Alligator straps. See the entire Laureato collection at girard-perregaux.com.