Perrelet, looking forward although the rug has been pulled from under your feet

Before dwelving into a description of their new diving collection, I would like to walk the reader through a brief presentation of the Perrelet SA company, which inception I discussed at great length in my essay in French: “The house of cards Perrelet SA, Example of how unverified information relayed by historians can backfire at a brand’s communication strategy (against its unwilling will)”:

Inception

Abraham-Louis Perrelet

Abraham-Louis Perrelet, Master Watchmaker

It all started in 1993 with a group of investors who wanted to speculate on the name of Abraham-Louis Perrelet. Perrelet had been declared author of the earliest known automatic watch by a 1952 book that had since become a reference for horological publications.
The Perrelet investors registered the trade marks Abraham-Louis Perrelet [P-413585]; and Perrelet – L’inventeur de la montre automatique [P-417026], which translates to Perrelet – The Inventor of the Automatic Watch.

At the time though, French historian Joseph Flores had reviewed updated information that invalidated the Perrelet case and pointed out to a Belgian watchmaker: Dieudonné-Hubert Sarton.

The trade mark as registered in 1993

The trade mark as registered in 1993

The original founders of Perrelet SA didn’t want to admit they had “bet on the wrong horse”, which would have left them with an empty-box name; and the chain of authors and journalists who quoted the 1952 book were not comfortable with the thought of having a rug pulled from under their feet. Besides the bad faith, a Swiss watchmaker always souns more glamourous than a Belgium one, so everyone agreed to make the academically-trained historian Flores look like a phoney with his theories.

Flores, whose French citizenship gives him no particular bias towards a Belgian figure, documented all the evidence and published it in 1998. It wasn’t until 2009 that the discovery of critical documents finally allowed Mr. Flores to debunk with absolute certainty what is possibly the grossest mis-attribuation in watchmaking history.

Spanish entrepeneur Miguel Rodriguez (photo credit Agefi)

Spanish entrepeneur Miguel Rodriguez (photo credit Agefi)

To this day, most authors are still reluctant to take a position on the Perrelet-Sarton polemic and often prefer to stick with the mixed-up Perrelet myth despite the evidence brought to light. Even Wikipedia has it wrong, for crying out loud!

Since its creation, the company Perrelet SA changed hands several times after 1997 before eventually falling in the portfolio of Mr. Miguel Rodriguez. The Spanish entrepreneur successfully built one of Europe’s smallest manufacturing group: Festina. Saldy, it seems that the new Perrelet SA management is set on sticking with the botched 1993 marketing pitch. A more subtle and factual approach would be to drop the trade mark The Inventor of the Automatic Watch to replace it with ONE OF the InventorS of the Automatic Watch… But hey, it doesn’t look like sales dropped since 2009, so why change a winning team, right?

Despite their complete lack of historical legitimacy and lack of expertise in historical methodology, I have to admit that Perrelet SA has always been designing and building very nice watches.

Perrelet SA have created a strong product identity with their recognisable signature case: a cog-shaped frame with chamfered lugs that slightly protrude on the sides.

Perrelet signature case

Their movements now always benefit from several cosmetic enhancement. Compared to other companies, it is clear that Perrelet spends more in making the movement look like “a million bucks”.  A couple of years ago, I got to see their watches up-close in Interlaken, and I have to say that the brand’s moonphase is probably one of the nicest I have ever seen on the market, besides that of Franck Muller Group’s Martin Braun.

Perrelet cosmetically-enhanced movement

Actually, the improvements probably don’t stop at the surface: before being acquired by Mr. Rodriguez, Perrelet SA was put in a synergy together with historic Swiss movement finisher Soprod, which was also part of the Rodriguez acquisition.
This means that Perrelet has direct access to manufacturing workshops and a team of technicians capable of designing movements and complications.

2011 novelty: Seacraft collection

Perrelet SA already added sports models with their Titanium collection and their limited edition Tourbillon. This year, the company decided to regale us with a diving collection christened Seacraft.

Perrelet Seacraft

OceanicTime.com, the reference blog for diving watches, and German-speaking forum Watchlounge.com both have pictures from BaselWorld 2011. The collection, rated at 80 bar, comes in three models:

  • 42 mm three-hands watch
  • 42 mm UTC watch
  • 45 mm automatic chronograph

In terms of styling, the collection uses the signature Perrelet case lugs, and I find it a new and fresh take on the diving watch paradigm. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but it has the merit of not reminding us of anthing that already exists. Given Perrelet’s tradition of high-grade components, I am a bit dissapointed that they only used eloxed aluminium for the bezel insert… then again, something fancier like ceramic or sapphire would have sent the price skyrocketing.

Perrelet Seacraft chronograph

The chronograph seems to be based on an automatic movement with a module on top (possibly from Dubois-Dépraz).

Perrelet Seacraft GMTThe UTC watch features a variant of the Dubois-Dépraz multi-zone module also found in the Tudor Aeronaut. I insist on using the term UTC, because the recent availability of ETA 2893 movements led to the proliferation of so-called GMT watches, that are unfortunately useless as UTC watches.

ExplanationGMT as a standard was superseded by UTC in 1972. With that in mind, a GMT watch would be something anachronic today.
On the other hand, a proper UTC watch should allow to keep track of Coordinated Universal Time besides anything else. The most logical way to do this would be by having the 24h hand “fixed”, and by allowing the 12h hand to be moved by increments.
To this day, all movements available to third parties and featuring a 24h hand fail to meet this criterion, as it is the 24h hand that moves by increments and not the 12h one.

Time zones

UTC zones (Image Courtesy NASA MSFC)

So kudos to the Perrelet product development team for nailing it with the choice of this Dubois-Dépraz module. Only Blancpain, Bvlgari, Grand Seiko, Omega, Orient Star, [edit] Oris, Rolex, Seiko, Tudor… and now Perrelet offer watches that match the requirements of a proper UTC watch.

Models are available in three dial colours: black with black bezel insert, silver with black bezel insert and blue with blue bezel insert.

Each model is available either on an alligator strap or with a stainless steel bracelet with diving buckle. Here is the price lineup:

Posted in assembler, brand of origin, editorial, ETA 2892-A2, IP blunter, legacy, original designs, Valjoux 7750 | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Perrelet, looking forward although the rug has been pulled from under your feet

  1. Rodrigo Vera says:

    “Only Blancpain, Bvlgari, Grand Seiko, Omega, Orient, Orient Star, Rolex, Seiko, Tudor… and now Perrelet offer watches that match the requirements of a proper UTC watch.”

    I don’t know if the Oris Wordltimer movement (cal. 690) can fit in the description, or maybe it’s in a class by its own. Anyways it’s a fantastic way to keep time while traveling through multiple hour zones. And it’s really a bargain.

    It’s a shame Oris seems to be phasing out such a marvel.

    • Pancho Sanza says:

      Hi Rodrigo,

      I didn’t count Oris in at first because the “home” time is dispayed on a 12h subdial, but you are 100% correct: it does fit the description. The pushers allow to change the main hour, and it is an exclusive Oris module. Here’s a link to one of their user manuals.

  2. Martin says:

    There is some evidence to the theory that the French invented UTC as a reason to de-bunk the Britsh (GMT) to become the new centre of timekeeping for the world. This didnt really work out as well as they hoped (Greenwich’s rich heritage and ideals sticking in peoples minds rather like the Perrelet debate which i and many others were not previously aware of) but UTC did have a the upper hand in that it accounts for leap seconds etc that make it more of an accurate measurement of mean solar timekeeping. UTC watches therefore sould be atomic time keepers but as you say the two different acronyms are now used by watch lovers to identify two different types of movements.

    I take it your list just sticks to mechanicals? otherwise Seiko have the 8f56 quartz that meets this criteria and possibly citizen have something aswell.

    This is one of the best and one of the most informative posts i have read from any watch blog this year. An excellent Blog that deserves many bookmarks for its fascinating and intelligent posts that many others blogs lack.

    • Pancho Sanza says:

      Hello Martin,

      Thanks for the little anecdote about the UTC / GMT rivalry. I intentionally ommited to mention quartz watches, but it is true that both Seiko and Citizen have nice quartz watches that handle timezones very well.

      If I’m not mistaken the oldest concept of a Prime Meridian can be traced to Flanders (now part of Belgium). The French Prime Meridian came after, and was shortly followed by the English version.

      The biggest setback for France was the German occupation after June 1940: Paris had previously been on the same timezone as London, but the Germans decided to sync it with Berlin.
      It has never been moved back since, partly due to daylight saving policies.

  3. Martin says:

    You learn something new everyday – Thats what i want from my watch blogs! not biased reviews.

  4. karl boerge says:

    To me who is not a watch nerd, you miss one tiny detail: Perrelet’s claim ” Perrelet – since 1777″. For a company founded less than 20 years ago and having changed owners several times, this is nothing but a fraud – or un “arnaque” in French. But then again, Festina was all the time a low class manufacturer, a pure marketing invention.

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