harles Girardier (1759-1839), also known as Girardier l’Aîné (“Girardier the Elder”), was a master watchmaker in Geneva in the late 18th and early 19th century. Imbued with the classicism of the period, he was known for his combination of huge watch movement expertise, traditional arts and crafts (enamelling, miniature painting) and automaton-like dial animations. With no descendants, his name fell into oblivion at his death in 1839.
It was not until Patrick A. Ulm, a passionate collector of antique watches, came across the watchmaker when visiting a museum, that the flame was reignited. A grand feu pocket watch with a hunting scene animation sparked in him the desire to resuscitate the name of Charles Girardier.
Patrick A. Ulm relates: “As I discovered more and more of his watches, I was seized by admiration for this watchmaker’s work. His pocket watches reflect a certain watchmaking philosophy. They’re a combination of outstanding movements, grand feu enamel, miniature painting and the world of automatons to animate the dials. That gave me a desire to relaunch this forgotten name.”
- Patrick A. Ulm has put the name of Charles Girardier back on the watchmaking stage.
The brand’s first watch, the Tourbillon Signature Mystérieuse, takes up the playful idea of an animated dial showing the monogram made up of the C and G of the great master, Girardier, against a background of grand feu enamel with appliqué paillons in silver leaf. An achievement rewarded by a trophy at the GPHG in 2020. This limited series of 40 watches won the heart of more than 20 informed collectors.
- The “Fleur De Sel” Tourbillon Signature Mystérieuse, the first chapter in the 21st-century renaissance of Charles Girardier, won the Ladies’ Complication prize at the 2020 GPHG.
In 2022, the brand launched its second, more modern series, Magic 8, again comprising a mechanical animation at 8 o’clock made up of two asymmetrical hands which continuously form and reform the figure 8 in the small-seconds dial – 30 of the 40 timepieces have already found buyers.
- The Tourbillon Signature Mystérieuse model in white gold with a hand-made, blue cobalt dial in grand feu enamel. Two mobiles move in opposite directions depending on the position in which the watch is held.
The two models incorporate movements by Timeless Manufacture, ornamented by dials designed and made by GVA Cadrans. They reproduce the elements beloved of the original watchmaker, such as grand feu enamel and an animated feature. They were bought by collectors in search of something different. But Patrick A. Ulm wants to go further: “Our wish is not to confine ourselves just to this type of animated watch. We want to evolve towards greater watchmaking legitimacy.
- The Magic 8 model in grade-5 titanium featuring an emerald-green dial with colour gradation in grand feu enamel. Two asymmetrical hands continuously form and reform the figure 8, denoting infinity and perpetual movement.
The forced halt due to Covid left time for reflection… then chance, guided by his passion for watchmaking, brought him into contact with two people who are going to help him achieve the changes to come: the founders of Oscillon (Bumont SA), an ultra-discreet brand that produces five watches a year, entirely by hand and with antiquated machines.
A hub of watchmaking skills
Cyrano Devanthey and Dominique Büser are watchmakers, engineers and developers. For Oscillon, based in Buchs in the canton of Argovie, they gradually bought up old machines (some dating from the 19th century) with which they can carry out all the operations necessary to build a watch, apart from the balance spring, strap and crystal. The case, dial, wheels and pinions are shaped and worked by hand on these machines from a bygone age.
They have succeeded in creating a veritable watchmaking “hub”, with which Patrick A. Ulm has joined forces to assert his brand’s unique character and determine its future. As the CEO explains: “In 2022 there was this meeting with Cyrano Devanthey and the discovery of an extraordinary quarter repeater by Girardier l’Aîné. That made me want to delve again into Girardier’s DNA… and develop our own movement.”
- A very rare pocket watch by Girardier l’Aîné with a jacquemart (bellstriker) automaton and quarter repeater, dated 1815
Today, thanks to Oscillon, the first steps towards a movement made in-house are being taken: the design, 3D concept and manufacturing of the parts are under way. The future looks promising. In spring 2024, Charles Girardier will launch a new, more modern GMT, “to establish the brand and introduce it to a broader public,” Patrick A. Ulm explains. “It will have a sportier look, but its dial will already have the benefit of Oscillon tools.”…
To find out more, we will have to be patient. After that, the first in-house calibre is planned for 2025 and the tribute to the quarter repeater will follow, probably in 2026. It would seem that the name of Charles Girardier is truly alive and kicking.