I loved the cream-dialled 1999 Chronograph from the moment I saw it seven years ago. Unfortunately the Ref. 4946 was only made between 1999 and 2002, with perhaps less than 500 pieces in this colour combination (there was a black dialled version as well). However patience has paid off and this perfect example is now permanently on my wrist.
The case measures 38mm x 13mm but has long curved lugs that literally wrap around the wrist. Combined with the narrow bezel and the curved strap ends that frame the watch, the 1999 Chronograph sits perfectly and wears larger than you might imagine.
Girard-Perregaux manufactures their own cases (as well as bracelets and buckles) and the attention to detail is obvious. The case sides are brushed, while the thin bezel and the upper and lower surfaces of the 21mm-wide lugs are mirror polished. The sapphire case back is also polished and seven screws secure it to the case, which is a nice detail. The large crown is engraved with “GP” and is easy to wind and set. The case is water resistant to 30m, if that matters with a chronograph (well I guess it does as you don’t want condensation, humidity, or the occasional rain shower to ruin your day!). Mushroom shaped chronograph pushers and a high box-shaped sapphire crystal emphasise the vintage feel.
The dial is beautifully proportioned. A seconds track and a tachometer scale encircle the dial which features applied polished gold Arabic numerals, set off beautifully against the eggshell coloured dial. These match the leaf-shaped gold hour and minute hands that catch the light and make time telling quite easy. The chronograph is a tri-compax design, but the continuous seconds register is on the right. I find this quite useful when the watch peeks out from under a shirt cuff.
There are two important attributes of a chronograph for me: one is being able to read civil time at a glance and the other is being able to determine elapsed chronograph time easily. So many chronographs are a cluttered cacophony of colours, hands and subdails that this basic requirement is actually quite challenging. The 1999 Chronograph, however, is a case study in functionality. The only possible variation in the design I could see would be to make the continuous sub-seconds hand gold to differentiate it from the chronograph hands. But for aesthetic reasons I like the balanced blued hands on this face, and in practice you soon learn which dials to use to read off the various functions.
The chronograph and sub-seconds hands are in heat-blued steel and the chrono seconds hand is a delightfully sensual design, as you can see from the images. All the hands reach their appropriate tracks with a definite nod to function over aesthetics. There is a small date window at the 4:30 position (which does not eat into the chronograph seconds track and is a more elegant design than Zenith often achieves) with the date shown in matching black font on a grey background. I find this just perfect. It doesn’t upset the symmetry of the dial very much and provides useful information when you require it. The date can be quick-set from the crown.
The movement is the in-house Calibre GP3370. This is based on the robust workhorse GP3300 calibre that powers many Girard-Perregaux watches. The Cal. 3300 is an 11.5 ligne (26.2 x3.28mm) uni-directional (counter-clockwise) automatic movement with a glucydur balance and flat Nivarox 1 hairspring beating at 28800vph (4Hz). There is no ‘slop’ at all in the hand setting train and, combined with a practical hacking seconds, allows very accurate time setting – which I like in a chronograph that purports to accurately measure time.
On top of the base calibre is a Dubois-Depraz cam/lever chronograph module (DD2021). While many look down on modular chronographs (they tend to be thicker, date displays are usually recessed, pushers are not in line with the crown, hand setting may not be as accurate and the chronograph movement is hidden under the dial) the Cal. 3370 has been nicely thought out. The date ring is raised up on an additional bridge so that the display is flush with the dial. The pushers essentially align with the top of the large crown and the pusher feel is very positive. It’s not buttery smooth and one needs to press quite firmly and a long way in (so to be accurate you have to partially depress the pusher and wait for your moment), but there is no delay or jump that can sometimes be an issue with modular designs.
The base Cal. 3300 has 27 jewels, but combined with the chronograph module there are a notable 63 jewels. The power reserve is around 45 hours. The movement itself is seen through the sapphire case back. The main plates and automatic rotor are decorated with Geneva stripes and there is carefully applied perlage around the perimeter of the movement. Anglage is applied to the visible edges and the movement is pleasingly well finished at this level of watchmaking.
The brown signed crocodile strap with matching brown stitching tapers to a signed 16mm simple pin buckle, perfectly suited to this ‘dress’ chronograph. The Ref. 4946 was also available on bracelet, but the 38mm diameter lends itself more to a multipurpose dress chronograph than an all out sports chronograph, so I think it is very suited to the leather band which has the additional effect of emphasising the watch ‘head’.
The movement was serviced only recently (its second routine service in 10 years), but I have been enormously impressed with the accuracy of the watch, on and off the wrist, in all positions and with and without the chronograph running. Basically the watch has lost 2 seconds over the last fortnight! It’s only one watch in a series of course, but I find that performance impressive, and I’m glad this watch is mine. This is perhaps one of the theoretical advantages of the modular over integrated chronograph design: in the modular design the wheels of the chronograph are moving continuously and it is only the hammers on the hearts that prevent the hands from moving. This has the advantage of producing less drop in amplitude of the balance when the chronograph function is activated.
The 1999 Chronograph is a watch that surprises and delights in the details. As you wear it there are so many aspects to marvel at: the curve of the lugs, the length and shape of the hands, the red accents on the dial, the interplay of brushed and polished surfaces and the shape of the crystal.