Famous timepiece


La Esmeralda: The Best Luxury Watch from the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition

Franky M.


Did you know La Esmeralda is one of the most celebrated watches of all times? This fine gold timepiece once belonged to Mexican president Porfirio Díaz. Today, it is part of the private collection of the Girard-Perregaux Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.


There was a time when watches had their own names: The Fabulous, The Universal, The Fat Piece… And then, there was one that became famous for the many awards it received: La Esmeralda (The Emerald). Today, this famous timepiece remains a source of inspiration for the collection of the luxury watchmaker Girard-Perregaux.

La Esmeralda Timepiece

The story of La Esmeralda begins in 1860, when Constant Girard-Perregaux, founder of the Swiss firm sets his goal to make a unique timepiece that would show its inner movement—its soul. Such feature would make it truly unique and immediately recognizable. Girard-Perregaux resolved the problem by placing three visible parallel bridges on the mechanism. Originally, the bridges he designed were straight, with pointed ends and made of pewter. Later they were shaped like arrows, and finally, they were made of 21K gold.

The ingenious creation began receiving awards for accuracy. The most important was the medal from the board of the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris. However, in 1889, another Universal Exhibition in Paris—the one that would be remembered forever because it saw the birth of the Eiffel Tower—presented a new challenge to Girard-Perregaux.

La Esmeralda Timepiece

The occasion was worthy of an exceptional timepiece, and the firm opted for a model equipped with a tourbillon (a mechanism created in 1795 by the watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet that offsets the adverse effect of gravity on the clock) under three gold bridges. The mechanism was embedded in a heavy pink gold case and the engraving was entrusted to the expert Fritz Kundert, who used all the techniques of his time —sadly most are lost today— to develop a rich decoration. On September 29 of that year the jury’s verdict was known: as expected, the latest creation from Girard-Perregaux received the gold medal.

After the 1889 Exhibition, the clock was dubbed La Esmeralda, and the inscription with its name was entrusted to famous watch and jewelry agents Hauser, Ziwy & Co, with agencies in Paris and Mexico. Soon after, the watch became the property of Mexican president, General Porfirio Díaz.

It wasn’t until 1970 that La Esmeralda reappeared in public. It happened when an heir of General Díaz contacted a co-owner of Girard-Perregaux who was in Mexico and offered to sell him the famous watch. The business was closed quickly and since then, La Esmeralda— along with its medals – are displayed as the masterpiece of the Girard-Perregaux Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland.  ■


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