Modified Luxury: Making a high end watch your own

This article is a review of the Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk III in Cobalt (ref.# 49960-19-431-11A). This 1,000m diver was released in black in 2012 as version III, and in 2013 the blue and orange color combination was released. The watch retailed for $13,000 and was $1,000 less with the wonderfully comfortable black or blue rubber. It is 44mm x 17, has some heft, and is powered by Girard Perregaux’s rugged inhouse caliber GP3300 with 46-hour power reserve. The movement is fitted with a power reserve module.

Girard Perregaux is an upper tier brand that is not much-discussed and has been around for a while. Their website says they have been making watches since 1791. In 1880 they were the first to mass produce watches for the military and in 1940 they came out with the first Sea Hawk. The 2002 Sea Hawk had a similar shape to the one reviewed here, but with softer lines.

I am a watch collector, primarily of dive watches and have owned or own now divers and sport watches by many top manufacturers such as Vacheron Constantine, Glashutte Original, Roger Dubuis, Ulysse Nardin, Panerai, Audemars Piguet, Parmigiani, Breguet, Hublot, Omega and IWC. I would unequivocally rank this Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk III among the greatest tool divers of all time. I am pleased to own it as they are no longer made, difficult to find, and I really enjoy wearing it. It is like comfort food to me; such a perfect tool diver. But falling in love here was a rocky road.

Around the level of Rolex or above, there are not many divers to choose from, particularly at 44mm (or larger) and even rarer if you like a bold look. When I first purchased this watch, it took only a few seconds to appreciate that it is a top shelf tool diver. And when I looked closer, I found a remarkable level of craftsmanship rivaling the best on the market.

But after my first few hours of wearing it, I was hurting because of the sharp edges under the case and lugs. I called Girard Perregaux and they said send it in. They would smooth the edges for no charge. I decided against this fearing that if it didn’t work, I’d be trying to sell a modified watch. So I sold it but missed it very much. A year and a half later I bought it again and sent it to Girard Perregaux. They smoothed the edges and it now seemed fine. I was very grateful for their assistance and began wearing it.

This time, after about 8 hours, the crown guard was irritating the back of my wrist. I didn’t want to send it away for another week or two so I dug out my metal file and fixed the problem myself. Afterwards I wore the watch for days and even slept with it consecutive nights with no problem. I was so pleased. Then I bought the bracelet. The watch looked spectacular with bracelet fitted. But after a few hours with the bracelet, the watch was uncomfortable from sharp edges on the bottom of the links. So I got out my metal file again and fixed the problem. The watch is fine now, though the bracelet has a few beauty marks.

The comfort issues I experienced have no impact on my opinion of this watch. I consider them “subjective” as someone else may not be bothered and if they are, it is a simple fix. That said, manufacturers are playing with fire when they put sharp edges underneath a watch or bracelet. There is no good reason to do so.

With the comfort issues out of the way, this watch impresses on multiple levels: aesthetics, utility and craftsmanship. It takes very little time to appreciate that this is both high-end as well as a high functioning diver.

In the hand the Sea Hawk III comes across as particularly robust given its size, heft, and that bracelet, but also for its with striking case angles punctuated by the prominent off-center crown. The design elements convey strength, and the overall appearance exudes macho. The bracelet, which is magnificent, has an almost muscular look and incorporates an on-the-fly no tools sizing adjustment like my Omega Ploprof where the final adjustment is made on the wrist. This is the preferred on-the-fly design, but more costly to manufacture. In the hand you adjust it to largest, then put it on and gently squeeze to where you like it. Screw links secure the bracelet which is my preferred method as it is far more secure than spring bars, but a mild metal glue must be used when the screw bars are installed.

Not a particularly flexible bracelet, but comfortable enough. I have only known AP to make something so inflexible, but I’m sure there are others. It adds to the sense of quality.

The dial is bold, but also reflects high craftsmanship. The engine turned guilloche honeycomb dial is both beautiful and immediately conveys top flight workmanship. The raised and recessed cylindrical hour markers are polished and add depth and presence to the dial. They are like mirrors for the guilloche, and also reflect light onto the dial around them.

The power reserve register appears to be colored by a viscous liquid like enamel or ceramic that was poured around raised markers and hardened. This is a high level of craftsmanship. There is much to see on this dial.

The machining is also exceptionally fine. Rivaling only my Hublot King Power, a watch that retailed for $24,000. This is particularly evident on the cutouts around the bezel for grip. A common failure of timing bezels is inadequate grip. The grip provided by these cutouts is substantial due to the high caliber machining. They are exceptionally crisp, even sharp, and literally bite the skin when gripped. Very rare to see such crisp machining; it is not easy. The result is a great grip whether the hand is wet, dry, or even oily. There is so much bite in fact, that any oil or grease (or other contaminants) is irrelevant. Sorry Rolex.

It is worth noting that the amount of bite is particularly impressive given the small amount of contact area to grab the bezel.

Most timing bezels fall well short of being an effective tool for various reasons. Most Omega Seamaster bezels are worthless for their poor grip. My JLC Navy Seals bezel had too little resistance and was easily turned by accident (though in theory this can be remedied by adjustment). My Blancpain 50 Fathoms had barely enough grip and would never pass the oily test. Doxa is challenging to find “0” though the grip is superb.

The bezel of the Sea Hawk III is as functional as the best out there. It is highly legible, quick and easy to locate 0, rotational resistance is stiff enough to stay where you set it, and the grip is superb even with gloves.

If there are any faults in the Sea Hawk III, they are subjective – that the watch is too large or too heavy, or too bold. But these are also traits that make it appealing by standing apart from the crowd. There are no better tool divers out there, only different flavors. If you like your divers a little larger, and with some character, the Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk III deserves a close look. The models in black are much easier to find and sell for around half to two thirds their original price. Just make sure you know someone who can refinish the case, in case you fall in love.

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