Greubel Forsey Celebrates 10th Anniversary And I Reminisce Back When . . .
by Ian Skellern
At Baselworld 2004, I was visiting the A.H.C.I. stand, where I tended to spend most of my time in those days, and noticed a name on a nearby booth I hadn’t seen before: Greubel Forsey.
Even a cursory glance at the timepieces in the display cases outside revealed both the complexity of the movement − what on earth was a Double Tourbillon 30°? − and absolutely superlative fine finishing. But I had other appointments and had to move on.
When I say other appointments, I mean meeting with friends, collectors, and any independent watchmaker who deigned to give me the time of day. At this time I was a fairly regular contributor to the Independent forum on ThePuristS, but I was certainly no journalist and watch blogs didn’t exist.
However, a few months later I was very fortunate to have a long article I had written for ThePuristS, about Mr. Daniel Roth and his Jean Daniel Nicolas 2-Minute Tourbillon, published in iW magazine (be gentle, it’s old). That JDN tourbillon is one of my all-time favorite watches, and there are two more in this article.
That article prompted a visit to Switzerland by the moderator of ThePuristS Independent forum, Curtis Thompson, and I jumped at the opportunity to accompany him for a week visiting as many independent watchmakers and small brands as we could possibly fit in.
As Curtis had been commissioned by iW magazine to write an article about the nascent Greubel Forsey, he spent hours in deep watchmaker-to-watchmaker conversation with Stephen Forsey, which sounded to my neophyte ears like they were conversing in a mix of Klingon and Basque.
So I took a few photos, relaxed and enjoyed the tour.
Then, on the way home, Curtis dropped a small bombshell. “Ian, as I plan to implement some of the hand-finishing techniques I’ve learned while here, would you mind writing the Greubel Forsey article for iW?”
Now I’d understood very little of what Stephen Forsey and Curtis discussed and had taken no notes. Despite one published article to my name I did not consider myself a watch journalist. But I did have the press pack along with insufferable confidence in myself. So naturally I said sure, no problem.
And while I didn’t know it at the time, I then proceeded to indulge in what passes for journalism for many by basically rewriting the press release in my own words.
Unfortunately, when I showed Curtis (a man who calls a spade a spade) what I’d hoped would be my second article in print, he basically said, (and I do not paraphrase much), “That’s crap; it looks like you’ve just rewritten the press release.”
Which was perhaps the best thing he could have said because I knew it was true. I also knew what I had to do to make amends and should have done at the start: return to Greubel Forsey and ask Stephen Forsey to explain what Robert and he were doing in a language that an idiot like myself could understand.
And I did.
And Stephen did.
And I ended up writing something fit (or at least fit enough) to print, and it was one of the first serious articles about Greubel Forsey ever published. The article was the beginning of a relationship between the brand, its people and myself that has lasted until today.
Here is a report from that first visit in 2004 ThePuristS pay a visit to Greubel Forsey
For the first five years or so, every time I visited Greubel Forsey there seemed to be twice as many people working in twice as many rooms, ateliers and buildings spread across La Chaux-de-Fonds.
As the company grew, Robert and Stephen made the decision to appoint a CEO, Emmanuel Vuille, to take charge of the day-to-day running of the company to allow them more time to do what they loved best: creating superlative timepieces.
All working to what end?
The Double Tourbillon 30° was followed by the Opus 6 for Harry Winston, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes, Invention Piece 1 (another of my all-time favorite watches), the Quadruple Tourbillon, the GMT, the Double Balancier, Art Piece 1 (a collaboration with micro-sculptor Willard Wigan), and lastly the Quantième Perpétuel à Équation du Temps.
Not surprisingly, these fantastic watches and the two men behind them earned numerous awards and recognition, including the 2009 Prix Gaïa for “Spirit of Enterprise” and the top prize at the 2010 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève: the Aiguille d’Or for the Double Tourbillon 30° Historique.
And there’s more…
In 10 short years, Greubel Forsey has also managed to create one of the most striking watch workshops in Switzerland. Its harmonious blend of tradition and modernity perfectly reflects the spirit of the timepieces so meticulously crafted within.
Greubel Forsey also opened the Time Art Galley in Shanghai, which is still in the process of evolving.
Then there is the Le Garde Temps, naissance d’une Montre project that Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey initiated with Philippe Dufour to help perpetuate the fast-disappearing traditional skills and techniques involved in creating a high-quality timepiece entirely by hand. Read The Le Garde Temps Project: A Horology Nerd’s Dream Come True for more.
To this end they are transmitting their knowledge by teaching watchmaking-teacher-turned-student Michel Boulanger how to create a tourbillon by hand and documenting the process.
Form follows function
Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have always said that at the heart of each of their inventions is a mechanism designed and built to ameliorate the accuracy of the mechanical watch.
While Greubel Forsey timepieces are hand-finished like no others in serial production, first and foremost they have to be superlatively precise mechanical watches.
That’s a big claim to make, and while I doubt that the majority of the brand’s well-heeled clients have to worry about missing a bus or train, the accuracy of a Greubel Forsey timepiece is like the potential speed of a Ferrari or McLaren: you may never actually need the performance, but when you part with that kind of money you want to be assured that it’s there.
The world’s most accurate independently certified mechanical watch
In 2011, the Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon Technique (another of my all-time favorites) won the International Chronometry Competition organized by the Horological Museum in Le Locle with a score of 915/1,000 points. Read The Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon 30° Technique: What’s Friction Got To Do, Got To Do With It!? for more on that.
That score hasn’t been bettered since.
If that’s what Greubel Forsey has managed to do while finding their feet in their first ten years, imagine what’s to come in the next decade!
If you ever have the opportunity to handle a Greubel Forsey timepiece for yourself, I urge you to seize it. Examine the movement and dial closely with a good loupe to see what truly great finishing looks like, wind the crown to feel how a superbly crafted machine works. It’s an experience not to be missed.
For more information, please visit http://www.greubelforsey.com/en.