Greubel Forsey (Est. 2004) has, over the past decade and a half, vaulted into one of the most prized and coveted watchmaking brands. When Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey teamed up to launch Greubel Forsey in 2004, they shared a common view that there was still room for creativity in the development of complications in watchmaking. Their goal was to improve the performance of existing complications but also invent innovative mechanisms. Over what, in watchmaking history is practically no time at all, they have honed their creative approach to watchmaking.
The technical and aesthetic aspects of their timepieces complement one another and have resulted in bold creations. Greubel Forsey chronometers have been honored with many prizes and are presented each year at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, where some of the most prestigious watchmaking brands gather. Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey create just under one hundred timepieces each year which says a great deal about the quality of the workmanship and attention to detail.
The year 2006 was important in the company’s history and growth. At Baselworld, Greubel Forsey presented their third invention, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes, featuring a patented mechanism that successfully exploited the advantage of a rapid rotating single axe, inclined tourbillon cage.
The same year, Harry Winston and Greubel Forsey surprised the industry by unveiling the Opus 6. It was also the year Richemont International SA acquired 20% of the share capital of Greubel Forsey SA. This partnership confirmed the quality of the relationship Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey had cultivated with several Richemont Group companies over the past 20 years.
Robert Greubel grew up in Alsace, France and began his watchmaking career by working with his watchmaker father in the family shop, Greubel Horlogerie. In 1987 Greubel moved to Switzerland to join the International Watch Company (IWC), where he helped develop their Grand Complication. In 1990 he joined Renaud & Papi SA (now Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi SA) as a prototypist for complicated movements and rose to become managing director and partner.
Stephen Forsey was raised in St Albans, England, where he was inspired by his father's passion for mechanics and engineering. From 1987 to 1992, Forsey specialized in antique clock restoration and became head of watch restoration at Asprey’s in London. From 1988 to 1990 Forsey attended two five-month courses at the WOSTEP Watchmaking School in Neuchâtel and in 1992 joined Robert Greubel's team at Renaud & Papi SA developing complicated watch movements.
In 1999 both Greubel and Forsey began working independently and in 2001 founded Complitime SA, a company specializing in created mechanisms with complicated movements for up-market watch brands. The two men launched Greubel Forsey in 2004 at Baselworld with the introduction of their Double Tourbillon 30° (DT30).
On the brand’s official website the partners write, “For us, creation is inseparable from the day-to-day reality of watchmaking that we live and breathe. The symbiosis of highly technical and artistic elements is a cornerstone of Greubel Forsey and all of our creations inevitably arise from this hybridization. To date, six of our seven inventions have found concrete applications: the Double Tourbillon 30°, the Quadruple Tourbillon, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes, the Double Balancier, the Mechanical Computer and the Différentiel d'Égalité. Our daily mantra is to preserve our creative spirit, to continue to surprise, and to aim for excellence, now and forever.”
The watchmaking duo took five years to refine their original double tourbillon before selling their first watch in 2004. Each successive complication goes through an exhaustive development cycle.
The pair is no less demanding on the by-hand finishing they employ. The frosted finishing on their pieces has been revived from antique pocket watches and often incorporate numerous applications of mirror-like “black” polishing that must all be executed with old-fashioned, manual techniques that require time and expense.
To date, Greubel Forsey has made 25 different calibers in the span of 15 years. That’s a major feat for a watchmaker producing such small quantities. The cost to produce these fine timepieces can reach approximately $3 million to develop a single movement.
Greubel Forsey’s timepieces start at $160,000, but for collectors it’s not about the money. One can easily spend just as much for an historic brand. At Greubel Forsey, collectors invest in a work of art backed by enormous research and development as well as superior levels of craftsmanship and guaranteed rarity.
Collectors also appreciate that they are contributing to watchmaking’s future ensuring it will continue to exist for generations to come, thanks to what is being developed in Greubel Forsey’s 17th-century-farmhouse-cum-21st-century-atelier.
In 2009, Greubel Forsey moved to new premises in La Chaux-de-Fonds, comprised of buildings in an entirely restored 17th century farmhouse and a modern building housing the Atelier. It became the cornerstone of the avant-garde entrepreneurs. Robert and Stephen purchased the building in 2007 as a step toward establishing their business.
Remarkably it was the farmhouse that fully launched their careers simultaneously taking them back to the roots of watch-making while establishing Greubel Forsey as one of the industry’s most respected modern firms.
This passion is central to the company’s ethos as Greubel and Forsey are concerned with not just preserving the past but passing on the knowledge of their watchmaking ancestors. The same concerns propelled Greubel Forsey, along with Dufour, Halter and others, to found the Time Æon Foundation in 2008, an organization dedicated to preserving the type of watchmaking expertise that only a handful of people possess today.
In addition to the Double Tourbillon 30° (DT30°), the brand is also revered for its introductions of the Quadruple Tourbillon à Différentiel, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes, and the GMT.
The Quadruple Tourbillon uses two double-tourbillons—four tourbillon cages in total—working independently to average out and minimize gravitationally induced errors on the balance. A spherical differential connects the four rotating carriages, distributing torque between two wheels rotating at different speeds.
The Tourbillon 24 Secondes Contemporain, launched in 2012, has royal blue titanium plates and bridges with the movement architecture emphasizing the technical aspects of the movement. A 24-second tourbillon is suspended by a transparent synthetic sapphire tourbillon. The T24 Second Contemporain is also notable for its round case, as opposed to the asymmetrical cases for which Greubel Forsey is better known.
Presented in 2011, the GMT is the first Greubel Forsey timepiece to feature a complication other than a tourbillon. It displays a second time zone at 10 o’clock and shows world time with a rotating, three-dimensional globe at 8 o’clock. The position of the continents on the titanium globe are cross-referenced with the 24-hour chapter ring circling it for an approximate indication of time all over the world.
Other indications include an hour-minute dial at 1 o’clock, a small seconds dial on top of that at 3 o’clock and at 4 o’clock a sectorial power reserve indicator. The movement was especially developed for this timepiece.
Back in 2005, the company presented a proprietary development methodology called EWT (Experimental Watch Technology) to experiment, test and ratify their projects in-house. It has its own research and development platform and incorporates its own laboratory. One result was the Mechanical Nano that is writing a new chapter in watchmaking history by exploring the universe of watches by expanding existing spatial and energy constraints.
From clock towers to wristwatches, the history of clock- and watch-making over the past four centuries chronicles the ever-increasing miniaturization of existing mechanisms. Greubel Forsey’s EWT* Laboratory toiled secretly for ten years pushing the boundaries of mechanical miniaturization until it produced its first demonstration prototype in 2014. A second prototype with a watchmaking mechanism was completed in 2016. These prototypes paved the way to the new universe of Mechanical Nano, where watchmaking truly enters the realm of the infinitesimally small.
For watchmakers, the limited space inside the watchcase previously constituted the main technical constraint. Through Mechanical Nano, the brand has fundamentally rethought the watch caliber and reduced its size and power consumption by the same ratio as watchmakers who compressed clock movements to create wristwatches did two centuries ago.
Up until now, the power needed to drive a wristwatch mechanism was a limiting factor in terms of creativity and innovation. Mechanical Nano opens up a wealth of possibilities so that a power reserve of several months is no longer just wishful thinking. This discipline presents new challenges that require mastering physical laws that have previously had no bearing on watchmaking.
Among the results is the Hand Made 1 – an hours/minutes/seconds timepiece with a tourbillon. This creation took an uncharted course because simply replicating an existing caliber by hand was out of the question.
The Hand Made 1 has been entirely created from scratch. The movement construction, traditional machining and hand-finishing specialists reflected at length on each of the 272 movement components and 36 case parts, understanding and concentrating on what the hand-made approach allows and how to get the very best out of it.
The same questions were asked at every stage: “How can we design this part to be able to make it using traditional tools or machines such a jig borer or lathe? And which shape can we give it so the artisans’ intelligent hands can ensure extraordinary precision and the finest craftsmanship?”
Thus, the Hand Made 1 demanded a total overhaul of the creative process, involving people who would make and decorate each component from the very beginning. This project’s daring was matched by the creativity and inventiveness required to find new technical solutions. Some parts of the movement were redesigned in order to simplify them. Meanwhile for other mechanisms such as the tourbillon, the number of components had to be increased to allow each part to be made by hand. The timepiece’s relatively modest dimensions (43.5 mm in diameter and 13.5 mm thick) further heightened the difficulty of the task.
Finally, an entirely handmade timepiece was produced from the movement to the case, to the leather strap, the dial and the hands. The only exceptions were the sapphire crystals, the case gaskets, the spring-bars, the jewels, and mainspring. To achieve the 95% handmade level with such a high standard of excellence required an astronomical 6,000 hours of work for one single timepiece – the equivalent of three years of man-hours and this total time only takes into consideration the pure watchmaking – and not the creation and development time.
To obtain the 308 components of the Hand Made 1, over 800 individual parts had to be made. It took almost 35 times longer to make the complete tourbillon cage than for a standard high-end tourbillon. When just a dozen operations on an automatic lathe effortlessly yields some 500 screws, a single screw, as small as it may be, requires up to 12 individual operations taking up to 8 hours to make just one. Finally to hand make one wheel of the Hand Made 1 takes 600 times longer than that of a high-end industrial wheel.
In this unique endeavor, each component tells a tale. It has its own development process and journey that makes it unique, undergoing long hours of cutting from the raw material guided only by the eye and the human hand. The technical and aesthetic perfection of the Hand Made 1 timepiece is immediately visible and in true Greubel Forsey style, it attributes equal importance to the invisible beauty of all the parts concealed inside the case.
Created as just two or three timepieces per year, the Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1 is destined to become a new watchmaking landmark that unites both past and future. This new step toward the summit in the finest of craftsmanship is substantiated on the dial at 6 o’clock, where the inscription HAND MADE replaces the usual SWISS MADE.
Other notable timepieces produced during the brand’s history include the Double Tourbillon 30° Asymétrique, Double Tourbillon 30° Edition Historique, Double Tourbillon 30° Secret, Double Tourbillon 30°, Différentiel d'Égalité, GMT Sport, GMT Quadruple Tourbillon, GMT Earth, Double Balancier, Grande Sonnerie, Balancier Contemporain, Signature 1, Art Piece Edition Historique, Invention Piece 1, Invention Piece 2,and Invention Piece 3
In March 2019, Greubel Forsey introduced the GMT Quadruple Tourbillon, a timepiece that combines the titanium-globed multiple time zone complication from the GMT Earth and the brand’s second fundamental invention, the Quadruple Tourbillon. Combining these two elements into one watch required the creation of a whole new caliber as it again demonstrates the mastery of this brand when it comes to the architectural art of precision timekeeping.
Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey, and their team never do anything in the same way as other brands. So it stands to reason that adding a time zone feature to a Greubel Forsey watch would not be simple – but it would be practical. The Quadruple Tourbillon GMT arose from Greubel and Forsey feeling the need to reinterpret horological mechanisms outside the tourbillon after having focused on that method for so long.
The “GMT” in the GMT Quadruple Tourbillon derives from 2011’s patented GMT and 2018’s GMT Earth, both of which significantly raised the bar for the GMT complication. This function displays two additional time zones (for a total of three) in addition to an intuitive universal world time function graphically displayed by a large hand-painted titanium globe completing a full rotation every 24 hours thereby mimicking the earth in miniature.
Most of the southern hemisphere and equator are visible from the sapphire crystal side window, while the northern hemisphere is visible from the dial.
The combination of inclinations and different rotational speeds averages out positional variations in timing, while the differential averages the timing of each of the tourbillon pairs. Two patents have been awarded for this high-precision system.
The watch is impressive by the use of two double tourbillons flanking the globe while spinning on multiple axes; the clean, modern design of the numerals and indications; the black-polished tourbillon bridges; and the perfect finishing visible on every millimeter of the entire movement.
One interesting focal point is the three-dimensional globe at 8 o’clock as it’s a premium example of the intuitive way a world time watch can look when a master of detail like Greubel Forsey produces it.
The architectural case derives from the GMT Earth model, which had minimized the bulges seen in the original GMT model down from three to one big one to accommodate – and allow a full view of – the titanium globe. Greubel Forsey rearranged the volumes and surfaces of the freshly combined elements according to a new technical and aesthetic structure making the entirety of this watch very three-dimensional with the highest part of the dial is capped by the sub dial for hours and minutes.
The back is equally enchanting with its fixed 24-hour scale with day/night zones and 24 abbreviated world cities, each representing a time zone. The time zone disk also gives information on Daylight Savings Time.
Perhaps even more fun is the opportunity to admire the perfectly finished Quadruple Tourbillon and the gorgeous frosted bridges with their chaton-encased bearing jewels. Greubel Forsey is known for its exquisite finishing, widely lauded as achieving some of – if not the – best in the industry.
Every component is perfect, with not a speck of dust or minute scratch to be found within a Greubel Forsey timepiece. There will be 11 pieces produced in white gold and 66 pieces in total to be released.
On the wrist, the GMT Quadruple Tourbillon is not the smallest or lightest watch and ‘wrist presence’ is overwhelming. The same applies to the finishing: the main plate is in nickel silver (also called German silver) that is partially frosted and spotted, with polished beveling and countersinks, straight-grained flanks, and a final nickel-palladium treatment. The bridges are also in nickel silver, frosted and spotted, polished beveling and countersinks.
The tourbillon bridges, four of them, are in black polished steel, which is hand-polished and of course, these also come with beveling and countersinks, straight-grained flanks. The price is 780,000 Swiss ($805,156 US) excluding applicable taxes
Greubel Forsey won the Gaïa Prize in 2009 for 'Entrepreneurship'; the Grand Prix de l’Aiguille d’Or at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève in 2010 for the Double Tourbillon 30° Édition Historique in red gold; and the International Chronometry Competition in 2011 for the Double Tourbillon 30 Technique.
The Invention Piece 1 received the 2007 Revolution Magazine prize for Grand Complication Watch. Montres Passion Magazine awarded the 2007 Special Jury Prize – Watch of the Year to the Tourbillon 24 Secondes.
With their comprehensive state-of-the-art research, testing and production atelier in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, Greubel Forsey is able to use their EWT® (Experimental Watch Technology) platform to turn fundamental ideas and inventions into sublimely finished and highly original complicated timepieces.Sell Greubel Forsey All Artists