Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

The Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain is available in three variants, two gem-set models and a white gold, unadorned version. Each facet of this timepiece gleams with horological brilliance. Put simply, spellbinding aesthetics sit in concert with flawless finishing and mechanical excellence.

This detailed review of the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain includes images, specification details and pricing.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

In the rarefied world of haute horlogerie, the watchmaking establishment perpetuate centuries-old traditions for the delectation of purists. Some firms have been in operation for two or three hundred years. History often confers legitimacy and implies a notable degree of expertise. However, sometimes there are practitioners of fine watchmaking which set aside this accepted wisdom.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

Robert Greubel

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

Stephen Forsey

Greubel Forsey was founded in 2004 by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey. Based on the outskirts of La Chaux-de-Fonds, the watchmaking capital of Switzerland, this comparatively young Maison has gained a reputation for fulfilling the desires of the most discerning horophiles.

Inventions

The esteemed company is renowned for its tourbillons. However, Greubel Forsey hasn’t merely replicated Breguet’s invention of 1801, it has conceived ingenious adaptations of the coveted ‘whirlwind’. For example, the Double Tourbillon 30° comprises two cages, rotating at different speeds and positioned at different angles. This ‘invention’ delivers superior precision, averaging out positional errors due to gravity. This know-how is employed within several of the brand’s models.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

Double Tourbillon 30°

Notwithstanding the ingenuity of the Double Tourbillon 30°, Greubel Forsey never stands still, relentlessly seeking to innovate. The Quadruple Tourbillon, as its name implies, employs four tourbillons connected to a spherical differential. This system confers a ‘precise and reliable timing rate especially in stable positions’. The Quadruple Tourbillon was the Maison’s second invention.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

Quadruple Tourbillon

Innovation is at the heart of Greubel Forsey’s paradigm. The proactive company has masterminded a total of seven inventions. It has produced solutions to problems few thought to ask. However, the answers provided elicit nods of approval from the cognoscenti. This brand’s relentless pursuit for perfection is extraordinary.

Finissage

I often write about high-end watches, marvelling at the finissage. In particular, I have a predilection for hand-bevelled bridges. The objective with chamfering, or anglage, is to apply a 45° angle between the bridge surface and its flank. The finest examples of this technique reveal no undulations or variations in bevel width. Furthermore, chamfered edges evince a brilliant shine which contrasts beautifully with adjacent surfaces.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

The most challenging type of finish for the finisseur to realise is black polishing (sometimes termed, ‘mirror polishing’ or ‘specular polishing’). This mirror-like finish can appear almost black from some angles and white from others. Black polishing catches light and delivers a wonderful degree of contrast. Typically, this type of finish is achieved using a tin plate and fine diamond paste. The resultant finish should be perfectly flat and free of imperfections.

While Greubel Forsey may not be the oldest Maison, its youth bears no relationship to its expertise. I can state unequivocally, Greubel Forsey, in my opinion, is the finest exponent of finissage.

My favourite Greubel Forsey model to date

Over the years, I have examined various Greubel Forsey watches, tentatively placing them on my wrist, mindful of their eye-watering cost. Some examples I have loved, succumbing to highly original aesthetics, technical virtue and peerless finishing. In contrast, the look of some timepieces has not been to my liking. Nevertheless, irrespective of a model’s styling, there is a mechanical exactitude and integrity throughout. Quite simply, watchmaking does not get better than this.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

At SIHH 2019, the Swiss firm unveiled a new watch, the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain. Housed in a modestly-sized gold case, the model is available in three variants, an unadorned version and two gem-set models. Ordinarily, I would shun a gem-set watch, but when the white gold version was affixed to my wrist, I immediately succumbed to its charms.

The dial

While many watch dials are flat, save for protruding hour markers, the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain incorporates three-dimensional architecture. Numerous layers of horological loveliness confer an abundance of interest.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

The hour and minutes are shown on an off-centre dial at 3 o’clock. This multi-level gold dial features mother-of pearl, framed with a polished, bevelled circlet. An opening, positioned between 6 and 8 o’clock, affords an additional view of the balance.

Sat on a frosted plane, positioned just below the hour and minutes display, is a power-reserve indicator. One lithesome hand follows an arcing trajectory above a neatly marked scale. When both series-coupled barrels are fully wound, the movement can operate autonomously for 72 hours (chronometric power reserve – see later). The mirror-polished scale of the power-reserve elicits beautiful reflections of the nearby engraved spring barrel.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

At noon, a gold chaton sits within a polished sink, upholding fine watchmaking practise. A smaller chaton is positioned adjacent, almost hidden by the hour and minute display above.

A small seconds display is presented on a lower level than the aforementioned power reserve indicator. The dial of the small seconds display is mother of pearl, incorporating neat black strokes. Similar to the main hour and minute display, the small seconds indication features a polished bevelled circlet.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

Note openworked dial and mirror-polishing beneath balance wheel.

The final level plays host to the large balance wheel and its supporting bridge. This bridge features hand-polished bevels and countersinks, flat black polishing and straight-grained flanks. On the unadorned model, the balance wheel bridge and the escapement sit above an expansive sea of mirror-polishing, granting bright, reflected views of the balance wheel oscillating to and fro. The gem-set versions feature frosting below the balance, forgoing said black polishing.

The decision to create a multi-level dial upholds Greubel Forsey’s venerated design language. It casts aside the flat appearance of many dials, instead embracing a sculptural appearance, suffused with a plethora of layers, textures and finishes. This approach does increase the depth of the watch head, but its resultant 12.25mm thickness does not prove unwieldy.

The case

The addition of gems increases the diameter of the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain by 2mm (41.6mm for the gem-set version). Unusually, the Swiss brand has chosen to use a larger case for the gem-set model, creating additional space on the bezel to accommodate the diamonds. In some companies, the so-called ‘bean counters’ would utter ‘economies of scale’ and insist on ‘a one size fits all approach’. Thankfully, Greubel Forsey does not subscribe to this cynical method of watch production.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

This model represents a new chapter in the brand’s history. All models to date have been larger, potentially alienating some prospective purchasers. I would suggest that the unadorned version, measuring 39.6mm in diameter, will suit virtually all wrists.

What makes the case of this watch remarkable is that, despite its modest size, the design still incorporates the three dimensional dial construction for which the Swiss firm is renowned and showcases the regulating organ in all of its naked glory.

Greubel Forsey offers the Balancier Contemporain in white gold for both the unadorned and gem-set variants. In addition, the gem-set watch is also available in 18-carat 5N rose gold. The gem-set cases are adorned with 232 baguette-cut diamonds (9.58 ct total). Everything sparkles with an effervescent beauty.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

Some gem-set watches can appear ostentatious, however, no such criticisms could be directed towards the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain. Indeed, this exemplar of fine watchmaking is impeccably executed and a paragon of good taste.

Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain

The reverse of the case features a pane of domed sapphire crystal. Beneath the dome, the caseback features an array of engraved words, presented in relief. The words are said to be ‘key Greubel Forsey values’, embellished with black polishing. At the centre of the caseback is a red gold plate incorporating the Maison’s logo. Three gold chatons house olive-domed jewels. The highly polished countersinks accentuate the colour of the rubies.

The movement

The hand-wound movement is comprised of 255 parts of which 33 are jewels. The movement has a diameter of 32.4mm with a thickness of 9.2mm.

Two series-coupled ‘fast rotating barrels (1 turn in 3.2 hours)’ confer 72 hours of chronometric performance. The watch will continue to function after said 72 hours, albeit its precision will diminish. Chatting to Stephen Forsey, I enquired whether he had considered fitting a stop works, causing the watch to halt after 72 hours operation. Stephen explained to me that there is minimal space within the case to accommodate such a feature and, inevitably, the addition of a stop works would have led to a higher selling price. I feel unable to counter these compelling arguments.

One of the barrels is equipped with a ‘slipping spring to avoid excess tension’.

A balance fitted with a simple index adjuster (raquette) nips the hairspring. Moving the index adjuster increases / decreases the effective length of the hairspring, altering the rate accordingly. However, the problem with this approach is that the hairspring does not breathe concentrically, impairing precision.

Greubel Forsey has equipped the Balancier Contemporain with its own variable-inertia balance. The rate is adjusted by tightening or loosening screws affixed to the rim of the balance. These weighted screws influence the moment of inertia and, by default, the rate. In this instance, the balance wheel is fitted with six gold mean-time screws, positioned in-board. By locating the screws in-board, there is less air turbulence, augmenting precision. The frequency of the balance is 21,600 VpH (3Hz).

The balance spring is secured with a gleaming Geneva-style stud. The hairspring is endowed with a Phillips terminal curve. By upraising the final coil of the hairspring, the concentric development of the spring is enhanced, aiding precision.

The in-house balance wheel is paired with the brand’s own hairspring. This is remarkable as the company only makes 100 timepieces per annum, hence the cost per spring must be many times greater than using an off the peg option. However, while Greubel Forsey could have sourced a cheaper spiral from Nivarox et al, it remains fiercely independent and clearly wants to have full control over the balance wheel and hairspring ensemble. This is just one of several examples of the brand’s horological rectitude.

Greubel Forsey has equipped the Balancier Contemporain with a ‘stop balance’ system, allowing the wearer to hack the seconds and synchronise it with a reference clock.

There is a cornucopia of flawless finishing hidden behind the solid caseback. The inventory of finishing techniques is lengthy and includes frosting, spotting, bevelling, polished countersinks, straight-graining and the brand’s favoured fetish, black polishing. The bridges and plates are treated with nickel-palladium. Despite much craftsmanship being hidden from view, there is an unwavering sense of technical virtue.

Closing remarks

The dial of the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain is eminently practical. The lancine hour and minute hands enunciate the prevailing time with notable aplomb. However, despite its impressive readability there is no escaping the profound beauty of the dial.

The frosting grants a sumptuous appearance to the dial. The three-dimensional, layered dial composition heightens the model’s allure still further. Nevertheless, all these discussions lead me to the large balance wheel at the base of the dial and the flawless bridge which holds it in place. Few sights can surpass the balance wheel rotating back and forth, the hairspring breathing and the balance wheel bridge gleaming resplendently.

Despite its technical complexity and three-dimensional dial construction, Greubel Forsey has crafted a modestly-sized, highly-wearable watch. The gem-set version is marginally bigger, but should not overwhelm the majority of wrists. My preferred model, the 18-carat white gold gem-set version, is enriched with beautiful, invisibly-set baguette diamonds.

At the heart of the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain, the movement incorporates much watchmaking know-how. Its composition is the result of protracted consideration. Wherever the eyes choose to dwell, they are met with perfection. For example, the exalted hand-finishing seen on a Greubel Forsey watch takes approximately four months to complete. Indeed, look closely and you will discover there are examples of ‘hand-finishing’ which could not be achieved using ‘machine-finishing’ methods.

Ultimately, the brilliance of the Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain cannot be overstated. It is my favourite Greubel Forsey to date. Nevertheless, with creativity and innovation at the heart of its culture, I expect there will be further Greubel Forsey watches which will elevate my heart rate and captivate my soul.

Further reading

https://www.greubelforsey.com

Technical specifications

  • Model: Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain (gem-set model)
  • Case: 18-carat white gold; diameter 41.6mm; height 12.25mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds and power-reserve
  • Movement: Hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 33 jewels; chronometric power reserve 72 hours; 255 components
  • Strap: Alligator or rubber strap paired with an 18-carat white gold pin buckle
  • Price: CHF 360,000 excluding taxes (RRP as at 8.4.2019)
  • Also available in 18-carat rose gold

 

  • Model: Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain (unadorned model)
  • Case: 18-carat white gold; diameter 39.6mm; height 12.21mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds and power-reserve
  • Movement: Hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 33 jewels; chronometric power reserve 72 hours; 255 components
  • Strap: Alligator strap paired with an 18-carat white gold pin buckle
  • Price: CHF 195,000 excluding taxes (RRP as at 8.4.2019)
  • Limited: 33 pieces