Greubel Forsey – Guardians of Haute Horology

Angus Davies discusses an interesting project by Greubel Forsey, the haute horlogerie brand. Working with celebrated watchmaker Philippe Dufour, they have created “Le Garde Temps”, a fascinating project that preserves incredible watchmaking know-how for future generations.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Traditional craftsmanship is something close to my heart. Whether that craftsmanship takes the form of stone masonry, painting of a ceiling within a cathedral or the crafting of a fine timepiece, one thing is a prequisite; skills.

Skills are not acquired by passing a three hour examination, but tireless pursuit of perfection. Skills come from making mistakes and understanding the behaviour of materials when they are fashioned and manipulated with tools.

Alas, a negative of modern technology is the abandonment of skills. The pursuit of expedience often takes precedence due to financial motives. This can threaten the skills acquired over generations and the unique patina a product possesses due the techniques employed by an artisan of yore.

I often wax-lyrical about Côtes de Genève, perlage, guilloché and other examples of finissage which I hold so dear. However, even in haute-horology, there is threat of “progress” removing some of the hand finishing I adore with CNC machines displacing skills.

Kindred spirits

I recently attended a presentation by Greubel Forsey and immediately felt like I had met kindred spirits. This was small group of Artisans who understood the risks of losing skills acquired over time in the pursuit of the bottom line.

Greubel Forsey was formed by the coming together of two like minded individuals Frenchman Robert Greubel and Englishman Stephen Forsey. They formed the company in 2004 and have quickly earned a reputation for innovation.

EWT

At the heart of the company is a department called EWT – Experimental Watch Technology. “EWT is equipped with all of the facilities to develop and implement ideas, to analyse, test and experiment and to fabricate components and mechanisms”.

EWT has borne fruits of innovation already in its short life, with six unique innovations;

  • The Double Tourbillon 30°
  • The Quadruple Tourbillon
  • The Tourbillon 24 Secondes
  • The Balancier-Spiral Binôme in Diamantchrone
  • The Différentiel D’Egalite
  • The Double Balancier

To understand the traditional ways of manufacture, leads to innovation by challenging accepted norms.

Le Garde Temps – putting something back

It is the through the support of Robert and Stephen, together with celebrated watchmaker Philippe Dufour that “Le Garde Temps” was formed.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

The aspiration of the project is to mentor a protégé, in this case the talented Michel Boulanger, who is an accomplished horologist and teacher at the Watchmaking School of Paris.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

The project is designed to “preserve, perpetuate and share traditional watchmaking expertise”. In a commercial world where innovation is shrouded in secrecy to gain competitive advantage, it is refreshing to hear these passionate artisans talking of sharing knowledge and passing on skills.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

The intention of the project is for Michel to develop a unique timepiece par excellence using age-old techniques whilst acquiring further knowledge which can be imparted to the next generation of watchmakers.

Philippe said he feels it is “his duty” to ensure that skills are not lost. I share his sentiments , albeit without the inherent skills Philippe clearly has.

Using watchmaking equipment – it is harder than it looks!

Philippe and Michel encouraged me to try my hand at using some of the manual equipment, typically used hundreds of years ago.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

I watched Michel drill a base plate, using a device similar to a violin bow, made of horse hair, to power the fine bit into the metal. This affords the plate a finish different from modern manufacture.

The hand-eye co-ordination required is incredible and was beyond my humble abilities.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

I have never been in ore of celebrity, but without wishing to sound sycophantic, these gentleman are my heroes. I was left astounded by their incredible skill and patience.

Greubel Forsey – a timepiece I aspire to own

I became personally acquainted with some of the Greubel Forsey timepieces at SIHH 2012.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Greubel Forsey GMT

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Contemporain

I have never had the opportunity to hold one of these amazing creations before. However, it is hardly surprising as they are rare. Only 100 timepieces are produced each year.

Greubel Forsey - Guardians of Haute Horology

Greubel Forsey 5N red gold Double Tourbillon 30° Technique

I am enchanted by the 5N red gold Double Tourbillon 30° Technique, but then I am not the first to fall for its beguiling charms. The watch was the winner of the 2011 International Chronometry Competition.

Greubel Forsey is a young company but has won many awards and plaudits galore.

The watches are very expensive, but remarkably good value when you understand the intrinsic skill which is embodied within each piece.

Vive la Greubel Forsey, Vive la Haute Horology.

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