Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire
Guest contributor, Johnny McElherron, waxes lyrical about the Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire in red gold, a timepiece which harnesses much craftsmanship.
This detailed review of the Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire includes live image and specification details
In recent years, the brothers Grönefeld have repeatedly impressed lovers of haute horlogerie with their remarkably beautiful timepieces. The Dutch duo are serial award winners. Both the One Hertz and the Parallax Tourbillon watches have deservedly thrust their makers into the limelight, attracting a global audience for their incredible horological creations.
In choosing to base their workshops in the family atelier, located in the Dutch town of Oldenzaal, ‘The Horological Brothers’ are positioned far away from the bosom of Swiss watchmaking. No doubt this will have presented some challenges, but likewise the chosen location of Grönefeld has imbued the company’s timepieces with a distinct character all of their own.
While Bart and Tim Grönefeld are highly respected members of watchmaking’s élite, they are also proud sons of Oldenzaal, becoming the town’s most celebrated exporters. Indeed, it was their hometown, with its rich history, that provided the inspiration for their latest timepiece, the sublime Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire.
Located in the centre of the Medieval city is the Basilica of Saint Plechelmus. This old church has played a key role in the brothers’ lives. Sitting high above the neighbouring rooftops, the church’s clock chimes, keeping the townspeople on schedule. The brothers’ late grandfather, Johan, tended to the clock’s antique mechanical workings. Later, this responsibility passed to Bart and Tim’s father, Sjef.
‘The Horological Brothers’ have graciously accepted several accolades for their captivating watches, featuring asymmetric aesthetics and interesting complications. This year, the brothers unveiled an entirely new design, the Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire. This sumptuous piece of fine watchmaking was conceived to celebrate three generations of Grönefeld watchmaking and the family’s association with the community of Oldenzaal.
Named after the year of Sjef’s birth, the Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire is an exemplary demonstration of the brothers’ conceptual and physical dexterity. It revisits a complication their father would instantly recognise, the remontoire. This horological device is employed on the aforementioned church clock, hence this new watch provides a highly personal tribute to their father who continues to care for its mechanism with skilled, time-served hands. Despite the remontoire featuring in fine pocket watches of yesteryear, the complication is seldom seen in modern-day wristwatches, owing to its complexity. However, Bart and Tim exhibit a high degree of technical prowess, making the production of a contemporary remontoire viable for the Dutch company.
The crown, which resembles a champagne cork cage, an apt reminder of Grönefeld’s incredible success, is one of the few elements in common with the maison’s other timepieces. A new, deeply sculpted, round case, presented in a choice of 18-carat red gold or 18-carat white gold, features flowing concave and convex contours. It exudes a wonderful degree of finesse and workmanship only arrived at through hundreds of micro-manufacturing processes and endless, endless hours of intensely focused precision fingerwork.
The fact that it’s been christened ‘the 1941 case’ suggests that a new series of Grönefeld masterpieces, sharing the same horological husk, are destined to appear at some point in the future. Indeed, I, like many admirers of fine watchmaking, look forward to the next chapter in the Grönefeld story, albeit the magnificent 1941 Remontoire proves to be an irresistible, mouthwatering entrée.
Having undergone a painstakingly meticulous process of repeated hand milling and polishing, the gleaming red gold case positively radiates with a warmth only found with precious metal. Beneath the sapphire crystal, its dial possesses a reserved yet exquisite finesse. Each tiny facet brilliantly showcases the deft skill of the artisans who work at the Grönefeld atelier.
Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire in 18-carat white gold
The dial is hewn from a disc of solid sterling silver. It is sandblasted to give it its uneven, delicately mottled surface, before a final plating of rhodium dulls the finish to a shimmering grey. The mirror polished hour markers are assertive with their sharp, angular diamond cut lines contrasting markedly against the grainy grey dial to which they are affixed. Moreover, the hour markers taper to a truncated point, diminishing in height as they approach the central area of the dial, adding dimension to the face of the watch.
Positioned at 6 o’clock, the small seconds display inhabits a slightly elevated space, partitioned from the dial with a brushed circular frame. The Parallax Tourbillon shows the two brothers like to experiment with optical illusions. In this instance, the small blued seconds hand reflects a blue hue over the circular brushed subdial below as it sweeps past.
Complementing the perfect balance of the dial, the flame blued lancette hands are beautifully domed, tapering to a fine point and glinting brilliantly as they play with the light.
But it is the intriguing and unusual little device with three polished arms and a ruby, positioned at 9 o’clock, which is the focal point of the watch, for this is the remontoire or, more accurately, the governor of the remontoire. Once every eight seconds, just for an instant, it bursts into a blur of motion, releasing a small reserve of stored energy and, in so doing, providing constant force to the escapement. It is a remarkable sight, but then the Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire is a remarkable timepiece, both aesthetically and technically.
What we see here is the brothers’ miniaturised interpretation of the old remontoire system in the Saint Plechelmus church clock tower, so familiar to their father and grandfather. In terms of the church clock, the purpose of the remontoire is to harness the considerable energy needed to drive its hands which are a good distance above the movement. The forces required to move the clock’s large heavy components, compared to those used to power the more delicate workings, are understandably at odds with each other. Therefore, a solution was needed to split the source forces. By diverting some of the energy via the remontoire it is harnessed, diluted and released at a much gentler rate, allowing the mechanism’s more sensitive components to comfortably cope.
Obviously the remontoire complication within a wristwatch serves a different purpose, ensuring the energy serving the escapement is delivered in a constant force. This energy never varies as the reserve is depleted from fully wound through to exhaustion, maintaining amplitude and ensuring precision throughout the cycle.
To facilitate this feat of micro-engineering required a completely new calibre and, once again, the brothers went to town – literally. Grönefeld dispensed with any formal three-quarter plate to afford a captivating multidimensional visual experience, visible via the exhibition caseback. The new G-05 hand-wound calibre is quite simply, spectacular.
The movement’s bridges, a Grönefeld signature, reference the bell gables commonly found in Dutch architecture. Typical of Bart and Tim, the bridges, and indeed every small component, have been hand crafted. Every machined part has been finished to an astonishing high level, the result of devotion and steady concentration. The outcome is a piece of metal art in precise motion.
There are so many different decorative techniques on display. Immaculately polished curvaceous bridges, sweeping angles and screw heads are delightfully presented. Flawless brushed, blasted and circular grained surfaces sit adjacent rubies nestling in gold chatons, proving a treat for the eyes. However, it is the way the entire golden linkage shifts in orchestrated increments as the remontoire mechanism exhales which proffers the most delight. It is released by its own unusual three-branched escapement, resetting at the end of its eight-second cycle before starting out once more in a never-ending movement which, when viewed via the exhibition caseback, steals the show.
The Gronefeld 1941 Remontoire is such an accomplished watch in every respect, both in its execution and its molecular attention to detail. It is simply awe-inspiring. However, its creation has huge personal significance to Bart and Tim as it provides a direct connection to their origins while proving a beautiful tribute to their father.
The people of Oldenzaal can be proud of the two genial fellows they know as ‘The Horlogical Brothers’. Furthermore, their father, Sjef, must have felt very emotional seeing his sons’ latest timepiece cementing the Grönefeld family name very firmly in the annals of watchmaking history.