We spent a wonderful time with master watchmaker, Stephen Forsey, Co-Founder of Greubel Forsey. Together with his business partner, Robert Gruebel, their extraordinary company has been pushing the limits of fine watchmaking for almost 20-years, tackling the challenges of complexity every day.
We discussed our shared passion for the ‘wonder and delight’ and the great history of watchmaking over the past 300-years. I’d been giving a huge amount of thought as to which watch I’d wear for our meeting – in the end I decided upon my Jaeger LeCoultre ‘Reverso Duo’, mainly due to the great story as to why the watch was made to ‘reverse’ when it first appeared in 1931 – to protect the glass from any impact that may have occurred when the owner played Polo (watch glass wasn’t scratch resistant back then!)
I also brought along my antique silver pair-cased pocket watch made in 1777 by listed London maker, James Johnson. As it turned out it was a great way to start our meeting, with Stephen appreciating the beauty and intricate craftsmanship that went into making this fine pocket watch, made entirely by hand, 240-years earlier. This was also a good introduction into talking about the ‘Greubel Forsey Collectors’ that purchase their incredible timepieces.
We must continue to surprise the Collector.” Stephen Forsey, Co-Founder, Greubel Forsey
Over the next hour and a half we were treated to an amazing journey from the creator, through the exquisite collection of Greubel Forsey horological ‘wonders’, including the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Edition Historique, Quantième Perpétuel à Équation, Art Piece 2, GMT, Asymmetrical Quadruple Tourbillon and Invention Piece 2.
Stephen shared his views and insight on how Greubel Forsey are approaching the next phase of development and the business of watchmaking.
MWM: How is business?
SF: The overall situation of the watch industry is not easy but improving. Greubel Forsey being so niche with such a limited production (approximately 100 pieces per year) is not fluctuating so much and our collectors are still passionate. Thanks to our creativity we still get a lot of attraction from the collectors’ community. We have noticed an evolution in the behavior of watch enthusiasts. There is a growing search for authenticity and traceability of watchmaking leading newcomers to independent watchmakers such as Greubel Forsey.
It was also fantastic to hear about the Quantième Perpétuel à Équation’s ingenious movement that allows you to set the time with consummate ease especially if you don’t wear it every day!
MWM: What are you currently working on?
SF: At SIHH 2017 we launched our very first Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie after 11 years of research and development. To do this we had to study and research all aspects, such as attaining extended strike mechanism power reserve, imagining and constructing the striking mechanism itself, including no fewer than 11 security mechanisms for a previously unseen level of comfort and peace of mind for the collector, combining and integrating the 935 components.
Our research included a number of sub-projects, like for example (but not exhaustive) combining a strong and pleasant sound for the acoustics with 30m water resistance. This by itself required some four years of work.
MWM: Tell us something we don’t know about Greubel Forsey watches?
SF: We use sheep from the Valais to eat the grass on the inclined roof of our workshop – this is authentic!
MWM: What watch do you wear?
SF: A technical prototype from our EWT (Experimental Watch Technology) laboratory.
MWM: Apart from your own brand, what watch would you like to own?
SF: George Daniels Tourbillon chronograph wristwatch with co-axial escapement.
MWM: What do you like best about the Watch business?
SF: Alongside our watchmaker colleagues, collectors, retailers and journalists, we are all linked by a passion for measuring time, principally with mechanical watches continuing the 500-year heritage.
MWM: What don’t you like about the Watch business?
SF: Not enough focus on the collector and too much on product. We are looking for authenticity and credibility more and more in our lives, so at Greubel Forsey we focus on the collectors’ needs and desires.
MWM: What is next on the horizon for you?
SF: At SIHH 2017 we shared a very exciting new EWT (Experimental Watch Technology) project called Mechanical Nano. The objective is not just to work on a material or make a thinner movement, but to bring about a fundamental revolution by addressing the two major problems facing the watchmaker. These are space (or the lack of it in a wristwatch) and energy because there is only a very small amount of energy available in a watch movement. Mechanical Nano will enable us to free up more energy and space. We need to be a little patient as this is a project which will evolve over the coming years.
We thoroughly enjoyed our precious time with Stephen and look forward to seeing the next invention from Greubel Forsey soon.
Stephen is also a Friend of MrWatchMaster