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Greubel Forsey: An Artistic Interpretation of Fine...
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Greubel Forsey: An Artistic Interpretation of Fine Watchmaking

Friday, 14 December 2012
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

More than just a passion, Greubel Forsey considers fine watchmaking to be an art, as its new project, Art Piece 1, shows. The brand was in Paris for Belles Montres prestige watch fair.

Stephen Forsey represents Greubel Forsey, a brand which, in only ten years or so, has emerged as one of the leading figures in style in the world of time measurement. It is a brand that campaigns for the transmission of traditional watchmaking expertise, while elevating the workmanship involved in watchmaking to a type of ‘artistry’. Interview.

Greubel Forsey is a regular at the “Belles Montres” exhibition in Paris. What do you get out of it?

Stephen Forsey: This is indeed our sixth year running at “Belles Montres”. But we do not consider it as a commercial endeavour. Since we produce about 100 watches per year, we want to give collectors the opportunity to see a few pieces, in order to make our work more accessible. That having being said, this exhibition also gives us the opportunity to meet new customers, as there are still some watch enthusiasts who have never heard of us. But this is hardly surprising because we do not advertise.

Greubel Forsey has once again been awarded a prize at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. How do you feel about this accolade?

It is indeed a superb reward for our Invention Piece 2, of which there will only be 22 copies. It is also a great encouragement for our teams and their creativity. Unfortunately we cannot show it here at “Belles Montres”, as we only have one available, and it is currently in Moscow as part of the exhibition organised by the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.

How is your campaign to continue the transmission of traditional watchmaking expertise going?

It is making progress, in particular through the support of Philippe Dufour, without whom we could not have even begun this adventure. When we presented our work here at “Belles Montres”, the room was packed. This is of some comfort to us in view of the seriousness of the current situation; in the next few years, a whole generation of watchmakers, trained before the quartz crisis, is about to retire. Replacing them is going to be difficult because the profession has not attracted very much new talent precisely because of that crisis. We therefore have a generation gap that the six Swiss watchmaking schools are finding it hard to close. We need more people to realise that this skill is soon going to be lost.

Visitors to “Belles Montres” can contemplate magnificent pieces by taking a look at the exhibition organised by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie entitled, The Mastery of Time. These time pieces, which retrace five centuries of history, are entirely handmade. Our project therefore consists of ensuring the sustainability of these traditional techniques. It was not easy to find a potential watchmaker prepared to take on this task, but in Michel Boulanger, we have found a rare pearl, especially as he himself is a teacher. Once he has finished his completely handmade watch, he will go back to teaching and informing the younger generation of this issue. Let’s not delude ourselves; preventing the loss of watchmaking knowledge is a major challenge. Of course you could argue that the watchmaking industry does not need hand-crafted chamfering for example. But hundreds of thousands of historic pieces have been made over time using these techniques. This is where watchmaking becomes a science, as well as an art.

Greubel Forsey presents the Art Piece 1 project

Speaking of art, you have also undertaken an original campaign to support the micro sculptor, Willard Wigan.

When we presented our Invention Piece 1 in 2007, they told us it was a work of art. It was probably one of the finest compliments we could have received since, right from the start, with Robert Greubel, we have always adopted an artistic approach. Our encounter with Willard Wigan came about entirely by chance. When we contacted him, he fully understood the meaning of our creations, to such an extent that we very rapidly decided to work together. In this project, the major difficulty is being able to see what we’re doing, as in watchmaking terms we work on the miniature scale, and Willard works on the microscopic scale to produce his sculptures in the eye of a needle. To achieve this level of precision, he uses binoculars and practically puts himself into a state of hypnosis by slowing down his pulse to 40 beats per minute, performing each gesture between two beats. We therefore had to design a system that could enhance his creations in our watchmaking world. This magnificent adventure produces one or two pieces per year and the next stage will be presented at the forthcoming Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva in January. Some collectors have already informed us of their interest.

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