Is Le Crêt-du-Locle, a stone’s throw from La Chaux-de-Fonds, the new place to “talk time”? If latest developments are anything to go by, it does indeed look to be the new destination for the branch. Following on from Cartier, which has extended its facilities there, and after Patek Philippe inaugurated the first of what will ultimately be three buildings, it’s now Greubel Forsey’s turn to put its mark on the landscape with a brand new construction, next door to the site of the future Jaquet Droz manufacture.
At end October, two months after moving in, Greubel Forsey cut the ribbon on its new architectural showcase. Anyone unfamiliar with the layout of the area needn’t search for long, as the eye is immediately drawn to the new construction. A renovated 17th-century farmhouse adjoins a glass, concrete and wood mastaba that rises, sloping, out of the earth, all but the tip hidden by an upthrust. Co-founders Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, and CEO Emmanuel Vuille, take us on a guided tour.
Stephen Forsey: The answer is simple. Most watchmaking in Switzerland began in farms and the canton of Neuchâtel, which joins Geneva to the Jura, is no exception. Tradition is important to us at Greubel Forsey. The farmhouse is a listed building, and from the moment we saw it we were struck by the history and heritage it contained, despite its rundown state. This is the perfect place for us to continue our adventure, although we have no intention of transforming it into a museum. For example, we have installed our “pièces unique” workshop here, with four people in charge of one-off creations from design to production through the manufacturing of certain parts.
Stephen Forsey: Architect Pierre Studer came up with the idea of a structure that would symbolise a geological upthrust, like the folds for which the Jura region is well-known. The roof on either side of the central glazing, which is invisible from the outside, has been planted with a garden to create an even more perfect illusion. For the walls, we chose a double membrane in glass which allows air to circulate for more efficient insulation. The bones of the structure are in concrete for its heat-stabilising properties, with wood cladding.
Emmanuel Vuille: To a certain extent, production dictates how we organise the one hundred or so staff who work for Greubel Forsey, CompliTime, CT Design and CT Time, the four companies set up by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, and which have been brought together under this one roof. Last year we manufactured 108 watches. This year we expect to make between 110 and 112. These figures are a good indication of the care that goes into our timepieces at every stage in production. Our decoration workshop, for example, employs 14 people to hand-decorate the parts. A machine could never produce the standard of finish that we impose for all the components, whether they are visible or not. We calculate an average of 500 hours to decorate a Greubel Forsey watch.
Emmanuel Vuille: The number of parts in our watches ranges from 300 for the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Incliné to 531 for the Quadruple Tourbillon à Différentiel Sphérique. Each watchmaker is given the watch in kit form, so to speak, which he or she then assembles. Usually the same person works on the movement from start to finish. They begin by assembling the movement a first time. This takes three to six weeks so that rate can be tested over a period of several weeks. It’s then taken apart, cleaned, the final finish made such as polishing certain components, and reassembled. The movement is then cased and subjected to a whole battery of tests. These must give similar results to those observed after the initial assembly. The whole of these operations takes around two months.
Robert Greubel: Of course, before we even reach that stage, vital laboratory tests are performed on the prototypes to ensure they conform with the specifications set out during research and development. At each stage we analyse a given set of criteria to confirm we are on the right track. This means making our movements work in real time, which can take months. By way of comparison, most cars aren’t used for more than two hours a day, hence it’s easier to test lifecycles by running them twenty-four hours a day. We have to show patience with our watches and confirm that standards have been met at every test phase. This explains why the final version of our Quadruple Tourbillon à Différentiel Sphérique was five years in the making!