To understand the philosophy underpinning a Greubel Forsey timepiece, it is imperative to have first glimpsed the beauty of the tiny components that become invisible once the movement is assembled, to have observed the care with which they have been crafted, polished and enhanced.
The creation of a Greubel Forsey timepiece – ‘creation’ being the operative word rather than ‘production’, even though it takes place in a watchmaking workshop – is a kind of alchemist’s process by which each stage involves evolution and transformation. The initial idea takes shape on paper, with the original sketch done by hand. At Greubel Forsey, everything revolves around the hand, at each creative stage. Passed from hand to hand, from a manually operated machine to a polishing tool, each component is ‘elevated’ as the hand progressively enhances its inherent characteristics.A hand-made approach does not preclude mechanical aspects, as the machine is an extension of the human hand at Greubel Forsey. One of its workshops houses a set of venerable hand-operated machines, some of them more than a century old. What truly counts is not the age of these pieces of equipment, nor their exceptional capabilities, but above all how they are handled.
It takes desire and impetus to drive excellence in all fields. Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey work towards perfecting that which remains unseen, above all for the sake of their art. What would otherwise be the point of pushing a concern for craftsmanship to such dizzy heights? Nobody, apart from their team and themselves, knows the enigmatic splendour of the invisible components concealed at the heart on their movements. Not even the owner of the timepiece. Perhaps he or she should indeed visit the Atelier in order to gain a clearer idea of the miniature miracle that has found its place on their wrist. Each technical draughtsman, specialised artisan, watchmaker and hand finisher works with the same almost sacred fervour, all engaged in the quest for ultimate beauty. Is this sheer madness, or a form of wisdom?
The Greubel Forsey artisans ply their craft in a spirit of profound respect for what comes before and after their intervention. The workshops are pervaded by a uniquely keen awareness that each task performed can influence the past and future of the component. When it comes to assembly, each watchmaker must handle the parts without deforming or scratching them, tightening screws without damaging them, all in order to avoid destroying the work of the previous artisan, while elevating each component to the pinnacle of excellence. Completing such a timepiece takes 10 to 20 times longer for Greubel Forsey watchmakers than for any normal watch. Regardless of the time and expense involved in achieving the desired result, Greubel Forsey deliberately treads the path of virtue leading to exceptional results, with each stage marking a milestone in its own right.
One of the signature Greubel Forsey finishes is mirror polishing (also called mirror or black polishing). Historically, watchmakers used mirror polishing to avoid corrosion: the more polished a surface, the less likely it is to rust. Today, this technique is a token of extreme quality. At Greubel Forsey, the polishing of the angles is finished with a gentian stem which has an especially soft core. Mirror polishing is about playing with light. The surface of the part is polished until the reflection itself turns black. It sometimes takes up to four hours of polishing to achieve this result. The artisan must be capable of stopping just in time to avoid scratching the part, which is a matter of expertise and experience.
Choosing a Greubel Forsey timepiece means encouraging a determined concern for perfection at all stages of development and to invest in human genius. It implies knowing that the timepiece on your wrist is unique, because the hand never performs the exact same movement twice. It also involves accepting that some truths are bound to remain hidden. A Greubel Forsey timepiece is about Being, not having.