From St. Albans in England to the mountains of the Swiss Jura, Stephen Forsey, watchmaker and co-founder of independent watch brand Greubel Forsey has always been driven by a passion for mechanics and complicated watchmaking.
The former head of the Watch Restoration department at Asprey’s in London, Stephen Forsey moved to Switzerland in 1992 where he worked alongside Robert Greubel at Papi & Renaud.
After going independent in 1999 with a company dedicated to research and the development of complicated elements for mechanical timepieces, Stephen Forsey co-founded Greubel Forsey with Robert Greubel in 2004.
In under 15 years, Greubel Forsey has become a brand synonymous with technically complex timepieces that often baffle even the most discerning watch connoisseurs. With inventions like the Quadruple Tourbillon, a watch with a 3-dimensional model of the Earth and other similar achievements under his belt, we were excited to see what Stephen Forsey has to say about the future of the brand, and his own approach to the art of fine watchmaking.
1. What is your design philosophy?
As independent watchmakers, we are fortunate to be in a position where we don’t have imposed restraints on design or the creative process of a new timepiece. The conditions that we do set are deliberate and work hand-in-hand with other contributing elements. When drafting the first ideas for our QP à Équation for example, we set user-friendliness as a key condition. This meant that the design would have to allow for a clear day – large date – month display on the display side and a very simple graphic representation of the equation of time, seasons, equinoxes and solstices on the movement side, thus perfectly marrying complexity of function with clear legibility and the uniquely easy correction all with the bi-directional winding and setting crown.
2. Tell us about India as a market for Greubel Forsey?
India has been a country of connoisseurs of fine watchmaking for centuries. We already have Indian collectors and there are still many of them we would like to meet personally.
3. Does the brand have any special plans for the Indian market?
We’ve been working with Swiss Promotion Ltd., our ambassador in India, since 2011. Thanks to this partnership, we are able to meet collectors, partners and journalists and we will continue to share our expertise and passion for fine watchmaking and to build a truly qualitative experience for the people we meet.
4. Have the recent changes in India, such as GST and the higher import duties affected the brand?
We have not felt any impact from GST and higher import duties so far.
5. Greubel Forsey watches are absolute works of genius. Tell us a little more about what goes in to creating these watches?
We usually start with a blank sheet of paper, upon which we formulate an idea of what we want to create. Because we operate to the highest standards in terms of craftsmanship, performance, reliability, hand decoration and any other contributing factor in our process of creation, it usually takes several years for an idea to be realised in one of our timepieces.
6. What has been your biggest challenge as a watchmaker?
Each creation presents us with a completely new set of exciting challenges to overcome. At Greubel Forsey, each challenge includes making the most out of the available space, redefining watchmaking functions and mechanisms and improving comfort, performance and reliability for the collector. All of these must be considered and coordinated while ensuring an engaging design and maintaining the unique character of the timepiece in our collection.
7. What is the future of watch complications?
From the feedback we have received, we’ve already surprised collectors with our inventions and fresh approach to contemporary watchmaking and we are confident that we will continue to do so to help shape and define the complicated watch of the future.
8. You put 4 tourbillons in a single watch with the Quadruple Tourbillon. How does this affect the watch in comparison to having just one tourbillon?
Each of the four tourbillons is connected to a spherical differential and contributes independently to obtain a precise and reliable timing rate especially in stable positions. The spherical differential transmits the average timing rate of the four tourbillons, thus improving the chronometric performance thanks to all the regulating organs.
9. After the Quadruple Tourbillon, what can we expect from Greubel Forsey next?
We will continue innovating in high-end watchmaking and always improve our methods of combining modern-day watchmaking with traditional knowledge. The research for excellence of our timepieces, and thus their rarity, remain fundamental to our future development. We are only at the beginning of the adventure and there is still so much to do.
10. What changes have you seen in the watch industry over the last few years?
We have noticed that today’s generation of watch enthusiasts and collectors is very well informed. The young have a unique access to information and easily embrace fine craftsmanship. The consequence for us is that many collectors are 10 to 20 years younger than when we launched in 2004.
11. What are your views on digital communication as a lot of brands are using digital media as a means to connect with their customers
For us, digital media is an important tool to enable us to be known and discovered by a wider audience. Social Media and the Internet as an ever-expanding reference library of information and platform to exchange and learn more about any subject allows more people to discover and be interested in what we do than ever before.
12. How you achieve a balance between aesthetics and technical complexity?
Greubel Forsey is very unique in watchmaking where for us and our collectors it’s very important to maintain a very unique and exclusive offering in terms of creativity, reliability, excellent craftsmanship and aesthetics.
13. What does a watch mean to you?
It’s a very unique object combining the expertise of Science, Art and mechanics into one single object which also has a practical function. For the mechanical watch, we wind the mechanism which doesn’t require any external energy (such as a battery of charging) and we share a unique micro mechanical universe containing the expertise of over 500 years of human endeavor to master the measuring of the passage of time.
14. Do you personally prefer a bigger or smaller dial?
I would say it depends on how the dial is incorporated into the timepiece. In the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision, a large dial works very well since it enhances the purity of the timepiece, while in the Signature 1, the smaller dials reinforce the three-dimensional movement architecture and allow us to showcase different elements of hand-finishing.
15. Do you foresee any watch trends in the year ahead?
The industry as a whole will have to change and adapt to continue to capture the attention of a new audience to the unique wonders of the mechanical watch. With the renaissance of interest in mechanical watches, the true cultural and intrinsic value of the finest examples of watchmaking have a great future.
16. Greubel Forsey is known for extremely complicated watches, what more can we expect from the brand?
Our EWT Laboratory has been focusing on a project called Mechanical Nano. The objective here is not just to work on a material or make a thinner or smaller 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. This entirely new domain demonstrates that there’s still great room for improvement in watchmaking and complications and Mechanical Nano is an exciting new chapter where we strive to solve even more fundamental equations. This is the same approach as for each new invention / innovation and development at Greubel Forsey including the domain of the Tourbillon which is still very much alive and a promising mechanism for the future.
17. If you had to put together a wardrobe of Greubel Forsey watches for men, which watches would you include?
Each Greubel Forsey timepiece is conceptually very unique. Although all the codes are present in each and every timepiece, each focuses on different elements and has its own unmistakable character. I would include the GMT for its world wide view and three-dimensionality, the Double Tourbillon 30° Technique for its performance, the QP à Équation for its ease of use, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision for its purity and elegance perhaps for evening wear and finally the Quadruple Tourbillon for its ultimate and unique mechanical sophistication.
While it is hard to imagine just what astounding new invention Greubel Forsey will present in the coming years, we can rest assured that the dynamic duo of Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey will continue to keep watch enthusiasts as the edge of their seats with anticipation!