Plenty of high-end watchmakers talk up the handmade aspects of their timepieces, but only Greubel Forsey has gone the distance by building a wristwatch almost entirely by hand. Ninety-five percent of the components inside the brand’s newest creation, the Hand Made 1, were made using only hand-operated tools, a feat virtually unrivalled in contemporary watchmaking.
In order to accomplish their goal of resurrecting the ancestral art of hand craftsmanship, founders Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey and their team of craftsmen devoted 6,000 hours of work—and that’s just for a single timepiece. Of the watch’s 308 components (including 272 movement components and 36 case parts), the only elements that were not made from scratch are the sapphire crystal, the case gaskets, the spring bars, the jewels and the mainspring.
The Hand Made 1 indicates the hours, minutes and seconds and also contains a tourbillon. To create a functioning timepiece while respecting the handmade ethos as well as the need to ensure extraordinary precision and the finest craftsmanship, Greubel Forsey had to rethink the entire watchmaking process, beginning with designing parts that could be made using traditional tools such as jig borers and lathes.
In some cases, parts were designed to be simpler. Others, however, had to contain more parts in order to make them workable by hand. The tourbillon offers the best example. Making the cage for the mechanism took nearly 35 times longer than for a standard tourbillon. That’s because a single screw requires up to 12 individual operations that can take up to eight hours to complete.
Working within the parameters of a relatively compact timepiece—the 18k white gold case of the Hand Made 1 measures 43.5 mm wide and 13.5 mm thick—Greubel Forsey hand-fabricated parts as varied as the balance spring, which was rolled in a hand-operated rolling mill without computer assistance; the escape lever, which required a month and a half to machine and finish; the open dial featuring hand-enamelled chapter rings and flame-blued steel hands; and the leather strap.
Production is limited to say the least. Greubel Forsey will make just two to three examples of the Hand Made 1 per year. And given that each piece is the very essence of unique, “setting a sticker price right off the bat would be inappropriate”, according to a brand representative. Of course, if Sir has to ask the price…