REVIEW: Greubel Forsey Balancier
January 22, 2018
In 1999, Robert Greubel (CompliTime Greubel, la Neuveville) and Stephen Forsey (Stephen Forsey, Bureau d’Etude et Prototypy, Le Locle) began working as independents. In 2001, the two partnered together and formed CompliTime SA. They launched Greubel Forsey in 2004 and moved to Ancien Manège in Chau-de-Fonds. In 2011, Richemont SA bought a 20% stake in Greubel Forsey SA. Today, collectors who truly know watches, know Greubel Forsey is one of the most respected and expensive, watch manufactures on the planet.
A dial makes a watch, and the Balancier is no exception, in fact, this is one of the most intricately detailed dials I’ve ever seen. When you consider the construction, which I will explain in detail, I think you’ll agree.
Notice how the center of the dial and the hour chapter ring are different shades or silver/gray. The center section is made of nickel silver with a nickel galvanic palladium finish. If you are wondering why it is made of nickel it’s because this area of the dial is also the upper bridge of the movement itself.
According to Stephen Forsey “The surface is frosted in a hand decoration process that is obtained by brushing the surface of the bridge with a metallic brush.”
The underside is spotted, the beveling and countersinks are hand polished, the flanks are hand straight-grained with a nickel-palladium treatment.
The hour ring is in white gold with a grayish frosted finish and hand matte lapped engraved and black lacquered indices and Greubel Forsey logo. The minute chapter ring also features hand matte lapped markings. “This decoration is realized in a similar way to the flat black polished but uses an abrasive paste with a very fine grain to obtain the matte dark color,” according to Forsey.
The hour and minute hands in blued steel, with hand-polished countersinks, and elongated arrow-shaped tips.
Additionally, the small second and power reserve indications are made in grayish white gold and engraved, black lacquered, and hand matte lapped. The small seconds and power reserve hands are baton-shaped, in blued steel, with hand-polished countersinks.
Accentuated by the large opening at 8 o’clock are the balance wheel and oscillation system. Notice the dual armed bridge that is polished to a mirror finish, and secured with perfect black polished screw heads. The other 10 visible screw heads are also polished to a mirror finish (black polish which refers to the surface appearing black at certain angles).
“A dial makes a watch, and this is no exception, in fact, this is one of the most intricately detailed dials I’ve ever seen.”
Anytime something obstructs the dial, it inevitably takes away from legibility, but with the balance wheel visible at 8 it was something that could not be avoided.
One of my favorite details is the large Olive-domed jewel in a screwed gold chaton right on the dial at 2 o’clock. And there are two more on the backside.
Overall, the hands, the dial, chapter rings, the juxtaposition of the different finishes are downright sublime.
Like many of the Greubel Forsey cases, this one is asymmetrical, which basically explains the case which is circular with a small bump that protrudes outside of the caseband, and that requires a special sapphire crystal to be made in the same shape. On the Balancier, this is also where a small sapphire crystal has been embedded on the flank, right where the bump is, to provide another view of the balance wheel – as it oscillates to and fro. This protrusion not only complicates the manufacturing of the synthetic sapphire crystals, both the lateral and the main crystal, but also the production of the case.
The case has been CNC milled from white gold and measures 43.5 mm in diameter across, 52 mm in length, 14 mm thick (13.94 mm is the stated thickness), and with an interlug width of 22 mm. The bezel, case, and lugs have been polished completely by hand. And the caseband has been hand-finished with a vertical straight graining to contrast the otherwise fully polished case.
“The asymmetrical design is one branch of the DNA and present in almost half our creations to date. The immediate advantage of this movement structure is the gain in space and the immediate visibility of the four carriages on the dial side, as well as an interesting lateral view,” says Forsey.
A solid 18K white gold push-in crown, measuring 7 mm in diameter, with ridged edges, and engraved black lacquered GF logo – controls all of the watch functions. The caseback has a sapphire crystal and is secured with 6 screws. Although compared to the front, there is a not a whole lot going on. Water-resistance is 30 meters.
The Balancier comes with a hand-sewn black alligator leather strap which tapers from 22 mm to 18 mm at the buckle. As a testament to the handmade finishing that goes into this timepiece, even the Greubel Forsey logo on the white gold pin buckle is hand-engraved.
With the leather strap, the watch weighs in at 159 grams, which is not terribly heavy for a solid gold watch, mostly because of the lack of a solid gold bracelet which would likely double the weight.
Personally, I would probably prefer a symmetrical watch case design, but then again half of all current Greubel Forsey watches use the signature asymmetrical design (notably some cases have a protrusion on both the left and right caseband), which presumably helps them stand out in the crowded watch market. And critically, differentiation is often an element that can make or break a brand, so preferences aside, I totally understand the choice to go asymmetrical.
Functionally, two series-coupled fast rotating barrels (making a complete turn in 3.2 hours), one of which is equipped with a slipping spring to avoid excess tension, drive the hours, minutes, small seconds and power reserve displays for up to 72-hours.
Manufactured in-house, the large (12.60 mm) free-sprung balance wheel features 6 gold mean-time screws to adjust for accuracy. The balance wheel oscillates at a rate of 3Hz (21,600 vph) and can be stopped via the crown.
Measuring 36.40 mm x 8.35 the mechanism consists of 269 parts, including 37 jewels, and 3 Olive-domed jewels in gold chatons.
The hairspring is integrated into the oscillation system using a Phillips terminal curve and is held in place with a Geneva-style stud.
The mainplate is made of nickel silver and decorated with a frosted and spotted finishing, straight-grained flanks, and a nickel-palladium treatment.
Similarly, the bridges are made of nickel silver and have a frosted and spotted decoration, straight-grained flanks, nickel-palladium treatment, polished beveling, and polished countersinks.
Flat black polishing and barrel polishing are used to finish the prominent steel balance wheel bridge, visible at 8 o’clock on the dial side.
On the back there is a flat black polished gold plate with raised and engraved text, polished beveling, and countersinks, straight-grained flanks and two large Olive-domed screwed gold chatons.
The central plate is gold with a flat black polish, “GF” engraved along with the individual number, and polished beveling, countersinks, and straight-grained flanks.
Like everything other detail of the Balancier, the movement finishing is exquisite. Although it is worth noting that due to the design, in this instance the front side, which also includes parts from the movement, is arguably more attractive then the back, even if the back has twice the gold chatons.
At a retail price of $230,000, the Balancier is about triple the price of the next highest priced watch I’ve ever reviewed. Yet, it’s still one of the most accessible timepieces within the Greubel Forsey collection, which exemplifies how utterly expensive these timepieces are. (Limited to 33 pieces.)
One of the reasons GF timepieces are so expensive is that very few can be produced annually as they require a significant amount of workers. For example, the hand-finishing team at Greubel Forsey consists of more than 20 people to decorate all the components for around 100 timepieces each year which gives an idea of the number of hours of hand-finishing required for each timepiece.
Wearing the Balancier watch I did not find it was cumbersome, despite being in a solid gold case, are having the unique asymmetrical design. Nor was it overly ostentatious, as many watches in this category tend to be, but that is partly because the value invested in creating it is more about chronometry than bling. Many of the ultra-high dollar watches on the market are expensive merely because they have diamonds, but those don’t add any horological value.
The Balancier is the watch equivalent of an entry-level supercar (think of a Ferrari 488 GTB) – targeted at expert collectors that really know watches – and in that regard, it succeeds. Moreover, while my photos are far from perfect, the finish of every component is absolutely flawless.
Learn more at Greubel Forsey.