“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” – Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto
No, an enthusiast collector’s life isn’t just full of “why I bought it” (one of my recurring topics here at Quill & Pad). Part of the frustration, but also part of the enjoyment of collecting, is the need to make choices; as Mom always said, you can’t have everything.
Pieces I love, but haven’t bought, tend to fall into four categories:
- I just don’t love them enough. Either I suspect they wouldn’t have staying power for me (and hence get too little wrist time) or they sit too closely atop other pieces I have no intention of selling.
- They are quite attractive, but the price/value equation doesn’t make sense to me. Think Paul Newman Rolex Daytona here: I would love to have one, but I’m unwilling to follow the current explosion in market prices.
- The time just hasn’t been right. Here I’m thinking of watches like the Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight in Paris, produced in small volumes and on my list, but not yet at the top.
- True objects of desire. Watches that are unattainable due to scarcity (such as the Philippe Dufour Duality) are simply beyond my ability to spend, or would require that I liquidate most or all of my collection to acquire.
In the “Objects of Desire” series, I’ll be looking at pieces that fall into the latter two categories – a mix of unobtanium and timenotrightium, as my Quill & Pad colleague Joshua Munchow might say.
And, where better to start on the topic of desire than with the watches of Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey?
Why the Desire?
I’m a huge fan of Stephen and Robert’s work for a bunch of reasons:
- Purpose: they state very clearly that they devote their efforts to improving the quality of mechanical timekeeping; every watch in the line, regardless of any other included complications, is faithful to this mission.
- Performance: they have been willing to put their claims to the test; one noted success was the runaway victory of the Double Tourbillon Technique in the 2011 International Chronometry Competition.
- Audacity: a quadruple (actually double-double) tourbillon with spherical differential? Yeah, baby!
- Coherence: a big, big factor for me in assessing the desirability of any watch. Are the elements of the watch harmonious and do they work together? I think that some of Greubel Forsey’s earlier efforts (for instance, the Double Tourbillon Vision models with the elongated Roman numerals, “Spiral of Infinity” engraving on the case band and lugs, and even mother-of-pearl dials) didn’t fully live up to the boutique brand’s now visible potential. More recently, Robert and Stephen have moved from strength to strength with a style that is all beautifully finished, form-follows-function masculinity.
- Distinctness: it’s hard to mistake a Greubel Forsey for anything else! Either you love them or you don’t, but those lengthy philosophical musings, etched perfectly in relief on precious metal and incorporated into many GF watches, never cease to grab me.
- Good Guy Factor: my French language skills are poor enough that I haven’t gotten to know Robert at all well, but every interaction with Stephen has been a joy. He is passionate, clear, and always willing to take time during a busy show to meet with collectors and take us through the magical workings of Greubel Forsey’s new introductions.
Why Not Yet?
“Why can I never set my heart on a possible thing?” – Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Let’s face it: all of these pieces are expensive, and so there’s a real issue of having the means to afford one. That said, I’m not making it any easier on myself, as many of the “simpler” (if there is such a thing with Greubel Forsey) watches in the line don’t make my heart sing the way that the more exotic ones do.
The Tourbillon 24 Sécondes Contemporain? Lovely, but not for me.
Adding a raft of caliber-cut baguettes actually adds just the right touch, but I gave up bling for Lent this year and haven’t taken it back up.
The Double Balancier? Absolutely faithful to the concept of improved timekeeping, and very attractive, but if I’m only going to have one Greubel Forsey, it needs to have a tourbillon. Or two. Or four.
Unless, of course, it’s Stephen’s personal (note the “Proto SF” badge) Experimental Watch Technology piece, used to prove out the “balancier” concept. Note the three subdials for seconds, one for each of the two balances and one to display the average of the two in perfect synchronization. But I suspect this one isn’t available…
No, for me it’s going to be “go big or go home.” In my case, there’s an additional important attribute: dimensionality. In the same way that the Vianney Halter Deep Space Tourbillon and A. Lange & Söhne Lange Double Split spoke to me, the three-dimensional “city under glass” look of many of the Greubel Forsey watches gets my juices flowing. So, it won’t be the Double Tourbillon Secret.
Or even the Quadruple Tourbillon Secret, despite its technical appeal.
Would I Be Happy?
“There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” – George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
So, let’s say I took the plunge. What could possibly go wrong?
- Seller’s remorse: while my tastes have changed over the years and I’ve sold off some pieces that no longer matched my preferences, I can’t recall many (if any) true instances of buyer’s remorse, that awful feeling just after the check is written when you wonder what in the world you were thinking. Not so for selling: there are number of former holdings I miss pretty badly, and I’d be doubly sad to part with some of the current core pieces it has taken me many years to build up.
- Lack of variety: could I live with a collection made up of an Invention Piece 2 and, say, my stainless steel Vacheron Constantin Overseas?
- Wearability: there are many instances, particularly in professional life, when more is less and stealth is desirable. Having that Double Tourbillon Technique looming out from under your cuff might not be the stealthiest thing!
- Expectations of perfection: these watches are about as close to technical and cosmetic perfection as is possible. Still, would I find myself obsessing even more than usual about every tiny thing that wasn’t to my exact preference? Whether the choice of cities on the GMT or the fact that the minute subdial on the Invention Piece 2 rotates clockwise, no telling the number of ways I could invent to torture myself.
Then again, these are fantastic watches! My wife does think they are cool…perhaps invade the retirement account?
“The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul” – Proverbs 13:19
All right: before sanity returns, let’s choose!
- We saw Invention Pieces 2 and 3 earlier, and there’s also always Invention Piece 1, as well, with its double tourbillon whirring away. Of the three, I think I prefer IP2 with its quadruple tourbillon and really deep, dimensional look.
- Right up there, as well, is the Double Tourbillon Technique: it won the chronometry prize, has the engraved plaques I like so much, and provides a feast to the eyes. But, at 47 mm in diameter it’s even larger than the others’ 43.5 mm, and then there’s that pesky clockwise-rotating minute dial.
- One thing that surprised me as I was reviewing my photos from our visits with Stephen and Robert was how many times I captured the GMT. Many of my buddies were (and still are) cool to the piece, but I love it! Visible tourbillon, an entire three-dimensional globe spinning away, lots of visual interest on the back of the watch, and plenty of gizmos to set, and display, the time zones you choose. I’ve seen Stephen set the GMT twice, and am convinced that it can be done without a degree in watchmaking, but just. For some perverse reason that makes me like it even better!
So for now it’s the GMT in an upset, with the Invention Piece 2 trailing by a nose. Or, perhaps I should consider the Double Tourbillon Asymétrique? Or even the Historique? The good news is that it seems I will have some time to ponder!
For more information, please read The Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon 30° Technique: What’s Friction Got To Do, Got To Do With It!?
Quick Facts Greubel Forsey GMT:
Case: asymmetrical 43.5 mm, available in platinum, white gold, or 5N red gold
Movement: manually wound, 25-degree inclined, 24-second tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; second time zone, revolving titanium globe, world timer with summer hours on reverse
Power Reserve: 72 hours via twin coaxial spring barrels
Price: $595,000 in red or white gold
Note on photographs: all photos were taken during SIHH discussions of newly introduced Greubel Forsey watches. Some watches shown are prototypes and do not reflect the exact configurations or astonishing level of finishing of the final pieces. In some cases, Stephen Forsey requested that images of some watches or elements (e.g., case back photos) not be published; the author has made every effort to honor those requests.