Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon Blue: Black Polished To Azure Perfection
Perfectly black surfaces are a near impossibility due to the laws of physics, but it doesn’t mean that scientists aren’t trying their best to make the darkest surfaces ever seen.
I’ve briefly discussed this before in Design Discussion On Contrast & Texture: How Vantablack And Other Techs Are Disrupting Watch Norms: in the last few decades, a variety of methods have been used to create the darkest surfaces possible.
In the early 1980s research into using chemically etched nickel-phosphorous alloys began, and around 2002 at the National Physics Laboratory in the UK researchers finally created a surface that only reflected 0.35 percent of light. They called it Super Black.
That record stood for seven years until Vantablack, a nano tube-based coating developed by Surrey NanoSystems, was developed that only reflects 0.035 percent of light, ten times less than Super Black. Then, a couple of years later Surrey NanoSystems bested its own material with an improved Vantablack, one that reflected so little light the sensors couldn’t even pick it up. This material is close to being as “black” as possible, but it comes at a cost – figuratively and literally.
Creating the blackest surface ever made by man required special equipment beyond that available in most laboratories. Using a modified form of chemical vapor deposition (CVD), carbon nano tubes are “grown” in a special reactor at 450°C that uses a plasma arc to help create specimens that are vertically aligned and very close together.
In one square centimeter of Vantablack there are 1,000 million carbon nano tubes. To buy a sample that is only 40 mm (about 1.5 inches) square costs €350. And while that sample will be very resistant to shock and heat, it is very easily damaged if only touched with a finger.
But there are bigger problems.
One is that Vantablack is a controlled material for export, and simply getting permission to obtain a sample is no small feat (there is an official Open Individual Export License letter to file).
Another is that if you have an actual application you want to use Vantablack on, it needs to be for a material that won’t melt or deform at the application temperature be able to fit in the actual machines, and the application has to be something that won’t be touched. Ever.
So even experiments with the blackest black is no easy feat for science, and it is even more difficult to find applications (practical or not) in our daily lives.
And, yet, there is something that watchmakers and other talented craftspeople have been doing for centuries to create a very dark black: polishing.
Okay, it’s a bit more than just polishing. It’s actually a specific polishing technique that has been called many names: mirror polishing, block polishing, spéculaire polishing, and flat polishing.
But it’s most common name is black polishing. It gets this name from the fact that when the polished component is angled in the light just right, it has a perfectly black reflection because no light at all is reflected to the viewer’s eye. A minuscule scratch or imperfection is revealed as it will “shine.”
Many watchmakers and brands feature this type of polishing on components such as screws, clicks, or swan neck regulators, but some brands go the extra mile for larger and more difficult components.
Based on a timepiece seen during Baselworld 2018, I think it’s safe to say that the best in the business at black polishing is Greubel Forsey (no real surprise there), and the Quadruple Tourbillon Blue is all the evidence you’ll need.
Black polishing on a whole new level
The Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon Blue is one of two 2018 editions in the Quadruple Tourbillion collection, a very complicated and popular timepiece from the brand that already illustrates Greubel Forsey’s incredible skill and expertise. The newest edition takes a slightly different design direction, and the blue dial is where the real achievement is.
Greubel Forsey is known for exquisite finishing, widely lauded as achieving some of – if not the – best in the industry. Every component is perfect, with not a speck of dust or minute scratch to be found within a Greubel Forsey timepiece.
Greubel Forsey even employs the very difficult process of black polishing on many components, some being rather large, such as the tourbillon bridge on the Invention Piece 1 or the balance bridge on the Signature 1.
But these components are babies when compared with the new Quadruple Tourbillon Blue as it features an entire dial that has been black polished. The sheer expanse of surface that is perfectly spotless without the hint of a blemish is absolutely incredible, not to mention that there are six individual pieces making up the dial that are perfectly black polished too.
If that wasn’t enough, the dial is actually made of gold (instead of the more common metal to be black polished: steel) and then CVD coated to create the stunning blue that the name celebrates.
You might know a little about component polishing and react with a “Wow, that’s impressive.” But if you truly know how complicated and difficult black polishing can be, that expanse suddenly becomes like the Sistine Chapel.
Black polishing is pretty straightforward as techniques go; you take increasingly finer abrasives and a perfectly flat surface and carefully polish the part until it has a mirror finish. But this simple explanation belies the very delicate and experienced touch it takes to be able to achieve such a finish, and the difficulty of polishing such a large surface.
Being able to achieve a perfect black polish on a component is not just a matter of patience (patience matters, but it isn’t the only thing), it is largely a matter of touch. As I have heard repeated by multiple watchmakers: either you can do it or you can’t.
With some polishing you can just slowly work through the levels of abrasives and you will end up with a nicely polished surface. But with black polishing, you must maintain a perfectly flat surface and at the same time polish it so smoothly that there is not a single blemish or miniature scratch to be seen.
Pressing a little too hard, going a little too slow or fast, having the abrasive mixture be too wet or dry, having just one tiny speck of a different size abrasive in the mix – all of these can cause a piece to be ruined by introducing tiny scratches or an uneven surface.
Larger means more room for imperfections
But why ruined? Why can’t you just start over with a more aggressive abrasive and work through them again?
This is not usually an option since the components are holding tight tolerances for thickness, flatness, and squareness, so polishing too much can make the component unusable by simply being the wrong size. Parts won’t fit anymore, so polishing just the right amount is difficult enough, let alone doing it to absolute perfection on a piece the size of an entire watch.
The blue dial on the Quadruple Tourbillon Blue is a feat of finishing and an example of intensely focused skill in practice. A tiny screw head that hides on the rear of the movement or is so small you need a loupe to see it is entirely different than the entire front of the watch that you will look at every day you wear it.
There are nearly 40 millimeters of perfectly black-polished surface on display for everyone to see. A scratch here, no matter how small, would be a glaring imperfection on a “blank” ocean of blue.
As such, the execution by the finishers at Greubel Forsey is nothing short of spectacular, deserving to be recognized as a superb piece of human skill. Thanks to the CVD-coated gold, the blue shines at the right angle, but disappears into a stark black reflection in another orientation. If the ambient light is bright enough, a faint blue hue can be seen, but the sharp black polishing does its best to hide it from specific angles.
And that is what makes this piece stand out, showing that Greubel Forsey is not afraid of a challenge. Most would argue that even creating the incredible Quadruple Tourbillon is a significant accomplishment, but this brand has never been known to rest on its laurels.
Of course, looking over the entire watch there are plenty of things to be impressed by. The tourbillons spinning on multiple axes thanks to their design; the cleaner, more modern design of the numerals and indications; the barrel-polished tourbillon bridges; the expected perfect finishing on the entire movement (front and back). All of these details make for one amazing timepiece.
But the black-polished gold dial coated in a stunning blue (courtesy of a titanium oxide CVD) is the champion in this watch. Made from six pieces on three levels, the dial is a breathtaking triumph that, funnily enough, is still understated if the observer doesn’t know it is black-polished gold.
Handling this piece is what really seals the deal: the moment you turn the watch just right and the dial goes from such a glowing blue to a deep black is the moment you realize you are holding something extra special.
The watch is amazing and aids in reminding us lovers of haute horlogerie of the lengths that Greubel Forsey will go for perfection.
As if anyone needed a reminder.
The Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon Blue is a seminal piece, a watch with a component that nearly outshines the entire watch (which is nearly impossible in a Greubel Forsey). I am fairly certain that the effort needed to create a perfectly black-polished dial of this size means it won’t be found in every model next year, so taking the time to seek this one out would be well worth the effort.
While you look, let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.9 I can’t stress how impressive the dial is in person!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 99 » 970.858m/s2 This one has loads of lust appeal, and the driver behind that appeal is that dial!
- M.G.R. * 69.5 Quadruple Tourbillon from Greubel Forsey? Yes please!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild With all of the awesome packed in the watch, the added functions pretty much come down to a second display of seconds and the power reserve, so strangely enough I would only recommend children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream, even with that blue swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 12.1 Pinching a nerve in your elbow pickup up something heavy! This hasn’t happened in a long time, but the memory of it comes back every so often. Proper lifting technique aside, pinched nerves are such a pain! Still, I would probably put up with it again to get this bad boy on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Fifteen seconds of examination! That is all it takes for you to witness the majesty of the dial, and then you have the rest of your life to remember the moment you said “I do!”
- Awesome Total * 727.32 Multiply the number of black polished dial components (6) by the thickness of the case (16.11), and the number of metal options for the case (2), then add the number of components in the movement (534) and the result will be a rather substantial awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.greubelforsey.com/en/collection/quadruple-tourbillon.
Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon Blue
Case: 43.5 x 16.11 mm, platinum or 5N red gold
Movement: manual winding GF Quadruple Tourbillon with quadruple tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 8 pieces in each metal
Price: 704,000 Swiss Francs in 5N red gold, 724,000 Swiss Francs in platinum