Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain: Elegantly Restrained And Moderately Priced (For A Greubel Forsey)
When is a Lamborghini a little less than a Lamborghini? Some would argue when it’s the “affordable” model like in the case of the Lamborghini Jalpa, the entry-level V8 baby brother to the flagship Countach back in the 1980s.
The Jalpa was the less wild, less powerful, and more accessible model; a more realistic Lamborghini for those that may not have had the deep pockets and bombastic flair of those purchasing the Countach. While like its big brother the Jalpa was designed by Bertone, it was a fair amount more pedestrian with a more upright windscreen, flatter hood line, and overall less aggressive stance.
It performed decently well, sounded great, and depending on your taste, looked pretty darn cool. But when compared to the top-of-the-line Countach, it was just a little less Lamborghini-ish.
Given that not much else at the time had styling anywhere near what Lamborghini was doing, the Jalpa still made a bold statement. But that statement was subdued in relation to its stablemate and what was becoming expected of Lamborghini by that time. The Jalpa just didn’t stand out like the Countach, and it sort of resembled its direct competitor, the Ferrari 308 GTS, making it even less distinctive.
But for almost half the price of the Countach you could still own a brand-new Lamborghini, and as long as you didn’t need the insane styling and cachet of the wildest sportscar out there, you could still be part of the club. And that is precisely the point. Lamborghini knew that it was going to the extremes, and if it dialed things back a bit it could produce something relatively awesome at a fraction of the price, allowing more fans to partake in the Lamborghini lifestyle.
That would equal more sales for Lamborghini and more happy and passionate owners.
Some may have balked at the fact that the Jalpa didn’t have a V12 engine, but you could see out the rear window (and roll down the side windows more than 75 millimeters unlike the Countach), not to mention that you could get into it without looking like a drug lord from South Beach.
It’s possible to like Lamborghini not for the flash, but for the driving experience, and the Jalpa tried to deliver as much as it could with a (relatively speaking) affordable price tag.
Making a toned-down version of a Lamborghini might not make sense to the purists, but to everyone else it’s a great idea.
Independent watchmaker Greubel Forsey might agree since it has released a watch that I liken to the Jalpa, a slightly less radical yet still clearly Greubel Forsey-esque timepiece for the more restrained Greubel Forsey fan: the Balancier Contemporain.
Released at SIHH 2019, the Balancier Contemporain features most of the key features familiar to Greubel Forsey, and all in a package that is friendlier to the wallet (even if only slightly) and a touch more under the radar when placed next to an Invention Piece or the GMT Earth.
Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain: a restrained step forward
The most surprising detail about the new Balancier Contemporain is the size, a relatively modest 39.6 mm in diameter, which makes this the smallest Greubel Forsey in the brand’s history.
It isn’t the thinnest, that title goes to the Signature 1, but at two millimeters smaller than any other Greubel Forsey, it marks the first time a sub-40-millimeter (39 mm often considered the perfect size by collectors) watch has emerged from the bold brand.
The size is surprising because, as with Lamborghini, Greubel Forsey is often about making a statement, so a more modest size equals a more modest statement.
Even the Double Tourbillon 30° Secret, the Quadruple Tourbillon Secret, or the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision, arguably the most subtle pieces from Greubel Forsey, are watches with serious wrist presence.
The new Balancier Contemporain seeks to be the most reasonable-to-wear model the brand has ever created. Yet, like the Lamborghini Jalpa, it still looks the part, if a bit restrained in comparison to Greubel Forsey’s usual fare.
The case lacks the bold bulges found on many models but keeps the multilevel architectural dial of most pieces. It displays the hours and minutes on an offset dial with the seconds display on a subdial at 8:30.
The power reserve takes up real estate between 10 and 11 o’clock, but the real star of the show is the rather large balance taking up the lower third of the dial. As is typical with a Greubel Forsey, the Balancier Contemporain features a massive chamfered and black-polished balance bridge spanning nearly the entire width of the dial to support the balance.
This long, polished balance bridge combined with the tower-style pivot support for the hands and the deep trilevel dial is a lot of what makes a Greubel Forsey stand out; the Balancier Contemporain has what it takes to turn heads.
The engraved mainspring barrel pokes out from beneath the upper level in a cutout of the second level; the main dial also features an open center that showcases the hand’s tower-style pivot support and gear train wheels, which also exposes more of the mainspring barrel.
The cutout for the balance and balance bridge is backed by a mirror-polished surface that reflects the balance and helps highlight the fine finishing. Perfectly polished gold chatons are found in the upper level, with black-polished screws throughout all the levels.
Subtle boldness: more diamonds, less architecture
There is a second version of the Balancier Contemporain that features a diamond-set case (slightly larger to accommodate the stones) and a mother-of-pearl dial that hides the architectural details in favor of a more delicate face. Outside of that (and the case), it is functionally the same watch.
The stones make it bolder in one respect, but the boldness is pulled back in a way with the solid dial, so overall it reads the same in terms of wow factor.
The rear of the watch is similar to other models as it has a solid cover plate that features extensive relief engraving and a couple of holes to expose chatons in the main plate. In the center is a Greubel Forsey logo medallion just in case you wondered who made the movement.
The real show is up front, following in the footsteps of many other Greubel Forsey timepieces. It is a clear indication that this isn’t meant to be a reduction in how “Greubel Forsey” the watch is, but more that it takes some of its greatest hits and puts it in a more manageable and affordable package.
Now when I say affordable, I am speaking relatively. The Lamborghini Jalpa sold for just $58,000 in the 1980s, but that still translates to around $140,000 in 2019 dollars. So it wasn’t exactly cheap, but compared to the Countach, which, when adjusted for inflation, cost nearly $250,000, it was a bargain to get a brand-new Lamborghini in your garage.
The same goes for the Balancier Contemporain. It isn’t the cheapest Greubel Forsey to date (the Signature 1 still holds that title), but coming in under CHF 200,000, it still is significantly more affordable than most pieces from the brand.
I look at the Balancier Contemporain just like the Jalpa was probably looked at by Lamborghini enthusiasts: an almost possible yet still ridiculously distant pipe dream. Most watch enthusiasts aren’t the people buying Greubel Forsey watches and top-of-the-line Lamborghinis, but a more affordable model that represents a lot of what makes Greubel Forsey awesome (yes, I am aware it lacks the definitive Tourbillon 30°) still gets people excited.
But regardless of whether most WIS will be able to buy it, the fact that the brand made it, and squeezed a lot of cool Greubel Forsey-ness into a smaller package, shows that the brand isn’t closed off to considering its position and what it makes relative to the actual collector’s market.
Those willing to choose a Greubel Forsey (over a nice house) might really appreciate that they can now get one that has the charm and desirability of the brand’s other pieces, but can be worn more easily as a daily watch due to the Balancier Contemporain’s reduced proportions.
I am always excited when Greubel Forsey looks at what it’s doing and pivots, a little or a lot, to make something that is different than the brand has done before. Instead of new materials or colors, it comes with something unique but still in line with what it is good at.
I look forward to the continuation of the Balancier line and the possibility of more watches that fit the proportions of a dress watch for all those collectors hesitant to wear big timepieces. Perhaps they will discover that a Greubel Forsey demands a place on their wrist.
It demands a place on my wrist, now to just dig between the couch cushions for the last few bucks. While I look, let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.27 Greubel Forsey always deserves a wow, yet this one is fine with a slightly smaller wow to go with its size!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 92.7» 909.076m/s2 With all the Greubel Forsey architecture and finishing in a smaller package, it’s enough to keep me up until the wee hours with lust!
- M.G.R. * 62.1 Greubel Forsey movements are always awesome, but lacking the Tourbillon 30° or other complications as a time-only does knock it down a peg or two. It’s still stellar, though!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Power reserve indications are the most useful added function for manual wind watches, and nearly all Greubel Forsey watches have them. Still for this category, you’ll only need children’s-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for rather subtle horological excellence!
- Ouch Outline * 10.88 Peeling sunburn after the first good burn of the summer! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: remember sunscreen, kids! That beautiful summer glow can come at a hefty price, so maybe stay under some protection and you may find the Balancier Contemporain on your wrist as a reward for good decisions!
- Mermaid Moment * Now that is just right! Sometimes you may just find that the latest watch to debut fits just right, at least that is what Greubel Forsey is going for with the Balancier Contemporain! It’s enough to make me head to the tailor to get measured for a tuxedo!
- Awesome Total * 831 Take the number of components in the movement (255) and multiply it by the power reserve in days (3), then add the number of pieces in the two limited editions (33 + 33) to get a subtle yet awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.greubelforsey.com/en/collection/balancier-contemporain.
Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain
Case: 39.6 x 12.21 mm, white gold or diamond-set white gold (41.6 mm)
Movement: hand-winding Balancier Contemporain caliber with variable inertia balance beating at 3 Hz/21,600 vph, 72 hour power reserve, twin spring barrels, frosted titanium base plate with frosted German silver bridges
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; power reserve indicator
Limitation: 33 pieces each with and without diamonds
Price: CHF 195,000 for white gold, diamond-set case price on request