It has to be said: the 2016 edition of the SIHH showed a focus on more accessible watches and the renewal of icons (IWC Big Pilot, Vacheron Constantin Overseas or JLC Reverso, among others). In the middle of the industry’s heavyweights, Greubel Forsey also had to slightly change its strategy, by offering something less technical, less complicated, maybe more useable on a daily basis, and mainly, more affordable. After their cheapest Tourbillon in 2015, the Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision, it’s now time for their cheapest watch ever (well, relatively speaking), and this time without a tourbillon – and it even comes in a stainless steel case! The idea of a time-only and reasonable watch by Greubel Forsey was interesting. However, we now have to find out if the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 does the job.
The Greubel Forsey Signature 1: a technically simple watch
You see, the main purpose, the essence, the raison d’être of a Greubel Forsey watch has always been to achieve extreme technicality, superlative complexity and higher precision by the means of tourbillon regulator(s). From four of them in the Quadruple Tourbillon watches, to two of a kind in the Double Tourbillon and to a single one, however with a specific inclined construction and a 24-second revolution in several of their watches – like the Perpetual Calendar, the GMT or the Invention Piece 3 – all of them had tourbillon regulator(s). The one exception to the rule was the Double Balancier, which features two-inclined balance wheels connected with a differential (not your typical watch to be honest). Even the previous “entry-level” watch, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision, introduced exactly a year ago, at the SIHH 2015, featured one tourbillon (and again, an inclined one with 24-second revolution). The watches manufactured by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey not only feature tourbillons, however they excel in high-end finishing and I think that pretty much everyone in the industry acknowledges that the finishing is among the very best available today.
However, times are difficult for independent watchmakers and having a catalogue with watches starting at 290,000 Euros (for the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision) to over 800,000 Euros for certain editions of the Quadruple Tourbillon can be rather problematic. And here comes the SIHH 2016 and a refreshing piece of news: Greubel Forsey was about to introduce a new watch, without tourbillon, with only three hands and no additional complications, with a lower price but still with the DNA of the brand running through its heart. Once the idea of a Greubel Forsey watch without tourbillon was accepted, the concept seemed pretty interesting. Many collectors dreamed about the previous editions, without the possibility for them to ever be able to buy one. Now, there’s a ray of sunshine in the middle of the clouds for them. Thus, the announce was – at least for us, but we know that others shared our thoughts – quite exciting. And the best is that this watch comes directly in 4 editions: Platinum (11 pieces), White Gold (11 pieces), Rose Gold (11 pieces) and stainless steel (33 pieces). The steel one was the final uppercut. Finally a promise of an accessible (on a Greubel Forsey level) watch.
Digressions apart, the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 is indeed a rather simple watch, a 3-hander with classical (and flat) regulating organ and not a single additional complication. A very essential watch in fact, focusing on the look, the beauty of the movement and the superlative finishing, which made the previous editions successful and desirable.
The Signature 1 is part of a new collection, which will have a focus on collaborations with talented watchmakers that will elaborate his or her timepiece within Greubel Forsey’s universe. After the “Naissance d’une Montre” project, lead together by Greubel Forsey and Philippe Dufour, and where a watchmaker named Michel Boulanger developed his own watch using resources and knowledge of these master watchmakers, Greubel Forsey now applied this idea on a larger and more commercial scale: the Signature collection. For the Greubel Forsey Signature 1, the brand partners with Didier Cretin, a long-time team member at Greubel Forsey, to present us this new affordable proposition.
The movement of the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 is classical: under a large polished bridge sits a normal balance wheel and escapement – not a tourbillon, not an inclined regulator just a normal regulating organ – that however has been fully developed and manufacture in-house. Then, directly on the first wheel sits a small second hand and then, after the gear train, we can see an off-centered sub-dial displaying the hours and minutes. And that’s all. No constant force device, no strange materials, no unusual storage/distribution of energy or double escape wheels. The Greubel Forsey Signature 1 is all about traditional watchmaking.
The other side of the watch reveals a movement that, even if “very Greubel Forsey” in its architecture and looks, it remains also classical: a single barrel (with specific 3-spoke star bridge on the top rather than a crossing bridge or a full bridge) and wolf-teeth profile. But still, it remains traditional and a sheer pleasure for those who appreciate high-end watchmaking in its finest form. The intention here with the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 is clearly to offer the sensation of a Greubel Forsey without what makes the other watches so expensive. Thus, you should expect a superlative finish… and that exactly what you’ll get!
The Greubel Forsey Signature 1: a superbly finished and wearable watch
There’s no debate this Greubel Forsey Signature 1 is clearly in the same vein as the previous watches made by the brand. It is über-high-end watchmaking. Starting with the dial: the wheel-spokes are of course bevelled, the hands are blued with a flame, polished and finished by hand, the edges of the main plate are chamfered by hand, with internal angles and the surfaces are frosted (again by hand). As you can see, the large jewels are inserted in also large polished gold châtons. Then you have the balance bridge, with its perfect black polish finish and sharp angles (it’s a true beauty to look at, but it remains easier to achieve than a rounded bridge polished by hand… like featured in Kari Voutilainen’s watches). Of course we can see polished screws with bevelled slot and the nice shape of the balance wheel itself.
The dials are made in solid white gold and the periphery is again polished by hand. The surface is slightly engraved and the numbers are done by filling grand feu enamel. Finally, you have this large bridge on the top, which is finished with Geneva stripes (something that you normally don’t see in a Greubel Forsey). These stripes are here done by hand (and not with a machine) with the help of a wood stick – that’s something that only a few watchmakers still do, including of course the grand-master of watchmaking, Philippe Dufour. The result is far more delicate than traditional Geneva stripes. The back of the watch reveals the same level of attention. Overall, and even if the look is much more modern than a Dufour or a Voutilainen, the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 doesn’t disappoint. It might be an entry level for the brand but the level of details is the exact same as what we’ve been used to.
Then, you have to consider the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 as a simple and accessible watch not only because of its lower price or because of its simplicity but also because, for the first time, it is an easily wearable piece, with reasonable diameter, reduced thickness and a ‘normal’ round case. Even the previous Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision had already a smaller case, with a 43.5mm diameter, and, even if the case was round, it featured an unusual bubble on the caseback to allow a view on the tourbillon.
In the case of the Signature 1, we have a very wearable 41.4mm x 11.7mm case. Not that we’re going to call it a dress watch but clearly, it sits well on the wrist and never felt intrusive. Now comes the question of the shape. For us, one of the key elements of a Greubel Forsey was also on the asymmetrical shape of the cases (see the GMT or the Quadruple Tourbillon). Here, we have a perfectly round case. It is nice and more understated but, to us, it lacks a bit of the DNA of the brand, something that was unique and made the previous watches easily recognizable. On the other hand, this Greubel Forsey Signature 1 will be easier to wear on a daily basis. You can’t have it all.
The Greubel Forsey Signature 1 – quite pricy
As we already showed you, there are no bad feelings to have towards the Greubel Forsey Signature 1. Yes, it is a simple 3-hander, yes, it’s round and wearable (and it probably lacks a bit of eccentricity) but yes, it is absolutely superbly finished and overall extremely desirable. However, as said to be an entry-level, the question of the price is essential here. But let’s first have a look at the potential competitors, meaning 3-hand watches with a superlative hand finish (although we also have to say, most finishing is not on par with Greubel Forsey), made by independent watchmakers:
- Kari Voutilainen with the 2-Eight or the Vingt-8 (both with double wheel Voutilainen escapement, finishing maybe slightly less than GF), starting around 80,000 Swiss Francs before taxes (and in gold)
- Gronefeld with the One-Hertz (with a dead-beat second complication, and superb finishing) starting at 80,000 Swiss Francs before taxes (and in gold)
- Philippe Dufour with the Simplicity (also a simple 3-hand with superlative finish and in gold) that had a price of 40,000 Swiss Francs back in 2000, that would be approx. 80,000 Swiss Francs today
- De Bethune with the DB28 Black Matte (totally different, very modern but still finished with great care) with a price of 85,000 Swiss Francs before taxes
- Laurent Ferrier with the Galet Square (in steel too, finish is a bit less, however it features a very attractive escapement) priced at 35,000 Swiss Francs before taxes
- Romain Gauthier with the HMS Ten (also a 3-hand, lovely finish, however slightly less than GF) priced at around 55,000 Swiss Francs before taxes
All these examples are of course very different types of watches but all share the same idea: hyper-high-end watchmaking, independent values, hand finishing to a very, very high level and simple watches with 3 hands. You can see that the price range is clearly located around 80,000 Swiss Francs before taxes (thus an approx. €100,000 Euros inc. taxes). However, this was just to give references, comparison points. Now, concerning the Greubel Forsey Signature 1, the prices are: 155,000 Swiss Francs before taxes (for the steel version), 170,000 Swiss Francs before taxes (for the two gold editions) and 190,000 Swiss Francs before taxes (for the platinum version)… Thus, its price is almost double of the competition.
In his recent article, our respected colleague Ben Clymer (founder of Hodinkee) also shared some similar thoughts about the watch itself, praising its beauty and its superlative finish. On this point, we agree with him. He also made a comparison with some potential competitors but the result of his article was that, at 155,000 CHF (in steel and not in gold), “it’s likely the most expensive time-only watch in the world, but it’s not so far out of the realm of some others“. On that point we have to disagree. What we see is that the price of this watch is close to be double of the competition. And that’s not a small detail. Of course, finishing might be a step further but that’s not enough to justify such a gap.
Don’t get us wrong, we tried to find the explanation for the rather large gap between the GF Signature 1 and its direct competitors. We love Greubel Forsey and everything they have done. However the price of the Signature 1 is something that can only be justified by customers who are prepared to pay the premium for the stupendous finishing and the brand’s name.