Art Piece One, presented at SIHH 2013 in Geneva, is no ordinary watch. We spoke to Angela Landone from Greubel & Forsey.
"This is not the sort of watch you buy to tell the time: you could use a Swatch for that! Consider that the price will be in excess of a million Swiss francs. It is a watch that is bought for other reasons."
It is a watch that looks like no other, and it is a watch that is impossible to depict with a photograph. Its principal feature is a tiny sculpture that can be seen through the powerful lens in the crown. It possesses a sort of mysterious magic, like that of a hologram or those 3-D prints that were all the rage a decade ago. A whole new world opens up within the thickness of the watch.
"Art Piece One is a co-creation between Forsey, Greubel, and artist Willard Wigan, who makes microsculptures small enough to fit in the eye of a needle. Robert met Wigan, and they decided to work together, we providing the watchmaking expertise, he the microsculpture. The earliest concept sketches were made on serviettes at Café Royal in London when they met."
This needs a bit of explanation. Photographs just can't do justice to the scale at which Wigan works. At SIHH, a sculpture of an eagle was exhibited, mounted in the eye of a needle. Not a large needle, an ordinary small needle, the sort that drives you crazy when you try to thread it. The needle was shown under a microscope so that you could see the detail and beauty of the piece. To the naked eye it looks like... well, imagine a millimetre of thread... How does he do it?
"Wigan works like a diver. When he works, he calms his body and holds his breath. He ensures that each move that he makes on the sculpture is made between heartbeats." Only one or two pieces will be made every year. The prototype has a sailing ship, while a successive model will be fitted with a tiny, tiny pair of scissors. The sculpture is mounted on a blued metal bridge positioned at 9 o'clock, with a lens in the crown that enlarges the microsculpture by 23 times. The watch is designed to use natural light to best advantage, so that when you look into the crown, you see the sculpture, floating mysteriously. The result is extraordinary: it seems to open up a whole new virtual world. The optical system alone took at least three years' development work.
As Angela Landone said, this concept is more about art than telling the time. In fact there are no hands or hour indices. "There is a window in which a disc shows hours and minutes on two scales, when you press a button, but otherwise, what you see in the window is the name of the watch."
The other important new watch exhibited by Greubel & Forsey at SIHH 2013 is the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Contemporain. "In this model we have a double 30-degree tourbillon, in which the internal cage with the spiral spring is inclined by 30 degrees, improving precision. The internal cage revolves in one minute, the external in 4 minutes, with scales that measure the minute and 4-minute units. The watch has two superimposed double barrels, which provide a 120-hour power reserve. This is the period guaranteed for optimum performance, even though in actual fact the watch will continue running for longer. There are only few watches that have such a long power reserve. Our models normally have a 72 power reserve, except for those with quadruple tourbillon which absorb more power, and have a 50-hour power reserve. The dial is very three-dimensional, with components designed to reveal the mechanics of the watch, even though it is not skeletonized. This watch, which will have a special strap, will be in boutiques in about three or four months from now."
We asked Angela to describe the marque's retail network. "We have about 35 points of sale, in Europe, America, Latin America and Asia, but you have to remember that we produce only about 100 pieces per year. Stephen Forsey and a colleague of mine visit the boutiques to explain the watches – in practice they run courses for the boutique staff. In Milan, for example, they are sold by Fratelli Pisa. Often, fairs of this type produce orders that are fulfilled during the rest of the year."
So, a fairly unconventional approach to watchmaking. "Oh yes," agrees Angela, "you know, artists are often a bit crazy. It's a good thing! We need more crazy people like this."
SIHH 2013 highlights