Watchmaking has existed even before the Industrial Revolution and the advent of mass production, making the craft even more mind-blowing when you think about the level of skill and imagination it took in older times, to build a timepiece with only by hand and hand-operated tools.
But with computer assistance and industrialisation today, few excel in hand craftsmanship. Even schools don’t bother to teach the skills anymore, and many watchmakers, like Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, acquire these skills themselves through their own training in producing prototypes and replacement parts for restoration.
Both Greubel and Forsey have long recognised the importance of passing on their know-how to future generations, and have made long-lasting inroads through the establishment of the Time Aeon Foundation. The Foundation, spearheaded by Gruebel Forsey and Philippe Dufour more than 10 years ago, seeks to revive the classical way of watchmaking through projects like the Naissance d’une Montre.
And if you know anything about Greubel Forsey, you’ll know that they aren’t only huge proponents for traditional hand craftsmanship. They’re also pushing watchmaking beyond what we know. Their approach is purist, their minds are on the future. Just look at all the tourbillons they have invented: the Tourbillon 24 Seconds, the Double Tourbillon 30°, and Quadruple Tourbillon that will forever be remembered in the history books.
“The things we appreciate are the values of traditional hand craftsmanship in watchmaking and, of course, to combine that with the thought that not everything had been invented in watchmaking. Perhaps we could bring something new and we could push the frontiers using the benefits and advantages of modern technology to understand some of the mechanics of mechanical watchmaking and innovate from there,” Forsey told me on a previous occasion.
The Hand Made 1
Today, they unveil yet another impressive milestone. The Hand Made 1 is the fruit of their endeavour to truly revive traditional watchmaking. 95 per cent of the Hand Made 1, including the hairspring, is made using only hand-operated tools. One single timepiece requires a whopping 6,000 hours of work (that’s about three years in man-hours), and exhibits an extremely high level of workmanship and precision.
To simply be able to create a watch completely by hand wasn’t ambitious enough for the duo. The finished product had to, at the very least, rival the watches made with modern production equipment.
The Hand Made 1, featuring hours/minutes/seconds and a tourbillon, is not simply a recreation of an existing calibre by hand. The Hand Made 1 is a complete overhaul of the creative process as Gruebel Forsey knew it, and the watch is entirely created from scratch. From the movement construction, traditional machining to hand-finishing, to the case, the hands, dial and leather strap, each of the 272 movement components and 36 case parts take the hand-made approach as far as humanly possible.
Time truly was not of the essence in this case. It took almost 35 times longer to make the complete tourbillon cage than a standard high-end tourbillon. It took 12 individual operations up to eight hours to make a single screw. And finally, to hand make one wheel of the Hand Made 1 takes 600 times longer than that of a high-end industrial wheel.
The tourbillon carriage was one of the main challenges in this project, as it was not possible to replicate the same geometry of a CNC machine on a traditional jig borer and thus more parts had to be used to create the mechanism.
Gruebel Forsey is also surprisingly transparent about the parts that they didn’t handcraft: the sapphire crystals, the case gaskets, the spring-bars, the jewels and the mainspring.
In 18K white gold, in a modest size of 43.5mm, only two or three timepieces of the Hand Made 1 will be created per year. And instead of Swiss Made, you’ll find the inscription Hand Made on the dial at 6 o’clock.