Stephen Forsey was in New York in December to introduce the new GMT Black –a black DLC coated, titanium-cased version of the Greubel Forsey GMT –and over lunch, he told me that one of his greatest sources of frustration was the extent to which Greubel Forsey watches seem to constantly be discussed in the context of price. I can’t blame him for finding the constant harping on cost annoying. I have no objective data to support the observation but I can’t help but feel that over the last ten years, an awful lot of the level of discourse on watches and watchmaking has begun to orbit around the deadweight mass of price and speculation, rather than around quality in design and execution; though watches are more widely discussed than ever before, they’re not terribly well discussed.
This may be a natural consequence of wider attention being paid to mechanical horology, and it may be as inevitable as it is, on a certain level, undesirable –while more attention to watches is not a bad thing, there is good attention and bad attention, as they say –and the problems inherent in an overemphasis on speculation are no more apparent than when encountering pretty much any of Greubel Forsey’s watches. Okay, they are expensive (sorry, Stephen) that’s true. Indeed, one wishes to let oneself go so far as to say they are very very expensive. However, that is far from the most interesting thing about them –maybe the least interesting thing about them, which is saying something.
Submitted for your consideration in evidence of this thesis, the new Greubel Forsey GMT Black. The GMT Black is the Greubel Forsey GMT in a contemporary-flavored livery of black titanium –the case is titanium coated in black DLC, or Diamond Like Carbon. The mainplate and bridges are likewise cloaked in what Gertrude called a “nighted color” in Hamlet, and the effect is an interesting one, especially when the Black model is set side by side with the GMT in gold. The gold model’s heavier in the hand, and that seems part and parcel of the different character of the gold model; it’s far more overtly opulent, though in a very controlled, intellectually elevated way (if intellectually elevated opulence makes sense.) Both back and front, the feeling from the gold model is one of holding a bespoke astronomical instrument made for, perhaps, the Renaissance court of one of those viciously ruthless but high-minded condotierre who bankrolled people like Da Vinci; the magnificently crisp surface of the globe, the lavishly generous use of space in the distribution of the sub-dials, and the gyrations of the inclined 24 second tourbillon all conspire to give a feeling of not a mere watch or timepiece, but a physical instantiation of a whole philosophy of the universe. Likewise, the back of the watch, where the world-time indication, with its curving radial lines allowing time zones using Summer/Winter time to be easily distinguished from those that do not, and the compass-rose like Sun on the gear mounted directly below the globe. (As the city disk rotates, it drives the sun-gear, on whose axis the globe is fixed.)
The GMT Black, on the other hand, has a very nocturnal –indeed, almost spectral –feel. It’s lighter in the hand and on the wrist, of course, but the watch has a far greater difference in atmosphere to the gold version of the GMT than you would expect from the alterations in case material, finish, and movement finish. One of the most striking differences is in the clarity of the case geometry –the sculptural, lushly baronial sensation of the gold GMT gives way to something much more austere, in which the extremely complex geometry of the case becomes the highlight, unencumbered by both the physical and symbolic weight of all that gold. The effect, in fact, is that of seeing the Earth –the terrestrial planetary presence –floating in the blackness of interplanetary space; instead of the chambers of a sixteenth century Italian doge, one might be on the bridge of the 25th century version of one of today’s mega-yachts, observing from the grandeur of an interplanetary pleasure cruiser as the Earth turns on its course around the Sun. Both watches inspire a sense of temporal fantasy and dislocation –as is fitting for world time/dual time zone watches of this caliber –and both have their own very distinct and specific character. I’m reminded, looking at the two watches side by side, of the Bugatti Veyron compared to the all unpainted-aluminum body Bugatti Veyron Pur Sang —one is admirable for the continuity between engineering sophistication and cosmetic perfection; the other, for the stripped-away clarity of its lines, and its celebration of machine-ness itself.
And both are rebukes to those for whom a watch is synonymous with that most dreary child of the Dismal Science, the investment instrument. They’re rare in the simplest sense, of course, but these are rare watches in another sense –they are exercises in utterly ignoring the usual constraints and compromises inherent in the production of almost all other timepieces. Finish is something often raised as a distinguishing point of Greubel Forsey watches, and it’s true that the degree of obsessive attention to detail lavished on every watch they make, sets them almost entirely apart from anything else out there. But while the finish itself is impressive on its own, as a technical achievement (as it is, by the way, as a physical example of what the standard really should be in horological fine finishing) what makes these watches really stand apart is that the quality of the finishing is on a continuum with the overall conception and design of the watches as a whole, and it’s this continuum of quality throughout that makes Greubel Forsey watches some of the most enduringly satisfying watches ever made.
22 pieces worldwide; pricing, what did I JUST say. For more information visit Greubel Forsey here.