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Feature: Why Is This Watch Brand Probably The Most Expensive In The World?

Pretend for a moment that you have the untold riches of Jeff Bezos, or that you’re a Middle East sultan sitting on an ocean of oil. Or perhaps you’re an elite athlete playing for a sports team of global repute–Real Madrid, say, or the New York Yankees.

You’re also deep into high-end watches but you’re looking for a brand that makes you stand out from your colleagues, teammates, or fellow captains of industry with their platinum Patek Philippes, Richard Mille tourbillons and jewel-encrusted Hublots the size of ashtrays.

Step forward Greubel Forsey, an ultra high-end watch brand whose technical repertoire goes way beyond that of conventional watchmakers. Frankly, comparing Greubel Forsey with the vast majority of luxury watch brands is a bit like comparing downtown Tokyo to a village in the Cotswolds.

A Greubel Forsey GMT Tourbillon in rose gold

A Greubel Forsey GMT Tourbillon in rose gold

Co-founded in 2004 by English watchmaker Stephen Forsey and French national Robert Greubel, this Swiss-based company makes some of the industry’s most distinctive timepieces, characterised by asymmetric cases, highly decorated movements and function-packed dials.

And whereas most brands will bring out their tourbillons for special occasions, Greubel Forsey rarely leaves home without one. Rare is the GF watch that is tourbillon-free. This is a brand for whom a tourbillon has become, dare we say it, an almost pedestrian feature.

Naturally, this all comes at the kind of price that makes your eyes not so much water as bleed like a haemophiliac stuck pig.

Where most high-end brands’ prices max out around the 100k mark, that’s barely even a starting point for a Greubel Forsey watch with a tourbillon. Expect to pay at least £277k, with several models going for more than twice that.

But then, as we shall see, with Greubel Forsey you get more than bang for your buck; you get sonic booms.

The Secrets Within

Whether we wear a simple time-only Longines or an A. Lange & Sohne with an open caseback revealing intricately engraved bridges, our timepieces give us oodles of aesthetic pleasure. But with one of Greubel Forsey’s most celebrated models, the artistic delights go way beyond mere dials and movements.

Each of its Art Piece 1 watches contains within its case a one-off pinhead-sized sculpture by British artist Willard Wigan, who can create miniature city skylines small enough to fit comfortably within the eye of a standard sewing needle.

One of Willard Wigan's micro-sculptures within an Art Piece 1 watch

One of Willard Wigan's micro-sculptures within an Art Piece 1 watch

Wigan’s incredible micro-sculptures—of a sail ship, humming bird or a stylised face resembling Edvard Munch’s The Scream—are so small that they can only be viewed with magnification. So what did GF do? They inserted a 20x magnifying lens inside one of the watch’s two crowns through which the sculpture can be viewed in all its exquisite glory.

If some watches can be conversation starters at a party, this one is on a planet of its own. Roll up your shirt cuff and watch the queue form.

Tourbillons Galore

Most of us know that when it comes to watch movements, the addition of a tourbillon rates high on the remarkability scale, adding a zero or two to the price tag. So imagine increasing the accuracy of a watch by making it a double tourbillon.

Actually, why not up the horological ante to the max and add another two? That’s right, a quadruple tourbillon, with two double-tourbillons working independently to average out and minimize gravitationally induced errors.

Greubel Forsey’s Quadruple Tourbillon Blue model is housed in a case of either platinum or red gold, with a polished blue gold dial that, as well as the hours and minutes, displays a power reserve indicator and small seconds. The makers themselves have called it an “uncompromising creation”, an understatement that stands in stark contrast to their watches, which are anything but understated.

Back To The Future

At their factory between Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, Greubel Forsey’s employees’ focus is very much on quality and innovation rather than quantity, with around a hundred watches a year emerging from their state-of-the-art, wedge-shaped glass manufacture.

Greubel Forsey's state-of-the-art factory in Switzerland

Greubel Forsey's state-of-the-art factory in Switzerland

But despite the futuristic architecture of its HQ, Greubel Forsey is passionate about traditional watch-making skills, investing in projects with legendary watchmakers like Philippe Dufour to uphold pre-Industrial Revolution techniques and school the next generation in methods that were almost completely lost during the quartz crisis years.

These techniques—used for such things as its ornate hand-finishing and decorated plates—are used in combination with modern methods and materials to make watches that bridge the gap between past and present.

GMT Genius

No Greubel Forsey article is complete without a mention of its GMT range. It boasts a number of technical accomplishments but the most notable is a dial embedded with a titanium globe that performs a real-time reproduction of the Earth’s rotation.

You suspect it’s the kind of thing Leonard da Vinci would be making if he were alive today and working as a horologist.

As their website puts it, the brand has “reinterpreted the very notion of the GMT as a watchmaking complication.”

Of course, even if you have the money, there’s no guarantee of being able to get your hands on a Greubel Forsey watch. With around 35 retail partners around the world selling between two and four pieces a year, they’re scarce, the black rhinos of the watch world—albeit with a far more promising future.