We covered the event where Stephen Forsey and Philippe Dufour were in town to introduce the Naissance d’une Montre project and the fruits of its first labour. A piece by Michel Boulanger. See our report on the lunch here. We alluded that we will cover the watch in a bit more detail, here is our review of the watch.
Le Garde Temps: Naissance d’une Montre
As we mentioned in our earlier article, the project was a response by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey to a call by watchmaking maestro Philippe Dufour. Philippe had voiced his fear that the traditional crafts from the Vallée de Joux of making an entire watch by hand is continuously being eroded. The watchmaking schools in Switzerland are basing their curriculum on market demands, and the market demands watchmakers who can repair watches, who can do basic finishing, who can even perhaps do design. The schools want their graduates to be adept in using machines, computers and industrial tools. The focus of a journeyman working to build a watch from scratch by only using hand operated tools are disappearing. Thus the “La Garde Temps – Naissande df’une Montre” (translated from French as The Guardian of Time – Birth of a Watch) project was born.
Thus the project was to select a pupil, and to transmit to him, their combined knowledge and expertise. The chosen pupil will put techniques learned into practice by creating a timepiece by hand using traditional tools. Tools like the uprighting tool, the hand-mandrel lathe and the topping tool. In turn the intent is for the pupil to then transmit these skills to future generations thus safeguarding them from oblivion.
The pupil chosen is Michel Boulanger. A French watch making teacher at the Diederot vocational training college in Paris. The project started in 2009, and was officially launched in SIHH 2012. Michel traveled to La Chaux de Fonds every month to build up his knowledge from Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey and Philippe Dufour and other specialists practicing at the Atelier. The watch was completed and was shown in the Greubel Forsey booth in SIHH 2015.
The watch was to be a wristwatch in a round case. The design is pure, The movement is manually wound, and indicates only the time with 3 hands – hour, minute and seconds, and equipped with a tourbillon in the great tradition of the 19th century makers, particularly Jacques-Frédéric Houriet and Abraham Louis Breguet.
The watch is entirely built by Michel by using only hand operated tools. Stephen Forsey, in his introduction speech said, “this is significant. Perhaps the last person to attempt to do this on his own was the late Dr. George Daniels.”
The three dimensional feel of the watch, characteristic of Greubel Forsey designs is apparent. The lack of a main dial, but the choice to use two subdials, one for the hour minute display and another for the indirectly driven seconds hand is to showcase the tourbillon. Leaving space around the tourbillon and its cock to take center stage. The rest of the dial space is taken up by the barrel, and its elaborate mechanism, with two sets of wolf’s teeth and spring system.
The tourbillon is a single axis tourbillon, held in place by a cock whose design is reminiscent of the ones holding the incline tourbillons of Greubel Forsey. While the gold chaton holding the ruby is beautifully polished, the cock itself is finished with a straight graining. also, we would have preferred if the inner angles of the opening in the cock were sharp turns, instead of being rounded off as is the case here. We refer you to the Greubel Forsey GMT for a comparison.
Perhaps, it is a bit disappointing that the tourbillon cage itself seems to be relatively unfinished, with rough edges showing.
From the back, the watch is equipped with a sapphire display back. The entire back is a solid plate, circular polished. Visible are cutouts for the tourbillon, and the cock hovers over the opening. Visible through the opening is the thirs wheel driving the tourbillon. Also visible are the transmission wheels to the barrel from the handwinding mechanism. The tourbillon’s escapement beats at the traditional 18,000 bph.
On the wrist the watch sits rather comfortably. It measures 45mm in diameter and has a height of 15.1mm.
Overall, the feel of the watch has an interesting vibe. It definitely feels hand made, and in both senses of the word. On the one hand, it reeks of hand work and great craft, which it is, given its pedigree. On the other, it distinctly feel like it was made in someone’s garage. It certainly lacks the aesthetic finishing level which we have become used to in the watches from Greubel Forsey or Philippe Dufour. Perhaps the remaining 10 pieces will be finished to the level of Greubel Forsey. We don’t have confirmation of that. But even so, the remaining pieces will be manufactured as a modern Greubel Forsey at their Atelier. (We visited the atelier in 2014, click here to have a glimpse). And this first piece, notated 1/11 on the seconds hand sub-dial will remain unique to have been hand-made by Michel himself.
The watch will go to auction by Sotheby’s in 2016, with proceeds going to the project.