Greubel Forsey Balancier
The name of Greubel Forsey is more commonly associated with its tourbillon creations – the inclined, the double and the quadruple. Even recently, it has breathed life to its first grande sonnerie timpeiece, the aptly named Grand Sonnerie. These are achievements that only a small handful of manufacturers around the world can hope to attain. Yet even in the midst of all these complex inventions, the brand’s simpler ‘time-only’ offerings stand proudly on their own. This is because Greubel Forsey never compromises on the design, construction and finish of any of its timepieces. These humbler Greubel Forsey timepieces are desirable as they boast design purity and a more down-to-earth price tag (we use this term very loosely). During Baselworld 2017, the La Chaux-de-Fonds-based manufacturer revealed yet another novelty to add to its already impressive stable: the Greubel Forsey Balancier. The Balancier is a relatively modest, ‘time-only’ (with power reserve indicator) watch that appears to be inspired by the simplicity of the Signature 1 and a simplification of the Double Balancier. Here, we review the Balancier in detail and offer our thoughts on how it compares to its siblings, the Signature 1 and the Double Balancier.
The case, dial, and hands
The Greubel Forsey Balancier comes in a white gold case that measures a substantial 43.5 mm in diameter and 13.94 mm in thickness. To the initiated, it shouldn’t be surprising anymore that Greubel Forsey timepieces do not play by the rules of tradition, especially in the subject of case size. As is now iconic for the brand’s tourbillon watches, the case for the Balancier is asymmetric, featuring a protrusion at 8 o’clock. There, a small window on the case band allows the wearer to peek at the balance wheel from the side. The finish of the case is, as always, excellent with polished bezel and lugs and a vertically satin-brushed case band.
The dial design of the Balancier is one of purity and legibility, at least compared to the brand’s other complicated timepieces. The frosted finish of the solid gold dial is spectacular to behold especially under direct lighting. It houses the novelty’s two displays: the power reserve and the small seconds. The hands that indicate the hours, minutes, seconds and power reserve are heat-blued steel – they are gorgeous and easy to read. A large cut-out spanning from 6 to 10 o’clock reveals the balance wheel (after which the watch is named) in its full glory. Its oscillations provide visual excitement to an otherwise sober dial.
The 37-jewel movement that powers the Greubel Forsey Balancier is manually-wound and consists of 269 parts. With twin serially-coupled mainspring barrels, the watch has a power reserve of 72 hours while operating at a stately 3 Hz beat rate. The balance wheel of the Greubel Forsey Balancier, which serves as the centrepiece of the watch, is large – 12.6 mm in diameter to be exact – and is fitted with six gold mean-time screws. Of course, in a timepiece that shines the limelight on the balance wheel, the balance can be hacked to allow precise time-setting. Movement finishing on the Balancier is impeccable, as is on all other Greubel Forsey timepieces. The hollowed, V-shaped, steel balance cock that bears the balance wheel is sensuously rounded and immaculately black polished. Black polishing a rounded surface is no simple task, as if black polishing in itself isn’t already tedious enough. But going the extra mile is what Greubel Forsey does best, and what has made it so revered in the watchmaking realm.
The view of the case back is one that is relatively subdued as the movement is hidden behind a full plate. The plate is made of maillechort and is relief-engraved with text (similar to what is on the case back of the recent grande sonnerie novelty). While the craftsmanship and finishing of the plate is top notch, it is such a pity that more of the movement cannot be seen and savoured.
‘Time-only’ Greubel Forseys
The Greubel Forsey Balancier in white gold is produced in a limited run of 33 pieces at the price of CHF205,000. At this price point, even the most seasoned of watch collectors would wince. There’s no way that this price tag can be fully justified, for it is, after all, an ultra-luxury item. However, it is worth remembering that the quality of Greubel Forsey timepieces is second-to-none. Its finishing is excruciatingly detailed and elaborate, not to mention flawless. The man-hours and skill it takes to achieve such quality must inevitably be accounted for in the watch’s final price. It hurts to say, but the Balancier is one of the least expensive timepieces offered by the brand. It is however not the least expensive.
The title of ‘entry-level Greubel Forsey timepiece’ officially belongs to the Signature 1, last year’s novelty. Priced at CHF150,000 for the steel version and CHF170,000 for gold versions, the watch is more accessible but remains not so much a bargain. The case dimensions of the Signature 1, at 41.4 mm x 11.7 mm, is much more manageable and is as close to traditional as a Greubel Forsey will get. As to be expected, the build and finissage of the Signature 1 is impressive. We particularly like the work done on the balance bridge – magnificently angled and black polished. The stark contrast between the traditional Côtes de Genève finishing on the nickel silver semi-ring (dial-side) and the contemporary finishing of the blackened, frosted movement plate is also immensely poetic. The case back of the Signature 1 offers more insight into its supremely finished movement components than the Balancier’s and will certainly appeal to the cashed-up movement geek. What the Balancier has that the Signature 1 hasn’t got is obviously a power reserve indicator. However, we feel that what the Signature 1 lacks in function, it gains in design cohesiveness over the 2017 novelty – this is of course subject to individual tastes.
Arguably the most impressive non-tourbillon timepiece in the Greubel Forsey arsenal is the Double Balancier à Différentiel Constant. In terms of complications, it has only one: the power reserve indicator, much like the new Balancier. However, it comes at the price of two Signature 1s (CHF350,000), perhaps because it has twice the number of balance wheels as well. All jokes aside, the Double Balancier à Différentiel Constant is nothing short of a technical masterpiece. The double balances, each inclined at 30°, set at an angle to each other, ensures that in any position the watch might be at the moment, one of the balances will be near to its ideal orientation. The basic idea is to allow both balances to beat on its own, independent of the other, and having the beat errors of each cancelling the other out. To enable this, a differential is required to deliver power from the single train to both balances. For more details we recommend that you read our full review of the watch here. From a design standpoint, what we can say is that the Double Balancier à Différentiel Constant is sure to “moisten the loins” of any watch aficionado (pardon us for the graphic mental imagery). The huge cut-out on the dial reveals the guts of the watch, and the view is simply breathtaking. Visible are the two balances, the differential and also part of the mainspring barrel – among numerous other parts – all of which are flawlessly and attractively finished. The ability to see so much of the movement in front however does come at a price. Since there isn’t much of a dial left, legibility is poor compared to the Balancier and the Signature 1. We’d argue though that this is a worthy sacrifice.
The Greubel Forsey Balancier may not be complicated nor technically remarkable, but it is crafted to perfection in the image of the brand’s iconic tourbillon watches. It is the ultimate ‘time-only’ watch with the convenience of a power reserve indicator, and the ideal compromise between the ultra-sporty – think the Richard Mille RM035 – and the ultra-traditional – think the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange ‘Pour le Mérite’. With the Balancier, Greubel Forsey continues to show the world how independent and contemporary watchmaking is done.
It’s funny you call a $200,000 time-only watch “humbler.” There is absolutely no humility involved in this watch. How many people in the world can afford such a watch? It’s an elite group, I’m sure. And for a company that “never compromises on design,” why do they insist on the tourbillon tumor growing on the side? Looks like an unsightly compromise to me, but to each his own.