With 95% of this timepiece – including the hairspring – made using only hand-operated tools, one single timepiece requiring an extraordinary 6,000 hours work (equal to three years man-hours), Hand Made 1 by Greubel Forsey takes traditional watchmaking to a new unprecedented summit. Never before has a hand-made timepiece exhibited such a high level of workmanship and precision. This timepiece, unique in the history of watchmaking, is the fruit of a technical and human endeavor of epic proportions, enlisting extraordinary talents and setting the course for the future.
Before the Industrial Revolution and the advent of mass production, watch components had to be made one by one requiring very specific skills, tools and completely hand-operated machines. Today, with industrialization, excellence in hand craftsmanship has virtually disappeared and these skills are not even taught in schools. Throughout their training and careers, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have amassed extensive experience of hand craftsmanship, both in prototypes or replacement parts for restoration.
Deeply attached to these ancestral skills at the core of such a rich irreplaceable watchmaking heritage, the Naissance d’une Montre 1 adventure with Time Æon Foundation and their determination to pass on their know-how to future generations, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have now gone to unprecedented lengths by creating Hand Made 1, the first incarnation of this out-and-out approach.
An Extraordinary Challenge: Greubel Forsey is well known for pushing back boundaries in its research and creations to accomplish what had never even been thought of before. Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have already demonstrated this by inventing and perfecting a completely new generation of tourbillons (Tourbillon 24 Secondes, Double Tourbillon 30° and Quadruple Tourbillon) that have since become references in mechanical watchmaking. They have also proven their inventiveness by opening up new horizons in terms of energy and space in the field of nanotechnology.
This quest for excellence and the conviction to explore each new venture’s full potential has been a key driving force for the Hand Made 1 project for several years. For Greubel Forsey, it’s not only about reviving ancient techniques, forgotten gestures and skills. The aim is to take these skills and know-how to a previously unattained level of excellence and precision, furthering them in the same spirit of constant improvement that has always guided the Inventor watchmakers. The goal is to resurrect the ancestral art of hand-craftsmanship and reinforce it with standards of workmanship and precision rivaling even modern production equipment. To fulfill this exceptional challenge and reach micron-scale accuracy using ancestral tools, the artisans must obtain a precision that such traditional machines themselves cannot easily offer. They rely on “the intelligence of the hand,” endlessly correcting minute details to edge ever closer to perfection, achieve the required quality and ensure perfect and flawless operation. In this process, the time spent is of secondary importance.
A project of this scale could not be simply incorporated within existing structures or even to just one or two watchmakers. To complete this epic feat, Greubel Forsey had to build a team of the most skilled craftsmen in each field, principally from its workshops, as well as several external talents. This true “family” worked together in complete harmony.
A Landmark in Watchmaking: Greubel Forsey unveils the result of this unprecedented watchmaking approach: Hand Made 1 – an hours/minutes/seconds timepiece with a tourbillon. This creation took an uncharted course because simply replicating an existing caliber by hand was out of the question. The Hand Made 1 has been entirely created from scratch. The movement construction, traditional machining and hand-finishing specialists reflected at length on each of the 272 movement components and 36 case parts, understanding and concentrating on what the hand-made approach allows and how to get the very best out of it. The same questions were asked at every stage: “How can we design this part to be able to make it using traditional tools or machines such a jig borer or lathe? And which shape can we give it so the artisans’ intelligent hands can ensure extraordinary precision and the finest craftsmanship?”
The Hand Made 1, therefore, demanded a total overhaul of the creative process, involving the people who would make and decorate each component from the very beginning. This project’s daring was only matched by the creativity and inventiveness required to find new technical solutions. Some parts of the movement were redesigned in order to simplify them. Meanwhile, for other mechanisms such as the tourbillon, the number of components had to be increased to allow each part to be made by hand. The timepiece’s relatively modest dimensions (43.5mm in diameter and 13.5mm thick) further heightened the difficulty of this task.
An Almost Unimaginable Feat: Finally, an entirely handmade timepiece, from the movement to the case, to the leather strap, the dial and the hands –the only exceptions being the sapphire crystals, the case gaskets, the spring bars, the jewels, and the mainspring. To achieve the 95% handmade level with such a high standard of excellence required an astronomical 6,000 hours of work for one single timepiece – the equivalent of three years man-hours, where this total time only takes into account the pure watchmaking – and not the creation and development time. To obtain the 308 components of the Hand Made 1 respecting Greubel Forsey criteria, over 800 individual parts had to be made. It took almost 35 times longer to make the complete tourbillon cage than for a standard high-end tourbillon. When just a dozen operations on an automatic lathe effortlessly yield some 500 screws, a single screw, as small as it may be, requires up to 12 individual operations taking up to eight hours to make just one. Finally, to hand-make one wheel of the Hand Made 1 takes 600 times longer than that of a high-end industrial wheel.
Greubel Forsey’s attention to detail naturally includes the performance of the timepiece. Here, Hand Made 1 displays unprecedented prowess for a hand-made watch, its performance certified by Greubel Forsey.
Hand-Made Beauty: In this unique endeavor of Greubel Forsey’s handmade craftsmanship, each component tells a tale. It has its own development process and journey that makes it unique, undergoing long hours of cutting from the raw material guided only by the eye and the human hand. The technical and aesthetic perfection of this Hand Made 1 timepiece is immediately visible and in true Greubel Forsey style, it attributes equal importance to the invisible beauty of all the parts concealed inside the case.
The journey begins with the regulating organ, entirely produced by hand in Greubel Forsey’s workshops, including the balance spring, fashioned from an alloy in the atelier. The balance spring is then rolled in a hand-operated rolling mill (without computer assistance), a process that is certainly an endangered know-how – only a few balance springs can be made at a time – whereas in contemporary industrial production, hundreds or thousands are automatically produced at once. The balance wheel is also entirely hand-made with an extraordinary standard of precision and finish. The escape wheel, with its 20 individually cut teeth, each with four surfaces that are later ground, is a true tour de force. Meanwhile, the machining and finishes of the escape lever alone require a month and a half of work.
The hand-making of the tourbillon carriage – with its 69 components weighing a total of 0.521 g – represented another sizeable challenge, as it is not possible to replicate the same geometry of a CNC machine on a traditional jig borer. An increased number of parts are consequently required to form this exquisite, almost airborne mechanism.
All the movement’s components are of course then hand-finished true to the finest watchmaking tradition, including the bridges with their polished inner and outer vertical flanks, the unique “gratté” mainplate, and the wheels with hand-polished bevels top and bottom (40 sharp internal angles for a five-spoke wheel).
The open dial stands out with its hand-enameled chapter rings, paired with elegant, finely shaped flame-blued steel hands.
Naturally, the white gold case is also, handmade, thanks to a pantograph mechanical lathe fitted with turning tools, before being patiently satin-finished on the sides and polished on the upper surfaces.
Created as just two or three timepieces per year, the Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1 is destined to become a new watchmaking landmark that unites both past and future. This new step towards the summit in the finest of craftsmanship is substantiated on the dial at 6 o’clock, where the inscription Hand Made replaces the usual Swiss Made.