On the Right Track

The story behind the new Tourbillon Grand Sport is a mini-biography of its creator, Laurent Ferrier.


By Scott Hickey
June 1, 2019

Introduced in May, the Tourbillon Grand Sport celebrates two passions that have inspired the Swiss native through the years — high speeds and high watchmaking. Specifically, the watch pays tribute to Ferrier’s third-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race 40 years ago, as well as the conception of his signature double-hairspring tourbillon 10 years ago.

Even though these two anniversaries appear unrelated, they actually share an unexpected bond with one another. Cellini spoke with Ferrier to explore the connection between his time behind the wheel and the watch bench.

AN UNEXPECTED TURN
A third-generation watchmaker, the horological arts were hardwired into Ferrier’s genetic code from birth. But after graduating from the Geneva Watchmaking School in the late-1960s, his destiny as a watchmaker took a detour.

For more than a decade, Ferrier lived a split existence with one foot in the watch world and the other on a gas pedal. When he wasn’t working at Patek Philippe to uphold his family’s watchmaking tradition, you could usually find him barreling down the straightaway of some race track, driving everything from a Lotus 18 to BMW M1.

Despite his semi-professional status, he regularly raced against pros, including seven appearances at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ferrier says that particular race provided the highlight of his career in 1979. That was the year he and his teammates placed third — behind Paul Newman no less — while driving a Porsche 935T for the Kramer racing team.

The official race poster for Le Mans 1979.

 

“I remember that we were in third place on Sunday morning in the general ranking. When the two cars ahead of us broke down that night, we thought we were going to win Le Mans!” he recalls with excitement. “Unfortunately, we had some technical issues too, and the other cars eventually managed to catch up. Happily, we kept our nice spot at third.”

Unbeknownst to Ferrier however, that race would pave the way for him to start his own watch brand 30 years later. As fate would have it, one of his Le Mans teammates was François Servanin, a French entrepreneur who would become a lifelong friend.

“I gave a Nautilus to François following our victory,” Ferrier says. “Every time we met after that, he would say: ‘My friends tell me that Patek Philippe is the most beautiful brand in the world, but it’s already difficult to get one! One day, we’re going to create our own brand.’”

In the pits at Le Mans with the third-place winning team (from left) François Servanin, François Trisconi and Laurent Ferrier.

 


It took nearly 30 years, but that’s exactly what happened in 2008 when the Laurent Ferrier brand was finally established. A year later, Ferrier devised a tourbillon-regulated movement that uses two reverse-fitted balance springs to help neutralize the effects of gravity on the watch’s chronometric performance.

The ingenious design stuck a chord with watch enthusiasts and Laurent Ferrier became a bonda fide watchmaking sensation in 2010 when the brand’s Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral won the Men’s Watch Prize at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Not bad for a retired racer.

Ferrier behind the wheel of a Porsche 935T at Le Mans.

 

A NEW DIRECTION
Last month, the brand unveiled the Tourbillon Grand Sport to commemorate the anniversaries of Ferrier’s finish at Le Mans and his signature tourbillon. Ferrier says the decision to create the brand’s first sports watch was an easy one.

“I only make watches that I would like to own and wear, and a sports model was missing from the collection,” he explains.

The Tourbillon Grand Sport manages to pull off a difficult balancing act by exploring a new direction for the brand without compromising the outstanding performance and exquisite finishing that originally made it a favorite of collectors. Take for instance the curved outline of the 44mm stainless steel case, which echoes the simple beauty of the company’s familiar Galet case. Look closer and you can see the attention to detail revealed by aesthetic flourishes like the domed and tinted sapphire crystal that arches over dial and the subtle guards that protect the ball-shaped crown.

In addition to its visual charms, the Tourbillon Grand Sport also happens to be a pleasure to wear, a tangible trait that Ferrier insists all his watches share.

“When I design a timepiece, I think about the owner’s overall experience first,” he says. “Since this is a sports watch, it needed to be bigger and stronger, but still feel balanced. Legibility is always important, especially for a sports watch, which is why I chose the luminous orange material for the hands and markers. The color also happens to be the perfect complement to the taupe-colored dial and matching rubber strap.”

The Tourbillon Grand Sport has a 44mm stainless steel case with a cushion-shaped bezel.

 

EMBRACING THE PARADOX
Behind that sporty exterior beats the heart of an haute horlogerie beast. After all, the Tourbillon Grand Sport may be a sports watch, but it’s also a Laurent Ferrier watch. That combination accounts for the presence of a tourbillon mechanism, which is only visible from the back of the watch.

For his interpretation of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s most famous invention, Ferrier equips his tourbillon with two reversed-fitted balance springs to counteract timing-rate variations caused by gravity. This design ensures chronometer-level timekeeping precision, which is certified independently by the Besançon Astronomical Observatory in France.

Some may consider the design too sporty for collectors who like tourbillons and too complicated for people who enjoy sports watches. Ferrier disagrees. “This timepiece is a paradox — a tourbillon double hairspring caliber in a sporty case. But that interesting, unexpected mix is what will appeal to collectors,” he says.

Limited to only 12 pieces worldwide, the Tourbillon Grand Sport is available at Cellini.

Click here to view the Laurent Ferrier collection online at Cellini Jewelers.

The movement bridges have been treated with ruthenium and feature a horizontal satin-brushed finish.