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Greubel Forsey Introduces the Entirely Hand-Made Tourbillon Watch

The Hand Made 1.

The Hand Made 1 is a watch “95%” produced “using only hand-operated tools”, requiring some 6,000 hours, according to Greubel Forsey. That’s equivalent to three years of work, largely performed by a special team of watchmakers assembled by Greubel Forsey specifically for this project, along with independent specialists who produce certain components.

Functionally, the Hand Made 1 is a straightforward timepiece – it shows the time, hours, minutes and seconds, and is equipped with a one-tourbillon regulator. The movement is made up of 272 parts, which is within the usual range for such a movement. The complexity of the watch comes from how it is made – by hand or by hand-operated tools – which is why only two to three examples will be produced per year.

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Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1 watch 2

The genesis for the Hand Made 1 is the department within Greubel Forsey that produces prototypes, which are essentially one-off, hand-made watches. The same production techniques are applied to the Hand Made 1, except that they are taken to a far higher level, in order to create components that are produced with the same techniques as prototypes but to the same fit and finish as standard Greubel Forsey movements.

So each screw is made on a manual lathe, and can take up to eight hours to complete. The case components are milled on a pantograph lathe, essentially a manually operated CNC machine that requires the operator to guide the cutting tool to by hand.

And even the balance spring is rolled by a manual rolling mill that progressively flattens the wire into the thinness required for a hairspring – a specialised process that is done by an independent workshop. Similarly, the pallet fork of the escapement is made by an independent artisan who used to work for Greubel Forsey.

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Operating a jig borer, with a brush to remove metal shavings

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Finishing the bevelled edges on one of the going train bridges

Because of the manual production process, many movement components had to be simplified; instead of a single part, they had to be split into sub-assemblies. Consequently, more parts were required to finish the movement than for a conventionally produced watches.

According to Greubel Forsey, the only components not made by hand are the sapphire crystals, gaskets, spring bars, jewels, and mainspring.

It is not only the fabrication of parts that is done by hand, all of the finished parts are decorated by hand to the highest standards, right down to the sharp inward angles on the inner edges and spokes of the gears.

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The German silver main plate with the unusual Gratté finish resembling brushstrokes

The meaning of time

Much of the philosophy behind the Hand Made 1 is reminiscent of Naissance d’une Montre, the hand-made watch project backed by Greubel Forsey that is intended to keep old-fashioned, artisanal watchmaking alive.

The quoted figure of 6,000 hours of work is notably higher than the time required for other high-end timepieces.

George Daniels, for instance, is believed to have spent 2,500-3,000 hours for each of his hand-made watches, but most his watches were essentially prototypes, and none were decorated or finished to a high level. Daniels’ philosophy focused more on invention and construction rather than elaborate finishing, which he regarded as disguise for interior intellectual substance.

Philippe Dufour took about 1,000 hours to complete each grande sonnerie pocket watch he made, but the movements and their constituent parts were naturally larger in size, and at the same time produced with the help of automated machines, although Mr Dufour finished everything entirely by hand.

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The hand-made and record-setting George Daniels Space Traveller pocket watch

The Hand Made 1, in contrast, combines the two approaches: it is built with hand-made parts with techniques similar to those used for prototyping, but then refined and finished to the same degree as a conventional Greubel Forsey watch. That means not only are the components highly decorated, they are also interchangeable, just as a machine-made part would be. The interchangeability also explains why the rejection rate for the components is high – some 800 parts had to be produced just to have the 300 or so needed for the complete watch.

Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1 watch


Key facts and price

Hand Made 1

Diameter: 43.5mm
Height: 13.5mm
Material: 18k white gold
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: Hand Made 1
Functions: Hours, minutes seconds, and one-minute tourbillon
Frequency: 21,600bph (3Hz)
Winding: Hand-wound
Power reserve: 60 hours

Strap: Calfskin with white gold pin buckle

Availability: Two to three produced annually, with the first delivery sometime in the first half of 2020
Price: Not available, but likely to be between 700,000-900,000 Swiss francs

For more, visit Greubelforsey.com.


 

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The New Omega Museum is Open

Bigger, and better.

Located around the corner from its old premises, the Omega Museum has just reopened within La Cité du Temps – “The City of Time” – an impressive glass and wood building designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who has worked with the brand on several projects, including its new factory.

Connected to the new Swatch brand headquarters via an aerial bridge, La Cité du Temps sits just behind Omega’s main building in Biel, a city about 90 minutes from Zurich by train. Appropriately, it is on a street named after Nicolas G. Hayek, founder of the Swatch Group, the Swiss watchmaking conglomerate that’s Omega’s parent company.

La Cite du Temps, the horizontal building in the middle

La Cite du Temps at right

While the original museum was opened in 1983, making it the oldest watch brand museum in the world, the new museum sits on the second level of the five-story La Cité du Temps, with the Swatch Museum one floor above and another floor dedicated to temporary exhibitions. The new premises give the Omega Museum an expansive space to detail the watchmaker’s long and diverse history on a scale that was impossible in the museum’s former home, which it shared with the company canteen.

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The 64-window display that’s built like the links of a steel watch bracelet

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Each of the key themes in Omega history are captured in comprehensive exhibits, including being the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games, the Speedmaster Professional and the Moon landing – complete with a giant, “walk-in” Speedmaster – and James Bond.

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The lunar landing display, complete with a moon rover and lunar surface

omega museum astronaut spacesuit

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Olympic starting blocks

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A model of George Daniels’ co-axial escapement

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The “walk-in” Speedmaster…

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which can be entered between the lugs

Entry to the museum is now free, but an entry fee will charged to visit the entire La Cité du Temps once the rest of the building, including the Swatch Museum, is open.

Address and opening hours

Tuesday to Friday: 11am-6pm
Saturday & Sunday: 10am-5pm
Closed Mondays

Nicolas G. Hayek Strasse 2
2502 Biel/Bienne
Switzerland


Update October 18, 2019: Exterior images of La Cite du Temps added.

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Rolex Unicorns Part II – Ref. 8171 Triple Calendar “Padellone” in Steel

The amazingly crisp watch.

If I had a million dollars, or maybe two, to buy a Rolex, I could perhaps buy a ref. 4113 split-seconds, which is very large, very flat – a bit too large and flat for me – and exceptionally rare. Or I could buy a ref. 8171 triple calendar in steel, one in almost “new old stock” condition, as Phillips has in its upcoming Geneva auction.

The ref. 8171 in question reminds me of the 369-year old Jehan Cremsdorff pocket watch Sotheby’s sold in the summer – it’s hard to believe something that old, admittedly not quite four centuries, can be so well preserved. The “Padellone” is incredibly – incredibly – clean and crisp.

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Up close, the ref. 8171 speaks for itself. The dial looks like the watch left the factory recently. It is clean, neat and the date track is in pure, vivid blue. Similarly, the hands are free of marks, meaning they were seldom, or never, removed from the dial.

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The condition of the dial is all the more unusual due to the fact that the ref. 8171 is not an Oyster. Instead, it has a snap-on back, instead of the water-resistant, screw-on back found on the Oyster watch case.

Over time, snap backs tend to lose their water-resistance as a consequence of corrosion or deformation from repeated opening, which is why most ref. 8171s have dials that show obvious ageing.

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Rolex 8171 Padellone steel 1

An example of a ref. 8171 with a dial showing ageing, this one offered at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2017

The steel case is similarly well preserved. Fortunately, steel is notably harder than 18k gold, and even with comparably little wear, a steel case will stand the test of time better than gold, all things being equal (and the environment being cool, dry and non-corrosive since steel can rust).

This example show shows the slightest of scuffs, indicating it was probably worn or handled lightly over its 50 year life, but probably only on a handful of occasions, which might be related to its case serial number (more on that below).

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The lightly etched, but perfect, Rolex logo on the case back

The sharpness of the edges on the bezel and lugs is particularly striking, as is the grain of the brushed finish on the sides of the lugs.

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P-R-I-S-T-I-N-E

Ordinarily, such a state of preservation would raise the obvious question: has it been restored?

Fortunately, this ref. 8171, like the Cremsdorff, has been well known for several decades, and has looked pretty much the same all along. It last sold publicly at Christie’s Geneva in 2012 for 543,000 Swiss francs, and before that in 2004 at the same venue for 236,000 francs. The first time this watch appeared at auction is believed to have been at Antiquorum, during its heyday under founder Osvaldo Patrizzi, although details on that sale are not available now.

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A few years after the 2004 sale, the watch was photographed by collector John Goldberger for his book 100 Superlative Rolex Watches, and even 12 years later he still remembers its pristine condition.

When it was sold in 2012, the lot essay – probably written by a hyperventilating and exhilarated auctioneer – was full of superlatives: “a sheer thing of physical impossibility to find a crisper, sharper and better preserved specimen… the one example representing the gold standard for this model… the pristine appearance radiating from this ‘padellone’.”

Fashionably late

The only downside of the watch is its case number, which is “1’977’074”, dating the case to around 1969. That’s far removed from the known production period of the ref. 8171, the early 1950s, as well as the known case number range of “686’XXX”.

The movement number of “56’948”, however, falls well within the known range of numbers for the 8171 movement, implying the watch contains a movement from the original run, but one that was installed in a case much later.

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The reason for this is unknown. Phillips speculates the watch might have been made in the 1960s for an exhibition, after the model was out of production, or it was produced earlier but never sold due to a wrongly engraved case number. Another possibility is that the watch was produced as a special order for a client who wanted what was then a discontinued model.

The triple calendar

Padellone translates as “large frying pan”, a reference to the largish 38mm case of the ref. 8171, a quality that would have rendered it distinctly oversized in its day. That being said, it is not that large, and wears well by modern standards. (The ref. 4113 in the same sale, however, is large enough it feels a bit like a biscuit on the wrist.) And because this example is so crisp, it looks wonderful on the wrist.

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Condition aside, the ref. 8171 itself is a desirable watch, being one of only two triple calendar watches Rolex has ever made, the other being the ref. 6062, until the modern day Cellini Moonphase, the poor man’s “Bao Dai”.

And both the refs. 8171 and 6062 are notable for being the most complicated vintage Rolex watches powered by an in-house movement, the 10.5”’ diameter A295 automatic. The Rolex Datocompax “Jean-Claude Killy” of the same period, a chronograph with triple calendar, on the other hand, was powered by the Valjoux 72C.

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An example of the “Killy”, a ref. 6236

The disparity in prices is probably more pronounced for the ref. 8171 than for other vintage Rolex models, since the disparity in condition can be vast as a result of the case construction and resulting ageing. Because the ref. 8171 often turns up with a well-worn dial, it can sell for well below US$100,000 with the common yellow gold case; pink gold cases are the rarest.

In May of this year Phillips sold a ref. 8171 in yellow gold distinguished only by its superb condition – but not quite as fine as this steel example – for 980,000 Swiss francs, or almost US$1.00m.

A month after, Sotheby’s sold a well-worn specimen in yellow gold for US$118,750. A year before that, a heavily aged example, also in yellow gold, sold at Phillips for 93,750 francs.

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The last time a comparably well preserved ref. 8171 in steel came up for sale was at Phillips Hong Kong in 2016, and it sold for 7.88m Hong Kong dollars, or about US$1.00m, to a noted Asian collector. That had a grené, or “grained”, dial, although the dial showed the faintest signs of ageing.

The dial finish is the second factor that might count against this example. This ref. 8171 has a dial with an almost uniform, silvered finish, with only the slightest of variation in texture on the date track. In contrast, the pronounced two-tone finish – where the date track is an obvious shade darker – on other examples of the ref. 8171, including the record-setting example sold in Hong Kong, is regarded as more attractive.

Still, this watch has an estimate of 500,000-1.00m Swiss francs, and should comfortably reach the high estimate. It’s lot 175 in The Geneva Watch Auction: X that takes place on November 10, 2019. For the full catalogue, visit Phillips.com.


Correction October 14, 2019: The ref. 8171 pictured has a barely discernible two-tone dial finish with a slight variation of texture on the date track, and is not single tone as previously described.

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