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Stephen Forsey: focus on the collector

One of the innovators behind Greubel Forsey on the role of independence and skills transference in fine watchmaking

My favourite aspect of my role is to see a new invention working for the very first time.

I became interested in the watch industry because… I was fascinated by the notion of time and measuring it. The precision and fine work required on such a small scale as the mechanical watch was a whole new world to discover, and it still holds surprises and challenges today.

As cofounder of Greubel Forsey, my most unbelievable find has been… definitely our team in the atelier at Greubel Forsey. We have a great group of people who are passionate and professional in many different domains, and we’re quite a young team as well. It is something that we put in concretely with our Time Æon Foundation. We founded the Time Æon Foundation in 2008 to draw attention to and try and bring more of a profile to the loss of fundamental traditional watchmaking skills.

The timepiece I currently feel most connected to is… always a difficult question — each piece is a unique creation and so inscribes perfectly in our mission for Greubel Forsey; it’s really not easy to pick out one. The Invention Piece 1 marked a distinct point in Greubel Forsey’s history for its groundbreaking three-dimensional architecture. However, I also love the QP à Équation for its technicality and performance. It really redefines mechanical calendar wristwatches with its unique ease of operation — all the calendar indications can be corrected just using the winding crown and moves both forwards in time and backwards! Collectors have been really excited to discover this creation first hand.

My favourite aspect of my role is to see a new invention working for the very first time.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Edition Historique

The first watch I ever received was… a mechanical central second wristwatch with a classical design.

I think the watch industry and high-end luxury… has generally become very product and marketing oriented. For Robert Greubel and I as watchmakers, we wanted to return the focus to the collector. Each Greubel Forsey creation is therefore a form of expression of our new vision of mechanical watchmaking. It’s a very rare form of watchmaking further reinforced by the level of inventiveness, by the tradition-inspired 3D mechanical architecture and the pursuit of excellence in hand craftsmanship. Each unique timepiece has its own specific details and features; this really adds something exciting and authentic to the long and rich history of watchmaking.

Stephen Forsey

The greatest invention I have seen from my brand was… when Robert and I launched Greubel Forsey with the Double Tourbillon 30° in 2004 at Baselworld. Today, 15 years on, our retrospective is also special — that modest beginning is now already part of modern watchmaking history.

An object from outside the industry that has an important effect on my work is… historic cars, a huge passion inherited from my father and my grandfather. I have a deep connection with anything mechanical, and love spending time on this whenever possible.

Greubel Forsey QP à Équation

On my desk you’ll always find… my monocular, if it is not around my neck.

My favourite aspect of my role is… to see a new invention working for the very first time.

The last gift I received from someone in the industry was… cheese.

I think the Middle East market is… fascinating! It really is a region of connoisseurs of fine watchmaking. We have been working with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, our ambassador in Dubai. Thanks to this partnership, we are able to meet collectors, partners and journalists and we will continue to share our expertise and passion for fine watchmaking and to build a truly qualitative experience for the people we meet.

Watch journalism is important because… we’ve noticed that today’s generation of watch enthusiasts and collectors is very well informed. A huge quantity of information can now be available to a wider audience, contributing heavily to educating collectors all around the world. This represents a great support to the Swiss watch industry. Moreover, thanks to this unique access to information, watch enthusiasts more easily embrace fine craftsmanship. A lot of fog was pushed away and the Swiss watch industry has had to become extremely transparent, which is in line with our founding vision and philosophy.

If you had a time machine, is there a period of watchmaking you would change, and how? I wouldn’t necessarily change history, but would be fascinated to revisit the 18th century when the challenge to master precision timekeeping was taken up by the foremost horologists of the time, notably in France and England, where they were at the forefront of technology. Curiously, a virtually unknown John Harrison (a carpenter by profession) who dedicated his whole life to building the first high-precision mechanical timekeeper invented the marine chronometer. He was finally rewarded for this with the Board of Longitude £20,000 prize launched in 1714 to solve the problem of ocean navigation.

You have a dinner party and can invite any masters of the watchmaking industry past or present, who would you invite? I can think of seven. There’s George Daniels, who was a mentor for many modern watchmakers, and who passed away recently. Derek Pratt, a modest but highly talented watchmaker who also very sadly passed away recently. Then Ahasuerus Fromanteel, the late-17th century clockmaker considered the father of English clockmaking at this pivotal time. He built some of the very first long pendulum long case clocks that present outstanding proportions and aesthetics and which defined the English style that lasted for more than 200 years — they’re truly elegant and pleasing to the eye, even today. There’s Thomas Tompion and George Graham, also very important late-17th century, early-18th century London clock and watchmakers. And finally John Arnold and Thomas Earnshaw, the fathers of 18th to 19th century English chronometry who were very competitive but their apparently contrasting characters would also make for a most interesting exchange.

How do you unwind outside of work? I spend time with my family and sometimes with my lifelong passion for historic cars.

Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey

The advent of digitisation in the industry… is essential to preserve the crafts associated with watchmaking excellence and help pass them on to new generations. Founding CompliTime in 2001, Robert and I were conscious that we were entrusted with being the privileged custodians of a disappearing art. We clearly saw the responsibility towards future generations. For this reason, together with our independent colleagues Philippe Dufour, Vianney Halter and Felix Baumgartner, we have the Time Æon Foundation, which was launched to assist training for future watchmakers seeking to become independent, and to perpetuate watchmaking knowledge and values.

If I didn’t work in the watch industry I would… most likely have worked in the aviation industry, following my grandfather, or possibly in historic car restoration — a lifelong passion I inherited as a child from my father and grandfather.

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