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Watches: Performance Art

Laurie Kahle

Atop a table in Geneva’s Grand Théâtre and surrounded by dozens of male dancers, Elisabet Ros moved to the measured crescendo of Ravel’s Boléro. The performance by Ros, principal dancer for the Béjart Ballet Lausanne company, was part of a private program, staged in January, for a few hundred guests of Fawaz Gruosi, the founder and president of the Swiss jewelry and watch brand de Grisogono. The Boléro, which concluded an original production choreographed to works by composers ranging from Igor Stravinsky to Queen’s Freddie Mercury, finished with an unexpected twist. As Ros fervently spun and bent to the composition’s climax, a screen behind her projected animated images of watch components that ultimately converged into the latest de Grisogono timepiece: Meccanico dG.

The 55-year-old Gruosi, who is married to Chopard copresident Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, understands the power of a sexy, glamorous image. Perpetually tanned, fastidiously groomed, and impeccably dressed, Gruosi is clearly more at home surrounded by starlets and supermodels than microengineers. Gruosi is not a watchmaker, nor a trained jeweler; he even hesitates to paint himself as a designer. "I draw like a 2-year-old," he remarks while discussing the 15th anniversary of his company. But he is the source of daring ideas that have established his brand among the cognoscenti in the world’s centers of wealth, from Moscow to New York, St. Bart’s to St. Moritz. "I follow what I like," says Gruosi, who claims to be the first to incorporate black diamonds and galuchat (stingray skin) into watch and jewelry designs.

Gruosi’s lack of technical training might be his most valuable attribute. Without it, his imagination is free from any constraints. Nicholas Foulkes, a British journalist and friend, cheekily says, "He is at liberty to come up with extravagant ideas, sketches them, and then leaves to go out for lunch."

Then, people such as René Droux step in. Droux oversees de Grisogono’s watchmaking department and managed the yearlong development of Meccanico dG in collaboration with an unnamed engineering firm. With 651 components devoted to presenting only two time displays—one analog and one digital—Meccanico dG, which is powered by an extensively modified Valjoux 7750 base movement, is hailed as one of the world’s most complicated wristwatches. "It’s Switzerland’s revenge against Pulsar," says Brandon Thomas, horology expert at the auction house Antiquorum, referring to the period in the 1970s when quartz supplanted mechanical watchmaking.

The Meccanico dG’s engineering has been compared to that of an early binary computer. The watch employs a dense cluster of cam and gear assemblies to display the time with an array of horizontally and vertically positioned microsegments, each with four faces, two colored and two plain. The segments—which are driven by an assemblage of 23 cams connected to a set of gears and a triggering and synchronization system—turn in 90-degree increments to form the digits. At nearly a half-inch thick, the behemoth movement required a case measuring 56 by 48 mm. "At the end of the day, we created a mechanical computer," says Gruosi.

The Meccanico dG’s engineering is incredibly complex, but the digital time display concept is simple. Gruosi’s desire for simplicity also directed the development of Otturatore, another model that officially debuted in January. Mystified by friends who bought watches that looked "so complicated they give you a headache," Gruosi conceived the Otturatore as a timepiece that would present only the information you want, when you want it. The watch, with a design that is intended to recall a vintage cigarette lighter, features a cobbled Clou de Paris dial with a single aperture in a rotating disk. Through that aperture, which moves a quarter turn when you press the pusher, you can view either the seconds, the date, power reserve, or phases of the moon.

Though Gruosi half-jokes that he hates complicated watches because they demand such large investments of money and time, he revels in his brand’s elevated stature as a "serious" watchmaker. "Before, for me," he admits, "a watch was only an instrument for seeing the time."

de Grisogono, 866.334.7476, www.degrisogono.com

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