Greubel Forsey, the small independent Swiss watchmaker known for its ultra-exclusive high-horology complications, has just released a new version of its Quantième Perpetuel à Équation timepiece first sold in 2015. The third iteration of the wildly complex and inventive watch now comes in a 5N red gold case and a rich chocolate dial. Previous versions include a white gold case with a rhodium dial and a white gold case with an anthracite dial. The watch boasts a whopping 624 components and 15 functions with a patented system for setting all of its mechanical features with just one bi-directional crown, including the perpetual calendar.
Notoriously difficult, resetting a perpetual calendar can be something like performing a surgical procedure even for the savviest horophiles. The watch cannot stop for any length of time without a tedious resetting—cycling forward through every day—to the correct day, month and even the year. If done improperly, it could damage the movement. When you are spending five or six figures on one of watchmaking’s elite complications, it’s usually not the kind of maintenance you want to leave in your own hands. As a result, some collectors have been known to wear them without setting the proper calendar functions to avoid having to send it back to their watchmaker for months at a time to be carefully reset.
Placed between 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock, the linear calendar display is both easy to read and easy to set. Two small apertures, located just above 2 o’clock and activated via a pusher on the crown, allow the user to switch between the calendar and the hours and minutes and set them bi-directionally. With a traditional perpetual calendar, even the slightest roll of the crown backward could damage the movement—a pricey mistake on a watch that costs as much as two Porsche 911s.
“We thought would be fantastic to make a perpetual calendar that would be as user friendly, as easy to set up, as a simple date watch,” says Greubel Forsey co-founder Stephen Forsey. “That’s where we started to then converge on this idea to invent a new type of calendar.” That may sound almost laughably logical, but it took Forsey and his co-founder Robert Greubel eight years to conceive the patented invention.
Throw in a power reserve of 72 hours (with an indicator located between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock), a tourbillon rotating in full every 24 seconds and tilted to a 25-degree angle for improved accuracy (between 9 o’clock and 11 o’clock), a sub-dial for the seconds along with a 24-hour indicator—with a red zone for the hours when the watch should not be set (between 7 o’clock and 8 o’clock) and a leap year indicator (just to the left of 6 o’clock) and you have one hell of a timepiece. And that’s just on the dial side.
Flip the watch over and you will find its most interesting complication, an equation of time indicator. Truth be told, it’s the least useful feature for the average person trying to tell time the old-fashioned way, but for mechanically-obsessed horological enthusiasts, it’s the hidden icing on the cake. The equation of time displays apparent solar time, a calculation based on the sun’s visible movement (as with a sundial), as well as mean solar time, also known as clock time. The blue line of the fleur-de-lis-shaped component crosses the scale at 10, indicating apparent solar time is 10 minutes behind clock time; the red portion of the line crossing at the same point would indicate 10 minutes ahead.
“If you look at a historic one or a company that’s making an equation of time in a very traditional way today, you’d find that that equation of time will be displayed in a shape they call a kidney bean,” says Forsey. “It’s kind of a shape with almost like a figure of eight, but kind of squashed on one end. The advantage to this one is we can trace it very nicely with the months of the year, the seasons, so you can see the interaction of it. And so you’ve got four points on that shape, and those are the points where the equation of time is exactly the same as the time on the watch. Our days are in 24 hours divided into two segments of 12, to be practical.”
The months are represented on the multi-colored ring encircling the equation of time indicator, represented by their first letter: blue for winter, green for spring, red for summer and orange for fall. Interspersed between the months are four circles representing winter and summer solstices (the hollow circles) and equinoxes (the partially filled circles).
That 43.5 mm by 16 mm timepiece is a true intellectual exercise in watchmaking and comes with $680,000 price tag for all of its engineering and finishing. The watch is not limited, which is something both Stephen Forsey and Robert Greubel felt strongly about. “We call the editions a millésimé,” says Forsey. “Each year, each perpetual is numbered one out of 2018 or 2019, or now 2020. So 1 of 2020, and then 2 of 2020, etc. The idea is really to be more transparent about this and get a little bit away from this approach where we have endless limited editions. In the end, nobody really knows where they’re going with those limited editions because there’s so many, and what does it really mean?”
But the watches are limited, in fact, by production. Creating a timepiece of this magnitude in a boutique-size manufacture like Greubel Forsey’s takes, well, time. Only about six have been produced each year.