TheTourbillon 24 Secondes Asymtrique was first introduced by Greubel Forsey ten years ago, in 2007, and it has over the last decades become something of an icon for the company in this respect, probably only surpassed by the Double Tourbillon 30. The Vision version of the Asymtrique would go on to win theGrand Prix de l’Aiguille d’Or in 2015, at the Grand Prix Horlogerie de Genve, and after 15 versions of the Tourbillon 24 Secondes, and 5 of the Asymtrique, Greubel Forsey is closing out the asymmetrical version of this tourbillon with the Edition Historiques, which is available in two versions red gold, or platinum of 11 pieces each.
After ten years, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Asymtrique is still a visually powerful reminder of what makes Greubel Forsey unique in modern watchmaking. The design also remains powerfully polarizing; the asymmetrical bulge for the 24 second tourbillon seems to impress people as either a stroke of genius or an inexplicable excrescence, with very little in the way of middle ground. It’s always worked for me, and I think here it works quite well compositionally, especially with the addition of the new power reserve and running seconds displays, which have been reworked from earlier models for the Edition Historiques. We had the Contemporain version of the Tourbillon 24 Secondes available to shoot as well, and it makes an interesting comparison with the Asymtrique models.
The Contemporaine in comparison to the Historiques edition is much more straightforward, although it’s still pretty baroque side by side with a lot of other modern watches. However many of its competitors in both price, and by complication (if you can even consider the tourbillon a complication, about which there is some debate) manage to seem much more cluttered, even with fewer visual elements to deploy. The various dial-side components seem to float freely, almost as if suspended against the sky, and the illusion is reinforced by the transparent sapphire bridge for the tourbillon. There are however many asymmetrical elements, including the placement of the tourbillon and the various indications, and the cut-out in the sapphire hour track between 7:00 and 8:00.
The Historiques, by comparison, has a much more complicated dial side, part of which has to do with the fact that while the Contemporain really has no dial, in the conventional sense, the Historiques does have one. The dial of the Historiques is divided right down the middle and the only element that overlaps both sides of the dial is the running seconds subdial. It’s almost a panda dial on steroids; white surrounding darkness on the left (with the golden glow of the tourbillon illuminated by the sapphire window set into the case flank) and darkness surrounding the arc of the power reserve indicator on the right.
One of the most noticeable features of the dial is, of course, the text in French, which is a kind of manifesto, or statement of purpose, with respect to the design and the history of the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Asymtrique, noting that the design is a continuation of the same design philosophy that informed the Double Tourbillon 30 Historiques, and that the Edition Historiques version of the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Asymtrique represents the conclusion of the line, which comes to an end at 183 watches. If you’re not a fan of writing on the dials of watches this is definitely going to make you break out in hives, but purely as a visual element, it breaks up the dark side of the dial very well and seems to fit the character of the watch, which is both extroverted and somewhat elegiac, representing as it does the conclusion of production of one of Greubel Forsey’s major horological inventions.
You know, it’s always a struggle to gain more than you lose.
That invention the inclined 24 second tourbillon does have a precedent in horological history, although they are extremely rare (the American watchmaker Albert Potter is thought to have made his around 1860). The idea is to basically reduce to a minimum the amount of time that the balance, balance spring, and escapement spend in any of the most geometrically extreme positions where positional error will be the most prounounced. Many years ago I asked Stephen Forsey if the great technical complexity of his and Robert Greubel’s tourbillons meant that actual, practical timekeeping advantages would be very hard won, and he said, “You know, it’s always a struggle to gain more than you lose.” However, in 2011, a Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon 30 Technique won the Concourse International de Chronomtrie with 915 out of 1000 possible points. It’s worth remembering that while Greubel Forsey is rightly famous for their movement finishing, behind all the seductive cosmetics there is a serious interest in horological science, not just kinetic pyrotechnics.
As is usually the case with Greubel Forsey watches, the movement side of the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Asymtrique Historiques Edition is at least as interesting to look at as the dial side. Greubel Forsey’s stock in trade in terms of movement aesthetics has always been a combination of tradition Swiss and English movement finishing and movement layout, and that continues to be the case here. the movement is quite large for a wristwatch virtually pocket-watch size, at 36.40mm in diameter (and 9.35mm thick). Both the mainplates and the bridges are nickel silver (also known as maillechort). with two mainspring barrels offering a 72 hours power reserve.
I said at the beginning that theTourbillon 24 Secondes Asymtrique Edition Historique has a polarizing design, and it’s not just the asymmetrical case. However you often see exactly such a polarized reaction when anything with a clear design identity of its own is made. As always with Greubel Forsey, the degree of craftsmanship in the watch is absolutely irreproachable and for me, the whole thing works. I often think that people who like pocket watches are excellent candidates for reacting well to Greubel Forsey timepieces in both cases, you have time-keeping machines that really seem to revel in their machine-ness, rather than seek to diminish it.
The trend towards thinner-is-better as the ideal for elegance in watches, and as an ideal to be striven for in watchmaking, has a very long history (arguably going all the way back to the first thin Lepine calibers of the mid-18th century). This is another impulse, however: the reassuring solidity of the overbuilt, and the sense of the achievement of precision through physical stability, taken to its logical extreme (this is another echo of the classic English high grade pocket watch, which was typically much more heavily built than its Swiss counterpart). There have been many small independent brands over the years that have gone for horological maximalism, but few I can think of, if any, who have pursued the idiom with the combination of charming-mad-scientist experimentation, and manic obsession with flawless (and extremely time-intensive) craftsmanship.
The Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Edition Historique: version shown, red gold with white dial (platinum with anthracite dial also available). Case, 44mm x 15.78mm, with asymmetrical convex sapphire crystal; articulated lugs. Water resistance, 30 meters. Movement, 36.40mm x 9.35mm, tourbillon cage 0.39 grams; freesprung balance vibrating at 21,600 vph; balance spring with Phillips terminal curve. Double mainspring barrel with 72 hour power reserve; plates and bridges, German/nickel silver/maillechort. Tourbillon, inclined at a 25 angle; 24 second period. Prices,$370,000 for red gold and $395,000 for platinum.More at GreubelForsey.com.