All 4 Greubel Forsey Art Pieces: Hidden Time With Breathtaking Micro Sculptures And Awe-Inspiring Micro Mechanics – Reprise

 

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I still clearly remember my awe back in 2013, when Stephen Forsey first handed me the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1 to examine. I had listened raptly as he explained the concept behind the timepiece and how he and Robert Greubel had worked for years with micro sculptor Willard Wigan, creator of the smallest sculpture in history, to achieve the many magnanimous details of this incredible objet d’art.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1

But none of that could prepare me for the feeling of sheer awe at not only the mind-boggling nature of the object in my hands, but the sheer audacity of the watchmaking duo of Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey in creating something so exquisitely artful in a post-2008 world of high-end mechanical watches: whether a million-dollar timepiece containing a micro sculpture would be something commercially viable was very much up in the air at that point in my opinion.

It’s a good thing that the La Chaux-de-Fonds-based partners listen more to their inner drives for creating art than to the outside world of commercial reality: Art Piece 1 was not only successful, Greubel Forsey continued the concept with two more Art Pieces after that, extending the fresh idea started with the first.

Art Piece 1 (2013)

Greubel Forsey’s Art Piece 1 is perhaps one of the world’s most notable art-related timepieces. Not just because it tackles the subject of art for art’s sake – there are other high-end timepieces created in collaboration with artists, Richard Mille’s collaboration with street artist Cyril Kongo being a notable one – but because Art Piece 1 highlights the relationship horology has with art; and I don’t think that there is any denying that the modern art of watchmaking certainly has a synergy with art as a whole.

L-R: Stephen Forsey, Willard Wigan, and Robert Greubel working on Art Piece 1

Left to right: Stephen Forsey, Willard Wigan, and Robert Greubel working on Art Piece 1

Art Piece 1 was created in conjunction with Wigan, a self-taught English sculptor specialized in handcrafted micro figures so small that they can fit into the eye of a needle. Working at micron scale, creating his art requires a powerful microscope, self-made custom tools, special physical skills. and of course, a unique talent.

One of the most important elements deriving from this collaboration was the invention of a microscopic loupe that fits neatly into the watch’s crown. It is this instrument that enables the owner and anyone he or she cares to share with to view the micro sculpture hidden inside the case.

A crown on one side and a golden ship on the other on this Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1

A crown on one side and a golden ship on the other: Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1’s two “crowns”

A cool side effect of the development is that this microscopic loupe was used again at SIHH 2017 to benefit viewing of the secretive new nanotech we were fortunate enough to get a sneak preview of (see Black Box Theory: The Greubel Forsey Mechanical Nano Movement Explained With A Wild Guess).

Can you see it? Willard Wigan's miniature sculpture in plain sight on Greubel Forsey's Art Piece 1

Can you see it? Willard Wigan’s miniature sculpture in plain sight on Greubel Forsey’s Art Piece 1

Engineers and scientists from various universities worked for four years to develop the innovative micro magnifying glass, which not only allowed viewing of the sculpture but also helped shed light on it, so I was very glad to see this interesting element put to further use.

But this new way of presenting Wigan’s creations involved another constraint that we as consumers have probably never thought of: shock-resistance. Indeed, Greubel Forsey had also conceived a reliable system for securing the sculpture smaller than a grain of rice inside the case.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1 Golden Ship

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1 Golden Ship, a Willard Wigan micro sculpture smaller than a grain of rice inside a watch case

For more information on it and to decide for yourself, please visit www.greubelforsey.com/en/collection/art-piece-1.

Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Art Piece 1
Case: 44 x 16.78 mm, white gold, outfitted with optical-grade magnification loupe integrated into crown with 23-fold magnification
Movement: Greubel Forsey caliber with 30° inclined double tourbillon, dual serially operating fast-rotating spring barrels, variable inertia balance, 21,600/3 Hz frequency, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes shown on disks and revealed upon demand; power reserve indication
Limitation: a small few pieces per year
Price: approx. $1.5 million

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Art Piece 2 Edition 1 (2015)

Once Greubel Forsey began using its watches as a frame for micro sculptures, the brand developed a unique relationship with contemporary art – which it continued in Art Piece 2.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou in white gold

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou in white gold

Art Piece 2 also contains a nano sculpture by Wigan as well as the 23-fold optical magnifying instrument in the crown, but its look was completely different from that of its predecessor.

The sculpture in Art Piece 2 was based in tribute to Robert Filliou, a French Fluxus artist – Fluxus being an interdisciplinary grouping of artists often described as a radical and experimental art movement of the 1960s. Filliou participated in performance events that included time-based works as a site of interaction between artist and audience.

Close up look at the dial of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou in white gold

A close look at the dial of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou reveals the location of Willard Wigan’s micro sculpture, though to really see it you need to use the crown magnification

If this sounds familiar, it should. It really fits the description of the disruptive concept behind the Art Pieces.

In 2015 an exhibition called Chapeaux! A Tribute to Robert Filliou brought 14 contemporary artists (including Yoko Ono) together for a month in Paris to interpret the theme of “hats” in 14 different ways, also representing Filliou’s idea of nomadism. It was produced by Greubel Forsey under the cover of its nomadic Time Art Gallery (see that full circle?).

Through the optical lens to Willard Wigan's miniature 'chapeau' sculpture inside the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou

Through the optical lens to Willard Wigan’s miniature ‘chapeau’ sculpture inside the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou

The exhibition is best seen to be understood, so please enjoy this on-the-spot Watches TV video from the 2015 event.

Aside from the enormous double tourbillon, the front of Art Piece 2 is dominated by pigment that looks like a stamp on cardboard (which is actually patinated bronze) professing Filliou’s principle of equivalence (not to be confused with the equivalence principle in physics), a criticism of the value and judgment of Western culture in which “badly made” is a space reserved for research and experimentation.

Case back detail of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou

Case back detail of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou

Naturally in an item originating in the perfectionist workshops of Greubel Forsey, this stands in direct contrast to the brand’s characteristic type of craftsmanship while still leaving room for said research and experimentation.

The back of the watch is decorated with profiles of those involved in the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou project, a reference to Filliou’s Couvre-Chef(s)-D’oeuvre(s), depicting a bowler hat containing the works of 14 artists

The back of the watch is decorated with the profiles of those involved in the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1 Filliou project, a reference to Filliou’s ‘Couvre-Chef(s)-D’oeuvre(s)’ depicting a bowler hat containing the works of 14 artists

The micro sculpture by Wigan found inside this piece references a work of Filliou’s called Couvre-Chef(s)-D’oeuvre(s); it depicts a bowler hat containing the works of the 14 artists, which spill over to become a creative burst. The back of the watch is decorated with engravings of all the people’s profiles involved in this artistic venture.

For more information on this watch, please see www.greubelforsey.com/en/collection/art-piece-2-edition-1.

Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 1
Case: 44 x 16.78 mm, white gold, outfitted with optical-grade magnification loupe integrated into a second crown with 23-fold magnification
Movement: Greubel Forsey caliber with 30° inclined double tourbillon, dual serially operating fast-rotating spring barrels, variable inertia balance, 21,600/3 Hz frequency, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes shown on disks and revealed upon demand; power reserve indication
Limitation: a handful of pieces per year
Price: approx. $600,000 / 590,000 Swiss francs

Art Piece 2 Edition 2 (2017)

The biggest difference between this Art Piece and its predecessors is the fact that there is no Willard Wigan sculpture nestled inside the case.

Which means there is no optical microscope in the second crown – or even a second crown for that matter.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2

Here, the double tourbillon inclined to 30 degrees takes its rightful place as the most important element on the dial: a kinetic sculpture open for viewing and fully visually accessible between two panes of sapphire crystal.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2 with time display closed (left) and time display open (right)

Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2 with time display closed (left) and time display open (right)

And while the time is available on Art Piece 2 Edition 2, it still remains secondary: a button on the case must be pushed in order to activate a mechanism that allows a view of the current hours and minutes in the subdial containing the brand-typical micro engraving at about 5:30.

View through the display back to the artists' signatures on the back of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2

A view through the display back to the artists’ signatures on the back of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2

As on the other Art Piece models, the power reserve indication takes place of pride over any other temporal information as if to say it’s not the now we should worry about, but rather the time remaining.

Close up look dial side of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2

A close look at the dial side of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2

A different philosophy from the other Art Pieces, and perhaps the most important one of all.

Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2
Case: 44 x 16.18 mm, white gold, outfitted with optical-grade magnification loupe integrated into crown with 23-fold magnification
Movement: Greubel Forsey caliber with 30° inclined double tourbillon, dual serially operating fast-rotating spring barrels, variable inertia balance, 21,600/3 Hz frequency, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours and minutes shown on disks and revealed upon demand; power reserve indication
Limitation: a handful of pieces per year
Price: approx. €590,000

Art Piece Edition Historique (2019)

As with 2017’s Art Piece 2 Edition 2, there is also no micro sculpture nestled within the latest in the series of Greubel Forsey’s Art Pieces. This watch contains a much different message: a retrospective of the brand’s horological exploration across its first 15 years of existence.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

One could almost say (as Joshua Munchow did in Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique: A Brand Aesthetic Retrospective In One Wristwatch) that this watch combines some of the best details from 15 years of Greubel Forsey wristwatches, skillfully combining them into a timepiece rife with ideas and history rather than time displays, downgrading the time to a secondary feature.

The main design takes its basic cues from Harry Winston’s Opus 6, with the angled dial cutaway and prominent placement of the double tourbillon 30° representing the bulk of the layout. This configuration has inspired many Greubel Forsey pieces over the years.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

The double tourbillon regulator inclined at 30° is the most up-to-date version of the mechanism, following the strong architectural codes first seen in Invention Piece 1. Its mechanism was invented and developed to improve chronometric precision or usability. A large cutaway adds incredible depth, also a rather familiar element on watches by Greubel Forsey.

The rest of the movement is largely covered with what looks like a massive block of engraved steel, but which is actually multiple plates screwed to the movement architecture, dramatizing the highly mechanical look characteristic of a Greubel Forsey timepiece.

The time display is arranged in a set of concentric rings, a design used and reimagined repeatedly across the Invention Piece, Art Piece, Quantième Perpétuel à Équation, and Quadruple Tourbillon Secret lines. That has always been a detail setting Greubel Forsey apart: in the context of the brand’s designs, it feels like a natural extension of the mechanical philosophy.

Spot the difference: follow the red hands, on the left the minute display of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique is closed with only the hour indicator visible at 10 o'clock; on the right the minute display is open and pointing to 10. The time is 10 minutes past 10 o'clock

Spot the difference: at left the minute display of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique is closed with only the hour indicator visible at 10 o’clock; on the right the minute display is open and pointing to 10 (the time is 10:10)

A small running seconds dial is the only thing aside from the double tourbillon 30° within the massive blue dial cutout, adding a bit of flair but also keeping the focus on the tourbillon architecture. That subdial is also the only visual indication that the double tourbillon 30° is connected to anything. Placed within a porthole in the cutaway, it does seem entirely separate from the movement (of which nothing is visible).

The lack of a visual connection between the double tourbillon regulator and movement emphasizes the beauty of the mechanics that are highlighted and removes the aspect of time and function of the object to focus on the art.

Back of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

Back of the Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

The back of the Art Piece Edition Historique also reveals no exposed mechanism aside from the back view of the double tourbillon 30°. The rear plate is solid save the periodic gold chatons and screw heads, making sure that at no time is attention drawn away from the whirling mechanism.

Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique

This entire timepiece is created to showcase style, aesthetic, and a single aspect of mechanics: the double tourbillon 30°.

For more information, please visit www.greubelforsey.com/en/collection/art-piece-edition-historique.

Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique
Case: 44 x 15.95 mm, platinum
Movement: manual winding Greubel Forsey caliber with 30° inclined double tourbillon, dual serially operating fast-rotating spring barrels, variable inertia balance, 21,600/3 Hz frequency, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes on demand, seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 33 pieces total, 11 in platinum
Price: 555,000 Swiss francs

* This article was first published on August 29, 2019 at All 4 Greubel Forsey Art Pieces: Hidden Time With Breathtaking Micro Sculptures And Awe-Inspiring Micro Mechanics.

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Greubel Forsey Art Piece Edition Historique: A Brand Aesthetic Retrospective In One Wristwatch

The Harry Winston Opus Series: A Complete Overview From Opus 1 Through Opus 13

The Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon 30° Technique: What’s Friction Got To Do, Got To Do With It!?

Why I Bought It: Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1

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