My Grail Watch Is Unattainable — The Way It Should Be
I’d like to take credit for this Fratello story idea, unashamedly so. All of us have that one watch we long for, whether it’s a rare $500 Seiko or a hyped-up Patek Philippe. And what a diverse set of very personal quests it has turned out to be. “Grail watch” is a vague and deeply personal term, and that is the way it should be.
As you can tell from RJ’s and Ignacio’s stories, each of us has our own interpretation and meaning behind this very personal term. Wikipedia describes the term thus: “The term ‘holy grail’ is often used to denote an elusive object or goal that is sought after for its great significance.” This is why I feel that my grail watch should have a deeper meaning than a wrist flex.
I prefer to see the term in the light of legends and folklore — exalted. We all have wrist-goals that we reach on our collecting journeys, as shown in RJ’s quest for his grail. But I tend to see it as less of a single watch than as a general inspiration for my collecting of timepieces. Like a sacred talisman or a stone tablet whose existence we doubt, for me, the grail watch has an elusive quality. And while my grail is without a doubt unattainable, for me it represents an ideal.
The Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1
So, let’s address the unattainability first, as “1” means exactly that — one. Yes, Greubel Forsey produces one or two pieces a year at between $600,000 and $800,000. What, then, is the point of a grail watch if you can never possess it? The Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1 is for me not a watch per se, but the raison d’être for my love of watches. Yes, it is a balanced and beautiful piece of horology, but it means so much more. Six thousand man-hours — let that sink in for a minute. That is the time it took to produce this single watch.
While I want to say it’s more handmade than you can imagine, it deserves a less banal explanation. The Hand Made 1 was a project spanning three years, and not meant as the prototype for a new artisanal range. We are already acutely aware of the micro-engineered Haute Horlogerie of Greubel Forsey.
A staggering 95% of the watch components have been made with hand-powered tools.
But this is time travel for the wrist, quite literally. How so? The multi-layered dial might make it a Greubel Forsey at first glance, but the immaculate finissage is not the brand’s usual fare. A staggering 95% of the watch components have been made with hand-powered tools. This even includes the hairspring, and the infinite dexterity of Greubel Forsey’s watchmakers made this happen. But even with the dexterity it takes to become a watchmaker at the Greubel Forsey ateliers, the construction of the Hand Made 1 is no easy feat. The mind-boggling 6,000 hours is equivalent to three full years of labor — a labor of love if ever one existed.
Recognizably Greubel Forsey with its open-worked and diagonally split dial, there are three levels. However, the canvas is not a dial as such, but rather, solid gold main plates with hand-applied graining. These are tiered, emphasizing the hypnotic depths, with an outer enamel chapter ring for the time. Perfectly hand-blued spear hands show us the irrelevant passage of time, with a seemingly levitating small seconds register at four-thirty. This has a broad enameled disc with a dark blue 60 at the top, and the slowly twirling spectacle at 7 o’clock is a tourbillon.
To give you a sense of the labor involved, it takes 35 times longer to make the tourbillon cage than would a standard high-end tourbillon. Yes, each screw is also handmade. One single screw requires up to 12 individual operations, taking up to eight hours to make. Yes, one screw. These are but two small details, part of the 272 movement components and 36 white gold case parts that make up the Hand Made 1.
Old school, elevated
Before the Industrial Revolution and the advent of mass production, watch components had to be made one by one requiring very specific skills, tools, and completely hand-operated machines. Today, however, excellence in hand craftsmanship has virtually disappeared, and these skills are not even taught in schools. Throughout their training and careers, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have amassed extensive experience in hand craftsmanship, both in prototypes and replacement parts for restoration. Today, these are ancestral skills at the core of all watchmaking heritage. As with the Naissance d’une Montre 1 adventure with the Time Æon Foundation, their determination to pass on their know-how to future generations is high on the agenda. With this is mind, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey went to unprecedented lengths in creating the Hand Made 1.
Built for a higher purpose
The above heading may seem rather lofty, even pompous, but for the Hand Made 1, it is right on the money. The goal was to resurrect the ancestral art of watchmaking craftsmanship. It’s the type of craftsmanship from before the advent of electricity, not to mention CNC machining. Why is this so important in this day and age? Well, look around you. We in the #watchfam might be a dying breed, pushed aside by tech and disposable gadgets. From my daily experience, seeing an Apple Watch is a high point in a day full of empty wrists and Godzilla-sized Garmins. We need an awakening, and that’s perhaps why I view this as a grail, but for non-possessive reasons.
Shouldn’t a grail watch be the pinnacle of my own watch-collecting journey?
Consider me a missionary, as this a grail for the purpose of enlightenment, not personal satisfaction. It’s a grail deserving a BBC documentary on its creation. I can desire as many watches as I want, but this is different. For me, this is about the survival of horological skill. It is also as simple as a recruitment ad. We need a new generation of watchmakers, and that is worth both a grail and a crusade. Why not turn the grail term around and re-purpose it?
I would love nothing more than wearing the Hand Made 1, if only for a brief moment. I would cherish it. But the Hand Made 1 remains a mission statement, not an actual timepiece. And for that, I applaud Greubel Forsey, while the Hand Made 1 remains my unattainable grail watch.
Do you have a grail watch or lofty ideas like me? Or maybe you already have your grail on your wrist and have played your end game. Let us know in the comments!
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