Simple, approachable, steel. These are not words I would have readily used to describe a watch from Greubel Forsey before this year’s SIHH watch fair in Geneva. With the announcement of their latest creation, the Greubel Forsey Signature 1, they have packaged their penchant for animation and their top tier finishing into a wearable, ultra high-end time-only watch. This limited edition piece is made in collaboration with one of GF’s talented watchmakers and, as the first of their new Signature series, is co-signed on both the dial and the movement. While the Signature 1 may be their most simple watch to date, it marks a big step in the evolution of Greubel Forsey as one of the finest watch manufactures in world.

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So let’s start with “simple.” While the Signature 1 is simple insofar as it’s a traditional time-only watch showing hours, minutes, and small seconds, its development, construction, and finishing exemplify all of the extreme attention to detail and multi-stage production we have come to expect from Greubel Forsey. In creating a watch without a tourbillon, Grebuel Forsey needed a traditional balance system. They searched for three years to find a suitable supplier before opting to simply create the balance in-house. The result is their own design and can easily be seen (drooled over) thanks to an open view of the balance wheel which is mounted into a beautiful black polished bridge. The movement, dubbed the GFS1, runs at 18,000 vph and, thanks to the wide 12.6 mm balance wheel, you are still treated to a great deal of animation when viewing the dial and its three dimensional asymmetrical layout.

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The execution, especially the manner in which the Signature 1 is finished, is astoundingly detailed and represents some of the finest finishing I’ve ever encountered on a watch. Just like on the award-winning 24 Secondes Vision, the main time and sub seconds dials are (for the 18k gold versions) white silvered-gold with diamond finished bevels, enamel markers and hand-finished blued steel spear point hands. Beneath the dials we find a stage of mixed bridging, the top layer in nickel silver with wide dazzling geneva striping while the sub layering features a frosted black PVD treatment.

Wherever you look, you see painstakingly polished counter sinks, perfect bevels and mirror-like polishing on the inclined facets. When editing the photos I was struck by strange marks in the polished side profiles of the bridging. Under magnification, I realized the profiles were so well polished that they were simply reflecting the image of other nearby screw heads.

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Signed both front and back by Didier Cretin, one of Greubel Forsey’s talented watchmakers, the Signature 1 is a collaboration that is still intrinsically a Greubel Forsey watch, but with a slightly different perspective. The hand-wound GFS1 movement is comprised of some 190 parts (for reference, the Double Tourbillon 30º has some 326 components) with 21 jewels and 54 hours of power reserve. With a sapphire display case back offering a wide view of the movement, the somewhat more minimal architecture has been spared none of GF’s core competencies. The Signature 1 exhibits their recognizable frosted and spotted finish, straight grained flanks, polished beveling and inclined profiles. From any angle, the Signature 1 is an absolute treat and, under magnification from a camera or a loupe, the detailing is impressive for a watch of any price point. The Signature 1 may be simple in terms of traditional complication, but “time-only” and “manually wound” is where that ends. Just look at the photos.

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Moving on to “approachable,” by which I mean to suggest the Greubel Forsey Signature 1 is the most straightforward watch they have ever produced. While I can appreciate their wild GMTs and unbelievably complex Quantième Perpétuel, those watches are very large and certainly not the kind of thing I imagine many wear day to day (though I’d be thrilled to learn otherwise). While Greubel Forsey moved towards a more wearable platform with the somewhat smaller 24 Secondes Vision, the Signature 1 wears like a normal watch. Case width is 41.4 mm (almost identical to my Omega Seamaster) and just 11.7 mm thick (thanks no doubt to the 7.4 mm thick GFS1 movement). With short lugs and a soft alligator strap, the Signature 1 is easy wearing and looks glorious on the wrist. It fit under my cuff and with its domed crystal and less-flashy straight-grained case profile, it’s surprisingly subtle to wear, given its eye-catching design.

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Finally, “steel,” as in Greubel Forsey’s first steel watch. The Signature 1 will be limited to just 66 units total, half of which will be steel. With 11 each for red gold, white gold, and platinum, the first 11 steel Signature 1s will feature a stunning blue time dial. The final 22 steel examples will be realized over the next 18 months and we’ll be sure to fill you in once they have been announced. So again, simple, approachable, steel.

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The Signature 1 is not what we would have expected from Greubel Forsey and not only does it challenge both preconceived notions of the brand itself and the current market for a high-end time-only watch, it opens the door for future collaborations within the Signature series. Pricing, as you may well expect, is considerable, with the steel models starting around $170,000 and the precious metal versions starting around $180,000. Within the market of high-end time-only watches, that’s essentially the new top tier. I had a genuine gut reaction to seeing the Signature 1 in person, and have no reservations in saying that it was definitely my favorite watch of SIHH 2016. While I am far from being a future Greubel Forsey client, if I imagine myself in that situation, I’m not entirely sure the price matters. There will only be 66, and just 33 in steel. And while the Signature 1’s direct competition may be less expensive, no watch in this segment is affordable. The Signature 1’s time-only, steel, and everyday wearable platform is unique within Greubel Forsey and the brand has a proven that there is a lasting market for their amazing watches. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

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