January 17, 2022
by Ariel Adams
Today, I go hands-on with the latest version of a new generation of ultra-high-end sports watches from Swiss Greubel Forsey. This is the titanium-cased Balancier S2 (debuted on aBlogtowatch here), and I’ve been able to wear it both on the strap and the neat matching titanium bracelet. The purpose of this watch is, in a sense, an answer to a question: What is the brand that can take on Richard Mille? That has been a popular topic of debate among some members of the luxury timepiece industry. You see, Richard Mille has never been the only million-dollar watch game in town, but it is a rare story of a super-high-end brand that has been able to consistently sell more watches than it produces. Everyone wants a piece of that Richard Mille demand, and companies like Greubel Forsey think they can offer something really attractive to consumers — even if it is as an alternative to Richard Mille (for now).
I sat with still-new Greubel Forsey CEO Mr. Antonio Calce in Dubai, who explained the new brand strategy. Greubel Forsey, already a master of what it does, plans to increase production (we are only talking about a few more hundred watches a year) but also make bigger marketing waves, given that the brand’s reputation has been solid but discreet until now. Until recently, the Greubel Forsey I knew never had a CEO, aside from its founders Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey. The appointment of Mr. Calce is a big step for the company that has been, for the most part, independent, aside from a small share owned by Richemont, as I understand it.
Greubel Forsey makes very well-constructed, durable watches that are also incredibly well-finished. In my experience, they are probably the best-finished watches from any company that serially produces timepieces. That level of finishing comes with a lot of costs, and that means that an entry-level priced Greubel Forsey watch costs over $200,000. The brand’s famed tourbillon watches cost over $500,000, and it is known for producing more than a few watches costing over $1,000,000 each. The Balancier S2 (actually it is the “Balancier S2” — but I don’t think most people know how to type a ‘squared’ 2 superscript symbol) is closer to entry-level price for the brand, and Mr. Calce has made it clear that, moving forward, Greubel Forsey would heavily focus on the $200,000 – $300,000 watch price segment. Products like the Balancier S2 are a hint of where they intend to go.
This particular curved case style was debuted by Greubel Forsey on aBlogtoWatch here in 2019 with the GMT Sport while at Dubai Watch Week. It was thus nice that two years later at Dubai Watch Week 2021 Greubel Forsey decided to follow up with the new Balancier S2. The watch case is titanium and probably the best part of the entire package. It measures in at 46.5mm-wide, but don’t let the size deceive you — it wears really comfortably. The case and bezel have an interesting curvature, which is echoed in the shape of the sapphire crystal. This interesting blending of shapes gives the watch extremely conservative proportions from some angles and very avant-garde ones from other angles. A very small number of watch case designs I have encountered are able to do this well.
Even though the Balancier is arguably the simplest movement produced by Greubel Forsey, it is by no means boring. Quite the opposite, actually, as the appeal is in how the various movement elements are rendered and shaped. The entire point of the Balancier watch movement is to have an angled position for the balance wheel akin to the 24 or so degree tilt of many of the brand’s tourbillons. I believe the idea is that they find this tilt to be an ideal position in a wristwatch for averaging out the positions it is in (as gravity affects performance in slight ways) while worn naturally on a wrist from day to day. The way a diagonally tilted balance wheel is rendered on the dial and in the movement is part of the fun, and the dial has the look of being bent down, hence the visual color difference of this lower slice of the watch dial.
The manually wound movement itself operates at 3Hz with about 72 hours of power reserve. It has a power-reserve indicator adjacent to the exposed mainspring barrel. Near the dramatic balance wheel assembly is a small but highly effective subsidiary seconds dial. The overall design is what Greubel Forsey probably considers to be futuristic. It isn’t exactly going to land them in a design museum, but the overall look is satisfying and a welcome view to anyone who has been a Greubel Forsey fan for a while.
Will it impress newbies to the Greubel Forsey brand? That’s a good question and, in all likelihood, to reach where the brand wants to be, it will need to combine a strategy of product design with excellent and clever cultural penetration through effective marketing campaigns, very much like what Richard Mille started doing at least a decade ago now. For what it is worth, I think the top-end sports watch market is large enough for there to be more than one brand that stands out in the upper echelon. There is probably room in the world for several million-dollar sports watch brands.
The matching titanium bracelet is a good addition to this new Sport case shape. The bracelet does wear a bit like Richard Mille bracelets and is very carefully polished, as you might expect from a Greubel Forsey. The deployant clasp is satisfying and has a micro-adjust system. That said, the mechanics are familiar, and in the future, I’d like to see more original mechanics in a Greubel Forsey-branded bracelet since I think they can engineer some wild stuff. (That, or they can go hire Roland Iten to help.) As a limited edition, Greubel Forsey will only produce a total of 152 of the Balancier S2. If you didn’t notice, they actually come in two different gray dial colors, a lighter and darker gray color. One version is limited to 88 pieces, while the other is limited to 64 pieces. Price is 205,000 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the Greubel Forsey website here.