Shape is the basis for every object that exists in the universe larger than an atom. Excluding invisible gases and subatomic particles, every object can be defined and described in some way by its shape. It is one of the few universal attributes that is also easily grasped by pretty much anyone. While some of the more esoteric qualities of objects can be lost on individuals, we are a very tactile species.
We see or feel shapes and immediately form a mental relationship with the object. While some humans suffer from variants of agnosia (the inability to process sensory information, often due to a traumatic brain injury or neurological disorders), humans naturally have a solid understanding of shapes and their relation to each other. This has been a driving force behind most of my entire professional life.
As a maker, builder, engineer, designer and craftsman, my life is shaped by shapes: how they are different, how they interact mechanically, or simply how they visually relate and transmit information or emotion. I’ve said in the past that my favorite design principle is contrast; combined with the design element of texture some of the most interesting creations can arise. But contrast and texture are still built on top of my favorite primary design element: shape.
The interplay of shapes is probably the first thing that draws my focus, and a creative, quirky, or bold assembly of shapes can make me weak in the knees and inspire months of longing and personal creativity for further ideas. I don’t know how many times I have seen an interesting shape or group of shapes and been filled with a cavalcade of new designs or inventions in my mind. Enter Greubel Forsey.
There are thousands of things to love about Greubel Forsey watches, but the thing that has always been the hook in the root of my brain is the variety of distinct shapes that atypically assemble to create very unique timepieces. With the release of the Balancier S in 2020, another inspiring set of shapes entered my universe, which deserve closer inspection to fully grasp just how awesomazingly they combine to make this timepiece.
Greubel Forsey Balancier S
The Balancier S is the follow up to the game-changing GMT Sport, which introduced an entirely new aesthetic and set of shapes to the Greubel Forsey design language.
The sport-inspired case is both somewhat typical and atypical depending on your perspective.
The entire body is curved, matching the curvature of the wrist, leading to the bezel arcing from top to bottom and creating a more oval shape when viewed from any angle other than head on. It’s definitely a departure for the brand, but follows in the quirky footsteps of the atypical cases on models such as the Quadruple Tourbillon or the earlier GMT models.
The Balancier S is an aesthetic sibling to the GMT Sport, adopting design elements from that movement and then building them into the new Balancier caliber, reimagined for this new case style. The dial displays similar items to previous Balancier models, which feature hours, minutes, and seconds plus a power reserve indication. But the layout and the shapes of the structure make it so dramatically different.
The biggest structural change puts the balance and escapement on a plate 30 degrees from parallel with the movement along with the running seconds dial, making the movement appear as if it was hewn from stone instead of machined in a milling center. We’ll get back to the variety of new shapes in a moment, but I want to highlight the evolution that the new sport case offers with details found on many other of the brand’s models.
Most Greubel Forsey watches use the case middle as a canvas to feature an engraving with the brand’s philosophy. But with the Balancier S, the case band is now overmolded with rubber, matching the strap, so the brand philosophy has made its way onto the bezel and the case back instead. This may seem simple, but at least in the case of the bezel, the surface where the text is located is not only curved around the perimeter of a circle, but also chamfered from the flat front of the bezel and curved along an arc parallel to the winding stem.
Since it is most likely laser etched, it is necessary to use five-axis machining to precisely rotate the bezel through multiple axes of rotation to align the surface for etching. The case back is a single-ruled surface, but even though that etching is simpler, the need for a shaped and machined sapphire crystal becomes a necessity. When you know how things are made, it is small details like this that elevate the design choices of a watch like the Balancier S. The shapes throughout the watch continue to demonstrate this attention, so let’s dive in.
Adding complexity and keeping it simple
Heading back to the dial, the hour and minute hands are supported by a large bridge extending out from the edge of the dial, split in the center with gussets spanning between, which provide support for the time-setting portion of the keyless works. The bridge has an angled break in its slope, unlike the GMT model which has a smooth arc instead. This angle is important because the Balancier S departs from the GMT Sport aesthetic, which is more architecturally layered, while this watch uses strong angles as the defining feature.
You can see this in the relatively clean layout and how it relates to the case. Because the smooth arc from top to bottom dominates, the dial has a massive edge chamfer that drops away into the recesses of the case, meeting the hour and minute track along the edge, which slightly overhangs the dial assembly.
While the hands are subtly curved to follow the case curvature, that feature is overshadowed by the protruding mainspring barrel, which juts out from the flat surface and chamfered edge of the dial. That mainspring barrel is actually a double barrel mounted coaxially but delivers its power in series for a longer power reserve with a flatter torque curve.
These features only serve to enhance the main angle feature present, the 30 degree slice out of the dial where, flanked by the running seconds, the balance and escapement reside.
This dial plate is functionally a base plate for the balance wheel and escapement, and since the balance is a rather sizeable 12.7 mm in diameter it cannot go unnoticed. The balance bridge follows the aesthetic of past Greubel Forsey pieces in its basic architectural structure while also mirroring the new aesthetic of the GMT Sport and Balancier S models with the faux openworked machining.
All of these features flow together to create a very seamless design and, regardless of your opinion on this particular aesthetic direction, every part is finished to impeccable standards, the most traditional aspect of Greubel Forsey. The brand does not accept anything less than visual perfection in the finish of any surface and this goes for polished just as much as it goes for the satin-blasted surfaces. Moving around to the rear of the watch, the meticulous hand finishing is confirmed with the gorgeous movement bridges and exposed wheels.
While the very geometric design of the bridges is rather avant-garde, the satin finishing of the recessed portions, the gold chatons polished to perfection, and the flat polishing on all the raised details demonstrates the desire for unimaginable levels of finishing.
These details are also highlighted thanks again to that curved case and complex sapphire crystal. Since it curves away from the movement, the flat bridges are surrounded by the crystal in the center but fall away at the top and bottom, adding to the visual depth created by this case design. I love the play between curves and flat edges as it adds more angles to an already faceted design.
The aesthetic is deliberately bold and atypical – and 100 percent intended to upset your notions of normality. But the details of the watch live up to what you would expect of a sport watch. It has a case, dial, and movement made of titanium offering ultra-light wear despite the larger case shape, and 100 meters water resistance so you can now take your Greubel Forsey swimming off your yacht near the coast of Monaco.
While few are likely to take such a watch in the water, there is no reason you can’t, especially with the visually integrated rubber strap (which also bears the design philosophy of the brand).
But, really, the Balancier S is about doing what Greubel Forsey does best: making a fantastical watch that bucks tradition while embracing it just the same. Over my time writing, I have covered Greubel Forsey timepieces now at least ten times and I never get bored of the brand’s new timepieces because they represent much of what I love about watches: a commitment to design and the shape of watchmaking.
I think you will see with the Balancier S that the shapes are definitely intriguingly dynamic, competing as one of the best ever from Greubel Forsey to date.
Since I don’t think this watch can easily be damaged with all that titanium, how about I break it down in my breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 9.92 It’s hard not to have a nearly perfect score for a Greubel Forsey; the brand hits a homerun with pretty much every piece!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 101.11» 991.550m/s2 Breaking the 100 G mark, this watch has enough lust appeal to rocket you through countless nights drooling over the shapes before you!
- M.G.R. * 67.4 Whether it is the finishing, the pursuit of chronometry with the 30-degree balance and escapement, or simply the architecture that feels a mile deep, this is one fantastic movement!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Power reserves, gotta love ’em. The most important added function on a manual-wind watch (which is the heart and soul of Greubel Forsey) makes it recommended to use the children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream to manage the tiny amount of horological swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 11.6 Getting impaled by shards of tiny broken glass! It sounds both terrible and like a minor inconvenience but when replacing a broken phone screen, be careful of the tiny shards of tempered glass. They may be tiny, but they can cause some major hurt in your fingers for days if you aren’t careful. I’d only do it again with no gloves if I could get one of these Balancier S pieces on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Facets! For a company that is known for curves and smooth polishing, the hard facets of the Balancier S stunningly separate the brand once again and make me start looking at china patterns for the reception!
- Awesome Total * 1,042 First take the diameter of the case in millimeters (45) and multiply by the angle of the balance assembly in degrees (30), then subtract the number of components in the movement (308) and the result is one seriously multi-faceted awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.greubelforsey.com/en/collection/balancier-s-1.
Quick Facts Greubel Forsey Balancier S
Case: 45 x 13.75 mm, titanium with overmolded rubber
Movement: manual winding Balancier S caliber, 72 hours power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, twin fast-rotating spring barrels, variable inertia balance 12.6 mm in diameter, escapement inclined at 30-degree angle
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 18 pieces
Price: 195,000 Swiss francs
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