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In 2015 — after a long wait— the first prototype of a joint project by renowned master watchmakers Stephen Forsey, Robert Greubel and Philippe Dufour was released at Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, SIHH. Le Garde Temps is a magnificent timepiece that epitomizes the perfection of manual construction. This limited edition of 11 copies leaves—without a doubt—an unprecedented legacy for the global watch industry.
In 2007, the three watchmaking giants agreed that with the new technological advances and the automation of production processes, some valuable expertise—traditionally passed down from generation to generation—was being lost or neglected.To protect this important component of the cultural fabric of the industry, Forsey, Greubel and Dufour decided to take on an impactful research project. They would choose a person—with the necessary talent, understanding and passion for the job— to oversee the construction of a handmade timepiece, following strict artisanal techniques that have been jealously guarded for decades.
They selected Michel Boulanger, a watchmaker and teacher at Paris’ Diderot Technical Institute. Boulanger was to build the watch by hand and, at the same time, document the whole process to preserve the cultural legacy the promoters of the project required.
“His desire to learn and pass on the traditional techniques of hand-made watches made him the ideal candidate. His experience in restoring antique pieces and commitment to preserving the watchmaking heritage were the reasons that led us to appoint him for this adventure,” explained Robert Greubel.
Finally, in 2009, the project called Le Garde Temps: Naissance d’Une Montre began to take shape. Boulanger traveled to Switzerland once a month to receive the advice and teachings of the three masters and a group of professionals from the prestigious firm Greubel Forsey.
Boulanger and his team were creating a—relatively simple winding watch. It had to feature three needles to indicate the hours, minutes and seconds; a classic 2.5 Hertz mechanism with 18,800 oscillations per hour; and a visible tourbillon. The research took several years until–in 2012–they initiated the construction of the prototype, which was completed in time for its presentation at the 2105 SIHH.
Aesthetically, the body of the watch—45 mm in diameter and 15.1 mm thick—is a perfect circle. It displays two dials in the front, one larger in the position of 2 o’clock, which shows the hours and minutes; and a smaller at 9 o’clock, with a needle that marks the seconds. But the protagonist of this splendid timepiece is the exposed tourbillon. The simplicity of the design reveals significant aspects of the running mechanism and highlight the value of hand-made creations in Haute Horlogerie.
The units of this jewel—made of white gold—are available for purchase since the end of 2016 with a price of US$ 417,000. Funds from the sale of these select collector’s pieces are used to sponsor the project’s future initiatives and to continue transmitting the priceless legacy of fine watchmaking. ■