Greubel Forsey, a luxury watch brand, was launched in 2004 as a unique addition to the rich heritage of Swiss watchmaking. It has now become one of the most reputed brands worldwide, known for its expert craftsmanship and hand-made timepieces. The watchmaking company was co-founded by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, who collaborated to introduce exclusive high-end and traditionally crafted watches into the luxury segment of the market.

Stephen Forsey, who was on his maiden visit to India earlier this month, spoke to Guardian 20 about the brand and its recent foray into the Indian market. “For Greubel Forsey,” he said, “it’s the exclusivity that comes from the amount of hand-craftsmanship in each piece. In a year we can make between 100 and 110 watches only. Hence, we call them timepieces rather than watches, as watches imply industrial production. Our way is very individual and artisanal. For us, it’s a big production if we can make two at the same time. So, we are very much focused on our craftsmanship and individual approach.”

What is it that watch connoisseurs and Greubel Forsey’s clientele appreciate most about the brand? According to Stephen Forsey: “For the collector, what’s important is the design, which can be called more of a creation. When we’re working with our team, Mr Greubel oversees the final design, but we work together on the idea, the mechanism of the watch, its architecture or construction. So, we start from there and what sets Greubel Forsey apart is the fact that there is a style in each timepiece and they all belong to one family, which the collector will see.”

Since his childhood Forsey has been interested in mechanics. That passion steered him towards working in the watch industry. He says, “My interest was anything mechanical when I was a child. So cars, planes, trains—all these things. My grandfather was an engineer, aviation and automobile, and my father was passionate about the intricacies of mechanics. So I grew up with mechanical objects around me. Then the discovery of watchmaking was this idea of trying to harness something which is invisible, but which we can feel: time. So we try as watch makers to capture time and to follow time. But also, as one discovers with a complex watch, there is an additional mechanism there as well. So, it does other functions. This is when the whole world sort of opens up and there are many different possibilities for us to work upon.”

On how Greubel Forsey came into existence, he said, “Robert Greubel was developing a watch company and I had been working with antique pieces in London. I’d been to Switzerland to study further. I had a meeting with Mr Greubel and he offered me a job because my skill with antique mechanisms was valuable. They had very few people coming from the watchmaking school during that time, i.e. the early ’90s. There were few watchmakers who knew about these complex mechanisms. So we thought that we could help the industry to develop these techniques.”

Stephen Forsey, co-founder, Greubel Forsey.

About their partnership, he further explained, “At the end of the ’90s, we started thinking about what we could be doing, right into the year 2000. Has everything been already invented in watchmaking? So there was this curiosity, this desire to improve and innovate. In the industry, some of the elements of antique watchmaking craft were missing. There was room for innovation and there was definitely room for a level of excellence that the industrial watches could not deliver.”

The global watch industry has gone through significant changes in the past. As Forsey said, “If we look into the 20th century, the wrist watch came and there was a demand for cheaper and bigger production processes. That was a kind of challenge because there came a point where you had to make the watch cheap enough, cheaper than your competitor, to get a bigger market share. In order to achieve that, you started to cut away the basic function of the watch and destroyed the overall quality. Thus, the electronic watch crisis came along, which almost destroyed the watch industry. But in a way it was saved by the magic of the mechanical watch. It’s like a beating heart… You give it life by winding it, and then putting in a battery. So it’s like a living organism. And then there is a unique mixture of art and culture in every timepiece.”

If Greubel Forsey watches are traditionally made, they are also technologically up to date. Forsey said, “We use modern technology to get reliability. We use technology for the machine and the component, then we add hand finishing. That is a very important added value for us. Technology helps us to innovate and develop.”

Design is the USP of this brand. “With our decades-long experience,” Forseys said, “we have developed an understanding of the traditional aspect of watchmaking, which we need to respect. We want to make it live. We want to perpetuate and transmit it to the future. So these are the guidelines for us. This is the ring-fenced area, and then we can play with that in terms of contemporary approach—sometimes with technology, sometimes with the material.”

As for the challenges involved in the watchmaking process, Forsey said, “It’s so frustrating… Everything takes so much time. A lot of time is spent in developing and perfecting things. Then there are two major areas, one is the space available and then there is energy. It’s a question of how we make the best use of both.”

The brand is now expanding to India, which is already home to serious Greubel Forsey collectors. “We’re not looking to grow in terms of volume, because we can only do that if we can increase our expertise and the skills of our team in Switzerland. We come to a new country because we meet new collectors. So they approach us through their local partners and we start to build a relationship. When a collector invests in our timepieces, they give us the oxygen to continue. For us, it’s important to have a local specialist who knows how to take care of a timepiece. If that service is good, then there’s a chance for other collectors or perhaps even for the same one to acquire more Greubel Forsey pieces. Ordering on the Internet is a very cold experience. We intend to provide a very warm, passionate, emotional experience and adventure to our collectors.”

But what about financial viability? Is the brand likely to get new buyers in India? He said, “We feel the market potential is very good because historically, India has had a strong cultural continuity. There hasn’t been a rupture in India as perhaps there has been in China. In India, you have a rich culture, which is an excellent foundation upon which we can build. So we are very positive, but it takes time. It’s not an impulse decision to acquire such a watch. It’s a whole process and we help the collector to develop that passion.”