music to the ears
“You can work 11 years on a chiming watch," says Greubel Forsey co-founder Stephen Forsey, “and if those 20 seconds of listening to the strike aren’t good, then you’ve missed the target." Fortunately, the authoritative chime of the Swiss brand’s newly released Grande Sonnerie is proof that its 11-year development — by far the longest period the notoriously meticulous company has devoted to a watch — was not in vain.
Forsey and his co-creator, Robert Greubel, have fit 935 components, tourbillon escapement included, into one of the brand’s Asymmetrique cases. The cases are in titanium for effective sound propagation. The rich, regular, and highly audible sound is all the more impressive because it is the product not of splashy sound engineering, as is the case with many new acoustic watches, but of careful design, adjustment, and traditional tuning.
Like many watches of this type, the Grande Sonnerie will be limited to four or five examples each year. It can switch from grande sonnerie mode, with passing hours and quarters chimed, to petite sonnerie, in which just the hours are sounded. A silent mode and a separate, on-demand minute-repeater function also are included. A barrel-spring system wound by an automatic rotor powers the chiming function. Eleven different safety systems protect the movement’s delicate parts from accidental damage.
The brand devoted considerable attention to the strike mechanism. The cathedral gongs are milled from a single piece of hardened steel together with their base. The hammers, visible through the dial, hit these gongs with considerable force. This generates a volume that overcomes the dampening effect of waterproofing rubber gaskets. “We could have made a traditional piece that would have been US$700,000 (S$952,000), but it would have been the same as others," says Forsey. “What we have tried to do is to make an irresistible grande sonnerie."