You might expect that a watch that costs a small fortune — $815,000, to be exact — would have a precious jewel or two encrusted in its gold casing. But in the case of this particular watch, the Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon, monetary value extends far beyond anything as pedestrian as diamonds.
As the signature watch of Greubel Forsey, an exclusive Swiss watchmaker, it happens to be one of the rarest current-production timepieces. Only five or six Quadruple Tourbillons are produced each year, but that doesn’t begin to explain the value of the piece to watch geeks. According to The New York Times, the reason the watch is so expensive is due partly to its feats of engineering.
Basically, the watchmakers over at Greubel Forsey were able to fit four tourbillons into a single watch. What’s a tourbillon, you ask? It’s a tiny rotating mechanical cage, placed only in super fancy timepieces, which works against gravity to deliver better time.
Putting four of those into one watch is unheard of. But the gain is signficant to those who care about these things: the accuracy of the machine improves, from the typical 10 seconds in time a plebeian $400 watch may vary over the course of a day, to less than 2.5 seconds over the course of a day.
It’s not just the engineering that’s expensive, it’s the skill and time required to physically execute the design. The Quadruple Tourbillon is made of 534 parts — the smallest of which measures just 0.35 of a millimeter thick. And lot of these components are finished, painstakinly, by hand. This takes a full year’s worth of man-hours to achieve.
“If you look at the piece one foot away, without any magnifying glass, then you would not be able to discern the level of hand finish versus a machine-made watch,” Greubel Forsey co-founder Stephen Forsey says. “Even a specialist would have difficulty.”
“But as soon as you’re closer than that, then the whole thing changes,” he added. “You can imagine a fine oil painting, some of the best realism paintings there are. Initially you might think it’s a photograph, but as you get closer you will see the texture, the skill of the expert.”
While the several ounces of gold and black alligator strap required to make the watch don’t come cheap, the price really comes down to the engineering and the rare, skilled labor it requires.