may 2017
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march 2017

Stephen Forsey, co-founder of Greubel-Forsey

Cut and Thrust

You’ve been working together since 2006. Do you still get the same buzz? 

 
Laurent Picciotto:
Yes! With Greubel Forsey, there’s this real sense of maturity now. Although in fact from the outset, one of their main characteristics has been their extraordinary knowledge of their trade. They were anything but beginners.
 

Since then, though, others have reached the same level…

 
Laurent Picciotto:
No way! Every once in a while, perhaps. And I’m not sure even that’s true. On the whole, today, nobody can reach so high, so often.
 

Yes, that’s exactly what people sometimes have against the brand: it’s sublime – so much so that it takes quite a bit of explanation before you grasp what’s going on.

 
Laurent Picciotto:
That’s true. And that’s something that hasn’t changed, either. Saying “It’s a tourbillon,” doesn’t even scratch the surface. Even their most simple tourbillon is radically different from anything else that’s ever been done before. Of course this can be explained, but most importantly, it’s clearly visible – it doesn’t take a very discerning watch-lover to realise at first glance that they’re looking at something quite out of the ordinary.
 

Out of the ordinary – just like Chronopassion!

 
Stephen Forsey:
And that’s an understatement! (laughter). In 2006, we made just 25 timepieces. We couldn’t just leave them any old place and wait and see what would happen.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
That’s just as well! I’m not used to getting watches of that standard and then simply waiting for customers to wander by, either! (shared laughter).
 
Stephen Forsey:
In fact, we were looking for a partner rather than a retailer. Someone who understands and appreciates things more quickly. Laurent could hope to sell one of our pieces per year, at the very most. So we needed a partner with a really long-term vision.
 

Vision is one thing, the range another. At Chronopassion, it’s not easy to know just where a Greubel Forsey belongs in terms of range.

 
Stephen Forsey:
Indeed. To begin with, we were actually a bit bothered to see our timepiece on display in a shop window! (smiles knowingly at Laurent Picciotto). That made it appear accessible, almost off-the-shelf. But we really needed someone to invest and bring customers in to the Manufacture; in short, an ambassador. So we decided we could live with the window display aspect!
 
Laurent Picciotto:
I don’t personally have a problem with displaying things.
 
Stephen Forsey:
We’ve noticed! (laughter).
 
Laurent Picciotto:
(more seriously) What I mean, Stephen, is that an item can be enhanced or look less attractive, all depending on just how it’s presented. If you display it within a whole decor, the latter serves to attract attention to it. If you leave it in the safe, it gets bored. The little ritual of a valet going to get a timepiece out of the safe and carrying it on a tray to the customer just isn’t our way of doing things. If I had fifty Formula 1 cars, I’d put all fifty in my window display!
 
Stephen Forsey:
With this large display, in which each watch has its own space, you’ve found a good compromise.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
Thank you!
 
Stephen Forsey: All the same, I think presenting our first timepiece beneath a bit of clingfilm was a little over the top!
 
Laurent Picciotto:
Maybe… but I like thinking outside the box. I needed an unconventional way of presenting an outstanding timepiece.
 

Putting 50 F1 cars in a showcase would be a bit tacky, wouldn’t it? Isn’t Greubel Forsey’s price positioning a bit of a problem in that respect? 

 
Laurent Picciotto:
No, we’ve sold both more expensive and less expensive items. There’s no problem there. It’s no good trying to make comparisons. The price is high, the level equally so.
 

Hasn’t Greubel Forsey been affected by the crisis? 

 
Stephen Forsey:
No, we’re doing fine, thank you!
 
Laurent Picciotto:
For retailers, things are different. You can’t make a year’s or a decade’s worth of economic climate disappear with a wave of a magic wand.
 

Do you mean there have been some lean years? 

 
Laurent Picciotto:
There’s no doubt about it. There have been difficult periods, and years with no sales at all. That’s the way things are. It’s up to me to deal with that. But it takes two to tango, and that’s where the word ‘partnership’, in the sense of the one that I have with Greubel Forsey, comes into its own.
 

What do you mean? 

 
Stephen Forsey:
When there’s a crisis, we go through it together. That’s all.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
And that’s rare enough in our industry to be worth pointing out!
 

We’re nearly at the end of our joint interview. Next year will mark your seventh year working together. There’s said to be such a thing as the seven-year itch… What will you be doing to get through this period? 

 
Stephen Forsey:
It’s true that you can’t live on goodwill alone! (laughter). More seriously, we need Laurent to educate people.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
Personally, with Greubel Forsey, I would like to see a ‘simple’ très haute horlogerie timepiece: one that is clearly destined for informed collectors, but which they can also wear on their travels – and that would place the dream within reach of other customers…
 
Stephen Forsey:
Why? To win market share? I’m having none of it!
 

You see, you’re already starting to have arguments…

 
Stephen Forsey:
(shared laughter): The seven-year itch indeed! More seriously, we wouldn’t be able to maintain our self-imposed level of craftsmanship if we were to go down that road. We’re already at our limit making one hundred watches a year. There’s also the fact that our customers enjoy a certain degree of discretion -  it wouldn’t be compatible with that.
 

Discretion? With a watch that’s just won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève? That’s going to be a bit difficult, isn’t it?

 
Laurent Picciotto:
Not at all. Customers who already have a Greubel Forsey see their appraisal and purchase being confirmed by the leading lights of the industry. Those who haven’t got one yet will invariably take a look. That’s very encouraging, both for customers and for the brand.
 
Journalist : Olivier Müller (11/2012)