Michel Boulanger. Courtesy of Greubel Forsey.
LONDON - In the modern age of watchmaking, many traditional methods and techniques are slowly vanishing, and secrets that were passed on only by necessity are disappearing as the keepers pass away. Realising this, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, who, having worked together for various watchmaking companies developing complex watch mechanisms, launched Greubel Forsey in 2004. The complicated Haute Horlogerie timepieces created at their workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland are highly regarded and sought after by discerning collectors.
Greubel and Forsey were not the only people conscious of the disappearance of ancient watchmaking skills. The pair joined forces with Philippe Dufour, the renowned Swiss watchmaker from Vallée de Joux, creating Time aeon Foundation in 2006. Their project, entitled ‘Le Garde Temps – Naissance d’une Montre,’ was conceived over several months and seeks to impart all the ancestral knowledge and techniques onto one carefully selected apprentice, who would then create a complicated timepiece by hand. Once trained, the apprentice would then transfer the skills they have acquired to other young apprentices, therefore achieving the project’s two main objectives: preserving the skill and sharing it on a larger scale.
Phillipe Dufour and Michel Boulanger. Image courtesy of Greubel Forsey.
The project is currently well underway after Greubel, Forsey and Dufour selected their candidate in 2009, a French watchmaking teacher named Michel Boulanger. For the project he is required to use only antique tools, such as an uprighting tool, hand mandrel lathe, topping tool and milling machine, to create a timepiece by hand. Each month, he travels to La Chaux-de-Fonds or to the Vallée de Joux for further training from Greubel, Forsey and Dufour themselves.
To demonstrate the skills he has been developing, Boulanger, together with Dufour, recreated a traditional workshop at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, in Geneva in 2012. To ensure awareness of this continuous project, they have also created a blog, Le Garde Temps, which allows the public to follow their project in its entirety.
Most recently, the project was presented in its most advanced stage at SIHH in January 2014. While no one can be sure when the project will reach completion, Boulanger’s journey acquiring traditional skills and techniques, with the aide of Greubel, Forsey and Dufour, is a survey into the past and an effort to conserve the future of watchmaking.