Hands-on: Greubel Forsey Balancier S2 Watch

Today, I experienced first-hand the latest in a new generation of ultra-high-end sports watches from fake Greubel Forsey. This is the Balancier S2 in a titanium case and I’ve been able to wear it on the strap and neat titanium bracelet. The purpose of this watch is, in a sense, an answer to the question: what brand can compare to Richard Mille? This has been a hot topic of debate among some members of the luxury watch industry. You see, Richard Mille was never the only million-dollar watch game in town, but it’s the story of a rare ultra-premium brand that consistently sells more watches than it produces. Everyone wants a piece of what Richard Mille wants, and companies like Greubel Forsey think they can offer something that really appeals to consumers – even if it’s a Richard Mille replacement (for now).

I sat in Dubai with Mr. Antonio Calce, the new CEO of Greubel Forsey, as he explained the new brand strategy. Greubel Forsey has already mastered its business with plans to increase production (we’re only talking about a few hundred more watches a year), but also a bigger marketing campaign considering the brand’s reputation has always been solid and cautious wave. Until recently, the Greubel Forsey I knew had never had a CEO other than its founders, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey. From what I understand, the company is largely independent with the exception of a small stake owned by Richemont, and the appointment of Mr Calce is a big step.

Greubel Forsey makes watches that are well-constructed, built to last, and of exceptional workmanship. In my experience, they are probably the best finished watches of any company that mass-produces timepieces. The Balancier S2 (actually “Balancier S 2” – but I don’t think most people know how to type the ‘squared’ 2 superscript) is closer to the brand’s entry-level price point, and Mr Calce made it clear, looking to the future. Products like the Balancier S2 hint at where they plan to go.

In 2019, Greubel Forsey debuted this special curved case on aBlogtoWatch at Dubai Watch Week in conjunction with GMT Sport. Two years later, Greubel Forsey has decided to unveil the new Balancier S2 at Dubai Watch Week 2021, and it’s great. The case is titanium and is probably the best part of the whole package. It’s 46.5mm wide, but don’t let the size fool you – it’s really comfortable to wear. The case and bezel have an interesting curvature that echoes the shape of the sapphire crystal. This interesting mix of shapes makes the watch extremely conservative in some angles and very edgy in others. Very few case designs I’ve come across do this.

Although the Balancier is arguably the simplest movement Greubel Forsey has ever produced, it is by no means boring. Actually quite the opposite, as its appeal lies in how the various elements of motion are rendered and shaped. The whole point of a Balancier watch movement is the tilted position of the balance wheel, similar to the 24-degree tilt of many of the brand’s tourbillons. I believe the idea is that they found this incline to be the ideal position in a watch to average out where it sits (since gravity affects performance in a slight way) while wearing it naturally on the wrist every day. The way the diagonally sloping balance is presented in the dial and movement is part of the fun, and the dial looks like it’s curved downwards, hence the visual chromatic aberration of the lower layers of the watch’s dial.

The hand-wound movement itself runs at 3Hz and has a power reserve of approximately 72 hours. It has a power reserve indicator next to the exposed mainspring barrel. Near the striking balance wheel assembly is a small but efficient auxiliary seconds dial. The overall design may be what Greubel Forsey considers futuristic. It won’t quite put them in a design museum, but the overall look is satisfying and a welcome point of view for anyone who’s been a replica Greubel Forsey fan for some time.

Will it impress newcomers to the Greubel Forsey brand? That’s a good question, and likely to achieve what the brand wants, it needs to combine a product design strategy with great and clever cultural penetration through an effective marketing campaign, like Richard Mille at least started doing as it was ten years ago now. For what it’s worth, I think the premium sports watch market is big enough for more than one brand to stand out in the upper echelon. There may be room in the world for multi-million dollar sports watch brands.

A matching titanium bracelet completes this new sports case look. The bracelet does look a bit like a Richard Mille bracelet and has been polished as you would expect from a Greubel Forsey. The deploying clasp is satisfying and has a fine-tuning system. That said, the mechanism is familiar, and in the future, I would like to see more original mechanisms in Greubel Forsey branded bracelets, because I think they can design something wild. (That, or they could hire Roland Iten to help.) As a limited edition, Greubel Forsey will only make 152 Balancier S2s in total. In case you haven’t noticed, they actually come in two different grey dial colours, light grey and dark grey.