Over its short but impressive 11-year history, watchmaker Greubel Forsey has sought to improve the performance of mechanical watches by “redefining the tourbillon,” as cofounder Stephen Forsey says, and its innovations on that 200-year-old escapement have garnered acclaim from collectors and critics. But it was largely feedback from the former, Forsey says, that led the company to create the Art Piece 1, a collaboration between Greubel Forsey and British artist Willard Wigan, whose sculptures can fit on the head of a pin and fetch upward of $125,000. To the naked eye, the Art Piece 1 looks like it has a speck of dust inside; when viewed through a magnifier at 9 o’clock on the crown, the speck reveals itself to be a Wigan sculpture—anything from a replica of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper to an intricate sailing ship.
“Greubel Forsey and I share the same language because we understand small things,” says Wigan, who received an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II in 2007. The artist began creating sculptures at age 5, when he started making furniture for ants using a razor and wood splinters. “My mother said the smaller my work, the bigger my name would become.” Over time Wigan learned to work on an infinitesimal scale with materials such as gold, precious stones and even hair—a skill that requires such steadiness, Wigan says, that he must sculpt between heartbeats to minimize mistakes.
“It requires a huge amount of skill, discipline and rigor—and perhaps a bit of folly,” Forsey says of Wigan’s work. “It’s a little bit like watchmaking.” For the Art Piece 1, Greubel Forsey was challenged with finding a way to incorporate Wigan’s sculptures into timepieces and make them visible. “We were told by an optics specialist that it was impossible to do,” Forsey recalls. “It took several years’ work, but eventually we found a way to do it.”
The watch uses the brand’s Double Tourbillon 30-degree escapement. And while it appears to lack a time display, pressing the pusher at 4 o’clock reveals a dial that tells time. The display, like the sculpture, can be customized with different colors, textures and finishes, and the customer can choose the metal for the case (seen here in white gold).