Why are luxury watches so expensive? Nearly every piece of them is built on a factory assembly line, the same way as any watch behind the Macy’s counter.
This story originally appeared in Volume 12 of Road & Track.
We have to look well beyond “luxury” and ascend to the world of high horology to find a tangible source of value. Consider Greubel Forsey, a specialist in the art of finishing—the intricate decoration of a movement’s many parts. Finishing is surplus to a watch’s intended purpose of keeping time. It’s art for art’s sake. Sure, machines do a great job beveling the edge of a movement’s bridge or laying glistening striations across a winding rotor. But Greubel Forsey’s watchmakers do all of that by hand, carving intricate patterns with more depth than a machine could mill. The discipline, which takes a lifetime to master, costs a fortune in hours. To give you an idea, Greubel Forsey produces something like 200 watches per year. It has only 120 employees.
The watchmaker’s work is so delicate and precise, it requires a loupe to appreciate fully. Whatever imperfections magnification reveals only illustrate the humanity in the process. A Greubel Forsey is less an object for catching your Zoom meeting on time and more an endowment of the arts, so that we may protect the sacred corners of watchmaking from the machines forevermore.
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