The pursuit of timekeeping is tantamount to the pursuit of precision. They are inextricably linked: having a device to show the time is useless if it is not able to do so accurately. The mechanics of a watch movements result in inconsistent power transmission, and to this end, a number of methods have been developed to ensure time can be told without error: the chain and fusée, the tourbillon, and the remontoire d’égalité are prime examples. George Daniels—inventor of the co-axial escapement and perhaps the most highly regarded modern watchmaker—remarked that the remontoire is “by far the best method of smoothing the power supply.” As the mechanism is complex and expensive to make, watches featuring a remontoire are exceedingly uncommon, and the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire is even more extraordinary for its dial from Kari Voutilainen—only 188 of these bespoke dial 1941’s were offered, and they have all been sold.
More so than many watches, the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire has a proper story. The eponymous Tim and Bart Grönefeld didn’t stumble blindly into lives of watchmaking. Their father and his father before him were both watchmakers in the small Dutch town of Oldenzaal, where the brothers were raised and still live. It’s there that the brothers’ grandfather was charged with maintaining the clock in the Basilica of St. Plechelm, a massive machine including a 30-second remontoire employed to protect the delicate escapement from the force of the massive weights that drive the mechanism. After their grandfather passed, the duty was handed on to their father, Sjef Grönefeld. It is his birthyear that the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire celebrates with its name and the clock’s remontoire that it seeks to mimic with its mechanism.
Before we get to the handmade Kari Voutilainen dial, the case of the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire is a thing to behold. Handcrafted from a special steel alloy, this case does things that simply are not seen on more mass-produced CNC-made cases. The alloy is finished to a shine that seems to exceed that of other steels used in watchmaking, and the case is shaped with a specially shaped cutter to allow for hollow lugs, concave recesses, and a convex bezel. The contours are elegant and familiar, impressing in their exceptional execution. To wit: the shoulders of the lugs that are continued onto the bezel and the parallel grooves that run along the top and bottom of the caseband. At 39.5mm wide and just 10.5mm tall, this case needs no assistance in wearing well, but the gentle slope of the lugs— separate pieces attached to the case by interior screws—allow the watch to effectively hug the wrist.
The lugs hold a handsewn ostrich leather strap, which is customizable to match the bespoke dial; the strap features a branded tang clasp in matching steel. The dial is shielded by a domed sapphire crystal with extra-hard anti-reflective coating on both sides, while the caseback features a flat sapphire crystal with the same coating. It’s a curious choice to apply anti-reflective coating to a caseback crystal, but perhaps Grönefeld has confidence that buyers will be ogling and showing off the movement as much as the dial. Completing the case, a pullout cone crown is emblazoned with Grönefeld’s “Horological Brothers” logo. Along with the screwed caseback, the crown ensures 30m of water resistance.
Kari Voutilainen is undoubtedly the preeminent dial manufacture in the world. And this dial is proof of that. While the bespoke dials offered as part of the 188-piece 1941 Grönefeld Remontoire collection were limited only by the buyer’s imagination, this example is one of the more conservative executions. A slight minute track traces the periphery, surrounding an hour track which features a hand-guilloche pattern in a deep grey. The center of the dial is sunken and features satin grain in a lighter, silvery grey, and the Grönefeld nameplate. A stepped small seconds dial is surrounded by an engraved ring proclaiming the eight-second remontoire and the handcrafted nature of the timepiece. At 9 o’clock, the remontoire mechanism is visible through a dial aperture, secured by a visible bridge that rather ingeniously doubles as the 9 o’clock hour marker. The lancette hour and minute hands are rendered in blued steel and extend perfectly to inner edges of the hour markers and chapter ring, respectively. Due to the remontoire’s eight-second interval, the minute hand advances eight-sixtieths of a second with each discharge, adding to the dial-side bravado.
Some have accused the hand-wound Grönefeld caliber G-05 of being too busy, which is a very peculiar way of acknowledging its complexity. Developed in collaboration with watchmaker Andreas Strehler, the 258-component movement is busy. The depth of the bridges and their pronounced edges and high-relief text add dimensions not typically seen and can at a glance give the impression of clutter. Consider this though: the bridges are fashioned by hand out of steel, which is more difficult to machine and finish, but yields a bold and dramatic aesthetic that is hard to achieve with other metals. Made to resemble the bell gable roofs of Dutch houses, the bridges require more than 25 steps and 6-10 hours each. The result is magnificently frosted surfaces, polished edges, and mirror-polished screws; it’s an endeavor that speaks to the Grönefelds’ commitment to maintaining the pinnacle of watchmaking. Adding to the busyness is double-spoked wheels, oversized screws and jewels, an engraved mainspring barrel, and a slew of finishes including snailing, graining, and spotting. By all means call it busy, but in this case, busy is beautiful.
Located (and labeled) at 5 o’clock, the 8-second remontoire has a gearing mechanism with hypocycloidal gears, twin ball bearings, pinions, and jeweled levers. As explained by Hooke’s law, when the mainspring is fully wound, it has high torque, and when depleted, low torque; this results in the power being transmitted at a variable rate throughout the power reserve. Positioned along the main gear train, the remontoire ensures impeccable isochronism by taking up the power delivered by the mainspring and delivering it on to the escapement at a constant rate and force, theoretically eliminating the problematic variability.
If the beautiful finishing and remontoire weren’t enough, the caliber G-05 features variable-inertia balance wheel with 4 white gold timing screws, a free sprung balance with a Phillips terminal over coil, and a triangular hairspring stud. The 36-jeweled movement beats at 21,600 vph, has a power reserve of 35 hours, and features hacking for precise time setting.
Versus the Competition
The only true comparable offerings come from other independent brands, namely F. P. Journe, but perhaps including the likes of Romain Gauthier. Journe introduced the remontoire to wristwatches with his first timepiece, the Tourbillon Souverain. These are exceedingly rare now, but any Journe piece is part of the same story and features the same stunning craftsmanship. Gauthier, on the other hand, has incorporated an alternative constant force mechanism, the chain and fusée, into his Logic One; as an alternative, the Insight Micro-Rotor offers exceptional craftsmanship and a bit more edge than the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire. In any case, finding a contemporary timepiece to the Grönefeld is facilitated by the limited number of watchmakers implementing complex timekeeping complications like the remontoire. It’s finding one that is available that will be the challenge.
The Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire is a watch for those who like the very best of things and accept no substitutes. The visible remontoire is as much a reminder of the Grönefelds’ prowess as it is a circumspect dash of flair to the well-educated eye; the game here is subtle sophistication. Those with a penchant for Charvet or Chateau Lafite will be well at home with the 1941 on their wrist.
There are few watches in haute horlogerie that not only provide the owner with something truly exquisite, but also provide an engaging backstory, much less a story filled with old clocks in old towns maintained by the forebears of two of the finest watchmakers of our time. The Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire has all that and adds a twist with a handmade dial from the world’s foremost dial artisans.