The Grey Tulip Diamond belongs to the Shades of Grey family from independent watchmaker Grieb & Benzinger. It’s a skeleton watch with a manually wound movement, and we recently had the opportunity to put a fully functioning sample through its paces.
Luxury has always been about exclusivity, and while actual exclusivity has dwindled in recent times, top tier watch brands still drum on about it, in an effort to elevate their cachet. This fits with the desires of well-to-do individuals, who are able to indulge in high-end watches, and want something uncommon, something that they hope they will never see on another person’s wrist. In most cases, the road leads to brands like A. Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe, who produce about 9,000 and 40,000 watches per year.
For those who find those numbers unappealing or the watches too sedate, the next port of call is independent brands such as F.P. Journe, and H. Moser & Cie. These brands produce approximately 900, and 1,500 watches per year respectively. Those are exclusive numbers but Grieb & Benzinger plays on a different level entirely.
As we mentioned in an earlier story (click here to read that story), Grieb & Benzinger doesn’t actually have a consistent yearly production run, does not have partners who sell their watches, and is a brand that many individuals haven’t heard of – even if they are fairly in-the-know watch people. This is the sort of exclusivity that holds serious sway, and the German brand goes a step further by offering customisations to meet a client’s every demand.
If you’re asking ‘But, how do I buy one if they have no partners where I live?’, that’s perhaps the best part – Grieb & Benzinger offers personal appointments (you can kickoff the process via their website), and CEO Georg Bartkowiak maintains direct contact with clients around the globe.
As we mentioned earlier, the Grey Tulip that we have for review is a fully functioning sample. So, while a Grey Tulip Diamond destined for a customer’s wrist will have a 18K palladium-white-gold case, and 77 brilliant-cut diamonds (total weight of 2.55ct) set into its bezel and lugs, our sample features a steel case and stones that appear as diamonds.
Like most of Grieb & Benzinger watches, the Grey Tulip is based on a heavily reworked pocket watch movement, that would have originally been built in the 1960s. The manually wound movement is restored to full working order, before the artisans at the manufacture set about transforming it.
Unlike other skeleton watches that are produced with the aid of modern CNC machines, the Grieb & Benzinger artisans accomplish the complete skeletonisation, guilloche finish and engraving by hand. When we say by hand, even the guilloche machine is hand driven, rather than powered by electricity. The brand says the Grey Tulip is the only skeleton watch in the world to be produced by hand. The end result, as you can see from the pictures, is incredible. You can take a look behind the scenes at the independent watchmaker’s manufacture by clicking here.
As the watch features a somewhat thick skeleton movement, there is good deal of depth to enjoy. Under a loupe you can fully appreciate the many intricate details, and we love the fact that there’s almost no visible base plate or bridges. In case you’re wondering, the base plate’s guilloche pattern is achieved by hand.
The movement presents as one self-supporting skeleton arrangement and, when viewed from either the top or the bottom, you can see an elegant floral pattern. The company has skeletonised the crown and ratchet wheel, and has even, cleverly, skeletonised the settings lever jumper, using its initials (the G&B at the four o’clock position).
The other great thing about skeleton watches is that they are so engaging to look at – we’ll never tire of being able to marvel at the watch’s going train without any obstructions. A nice bonus is that this is a hacking movement, so when you pull out the crown, the second’s hand stops moving – great for setting the time accurately (and a god-send for taking pictures when the watch is wound).
When fully wound, the movement’s power reserve is estimated to be between 42- and 44-hours. We wound up our sample late on a Thursday night, and found it had stopped by mid-Saturday evening. A longer power reserve is always appreciated but given that this is a time-only watch, you can quickly set the time, wind it up, and be ready to go in under 30 seconds.
Grieb & Benzinger say they prefer to use pocket watch movements because they offer a lot of torque, which ensures that the watch functions properly for years. The brand doesn’t believe in pre-defined two-year service intervals, in contrast to what most established brands suggest. The independent brand’s advice is to simply enjoy the timepiece for as long as it is functioning properly.
The company offers two years of warranty on its watches but also says that if a defect is found to have been caused during the production, it will take care of the issue even if the timepiece is out of the official warranty period.
We find Grieb & Benzinger’s approach to service and warranty a refreshing departure from the norm. Most brands will urge you to service their watches at pre-defined intervals, and the costs are easily in the four figure dollar range, if it is a mid- to high-end watch that is running poorly, or the piece has a number of complications. The fact that the brand says to bring a watch in only if it begins misbehaving, should also give you an idea of how much faith they have in the robustness of their heavily re-engineered movements.
Wearing the Grey Tulip
The Grey Tulip is a chunky watch with a 43mm case, and it feels its size on the wrist. The underside of the case is flat but overall, it is a comfortable watch to wear. This is largely thanks to the grey alligator strap, it is soft and supple, and when wrapped around the wrist, it looks great too. The strap is made from Louisiana Alligator leather, Grieb & Benzinger sources it from a specialised supplier.
We wore the watch continuously for a full working day, and continued to wear it after hours when we went out to meet friends. To observers, the size was irrelevant – our friends only commented on the beauty of the skeleton dial. As you’d expect with a watch like this, we had several requests to ‘see it’, and received many a ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ for our efforts.
The other great thing about the Grey Tulip is its ability to fly under the radar when you want it to. You see, although it packs a skeleton dial, and gemset bezel and lugs, its predominantly grey appearance does offer a degree of anonymity when paired with a long sleeve shirt or sweater. In contrast, rose-and yellow-gold watches and pieces that are black tend to get noticed quickly.
As a matter of fact, the Grey Tulip came into being at the request of one of Grieb & Benzinger’s clients. The person had seen the company’s Black Tulip and was completely in love, however he wanted an identical but less ostentatious watch that didn’t scream about its true value. His reasoning was this would allow him to wear the skeleton watch anywhere, and at anytime.
The watch face
With or without a loupe, admiring the face of the watch is a treat. There is, however, a bit of a learning curve when it comes to telling the time. There are no hour indexes or a minute track, and although this Grieb & Benzinger watch features a sweeping seconds counter at the six o’clock position, there are no markings to show the passage of time here either.
That said, if you are used to staring at analog watch dials, you will automatically work-out the time in your head based on where the hands are – it took us a couple of hours. You’ll never be able to get super accurate in terms of minutes and seconds, as you can imagine, but there are other watches and devices, if you care about measuring time precisely. The Grey Tulip is more a work of art that can attract attention at the drop of a dime, if you really want it to.
A chunk of the credit in terms of legibility has to go to the Grey Tulip’s black-rhodium hour and minute hands. Grieb & Benzinger has used poire corps renflé hands, which were common on classic marine chronometres from brands such as Ulysse Nardin. The hands are easily distinguishable from each other, so there’ll be no mixing up the hours and minutes. The only challenge is that the Grey Tulip lacks lume, so you won’t be able to spot the hands when there’s insufficient light.
To buy or not to buy…
The watch, as you see it here, with an 18K white-gold case and 77 brilliant-cut diamonds retails for approximately US $58,000. If you fancy the palladium white-gold case but don’t want the gem-set bezel and lugs, the watch can be had for about US $46,500. If, however, gold isn’t the metal for you, you can have the Grey Tulip with a platinum case, without diamonds, for US $72,800.
That’s a fair bit of money and while money is no object to the people who can indulge at this lofty level, there is another factor to consider. The reason a lot of enthusiasts and collectors opt for certain Swiss brands is because if there’s a need to trim down their collection, it’s almost a certainty that they’ll get a good deal of their cash back. This isn’t the case with a lot of established brands (we’re talking about new watches), as well as independent brands.
Having said that, we’d wholeheartedly recommend buying the Grieb & Benzinger Grey Tulip Diamond. With an independent brand the experience of buying the timepiece you want is far richer, and at the same time, you become one of a select few to have one of their watches. Independent brands also push the envelope in terms of innovation and engineering, and have free reign to create incredible pieces, without being overburdened by commercial viability, and profit margins etc. Case in point – the Grey Tulip is unlike any other skeleton watch we’ve seen to date.
To learn more about Grieb & Benzinger and its watches, click here.
Our thanks to Sandra and Sara at Schneider PR for providing HME with the Grey Tulip for review.