Anyone who has crossed paths with Franco Cologni these past… 45 years will immediately have seen how passion can drive a man. As a scholar of literature and philosophy, he began his professional life teaching history of theatre at the Catholic University of Milan - when he wasn't putting pen to paper as a journalist, essayist and author of specialist tomes. Nothing could have been further from his mind than a life devoted to watchmaking and its foremost proponents. And yet the distinguished academic career to which he was undoubtedly destined took a different, considerably more lucrative and no less prestigious turn as a company director. In 1969 Franco Cologni founded Tobako International in Milan, a manufacturer and distributor of luxury products that included the famous Cartier lighter, the first in its Must collection. From this initial contact, he would become a lynchpin of the brand whose success was also his own.
Indeed, Franco Cologni rose through the ranks of the Parisian firm. He was appointed chief executive of Cartier International in 1980, then vice chairman and ultimately chairman in 2000. With Cartier fully incorporated into Richemont as of 1999, it was here, as an executive director of the world's second-largest luxury group, that Franco Cologni would employ his talents to build Richemont's Specialist Watchmakers division – which now holds a portfolio of some of the most prominent names in this remarkable profession. With that same ingrained passion, Franco Cologni continued to serve on the Richemont board until 2007, having set up the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie two years earlier to promote the values of Fine Watchmaking. This determination to perpetuate techniques and expertise is also evidenced in the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte as well as in the Creative Academy, which teaches creative design and management. To venture a comparison with his very first passion, if Fine Watchmaking is a stage, Franco Cologni is one of its greatest players.
Admirers of superlative timepieces will invariably associate the contemporary tourbillon with a single name; a company that has taken this complication, patented in 1801 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, to its furthest limits and beyond. That name is, of course, Greubel Forsey, established in 2004 and successor to CompliTime, a structure set up three years earlier to make complicated movements for the sector's most prestigious brands. For Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, both ex-Renaud & Papi, while watchmaking can never be dissociated from its primary function, it can only ever be considered from a scientific perspective which, in the case of Greubel Forsey, generally implies fundamental research into how complications can further refine the measurement of time.
Building on this mission to improve the performance of mechanical watches, Greubel Forsey turned its full attention to the tourbillon. As Stephen Forsey once declared, "while there are many other fields open to invention, the tourbillon is one of the most prestigious and most fascinating complications". Understandably then, the tourbillon became the centrepiece of the brand's first watches, starting with the Double Tourbillon 30° (Fundamental Invention 2004), the Quadruple Tourbillon (Fundamental Invention 2005) and the Tourbillon 24 Secondes (Fundamental Invention 2006). Who would dare say the tourbillon belongs to a bygone age with mechanisms such as this to prove the contrary? Particularly as Greubel Forsey conceives each movement as a piece of architecture of which the tourbillon is an integral part, culminating in the almost obsessive care that goes into the finishing of each component.
These same characteristics are found in each of the company's explorations of the major horological complications, such as its Quantième Perpétuel à Équation, Grande Sonnerie or GMT Earth. For all these reasons, Greubel Forsey - and the one hundred or so timepieces it makes each year - has come to represent one of the most exclusive, most accomplished signatures in time measurement.
Photos © Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie