One of the great perks that comes with writing about watches is meeting the people and creative forces behind them. At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH), like at Baselworld, in addition to the big established brands, you can find the Carré des Horlogers which is a relatively small but busy area of the Salon where the independents get a chance to present their latest designs and models for the year.
Like I did at Baselworld, I booked time with the horological brothers, Tim and Bart Grönefeld, who this time had a new trick up their sleeves with the recently announced Grönefeld Principia automatic watch. A first for the small Dutch independent brand. Let’s dive into why this might be in my view one of the best dress watch to come out in recent memories. Let’s take a closer look.
At Baselwold in 2018 I reviewed the brothers 1941 Remontroire bespoke versions. A customizable dream watch with a serious horological movement offering a complication that enables it with exceptional accuracy. And the best part is the finishing and engineering of the movement. The Remontroire is as beautiful on its top side as it is on the back. The watch world noticed since the Remontroire went on to win five industry awards including the best men’s watch at the 2016 Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève award.
What could the brothers do for an encore? Well, they decided to go down market with a more affordable watch, keeping the same dimensions as the Remontroire d’Égalité (39.5 mm wide and 10.5 mm high) but instead of the constant force movement offer the brand’s first automatic movement. The dial reminds us of the classic design of the previous 1941 but, of course, does away with the 8 seconds constant force window at 9 o’clock.
The Principia comes in four color variations for the dial. There is the classic salmon version that is so associated with the brand. But there are also the light blue cream lacquer dial model which is sublime as is the turquoise version. Each providing enough pop to give uniqueness to the watch but subdued enough to remind that this is a serious horological machine done by hand.
There are also two variations of the hour markers, a classic baton layout as well as a Roman numerals version. They each work well depending on the color of the dial you chose and the chapter ring index choice to complement the dial. Finally there are a variety of strap options from alligator, buffalo, to more exotic leathers.
Named Principia as a nod to the magnum opus (Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica) of Sir Issac Newton, whose contribution to our understanding of gravity and the physical world makes this and other self-winding movements possible. The Grönefeld Principia’s movement kept all of the finishing you would expect from the brand’s already legendary hand finishing three dimensional engine that includes hand beveling, circular graining, black polish, blued screws, and gold chatons.
The results, like for other Grönefeld watches is simply a marvel to look at and admire. After all, this is what you expect with the hand finishing attention provided and differentiating independent brands. There are no corners cut and time and attention to details by a human watchmaker are the things that you get.
Necessarily providing an oscillating mass, that while obscuring the movement at times, is itself a thing of beauty. Done in 22 karat solid gold and completely fished by hand, the rotating mass shows the logo representing the two brothers; and will wind the movement with a full day of autonomy with just over 600 revolution of the mass around the ceramic ball bearing center.
Manual winding or fully winding the watch by wearing it, the owner can expect over 50 hours of power reserve. So enough to be worn daily and skipped during a week rotation with weekend rest. I was hoping for full three days (72 hours) but I guess that’s the price to pay for a first automatic caliber. Perhaps next versions will improve on this minor quirk.
Each Principia comes with a high-quality winding machine that should help make things easier for those wanting to keep the watch wound. However, as you often hear from watch collectors, spending some time setting and winding a watch before wearing it is a zen joy that these mechanical devices offer us; and a winding machine (from experience) typically ends up collecting dust on the shelves instead of being part of ones daily horological experience.
During ones evolution as watch aficionado and collector, there will come a time when you not only want to differentiate your timepiece from what others are wearing but also ensure it has special meaning to you. For me, the horological brothers, with the extremely high level of finishing, low production count (in the 100s), and simple classic design, produce the dress watch that I as a connoisseur would gravitate toward.
If the Remontroire showed a level of sophistication and mechanical prowess that placed it in horological rarified territory, the Principia is the “entry” level model to be worn everyday by the CEO who dresses mostly business casual with the occasional sports jacket or suit for a client meeting.
The best part is now you can actually customize your Grönefeld watch straight from the brand’s web site choosing the dial color and your case option: red gold (€ 37,300), white gold (€ 38,750), or even stainless steel (€ 29,950). They even include an option to select the strap you get. There are three main strap options in different colors: alligator, buffalo, and more exotic leathers such as a blue python which happen to work perfectly for the light blue dial as you can see from the photographs.
I love that small independents have embraced the internet allowing their fans and customers to not only communicate with them via social media but also to customize the watch that they want to get. Bravo to the brothers for even offering an option for the buyer to come and pick up the watch in person at their manufacture in Oldenzaal, The Netherlands—near the German border. And if you chose this option, be ready to be welcomed warmly and offered a cold beer if you come during lunch or dinner time. gronefeld.com