Greubel Forsey Rolls With It

It was in October 1914 that motoring enthusiast Bruce Nicholson and his cousin Colin placed an advertisement in The Light Car magazine announcing their intention to set-up “a club for the not-so-rich”. The Nicholsons hoped to attract a few like-minded drivers with cars worth around £50 each who longed to put their motors through their paces in competitive events, but who couldn’t afford to mix with the wealthy purchasers of up-to-date, thoroughbred racing machines. The pointed post-script to the advertisement added: “Rolls owners need not apply…”

The organisation in question was the Vintage Sports Car Club and it continues to thrive to this day. Few of its members, however, are Rolls-Royce owners – not because they are still unwelcome, but because Rolls-Royces have never been considered inherently sporty, being more the type of car that one is driven in rather the type that one drives.

That was the old thinking, at any rate, but since the “new generation” Rolls-Royce was established at Goodwood in 2003 following the purchase of the formerly ailing marque by BMW, Rollers have come to be regarded as rather cool and have even made it into the top 10 chart of most-mentioned cars in hip-hop lyrics. “I ain’t gonna tell you again let’s ghost in the Phantom/You can bring your friend, we can make this a tandem” – as Jay-Z so eloquently suggests in Change Clothes, for example.

Far from attempting to distance itself from thoughts of an edgier image, Rolls-Royce is positively embracing it – not least because its customer demographic has altered dramatically during the past decade to the point that a significant number of its 4,000 or so annual sales are made to buyers aged in their early 30s, with more than a few being in their 20s and barely off their tricycles (let alone tandems).

And it is with these in mind that the firm’s CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos last year announced the creation of a new strand to the Rolls-Royce offering called Black Badge, bespoke cars which would be lower, meaner, sharper and more aggressive than the traditionally “wafty” limousines on which they were based. “Black Badge appeals to people who are elusive and defiant, the risk takers who break the rules and laugh in the face of convention,” he said at the unveiling. (“Ha ha ha,” we chuckled, in a suitably maniacal way…)

Paint it Black

The Black Badge treatment is available on two models, the Ghost saloon and the already rather mean-looking two-door Wraith – and it’s an example of the latter that can be seen in our photographs.

One of the most apparent changes can be seen in the substitution of the usual gleaming brightwork of the famous Rolls-Royce radiator grille for a moody, blackened finish that is carried through to the boot lid trim, air inlets, exhaust tail pipes and even – dare we say it – the legendary Spirit of Ecstasy mascot itself which, according to the blurb “mutates into a high-gloss black vamp, proudly scything through the night-time cityscape”.

Even the black paint that adorned the vast acreage of “our” Wraith’s coupe body is unusual, not least because it wasn’t actually pure black but a specially mixed type of “flip” paint which, from different angles, appeared to contain the deepest imaginable shades of other colours such as green and purple. Buyers can, of course, specify any finish they desire along with the interior trim of their choice.

On the car pictured, the cabin featured surfaces of lacquered and mirror-polished, aerospace-grade carbon threaded with aluminium, while the air vents were treated with dark PVD and the seats upholstered in Cobalt Blue hide to provide a startling contrast to the dark exterior – the final interior touch being the illuminated “starlight” roof lining set with dozens of tiny, twinkling lights to bring a touch of whimsy and romance to after-dark journeys.

But beyond the purely cosmetic, the Black Badge cars get lightweight wheels made from composite carbon fibre and alloy which, it is claimed, took four years to develop, and the already phenomenally powerful engine (623hp) has been tuned for extra torque to provide even greater thrust, while applying anything more than 25 per cent throttle causes each of the eight gears to be held for longer.

The suspension, too has been tuned to combine the “magic carpet” ride for which Rolls-Royce is known with sportier handling characteristics than on the standard Wraith which, I can assure you, is absurdly nimble for a car weighing two-and-a-half tons and measuring more than 17 feet long.

Perhaps the only let-down in the whole package is – typically – the dashboard clock which, other than having sporty orange tips to its hands and an “Unlimited” logo is hardly the horological equivalent of the car it’s fitted in. Indeed, what might the horological equivalent of a Rolls-Royce Black Badge actually be?

Making Up For Lost Time

Various watch makers have, of course, been linked with the marque – Corum, for example, produced some Rolls-Royce radiator-shaped watches during the 1970s and, only last year, H. Moser created a 73-piece limited edition of its Venturer model in honour of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club. But perhaps the most fitting partner for the maker of what are often described as “the best cars in the world” is the maker of what many people consider to be the best watches in the world – and that’s Greubel Forsey.

Indeed, at the Geneva motor show in 2014, Greubel Forsey had a subtle presence on the Rolls-Royce stand as part of a project entered into with the local dealership to create three limited-edition versions of the Phantom model, each of which would be supplied with a GF tourbillon as part of the purchase price.

But what Greubel Forsey could possibly be better suited to the driver of a Black Badge Wraith than the GMT titanium version with a mean and moody finish in black amorphous diamond-like carbon, better known as ADLC. In terms of engineering, it parallels the quality of Rolls-Royce beautifully – and  is also highly appropriate for the type of globetrotting lifestyles that owners of the cars are likely to have.

Well Rounded

In typical GF fashion, the movement is finished to a staggeringly high level and comprises 443 components, 87 of which make up the 25-degree inclined tourbillon cage – which weighs a mere 0.36g.

The plates and bridges are frosted, spotted, bevelled, grained, matte-lapped and flat-black polished – all, of course, by hand – while turning the watch over reveals a beautifully engraved 24-hour disc. This shows the hour in 24 major cities around the world simultaneously (in addition to the secondary, single-zone GMT dial on the front of the watch), with daylight saving time being indicated on the back by an additional disc in the centre of the main one.

Like all Rolls-Royces, the Wraith is equipped with a deliciously whimsical “power reserve” gauge that shows the percentage of “oomph” remaining at various throttle openings (for cruising at motorway speeds, only about 20 per cent of the available power is used). Returning to the main dial side of the Greubel Forsey, you’ll find the watch equivalent located at the four o’clock position, indicating the state of the twin, co-axial mainspring barrels that are connected in series to provide up to 72 hours of autonomous running.

The first thing anyone notices about this watch, however, is that remarkable and exquisitely executed miniature globe nestled in the dial between the 7 and 9 o’clock positions, its three-dimensional roundness necessitating a delicate bulge to the edge of the case. Secured at the South Pole, the globe makes one complete rotation every 24 hours in an anti-clockwise direction (just like the real earth), the position of each continent aligning with the appropriate part of the day and night indicator ring that surrounds it.

Ingeniously, when the daytime hemisphere is displayed, its position coincides with a lateral window that allows that part of the globe to be naturally illuminated.

What might surprise non-horophiles, however, is the fact that the GMT in titanium ADLC is not only rarer than a Black Badge Wraith (just 22 watches will be produced), but it is also considerably more expensive, carrying a current price tag of SFr. 510,000 (around £410,000 at current exchange rates) compared with the mere £250,000 or so for the “basic” Black Badge Wraith (although adding a few extras and bespoke touches can quickly send that north).

But it was always said of a Rolls-Royce that, if you had to ask the price, you probably couldn’t afford it. And I guess that should count for Greubel Forsey watches, too.

*Special thanks to our dog handler for the day, Daisy de Burton.

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