SANDS OF TIME: Swiss luxury watch brand Greubel Forsey has teamed up with British artist Willard Wigan to create Art Piece 1, a high-end timepiece containing microscopic sculptures.

Founders Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey showcased a prototype of the project, more than three years in the making, at a presentation inside the Grand Palais held on the preview day of the annual FIAC contemporary art fair in Paris, which draws top collectors and gallerists to the soaring steel-and-glass venue.

Wigan works with a scalpel and a microscope to create his nano-sculptures, which are so small, he has learned to control his breath in order to sculpt between beats of his heart. He uses materials ranging from gold and grains of sand to spiders’ cobwebs, creating renditions of everything from a humming bird to Usain Bolt — all of which fit into the eye of a needle.

While they can normally be viewed only through a microscope, Greubel Forsey has developed an optical lens small enough to be fitted into the crown of the watch, so that the sculptures — fitted on a rotating hemispherical structure — can be seen inside the timepiece when it is held up to the eye facing sideways.

“I feel very honored because [the people who buy this watch] will have a museum on their wrist with my work in there,” said Wigan, who in 2007 received an MBE from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II for his services to art. “Doing the work is very painstaking. It’s a nightmare doing it, but it’s a dream when you finish.”

Greubel said the timepiece was a work in progress, which should be finalized at the end of 2013. He expects to produce only one or two of the one-of-a-kind watches every year, with an estimated price tag in the range of 5 million Swiss francs, or $5.4 million at current exchange.

“Normally, Willard’s work can only be viewed through a microscope. What does that mean? It’s an installation, it is something in your home that takes up space. By putting it inside a timepiece, you open up a whole new horizon,” Greubel said.

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