The basic concepts behind mechanical watchmaking have existed more or less unchanged for centuries. While techniques have been continually refined and perfected, the fundamental layout of mainspring, escapement, sprung balance, and gear train has been the foundation of nearly all mechanical horology since the 1700s. The sheer staying power of this centuries-old arrangement, even in the face of newer and technically far superior methods of timekeeping, is immense. A brand innovating on these most elemental components, then, is a rare and dramatic occurrence. Frederique Constant is the latest brand to change this basic formula, replacing the enduring concept of the sprung balance wheel with a single-piece monolithic silicon oscillator, simplifying and toughening the movement dramatically while operating at a beat rate ten times faster than an average mechanical movement. The new limited-edition Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is a potential bellwether for the future of mechanical horology, offering a handsome and traditional launching point for an ultramodern watchmaking concept.
Rather than emphasizing the innovative movement within with a futuristic design, Frederique Constant takes a more restrained approach with the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture. Available in stainless steel or 18k rose gold, the 40mm case is clean and traditional with a dressy full polish. The downturned lugs are small and narrow while the smooth rounded bezel flows directly into a rounded bowl-like mid case. The deeply ridged onion crown at 3 o’clock offers a bright and classical focal point here, with a touch of intricacy amid the mostly simple case geometry. Frederique Constant fits all variants with a sapphire display caseback to better showcase its new movement concept. Although this is a decidedly dressy design, water resistance remains underwhelming at only 30 meters.
Like the cases, the dial options for the Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture take a largely traditional aesthetic, but here the innovative new silicon oscillator takes center stage. Both the silver dial and deep navy blue dial variants take on the same classical layout, with a few idiosyncratic touches. The center dial section is finished with a clous de Paris guilloché pattern, with further ridged guilloché texturing forming an intricate border surrounding both the hours ring and outer minutes track. A Breguet handset and printed Roman numerals in either white or gloss black heightens the classical feel in initial images, as does the raised plaque at 3 o’clock sporting the brand name. The 12 o’clock pointer date display is an interestingly unorthodox take on a classical element, but this unusual position serves as a visual counterweight for the 6 o’clock silicon oscillator. True to its name, this intricately skeletonized and blued element vibrates at an extremely high frequency, likely registering as more of a constant blur on the wrist than the fast oscillating look of a traditional open heart window. On each side of the central oscillator bridge is an adjustable weight, with a miniscule engraved adjustment scale to ensure optimal accuracy. The window this advanced new element sits in also offers a glimpse inside the rest of the movement, with solidly applied perlage finishing shining through. One final benefit of this revolutionary new oscillator concept is the illusion of a perfectly smooth sweeping seconds hand. With the incredibly high frequency of the new oscillator, the second hand moves 80 times per second, faster than the human eye can perceive.
Frederique Constant powers the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture with its in-house FC-810 automatic movement. Naturally, the brand’s new monolithic silicon oscillator balance is the centerpiece of this design, developed in partnership with Dutch advanced materials company Flexous. Beyond the immensely fast 288,000 bph beat rate, the silicon oscillator carries several key benefits over a traditional sprung balance wheel. Since the oscillator itself is made from a single piece of monocrystalline silicon, this element is completely anti-magnetic, and boasts superior temperature resistance, shock resistance, and a quarter of the weight of a traditional balance wheel. Because of this lighter weight, as well as the lack of mechanical couplings, this also results in far lower torque and amplitude than an average mechanical movement, while simultaneously improving mechanical wear rates and removing the need for balance oiling altogether. While this new oscillator balance concept offers a wide array of benefits, it does come with several drawbacks, and Frederique Constant has extensively customized the rest of the FC-810 to adapt to its requirements. In particular, the gear train of the FC-810 is dramatically reworked to handle the incredibly high beat rates generated by the oscillator, featuring four wheels between the mainspring barrel and the escape pinion rather than the usual three. Power reserve for the FC-810 stands at a hefty 80 hours thanks to the oscillator’s reduced torque requirement. Given the importance of the FC-810 as a milestone for the brand, Frederique Constant nicelyely decorates the movement with perlage, blued screws, and circular Côtes de Genève pattern across the bridges. To complete the classical look of the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture series, Frederique Constant pairs each watch with a traditional alligator leather strap. For the silver dial stainless steel model, this is rendered in simple black, while the navy blue dial variant receives a matching navy blue strap and the rose gold model is paired with a deep tobacco brown.
Combining a timelessly traditional look with a potentially revolutionary new movement concept, the limited-edition Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture punches well above its weight for sheer horological significance. Only 810 examples of the stainless steel Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture will be made in each dial colorway, and the rose gold model is further limited to 81 units. The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is available now through authorized dealers at an MSRP of $4,795 for stainless steel models and $15,995 for the rose gold variant. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.