March 27, 2023
by Mike Razak
In August of 2022, Frederique Constant revealed the latest (and arguably greatest) version of its signature open-heart dial, the Classics Heart Beat Manufacture. While most lauded it’s elegant styling and good looks, a plurality responded with derision. The exposed balance wheel at 6 o’clock, however well executed, was a cheap trick mimicking the appearance of a tourbillon. This was roundly deemed a deceitful act of horological treason. Having handled the watch in person, I can say it was and is beautiful, and I will further assert that those who might confuse a balance wheel with a tourbillon are likely those who don’t care one way or another (if they know the difference, at all). While I seriously doubt that response rattled the brand (or even reached it), for Watches and Wonders 2023, Frederique Constant seems to have a response to those critics: the Classics Tourbillon Manufacture.
The new Frederique Constant Classics Tourbillon Manufacture celebrates the brand’s 30th anniversary and fittingly features its classic dress watch case in 18k rose gold. The fully polished three-part case has an onion crown and relatively straight lugs that taper slightly. Measuring 39mm across and just 10.99mm thick, the case promises to be eminently wearable (and comes in thinner than JLC’s Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon, another elegant Swiss rose gold tourbillon piece). Sapphire crystals are fitted to both sides of the case, and it is paired with a black alligator leather strap with a matching rose gold deployant clasp.
The dial is elegant, as one would want. A deep grey sunburst dial serves as the base for the rose gold-plated indices, which are matched to the lance hands. I’m a big fan of the warm-cool contrast that this creates (I feel like black and brown, which is basically what this is, was unfashionable for a time, but perhaps it’s on its way back?). At 6 o’clock, taking up most of the lower half of the dial is a massive aperture showing off the namesake tourbillon. In a less common move (though not unheard of), FC has fitted the tourbillon with a proper seconds hand so it can be used as a running seconds indicator.
The manufacture Calibre FC-980 was introduced—no joke—15 years ago. Yes, in 2008, the same year the brand celebrated its 15th anniversary and well before the more recent proliferation of affordable [read: Chinese] tourbillons. It was also years before TAG Heuer released its affordable Swiss chronograph/tourbillon movement and even longer before Horage shattered the glass palace of elite horology and debuted its sub-$10,000 K-Tou movement. The FC-980 is not the finest tourbillon movement you’ll encounter; while it has much of the finishing you’d expect from such a movement, it is visibly inferior to more expensive offerings, but not 2-5x inferior, as the pricing might have you think. Most striking is the curved rose gold bridge, blued screws, and the silicon escapement wheel, all visible through the dials aperture. The self-winding movement has a 38-hour power reserve at 28,800. Some may carp about the power reserve here—admittedly, 38 hours isn’t much these days—the only situation I can imagine this being a real issue is when you’re alternating between two watches. If you have a medium- or large-size rotation of watches, you’ve either got a winder or are well used to your watches winding down between wears. In either case, power reserve becomes far less of an issue. One thing that did hurt my eyes was the clash between the gold-tone balance wheel and the rose gold aperture frame. I’d give up an extra 5 hours of power reserve to fix that eyesore.
When I think about mass market entry-level Swiss, three brands come to mind: Frederique Constant, Raymond Weil, and Baume & Mercier, but I think even an exhaustive look at those three brands reveals that Frederique Constant is executing at a higher level than the others. While both of those brands have their merits, they aren’t producing perpetual calendars or tourbillons (which isn’t the only measure of a brand but is significant in considering higher levels of production). The Classics Tourbillon Manufacture limited to 150 pieces and priced at $27,595 USD, which is far and away the most expensive thing the brand makes, and probably the most expensive watch amongst those three entry-level brands. Before you balk, though, keep in mind that when you’re in the market for a solid gold automatic Swiss tourbillon watch, the price of entry is about $71,000 for the H. Moser Endeavour Tourbillon (though a hand-wound option from IWC is just $66,400). As it seems wont to do, Frederique Constant is offering actual value here. The hurdle for the brand, though, is convincing people with nearly $28,000 to not spend their money elsewhere. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.