August 17, 2016
by Jack Wagner
Introduced at Baselworld 2016, the Frédérique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture was one of the highlights of the convention, thanks largely to its slim design, in-house perpetual calendar movement, and most amazingly, a price of around 8,000 CHF.
Let’s kick things off with the most interesting bit: that a Swiss in-house perpetual calendar movement. Frédérique Constant was not the first big Swiss brand to bring a “surprisingly affordable” (ahem!) watch to the market – that was Montblanc with Meisterstück Heritage, priced at around 10,000 Euros. Where Frédérique Constant tried to do better was with the base movement and the price: unlike the Montblanc, “FC” could use their own base movement to power the watch, and what they did was place a perpetual calendar module on top of it – a testament to R&D director Manuel Da Silva Matos and technical director Pim Koeslag, the creators of the movement.
What you see through the substantially sized sapphire case-back is the FC700 automatic in-house caliber, the one that, save for a few minor modifications, have been improving the majority of the brand’s “Manufacture” designated collections. This particular FC-775 movement powers the hour and minute hands along with the perpetual calendar’s five indications and, according to the brand, it took three years to go from idea to production.
The thing with the modular construction is that perpetual calendar’s functions cannot be adjusted through the crown. As the module floats on top of the base movement – and the base movement is simply driving the module’s wheels –, you need to use the small adjustment pushers in case you want to set the perpetual calendar. It is not the most elegant solution, but it is how it is for the majority of (much more expensive) perpetuals. A small price to pay to save yourself tens of thousands and still have a perpetual.
As you may have surmised from the model name, the FC-775 and hence the Frédérique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture is relatively thin. The movement measures in at just 6.7mm thick and the watch is beautifully elegant and wearable too. The caliber beats at a frequency of 4 Hertz, has 26 jewels, and offers a 38-hour power reserve – the equation of slim profile plus modular construction plus automatic winding simply does not add up to a longer power reserve than that. There simply is no room for a larger mainspring barrel to be fitted. There are 191 parts, and from beginning to end, each movement takes two days to assemble.
You’d better keep this perpetual wound, but if you do and once you set it correctly, the calendar will not require any adjustments until March 1, 2100, when a discrepancy in the Gregorian Calendar requires a manual update. The length of each month and the differing number of days in February in leap years are all accounted for using mechanical programming.
The 42mm case is more modern in sizing and does take up more wrist real estate than other watches of this style. This case size is an interesting choice as, according to Frédérique Constant’s own marketing material, it “…is not only a great timepiece of haute horlogerie but is a beautiful time keeper that you can imagine your grandchildren’s children still wearing and cherishing in the future.”
While we feel the term “haute horlogerie” is a bit of a stretch (not just from Frédérique Constant, but from any major brand who refers to any of its main collections like this), and we cannot predict what the preference for case sizes in the future will be, this Slimline perpetual is as beautifully wearable and comfortable, as we have gotten used to from this model family. Perhaps a diameter of 38 to 40 millimeter would have made some happy, but the thin profile, elegant lugs and crown, plus the nicely sized hands all make for a rather timeless looking piece.
The Frédérique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture watch is currently available in three models. The FC-775V4S4 has a rose gold-plated case with matching hands and hour indices, a silver dial, and a brown alligator leather strap.
The other models are the FC-775S4S6, which has a stainless steel case, matching hands and hour indices, a silver dial, and a black strap; and the FC-775N4S4 has a rose gold case, matching hands and hour indices, a navy dial, and a navy strap. Each is striking and has its own personality. I find the FC-775V4S4 the most attractive (rose gold case, brown strap) but in writing about the initial release of the Frédérique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture watch, fellow aBlogtoWatch writer Patrick Kansa took most to the FC-775S4S6 (stainless steel case, black strap).
The cases are water-resistant to 3ATM, so generally safe to wear in the rain or while washing your hands, but to protect the alligator leather strap from damage it’s probably best to avoid exposure to water if at all possible.
On May 26th of this year, it was announced that Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. would be acquiring Frédérique Constant Group (this includes Frédérique Constant, Alpina, and Ateliers DeMonaco) for an undisclosed sum. Though the Frédérique Constant founders are staying onboard to maintain day-to-day operations and hopes are that the new owners will do little to alter the efforts of the Swiss company, Citizen’s announcement of the acquisition did little to inspire:
“Under the mid-term business plan, ‘Citizen Global Plan 2018,’ Citizen is implementing a multi-brand strategy and seeking to complete its brand portfolio by acquiring Swiss brands. This particular acquisition will enable Citizen Watch Co., Ltd. to strengthen its brand portfolio, offering consumers a variety of products ranging from accessible timepieces to Accessible Luxury watches.”
The most troubling part of the statement to me is the highlighting of “Accessible Luxury,” suggesting that Frédérique Constant may now be more boxed in with the scale of their design and that we are unlikely to see bold experiments from the brand like its Horological Smartwatch introduced last year.
Perhaps, then, the most significant aspect of the Frédérique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture is not its in-house perpetual calendar movement, but rather the fact that this will be the last in-house movement made by the wholly independent and family-owned and -operated Frédérique Constant. Either way, it is an attractive watch that wears well on the wrist, and at a price of $8,995, it is the least expensive way to get a high-quality Swiss watch with an in-house perpetual calendar movement. frederiqueconstant.com