This beautiful new addition to the Ferdinand Berthoud family is not just a watch collection, but more a movement collection. The introduction of the Ferdinand Berthoud FB RS watch is also the introduction of a pivot to the brand’s business strategy. Moving forward, Chopard Group-owned boutique Swiss watchmaker Ferdinand Berthoud will focus on making limited editions of movements, and then deciding on a watch-by-watch-basis how each of the cased timepieces will look.
Ferdinand Berthoud did not invent this model, but it is uncommonly applied in today’s luxury watch space, mostly because a reliable movement is a valuable thing to have, and maximizing its production life is how a manufacturing company makes money. Promising a limited edition of 20 pieces per movement implies that Ferdinand Berthoud must go through the development and one-year testing process before it can commercialize a new movement. Once you take those expenses into consideration, added to the fact that Ferdinand Berthoud only produces about 20-25 timepieces per year, the typically half-million-dollar prices for these timepieces start to look like a relative bargain.
What Ferdinand Berthoud will have to prove, however, is that it can respect its own promises to its clients. If a movement is limited to 20 pieces but Ferdinand Berthoud considers a different color bridge or small cosmetic variation a “new movement,” then the premise of this strategy will not endure. A brand like Ferdinand Berthoud can only survive in the long-run through ardently following a policy of being fair to consumer expectations. On that note, Ferdinand Berthoud is celebrating its five-year anniversary this year. The brand’s inspiration comes from a noteworthy historic horological master, but in modern form it is the brainchild of the family that runs the Chopard watch brand.
So, before I tell you about the Ferdinand Berthoud FB RS (which stands for Regulator Skeleton, or Regulateur Squelette) watch in its octagonal carburised steel case, let’s talk about the limited edition of 20 pieces Ferdinand Berthoud caliber FB-T.FC-RS manually wound movement inside. This gorgeous creation has never looked better because now it is skeletonized and more exposed, while maintaining necessary high levels of structural integrity. Recall that the FB movements typically have fusee and chain transmission systems. These are modern versions of age-old technology that help the watch maintain accuracy over time (isochronism). It involves a handmade chain comprised of nearly 800 parts and takes a master watchmaker at least six hours to carefully assemble (which doesn’t include the polishing time). The chain has a lot of torque, so a flimsy movement will simply not do.
The FB-T.FC-RS operates at 3Hz with (21,600 bph) with 53 hours of power reserve. The mainspring barrel is among the patented parts of the movement because it actually has no top or bottom retaining bridges. Even though the movement is not thin in the grand scheme of timepieces, given its complications and features, the movement is really pretty svelte at just under 10mm-thick. Don’t forget that with the chain the FB-T.FC-RS movement is made up of 1,158 parts, the vast majority of which are carefully finished by hand. It shows, too. Ferdinand Berthoud has been making its mark where the world’s most mature watch collectors reside in markets such as the United States, Europe, and Japan. While global recognition by name is still some years off, the brand has made strides where it counts.
The FB-T.FC-RS is Ferdinand Berthoud’s skeletonized version of its regulator-style display. The dial layout is inspired by an original Ferdinand Berthoud marine chronometer he produced for a client in 1768. The movement displays the time via a separate dial for the hours (actually, a rotating disc), minutes, and the seconds, which are indicated via the dial’s largest hand. The dial also features an elaborate power reserve indicator, which has a skeletonized anti-wobble spring and that uses an antique-style conical control that’s visible on the underside of the watch.
The FB-T.FC-RS movement also has a large opening for the tourbillon. It is mounted on a very tricky-to-polish bridge, while the tourbillon is actually “correctly” placed on the year of the watch. Through the dial of the FB RS watch, the wearer sees what is “normally” the rear view of the tourbillon. It simply makes the most sense from a watch engineering perspective to put the tourbillon cage in the “back” of the movement where you’d normally find a regulation system. In addition to the tourbillon, the movement has the aforementioned fusee and chain transmission system that moves power from the mainspring barrel to the gear train. The wearer can view parts of this system through small sapphire crystal windows on opposite sides of the watch case.
The combination of effort has earned the Ferdinand Berthoud regulator watch movements Chronometry awards, as well as a COSC Chronometer certification for the caliber FB-T.FC-RS. The crown of the watch offers a duly expected high-refined tactile wind experience, and the crown is fitted with a ceramic “medallion” with the brand name logo on it.
Ferdinand Berthoud will offer the FB-T.FC-RS movement in either the pictured octagonal case or its newer round case. Each is an excellent choice that’s distinctive in appearance. The round case model is the reference FB 2RS.2, while the pictured octagonal case in carburized steel is the reference FB 1RS.6. What is carburized steel? It is a surface treatment process over steel that gives it an extremely scratch-resistant surface — nearly akin to sapphire crystal, according to Ferdinand Berthoud. It offers an elegant industrial finishing with a titanium gray color. I actually mistook the case for titanium (versus steel), at first.
The case is 44mm-wide, 14mm-thick, and water resistant to 30 meters. Getting the water resistance down was hard for Ferdinand Berthoud because of the shape of the case and the tolerance-effecting nature of the carburizing process. It adds a layer over the base steel, which means that case components might not fit together as closely. Ferdinand Berthoud actually uses very serious-looking bolts in the lugs to keep the watch case firmly fitted together to meet modern expectations of timepiece case water resistance.
Despite its impressive level of accuracy, the Ferdinand Berthoud FB RS isn’t a timepiece wearers will don for ease of use in telling the time. The regulator-style display works effectively, but no one is pretending that the FB RS has the legibility of a sports watch. Consider how little of the dial is spent toward telling the time, as it is. This is a timepiece collection for heavily experienced, very mature watch aficionados who have owned a broad spectrum of watches and are ready for something exceptionally well-made and also very distinctive. Ergonomics are good, and the style of these watches becomes apparent once you get one on the wrist. There are very few other watches I can think of that become so immediately endearing the moment you put them on. In my opinion, that is related to how nicely the case contrasts with the curves and lines of human anatomy, as well as how vividly the many polished surfaces play with the light.
The alligator strap has a folding titanium buckle (standard pin buckle available upon request) with the brand’s own form of micro-adjustment device that offers three wearing size positions. The strap is comfortable, and according to Ferdinand Berthoud, it is happy to make clients any number of bespoke straps in a variety of materials and colors.
Note that the particular Ferdinand Berthoud FB RS watch is a prototype and has a few small issues. Notably the “10/10” limited edition printing will not be there since the movements, and not the cases, are a limited edition. As such, the movement will have a “XX/20” number located on top of the mainspring barrel.
In my estimation, the Ferdinand Berthoud FB RS collection is among the brand’s best yet — if only because its ability to make good use of the dial space while allowing the extremely flattering cases to shine on their own. Then, of course, you have the gorgeous movement surface finishing (and color variety), which is more prominently displayed through the various skeletonized elements. Not everyone will love the design, even if they appreciate the quality and artisanship. At worst, the jumble of elements on the dial might have some onlookers feeling like the FB.1RS.6 (FB 1RS.61) is soup of fancy watch parts lacking cohesion. But that is OK; this instrument concept was originally designed for navigation purposes, so it’s no wonder it is all over the place. Price for the Ferdinand Berthoud FB RS Regulator Skeleton watch is $247,000 USD in the carburized stainless steel octagonal case, and $256,500 USD the 18k rose gold round case. Learn more at the Ferdinand Berthoud website here.