Ferdinand Berthoud’s most basic watch collection is arguably also their most beautiful. A year or two ago the high-end Swiss watchmaker (who is also at the top of the totem pole at the Chopard group) released the first two pieces of their Chronomètre FB 3SPC timepiece collection. Those included the Chronomètre 3SPC.1 and the 3SPC.2. They later released a piece unique FB 3 for the Only Watch auction, followed by this 18k white gold-cased, black dial Chronomètre FB 3SPC.1-1. I have to say that the naming convention for Ferdinand Berthoud products is not nearly as beautiful as the watches themselves.

The FB 3SPC watches are mechanically the simplest that Ferdinand Berthoud produces, but they don’t skimp on design or decoration. Ferdinand Berthoud is not the only company to have surprising success as a very high-end brand with a model that could be considered entry-level (all things considered). Other companies ranging from FP Journe to Greubel Forsey ended up with very high demand for their more basic models as opposed to their more exotic and complicated creations. It could be that timepiece enthusiasts love these brands but are reticent to pay for their top-end models, or it could be that too many enthusiasts find the more complicated creations to be hard to understand. Thus, a basic watch that tells the time using familiar mechanical movement features (and a lot of hand decoration) seems to be what a lot of the market wants right now. Accordingly, Ferdinand Berthoud has not designated the FB 3SPC as a limited edition model family — though the company naturally cannot produce very many models per year.

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In addition to the beautiful open-work dial design and immaculate level of hand-finishing, the main technical feature to note in the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 3SPC family is the use of a cylindrical hairspring as part of the in-house made caliber FB-SPC manually wound movement. These hairsprings tend to perform better than the more compact flat hairspring present in the majority of mechanical watches today but are also thicker and very challenging to produce. A great example of why they are hard to produce is that each end of the cylindrical hairspring in the FB-SPC movement has a hand-bent Breguet overcoil. Not only is this a manual process that a machine cannot currently replicate, but once the first Breguet overcoil is bent, the trick is how the second overcoil is bent given that you can no longer hold on to the other end for leverage.

According to the Ferdinand Berthoud brand of today, the FB 3SPC watches are inspired by a watch made in 1793 by Louis Berthoud known as the No. 26 decimal watch. Presumably, that timepiece was about accuracy and so is the Chronomètre FB 3SPC watches of today. According to Ferdinand Berthoud, these are the only watches with cylindrical hairspring to be COSC Chronometer certified. This requires both an ample base mechanism, plus careful regulating and adjusting done by the watchmakers. If you want a pretty-looking hand-decorated timepiece that is also accurate be prepared to spend some big bucks.

The cylindrical hairspring is pleasant to look at, which is made more possible given the design of the movement and dial as well as the placement of a small sapphire crystal side window on the case (not to mention through the caseback). The entire caliber FB-SPC movement is a gorgeous thing, operating at 3Hz with a power reserve of 72 hours. In addition to the time with subsidiary seconds dial, the movement features a handy power reserve indicator on the dial. For this FB 3SPC.1-1 watch, the movement and dial are given a sandblasted finish which is then coated with black rhodium. The movement is designed to be a decent performer but is mostly intended to look lovely from all angles. What I need to stress again is that the movement is also a good performer (as many pretty movement-based watches simply are not).

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I love the design of Ferdinand Berthoud’s hands and markers, though on this watch legibility can be hampered by the fact that the hands are polished and can blur into the dial when they are reflecting light. Brands do this for style purposes, and I agree that the FB 3SPC.1-1 does look very cool. With that said, the FB 3SPC.1 watch also has an 18k white gold case but has a face with blue steel hands that are a bit more legible. The FB 3SPC.2 with its 18k rose gold case has a black dial that is a better analog to this FB 3SPC.1-1 but with rose gold versus the yellow gold hands.

On the wrist, I love the look of the FB 3SPC case that while simple and round from afar, does have a number of interesting visual details and is made with excellent quality. The case isn’t exactly small, but I found that it wears very comfortably and I can easily say that the FB 3SPC watches are the most daily wearable of the current selection of Ferdinand Berthoud models (though I wouldn’t turn down wearing any of them on a regular basis). The Chronomètre FB 3SPC.1-1 case is 18k white gold and 42mm wide, 9.43mm thick, and water resistant to 30 meters. Over the dial is a domed sapphire crystal, which further enhances the beauty of the composition. Attached to the case is a thick but also very comfortable black alligator strap with a matching 18k white gold buckle.

It makes sense that the Chronomètre FB 3SPC collection of watches is a hit at Ferdinand Berthoud. For one thing, you need to be much more of a horology nerd to understand some of their other models. Also, we have seen that consumers — even ones spending top dollar — often prefer the most basic watches from the most non-basic of brands. Part of that is probably cost, but another part of it is sheer practicality. A watch like the FB 3SPC is going to have as much focus on hand decoration and finishing as other Ferdinand Berthoud watches, but with a movement less prone to needing service or adjustments. The price for the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 3SPC.1-1 is 155,000 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the Ferdinand Berthoud website.

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