Few dial styles are as evocative and enduring as the classic “panda dial” chronograph. The simple combination of a white (or silver) main dial and black subdials has given rise to some of the most beloved chronograph designs over the years, and it’s an easy way to add a versatile-yet-sporty charm to an otherwise neutral dial layout. Frederique Constant’s latest addition to the sleek, integrated-bracelet Highlife line is a prime example of this concept in action, taking one of the most tastefully subdued integrated designs on the current market and adding a timelessly sporting edge that markedly changes the overall wearing experience. The new Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph “Panda” shows off a more athletic side to the Highlife’s character, coupling excellent fit and finish to a compelling retro racing charm.
The case of the Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph “Panda” is more or less identical to previous Highlife chronograph iterations in both styling and dimensions. At 41mm wide, the stainless steel case is suitably sporting, but several design details work to make this case feel large and imposing on the wrist. Like all models in the Highlife series, this watch features integrated lugs with a smooth half-moon bevel between the upper case surface and the point where the lug area attaches. However, this form leads to a long lug-to-lug length, especially when the relatively inflexible first bracelet link is taken into consideration. The overall case thickness is also a major factor at a sizeable 14.2mm, but given the 7750-based movement within, there’s only so much the brand could do to reduce the height here. With that said, while the Highlife Chronograph “Panda” might wear large, it’s a handsome case on the wrist, with simple flowing lines and bright finishing. The rounded case sides lend the design a soft, organic feel, while the gentle arcing curve of the upper case continues this trend in an attractively contrasting radially brushed finish. This soft, smooth case design language culminates in the domed polished bezel, which makes the dial an organic focal point on the wrist with a bright natural highlight. Frederique Constant tops this case off with a sapphire display caseback, and rates the watch for a solid 100 meters of water resistance.
Of course, the dial of the Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph “Panda” is where this new model truly comes into its own. The brand keeps the line’s trademark engraved globe pattern on the main dial surface intact, but reframes this light and familiar texture through its use of color. The pale, grainy silver hue of the main dial makes this pattern more visually prominent than on many of its stablemates, with a series of dynamic edge highlights in changing light. In addition, the use of a contrasting black outer chapter ring works to compact the dial on the wrist, which gives this pattern the illusion of filling up the dial surface more completely than it actually does. The black azurage subdials also work to enhance this smaller, less minimalist appearance, while also lending a sporty contrast to the main dial surface. The pointed paddle handset and matching applied baton indices may be carried over from the rest of the Highlife collection, but thanks to the new colorway, these elements seem to fill the dial more satisfyingly as well. The greatest downside to this new two-tone visual approach, however, is the 4:30 date window. Date window placements are always a contentious issue among enthusiasts, but the use of a contrasting black date wheel, a polished date window frame, and its positioning well away from the dial edge are likely to make this one particularly unpopular.
Frederique Constant equips the Highlife Chronograph “Panda” with the La Joux-Perret based FC-391 automatic chronograph movement. With a lineage that traces all the way back to the venerable Valjoux 7750, the FC-391 is a rugged and reliable platform that nonetheless offers a suite of desirable amenities. Chief among these is the column wheel chronograph actuation system, which lends the pushers a satisfyingly firm and precise snap during operation. The hefty 60-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate also helps to lend the Highlife Chronograph “Panda” a more premium feel, stacking up nicely against most competitors at this price point. The finishing, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward. Only the uppermost bridge is topped with Côtes de Genève to match the full gold tone rotor, whereas the lower elements are straightforwardly matte blasted.
To maximize the versatility of this integrated design, Frederique Constant delivers the Highlife Chronograph “Panda” with a pair of included straps. The first of these, naturally, is the integrated bracelet itself, with a clean and flowing H-link pattern punctuated by mirror-polished center links. It’s a classic look for an integrated design, and the relatively high proportion of polished surfaces matches the Highlife’s refined, cushy design ethos well on the wrist. If one desires a sportier, more contemporary look, the included textured rubber strap in black fits the bill here. With a tapering form and a deep simulated woven pattern, this thick, flexible strap makes the Highlife Chronograph “Panda” a touch more visually aggressive on the wrist, but the stiff articulation of the integrated center link works to exacerbate the watch’s already long lug-to-lug presence.
With its stark, high-contrast, and timelessly sporty look, it’s easy to see why panda dial chronographs are a perennial favorite among enthusiasts and a staple in many brands’ lineups. The new Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph “Panda” is a smooth, stylish showcase of this principle in action, bringing much-needed athleticism to the brand’s core integrated bracelet sports watch collection. The Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph “Panda” is available now through authorized dealers, with an MSRP of $3,895 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.