December 27, 2021
Alongside household names like Jaguar and Aston Martin, the rich history of British sports cars is peppered with marques that have long since left the business, including Triumph, AC, Jensen, and many others. One of the most beloved and influential of these defunct British sporting nameplates is Austin-Healey, creator of classic convertibles and roadsters such as the Sprite, 100, and 3000, which proved themselves on racetracks and backroads across the globe from the early ‘50s to 1971. Since 2004, the British brand has held a licensing agreement with Frederique Constant, creating a series of automotive-inspired timepieces that buck the trend of bold and racy design in favor of a more restrained, vintage-inflected, and quintessentially British approach to the automotive watch. For its latest joint venture with Austin-Healey, the brand aims to capture the ‘50s-era English sporting spirit of the Austin-Healey 100S, with a cleanly executed small-seconds design that deftly blends a sense of midcentury refinement with just enough sporting charisma. The new limited edition Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds is a subtler, more office-friendly concept than many other automotive-inspired designs, and its more formal character brings with it a wealth of unique visual touches.
Measuring in at 40mm, the stainless steel case of the Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds takes a warmly rounded approach to the classic sports watch case. Nearly every element of the case, from the polished bezel to the case sides, takes on a gentle curve, which gives the design a more luxe character on the wrist. The tapering unchamfered lugs are slightly on the longer side, which works in concert with the narrow bezel to make this design wear somewhat larger than the numbers suggest, but this sense of size is mitigated by the very manageably 11.5mm overall thickness. Frederique Constant completes this case with a detailed caseback engraving, depicting not just any Austin-Healey but the famous Austin-Healey 100S chassis number NOJ 393. NOJ 393 is arguably the most important Austin-Healey ever built, competing as part of the brand’s factory racing team at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans, with later appearances at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Bahamas Speed Week, and the grueling Carrera Panamericana road race before setting a record auction price of nearly $1 million in 2011. The caseback rendition here is clean and streamlined, but detailed enough to capture the unique cues that set NOJ 393 apart from the average model including the oversized driving lights and the cut-back Brooklands windscreen. However, the case’s somewhat low 50 meter water resistance rating undercuts the sporting spirit here.
Frederique Constant delivers a charismatic blend of vintage sports watch flair and old-school understated British sensibility with the dial of the Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds. There’s nothing here that feels directly automotive, outside of the classic Healey signature at 6 o’clock. Instead, the watch takes a more nuanced path to capturing the spirit of ‘50s sports cars. When laid out on paper, the dial elements don’t seem particularly sporty – pointed alpha hands, a mix of applied baton indices and bold Arabic numerals, and a 9 o’clock small seconds subdial. It’s in the fine details and the interplay of elements that this design really builds its character, with elements like the raised white outer minutes track, the slightly recessed inner scale, the chunky bold scale of the small seconds subdial, and the athletic font of the applied numerals. The vibrant splash of red on the small seconds hand also lifts this design from monotony with a more directly sporty accent, without overpowering the tasteful grays and whites of the rest of the dial. The concrete gray used for the main dial surface offers a surprising amount of personality on its own, with delicate variations in color and a grainy matte texture that provides a satisfying backdrop to the polished dial hardware. The beveled cutout date window at 3 o’clock is a welcome addition to the design as well, giving the 9 o’clock subdial a much-needed visual counterweight and cleanly blending in with the overall colorway.
Inside the Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds beats the Sellita SW200-1-based FC-345 automatic movement. Although the FC-345 was smooth and performed admirably during the test period, losing an average of eight seconds per day, the base platform is beginning to show its age with its 38-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. The included calf leather rally strap in deep slate gray is a comfortable and suitably vintage addition to the overall design, with a semigloss texture and a mild pull-up effect.
With its quieter, more restrained approach to automotive-inspired design and a warm midcentury character, the limited edition Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds is an undeniably charming option for those looking for a subtler alternative to the archetypal bold racing chronograph. Only 888 examples of the Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds will be made, and the watch is available now through authorized dealers at an MSRP of $1,595. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Brand: Frederique Constant
>Model: Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Small Seconds
>Price: $1,595 (Limited to 888 pieces)
>Size: 40mm-wide, 11.5mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a refined, sporting daily-wear piece, or as a statement piece at a British car event.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Classic British car enthusiasts, or gearhead watch enthusiasts looking for a more reserved alternative to a racing chronograph.
>Best characteristic of watch: Muted, restrained execution is a welcome change of pace from vibrant and aggressive automotive-inspired watches; excellent dial finishing.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Underwhelming power reserve; 40mm case feels slightly too large for the ‘50s-inspired styling.