Inside & Out: Frederique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar
How I got this watch: I spoke with Frederique Constant about reviewing a timepiece. I was sent the Slimline Perpetual Calendar which I wore for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
Is a $8795 watch a value proposition? When that watch is the Frederique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar, it is.
Frederique Constant sounds like it was created in the late 1800s by two mustachioed Swiss men, but it's a modern watch brand through and through. Founded in 1988, the name of the company comes from the ancestors of the two founders; Frederique Schreiner was the Great-Grandfather of Aletta Stas-Baz and Constant Stas is the Great-Grandfather of Peter Stas (Only one of these ancestors have been confirmed by the editor to be moustached). After four years of development, Frederique Constant launched their first collection of six watches in 1992.
Now fifteen years later, Frederique Constant sell approximately 150,000 watches a year. They have a wide selection of complications including perpetual calendars, moon phases, tourbillons and their "Horological Smartwatch" and since 2004, they have developed, manufactured and assembled 19 different versions of in-house calibers.
Launched in 2016, the Frederique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar is one of the crowning achievements of the brand. It is one of two watches, the other being a Mont Blanc, that offers a perpetual calendar function for under $10,000. I haven't been fortunate enough to get some wrist time with any other perpetual calendars in my life, though I sold more Longines Master Collection Moonphases than I care to remember. At $3,325, the Longines Master was a huge seller as it looked like what the general public think of as a 'classic watch' without a huge price tag. It was the closest thing to a perpetual calendar that you were going to get for that price.
Up until 2014, the 'cheapest' perpetual calendar was the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual costing $20,400 in steel. The Audemars Piguet Perpetual Calendar costs $60,900, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin costs $91,400 and the A.Lange & Sohne Datograph Perpetual costs a whopping $136,600. What I'm saying is that if you want a perpetual calendar you have to sell a kidney to get one (I have no idea the going rate for a kidney these days. Seeing as I worked for a gin company for a few years, I'm sure mine is considered undesirable). So here comes Frederique Constant with a perpetual calendar costing only $8,795. How on earth did they do it?
Inside the watch is the FC Manufacture Caliber FC-755, an automatic movement with a power reserve of 38 hours. Developing and industrializing the movement took three years of R&D.
Frederique Constant wanted this movement to be affordable for both client and manufacturer and that isn't easy with a complication like a perpetual calendar. Designing the watch from the start to be 42mm allowed Frederique Constant more internal space for the movement, a smart move considering what options are available for 'budget' perpetual calendars. Other brands, like Mont Blanc, use a Dubois-Depraz calendar module mounted atop a standard movement. This module is perfectly serviceable but it's small and restricts the size of the calendar registers and forces them to be close to the center of the watch.
The Slimline Perpetual Calendar is free of such restrictions.
Finished with circular Geneve stripes, blued screws and an open gold-plated rotor, the Caliber FC-755 is a perfectly serviceable movement for the price. The architecture is a bit uninspiring with a lot of the movement hidden under plates but on technical merits, at this price, it's hard to beat. No-one had made an in-house perpetual calendar at this price until Frederique Constant and they own this place in the market now.
To get the watch under $10,000, there were sacrifices. There are no retrograde displays, no quick method of correcting a mistake without resetting the whole watch and there is no protection against an idiot owner poking at the pushers when they shouldn't. Yet I would accept these sacrifices to allow a watch like this to exist. It still performs all the functions of a perpetual calendar, namely displaying the correct day, date, month and leap year for the next 100 years.
Measuring 42mm across and 10.2mm, the Slimline Perpetual Calendar isn't the most slimline watch. Usually I want my dress watches thinner and narrower than this but I do understand that all the gears and levers have to fit somewhere! Remember, this is a watch coming in at under half the price of the previous 'budget' option. The watch wears its size on the wrist though the short lugs do admirable work of making it seem smaller.
The Slimline Perpetual Calendar comes in a variety of different metals and dials and the steel case, silver dial and thin stick markers is my favorite. There is a place for roman numerals on watches but when a dial has one aperture, three registers and six hands, it pays dividends to be minimal. Working clockwise around the dial, you have the month and leap year indicator at 12, the date at 3, the moonphase aperture at 6 and the day of the week at 9. Four pushers set flush into the side of the case control these indicators. By pushing these pushers with an included..err...pusher...you can set the hands of these registers and after a bit of practise, setting the watch can be done in moments.
At first daunting, the setup of the calendar is quite easy as long as you know when the last full moon is. The answer, like most things in life, is a short Google away and it's worth taking the time to set the moonphase. It may be one of the least important functions of the watch but it's the one most likely to garner a compliment. The design of the registers is excellent. By recessing them into the dial, the slightest shadow forms on the rim of each register. This shadow allows the wearer to see that there is depth on the dial, even if that depth is a fraction of a millimeter.
The blued steel hands of the registers contrasts well against the silver dial and, apart from the stubby leap year hand, are all the perfect length. The printed font is crisp and clear and is a prime example of how printed elements can be as legible as applied ones. There is no lume on the watch so you'll have to plan your night time wrist checks to coincide with the next full moon.
This is the first watch I've reviewed for Timepiece Chronicle on an alligator strap. It's been two years since I lost my OEM alligator strap for my Zenith (Word from the wise, don't put a perlon strap on a dress watch and then leave the several hundred dollar aligator strap rolling around in a bag) and boy, I'd forgotten how good it feels. I love the feeling of calf leather and Horween but nothing is quite like an alligator strap. It is both luxurious yet incredible durable at the same time. It took a few days to break in but damn did it feel good after that. The buckle is a standard polished steel tang/pin with a small engraving of the Frederique Constant logo at one side.
So is anything that costs $8,795 a true value prop?
It all depends on what is being sold and how it compares against similar products in a price point. All the competition for the Frederique Constant, bar one watch, are tens of thousands of dollars more expensive and the Slimline is able to perform the same basic functions as all of them. It might lack the finishing of a Datograph, but it is more infinitely more obtainable.
It is watches like the Slimline Perpetual Calendar that will resonate far better with customers than ones that cost ten times more. In case you've been living in a cave for the past year, things aren't looking too hot in the Swiss watch market right now with export numbers at record lows. At the expense of a wider margin, Frederique Constant is trying to bring previously out of reach complications to a wider audience. Sure, a wider audience in this case is someone who can spend close to $10,000 on a watch but you get what I mean. It's a mechanical olive branch to someone who earns $90,000 a year rather than $900,000.
If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a huge fan of the Perpetual Calendar. It represents great value for money in a market which so often lacks it. Whatever its shortcomings are, the Perpetual Calendar is a watch that people need to sit up and take note of. For $8,795, it's a steal.
For more information on the Frederique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar, visit www.frederiqueconstant.com.
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