Tourbillons are a topic I find myself talking about again and again. Although in truth the amount I talk about them is nowhere near the amount that I hear them being talked about, whether that be by lauded watchmakers, industry insiders, fellow journalists, collectors or enthusiasts. For the most part those conversations fall somewhere along the lines of “they’re too expensive, too flashy and a redundant piece of technology.” But now, sitting on my desk across from me is the new Frederique Constant Classics Tourbillon Manufacture in steel, a watch single-handedly changing the conversation around tourbillons.
On paper it’s a relatively simple watch, a steel edition of the rose gold Classics Tourbillon that was released back in April. It has exactly the same construction with a 39mm case, onion crown and relatively straight lugs. However, there’s something about the steel that makes it much more inviting to actually wear. On the wrist it feels light and well sized, especially as I don’t have the thickest of arms, and there isn’t that constant fear I might knock it, as there would be with a gold model. That’s partly due to the fact steel is far more robust and largely because at £12,750 the steel model is £10,000 less than the gold, which makes it one of the most accessible Swiss tourbillons around.
At the same time, just because it’s steel doesn’t mean it loses any of its dress watch charm. It’s presented on a blue alligator strap, a classic material for dress watches, and the bezel is understated and classy while the dial is clean and legible. The version I have here has a sunray brushed dial in silver, although a dark blue version is available too. It looks really smart with facetted, applied indexes pointing inwards towards the central handstack and the tourbillon at six o’clock.
The tourbillon looks great too. It has a pronounced rim and a curved arm holding it in place, above which is a small seconds hand. It’s not an insane multi-axis monstrosity of haute horology, instead rotating steadily. Compared with the FC Monolithic Manufacture and its ultra-fast silicon oscillator that they launched in 2021, the tourbillon here has a positively sedate appearance.
While the tourbillon is visible from the dial side thanks to its heartbeat-esque aperture, flipping the watch over reveals the rest of the movement through the exhibition caseback. It’s the FC-980 in-house automatic calibre with 28.800vph and 38-hour power reserve. That power reserve is one of the biggest sticking points with this watch because it’s definitely lower than I’d like, a side effect of the power hungry tourbillon.
And it’s at this point that the question of whether tourbillons are necessary on wristwatches comes to the fore because there’s a debate as to how much of a benefit they actually provide. We dived into the subject at depth here, so I won’t repeat myself here, but essentially, it’s that tourbillons were developed to boost the accuracy of pocket watches that remain on a single axis most of the time, an issue that isn’t present in wristwatches due to their constant movement on the wrist. However, this debate about pure mechanics is missing out on one key aspect of tourbillons, the emotional impact of their aesthetics.
The Frederique Constant Classics Tourbillon Manufacture is a superb advocate for the drama and character of mechanical watchmaking. It’s so much more expressive as a design than a quartz watch, or even a regular time-only display (which is what this watch is). It allows the owner to connect to the heart of the watch to a far greater extent. It’s these intangible qualities that make us fall in love with watches in the first place and having spent even just a day with this watch, it’s one that could easily become your beloved favourite.
That brings us back to the statements I made at the start of the article, that Swiss tourbillons are too expensive, too flashy and redundant. Turns out that every single one of those statements is wrong. Well, at the very least they don’t apply to the Frederique Constant Classic Tourbillon Manufacture, which is competitively priced, amazingly styled and evocative of why we collect watches in the first place.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Frederique Constant Classic Tourbillon Manufacture
- Ref: FC-980S3H6
- Case/dial: 39mm diameter x 10.99mm thickness, stainless steel case, silver sunray dial
- Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)
- Movement: Frederique Constant calibre FC-980, automatic, 33 jewels
- Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
- Power reserve: 38h
- Functions: Hours, minutes, tourbillon
- Strap: Blue alligator leather
- Price/availability: £12,750, limited to 350 pieces