When a new watch is announced the first thing anyone would look at is the design and style. However, in the case of Frederique Constant’s latest release the overall aesthetics of the timepiece are substantially less important than the ground-breaking innovations that can be found inside. The brand new automatic calibre FC-810 is revolutionising the way mechanical watches have been manufactured for the past three centuries. So strap in because we’re going to get technical.
The way mechanical watches operate has been set since the 17th century and the advent of sprung balances. If you’re not savvy on your watch tech, a mechanical movement operates by using energy stored in a coiled spring connected to the escapement, which is in turn connected to the oscillator that controls the speed at which the gears rotate – moving the watch’s hands. Or at least that’s a simplified explanation.
The innovation that Frederique Constant has developed, in collaboration with the Dutch company Flexous, is based around the oscillator part of that equation. The oscillator moves back and forth at a regular rate, called a frequency, moving the gears and therefore the hands at a consistent rate. The general rule is the higher the frequency, the greater the accuracy.
A standard, modern, mechanical movement has a frequency of around 4Hz or 28,800 vph – vibrations per hour, where a vibration is the back and forth motion of the oscillator. The FC-810’s oscillator operates at a frequency of 40Hz, equivalent to 288,000 vph, that’s ten times higher than a standard movement. It’s so high that the regular method of calculating a movement’s frequency doesn’t work and a new method had to be found. A drastic increase in frequency also means a drastic increase in accuracy, the second hand moving 80 times per second as opposed to 8.
How were they able to do this? At the simplest level, the answer is silicon. By using ultra-thin, flexible silicon they have been able to reduce the number of components in and around the oscillator from 26 to 1. An unprecedented feat of engineering at this price bracket (Zenith and other big brands have achieved similar results with their developments for a much higher cost) that combines the escapement anchor system and adjustable weights into the flexure pivot oscillator for the first time. Add in the regular benefits of silicon such as being 100% magnetic resistant, durable and flexible and the efficiency of the oscillator goes through the roof.
The new calibre reduces the amount of waste energy produced by the movement so that more of the energy stored in the spring goes towards operating the watch rather than being lost as heat or sound from friction caused by the meshing of components. One of the effects being that the new movement has a power reserve of 80-hours despite the fact that an extra gear was added to the gear-train to account for the new structure.
The first watch to use the new calibre is the Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture. In order to show off the new pulsating oscillator the watch uses the Heart Beat style dial, which is a Frederique Constant staple, giving a small glimpse of the movement through an aperture at 6 o’clock. Counterbalancing the window is a pointer date at 12 o’clock, giving the dial a nice sense of proportion.
The watch uses a stamped hobnail guilloché on the dial, printed Roman numeral hour markers and Breguet-style hands for a classic look familiar to any fans of the brand. Containing the dial and movement is the 40mm stainless steel case with a display window caseback for an unrestricted view of the FC-810 calibre. There is also an 18k rose gold version with the same dial and another stainless steel version with a blue dial.
This watch probably won’t be winning any awards for its aesthetics but there’s no denying that this is an exciting technical development. It’ll be interesting to see how far this new technology is able to push mechanical watches. Although the true wizardry of Frederique Constantin’s work is that the new watch has stayed within their accessible horology parameters, the new model in stainless steel costing just £3,995.
Price & Specs:
Model: Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture
Ref: FC-810MC3S6 (silver dial, stainless steel case)
FC-810MCN3S6 (blue dial, stainless steel case)
FC-810MC3S9 (silver dial, polished 18K rose gold case)
Case/Dial: 40mm diameter, polished stainless steel (blue/silver dial) or polished 18K rose gold, 3-part case, guilloché clous de Paris decorated dial
Movement: In-house calibre FC-810, automatic, 19 jewels
Water Resistance: 30m (3 bar)
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Power Reserve: 80h
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date
Strap: Alligator leather with stainless steel or 18k rose gold folding buckle
Price/Availability: £3,995 (silver/blue dial, stainless steel) and £12,403 (rose gold), limited to 810 pieces each (silver/blue dial, stainless steel) and 81 pieces (rose gold)
More details at Frederique Constant.