“Fully conceived, developed, produced, assembled, adjusted and encased in our workshops in Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland, the manufacturing process requires extensive work –mostly done by hand.” – Frederique Constant on their in-house manufacture movements.
Here at O&R Frederique Constant can be referred too as “the new kid on the block”. Having only stocked the brand for two weeks now, we are all new to the horological world of Frederique Constant. In these two weeks however we have been nothing but pleasantly surprised. The first thing that struck me was how young the brand is, with less than 30 years in the industry. The brand has developed rapidly over that time period now and produces around 150,000 watches a year. The brand itself is present in over 100 different countries and has over 2,500 point of sales globally. This is a huge advancement for such a new company, but once you look into the brands products it’s not hard to see why this brand has become so popular.
Founded in 1988 and launching its first 6 models in 1992, the brands first selection of models were very basic compared to their standards today. Over the last 30 years however Frederique Constants manufacture department has come on leaps and bounds, today they have a facility that measures 3,200 square meters based over 4 floors. Within these 4 floors Frederique Constant produce everything from components for their manufacture movements to the final stage of quality control.
Frederique Constant, like the vast majority of watch producers out there, have used ETA and Sellita movements in the past, they still do to this day. Its hard to name a watch brand out there that in their history hasn’t looked else where for movements. Rolex have used the Zenith El Primero movement, Zenith have used ETA, Patek have used JLC and both Vacheron and Audemars have used Frederic Piguet. It is a common part of the watch industry to look else where to aid in production. This doesn’t devalue a watch our make it worse, some mass produced movements like the Valjoux 7750 and and the Frederic Piguet 1185 are some of the best movements the world has ever seen and have been used from the likes of Tissot to Audemars. If a movement is solid, accurate and practical why not decorate it up a little and use it? there is nothing wrong with that. However, due to the fact that ETA have plans well in place to slowly cut down how many movements they supply, in house movements have become very popular, also collectors and watch enthusiasts alike often prefer in house movements as they commonly recognise them to be better quality. This is not always true. Frederique Constant have piled their focus into their movements to shy them away from ETA. Today, Frederique Constant as a brand use less then 2% of ETA movements in their production, with the vast majority being in house and Sellita based movements. Also out of the few Sellita movements used in Frederique Constants lower end collections, they are also modified considerably. For example, the GMT models that the brand produce have been modified in their factory to add the GMT function. Once again, this shows Frederique Constants ability to excel their competition in the watch industry by going the extra mile in production.
Frederique Constant however have taken their production quality to a whole new level and launched some truly beautiful in house manufacture pieces at amazing price points. Most Recently at Baselworld 2017 Frederique Constant launched a Manufacture flyback chronograph movement. This new system uses a patented star column wheel design which allows even more precise start, stop and reset functions on the chronograph, a design only used by Frederique Constant themselves.
Flybacks are not rare and have been used by many brands before, TAG Heuer for example launched a Flyback with an edited El Primero movement priced at over £6,000 and Baume & Mercier have used flybacks in their Capeland models which have used ETA base movements at just over £4,000. Frederique Constant however are asking for just under £4,000 for their in house manufacture column wheel chronograph. This is exceptional value for money, specially considering that there is currently only 7 in house flyback Swiss movements in the industry. This is potentially one of the best value chronographs on the market. The only competitor for the Frederique Constant Manufacture flyback is the Alpina In House Flyback at a very similar price point, if not the exact same price, are you suspicious? So were we.
On further inspection you maybe surprised to hear that the Alpina Flyback uses a very similar movement to the Frederique Constant. How is this possible? What about the Patented Star Column Wheel? Isn’t the Frederique Constant movement produced in house? Well yes it is, as is the Alpina movement, as Frederique Constant own Alpina both brands can claim the movement to be in house as the movement is developed and manufactured in the same facility. As you can see below, Frederique Constant and Alpina share the same building. The Frederique Constant movement is a little different however. Alpina’s talking point with their new flyback was the fact it only used a small amount of components, a very difficult feat in watch making. Alpina boasted about only using 233 components in their flyback watches, Frederique Constant then came along with a movement using only 227 components. Not a massive change in parts I agree, but once again a massive step in horological production.
Frederique Constant have produced movements that are in house developed, manufactured and assembled since 2004 and today they produce over 20 in-house movements. This feat of horological excellence shows Frederique Constants ability to compete on a mass level with larger more commercial brands. Not many of Frederique Constants direct competitors (E.G Raymond Weil, Longines, TAG Heuer, Baume & Mercier) produce in house movements, the few brands in competition that do produce in house movements produce only one or two movements, nothing to the same quantity as Frederique Constant. The rest all use similar ETA or Selita base movements. This really sets Frederique Constant apart from the rest, as they continue to develop their independence and show their capability to produce better and more unique products to their competitors.
Frederique Constant produce In House manufacture movements to please every price point. At the top end they produce the Slimline Tourbillon. The movement is in house to Frederique Constant and everything for the watch is produced, assembled and adjusted in the Frederique Constant factory in Plan Les Outaes. The watch sports an open tourbillon, a day night indicator and of course hours, minuets and seconds. The rotating tourbillon cage serves as the seconds as it completes one complete rotation every sixty seconds. The Tourbillon project first began in 2011 and took over 10 years to master. The Slimline Tourbillon also uses silicon on its escapement wheel and lever, a material used in much higher end watches such as Patek Phillipe Tourbillon models. Using Silicon is a massive advancement for Frederique constant, it allows greater time accuracy and more durability, meaning less need of a service in the future. The watch itself, even though it is the most high end watch Frederique Constant offer, is very reasonably priced. For a completely polished stainless steel model you will be looking around £26,000 and for a full gold model around £36,000.
At the lower end, Frederique Constant also produce a rather simple range called the Manufacture Classic. The Manufacture Classic came around in 2012 and its main purpose was to be a direct competitor to their main rivals by offering in house movements at very attractive prices. This simple watch sports the FC-710 calibre which is designed, produced and manufactured all in house by Frederique Constant. The watch sports a date sub dial at 6 and hours, minuets and second hands. It is a very traditional and classic style of watch with a rather simple yet elegant 42mm case. The entire range of watches comes on alligator leather straps and comes in a selection of dial options, you do have the option for a 42mm rose gold capped case or just a polished stainless steel. The watches themselves are very reasonably priced at under £2,500, even for the gold plated one! This launches them in direct competition with a mass market of TAG Heuer’s, Raymond Weil’s, Baume & Mercier’s and Longines to name just a few. Yet none of these can compete with the quality of an in house movement from Frederique Constant.
In conclusion Frederique Constant are the perfect answer to the person who would like a in house manufactured watch without the in house manufacture price point. For the quality of these pieces you would usually expect a price point double to what Frederique Constant ask for. As a brand Frederique Constant are continuing to develop their position and change the game by offering high end complications at very reasonable prices. The future of the brand is unclear and what technological feat they will conquer next is unknown. What we can confirm however, is that the brand will be around for a long time to come and will be going from strength to strength. I am excited to see whats next.