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Frederique Constant - How do they do it?!

Frederique Constant How do they do it?!

An 8400 € perpetual calendar? Impossible! Unthinkable! And yet...

Since 2010, almost every complication has gone through a long phase of price reduction. Everything that once was costly is now available at a lower price, sometimes significantly so. Yet, there are bottoms and floors to that decrescendo. Frédérique Constant makes a point of lowering them further, as is the case with their 8400€, VAT included, Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture.

A closer look at the brand's history will show it has come quite late to complications. Their tourbillon, based on a manufacture movement, developed and assembled in-house, and partially manufactured within the brand's Geneva facilities, goes back to 2008. Back then, it too had made quite a splash, catching the whole watchmaking sector off-guard with its lawn-mowing price.

Then in 2016, Frédérique Constant did it again with this very very affordable perpetual calendar. Initially launched as a limited series, it has now grown to a total production of over 3000 units, and counting. The watch is indeed a success, certainly one of the most sold mechanical QPs on earth. Let's not forget that this specialty is generally costly, not the most useful on a daily basis and therefore quite low on watch-lovers priority list. Still, even if « in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed are kings », these numbers a quite the feat.

How do they do it?!

A wrist view of the Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture © WorldTempus / David Chokron

Even when manufactured in large, steady batches, therefore reaping the benefits of economies of scale and learning curves, a perpetual calendar amounts to dozens of components, some of which only move a few tenths of mm every year. This sophisticated system of interactions involves long and large pieces, fingers, levers, cams and very fine gears, resting on one another. So a QP may be easy to design on paper. But making it work is another kettle of fish. And if one thing indeed is true in watchmaking, it is this : if it's complex, it's gonna cost. So how in the world did they manage such a price ?

First, one needs consider the price structure of the brand. They use manufacture movements, designed and assembled in-house, but their manufacturing is done elsewhere, by members of that very wide and capable network of Swiss subcontractors. They cut and drill and machine everything one can imagine, everywhere between Geneva and Saignelégier. The brand hugely saves on a very costly manufacturing infrastructure. Second, they don't own stores, another substantial economy. Third, the QP-capable calibre FC-775 is based on the FC-710, another in-house movement manufactured in the tens of thousands, which furthers economies of scale. 

How do they do it?!

Calibre FC-775 © Frédérique Constant

But adding up all of the above still doesn't completely solve the Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture price equation. So one needs to involve Pim Koeslag in the conversation. That quiet, discreet Dutchman has been the Technical Director of Frédérique Constant for nearly ten years. He spent his whole career there, and therefore knows the brands abilities, and limits, like the back of his hand. He is in charge of implementing their core calling : affordable watchmaking.

He goes on to explain that the movements finishings are basic. Machine-made beveling, sand-blasted surfaces, no need to overdo it. A QP module is and will remain hidden under a dial and no one except an after-sales watchmaker will ever see it. 

It is also a matter of architecture. Calibre FC-775 is comprised of 191 components, of which 78 belong to the QP module. That is very little and very little diversity in components, therefore requiring less developments, less manufacturing sequences. It also means less manufacturing time. Furthermore, these 78 suffice where it usually takes 130 or so to do the job. Plus their shapes are leaner, straighter, less elaborate. And last but not least, this calibre has been designed with large-scale manufacturing in mind. The QP module is rather thick, which gives room for error. And once its parts are put together, the movement is immediately operational. No need to tweak and regulate it with no end in sight. This rapidity is the last nail in the price coffin. And like any other QP, the Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture will provide you with hours, minutes, day, date, month and leap year, with moon phases to boot.

How do they do it?!

Schematics of the calibre FC-775 QP module © Frédérique Constant

 

The brand

Frédérique Constant has made a successful business out of offering affordable luxury, experiencing growth rates well above the industry average. The owners have a clear mission to make fine watchmaking available to the largest possible audience of watch enthusiasts at sensible prices.

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