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Frederique Constant - A Monolithic Paradigm Shift

Frederique Constant A Monolithic Paradigm Shift

Focus on the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture

If you have, at any point in your life, been the “watch person” in a social situation, the following scenario will be familiar to you. You’re at a dinner, perhaps, or someone’s birthday party, a high-school reunion; something like that, and the person you’re talking to finds out that you know something about watches. Or you have a social media account, posting about the timepieces that you come across. Someone asks you, what watch should I buy? Is this watch better than that watch? Is [insert watch name] a good watch? Now, I don’t know about you, but I like receiving these questions, because I’m always happy to see someone who wants to develop an interest in watches. On the other hand, answering these questions takes up an inordinate amount of time, because each answer is different for each person. What watch you should buy, whether or not one watch is better than another, what makes a watch good in the first place – all that very much depends on the individual who’s asking, if they prioritise things like utility or design, convenience or disruption, innovation or affordability.

I’m rarely in the position to answer these kinds of questions in a definitive way, which is why it gives me a lot of pleasure to talk about the Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture. This article states unequivocally that if you appreciate any or all those factors listed above (utility, design, convenience, disruption, innovation, affordability), the Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is a Good Watch™. Here is the first thing you need to know about this watch. It is also the most important thing you need to know about it. The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is the first watch to be produced at high volumes, using a modern alternative to the Swiss lever escapement, which has predominated in mechanical watchmaking for more than a century. The last time we saw a practical innovation in mechanical watch escapements was the coaxial escapement of George Daniels, now seen in Omega timepieces, and that premiered at the end of the last millennium.

A Monolithic Paradigm Shift

Slimline Monolithic Manufacture © Frederique Constant

At the heart of the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture (which I will henceforth refer to as the SMM, because there’s, like, 10 syllables in the full name) is a silicon oscillator vibrating at 40Hz (288,000vph). That’s at least 10 times as fast as your average mechanical wristwatch. This oscillator falls into the category of compliant mechanisms, a term that sounds kind of technical and intimidating, but it essentially means mechanical systems that exploit material elasticity and flexibility to transmit force and motion. Like the plastic clips used to fasten kids’ backpacks, just to name a super basic example, although compliant mechanisms are also used in extremely sophisticated contexts such as in aerospace technology and robotics.

A Monolithic Paradigm Shift

Slimline Monolithic Manufacture © Frederique Constant

We’ve seen similar types of escapement in concept watches by other brands, but they never really went much further beyond concept status or extremely pricey and extremely limited editions, making the Frederique Constant SMM a horological innovation with real practical value. The SMM replaces the traditional anchor and balance assembly with a single monolithic (hence the name) compliant mechanical oscillator in silicon. I’m not going to bore you with long explanations – or rather, I’ll save the boring explanations for another day. Let’s just quickly run through why a high-frequency flexible silicon oscillator makes for a better watch: anti-magnetic regulating organ, eliminates problems of isochronism, massive reduction in energy consumption leading to longer power reserve, near-invulnerability to shock and gravity (the villanous monsters that haunt the dreams of baby horologists), requires no lubrication and very little adjustment. Plus it looks cool.

A Monolithic Paradigm Shift

Slimline Monolithic Manufacture © Frederique Constant

The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is a classically designed watch on the cutting edge of technology. It is the first time anyone has successfully industrialised the production of a watch containing a compliant mechanism as a high-frequency, high-precision oscillator. Although this oscillator is in a completely different world compared to the conventional (traditional) Swiss lever escapement, it still obeys one of the most fundamental laws of mechanical systems – the principle that simpler is better. It is also wildly affordable for a watch of such disruptive potential, so affordable that I literally just cursed at my screen when checking its price on the spec sheet. The steel model is €4,495 (in comparison, the Seiko Astron cost $1,250 in 1969, the equivalent of just over €7,500 in 2021). Those are the facts.

In theory, the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture also encompasses the following thing: better timekeeping precision in the short and long term. Better shock protection, which means less time worrying about whether your mechanical watch can withstand various sports and activities in your life. Longer service intervals, meaning lower maintenance costs. What we should do now is find out if all these additional theoretical advantages actually translate to real life, because Frederique Constant is being extremely modest about all these implied benefits. They only want to talk about this watch, here and now, and declined to say anything officially beyond admitting that these advantages are indeed supported by scientific principles – which, you know, is something any half-competent technical watch writer could already tell you. We want definitive statements!

So who’s up for volunteering? Is there anyone out there who’s looking for an exciting new watch, with a sub-€5,000 budget, who has an inquiring and rigorous mind, and would like to help all of us “watch people” formulate a consistent and confident answer for all those dinnerparty questions? Do it for science. Do it for watchmaking. Do it for your WorldTempus family.

As a World Tempus reader, we are delighted to offer you the latest digital version of this GMT XXL magazine that you can download here. Happy reading!

 

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Frederique 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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