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The Millennium Watch Book
Frederique Constant  - Tourbillon quantième perpétuel manufacture

Frederique Constant Tourbillon quantième perpétuel manufacture

Fine Watchmaking, entry-level style*

In 1988, Peter Stas had promised to make ‘Swiss Made’ luxury watches more affordable; he certainly did, but back then nobody dreamed that this Dutch upstart in the world of Swiss watchmaking would extend the idea as far as the elusive, grail-like tourbillon QP, long deemed an impossible feat. Admittedly, a couple of firms that usually worked in the lowest price ranges had already attempted something similar. For instance, a little earlier (2014), Baume & Mercier had brought out a Clifton Tourbillon, but that was actually quite a different undertaking: the brand drew on the skills of its parent group (Richemont, more especially IWC, and indeed the ValFleurier manufacturing facility) to produce a very limited edition (30 watches) at what was actually quite a high price (US$ 59,000).

Four years later, Frederique Constant squashed this precedent once and for all with a more complicated timepiece equipped with a perpetual calendar, produced in a run of some 300 pieces in three versions – and for less than US$ 30,000. In doing so, Peter Stas, who in the meantime (2016) had sold his group to Citizen, demonstrated that virtually nothing could hold out against streamlined, business-oriented watch production – not even grand complications.

The biggest complication, the lowest price 

The upshot is that the purchase price was and remains the central feature of this Manufacture tourbillon with a perpetual calendar; in practice, its construction does not contribute any fundamental breakthroughs. The FC-975 calibre is built on the same base as all the group’s in-house movements: the tried-and-tested Heart Beat Manufacture calibre from 2004, to which a tourbillon had already been added by 2008. In 2016, it was used as the basis for the brand’s first perpetual calendar. And in 2018, Frederique Constant brought the three developments (Manufacture, tourbillon, and QP) together to produce a single, ultimate calibre, the Tourbillon Quantième Perpétuel Manufacture movement. All of these iterations were performed under the leadership of Pim Koeslag, the genius watchmaker in charge of all the Frederique Constant Group’s development (with 30 calibres developed in-house to date). Koeslag streamlined the price of its FC-975 by simplifying the design as much as possible, streamlining it to only 188 components – a very low number for a calibre boasting both a tourbillon and a perpetual calendar.

Not revolutionary, but well-built

As is customary in modern tourbillons, the FC-975 calibre tourbillon uses silicon for the escape-wheel and pallet-lever, providing excellent properties: silicon is light, hard-wearing, non-magnetic, and highly resistant to temperature differences. Making the wheel lighter also helps reduce inertia whilst offering more reliability and accuracy, as well as improved timekeeping performance in the long term.

Featuring 80 components, the construction of the tourbillon cage is quite complex, and is patented. Frederique Constant developed a Smart Screw system, with screws placed around the tourbillon rim to compensate for weight differences and ensure perfect balance for the cage; the principle was already being used widely, but was further improved by the Manufacture. As for the perpetual calendar, it requires no manual adjustment for the first 400 years, apart from just one exception due to the Gregorian calendar, on 1 March 2100. Two editions of 88 watches were initially produced in stainless steel, 88 in gold-plated steel, and 30 in 18K rose gold. Six months later, two production runs of 88 timepieces featuring a skeleton dial followed, still retailing for less than USD 30,000, plus a unique piece for Only Watch. Doubtless a minute repeater will be released any day now…

*This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years of the Tourbillon in  The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

 

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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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