Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks – Hands-on Photo-Essay of The New Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic
Editor’s note: This is a rather different approach to watch reviews for us. Instead of our usual hands-on, we are instead going for a photo-essay storyboard layout. For our standard in-depth deep dives, please head to our dedicated review section here. Today’s watch was photographed with the grateful assistance of Linda & Co Designer Jewellers.
Act 1. Scene 1. The Desire
You walk into a store wearing a traditional watch, looking for your next mechanical timepiece. The usual dressy kind: Roman numerals, perhaps a gold case, decent dress watch size of 36-40mm, clean layout, perhaps a guilloche pattern, some classic Breguet elements, and something contemporary in the way it works. A weekend proof power-reserve would be nice too.
You want a timeless watch, but don’t want the same old technology behind mechanical watches, one that still uses the more than three centuries old spring balance escapement innovation developed by Christiaan Huygens in the form of a traditional balance wheel, balance spring, escape wheel, and pallet. A thoroughly modern piece is what you crave, but one that doesn’t scream ‘different’. And doesn’t cost a fortune.
Act 1. Scene 2. The Discovery
In the display shelf of a brand now synonymous with the concept of “affordable luxury” sits a dress watch that catches the eye.
At first glance, it’s a lot like other watches from that brand. There is an aperture that shows part of the movement.
In fact, this brand has an entire collection called Highlife Heart Beat centred around this concept.
But unlike the usual 12’o clock open heart display, this one features an aperture at 6’o clock. Wait. Is it a tourbillon? Hope not, because that’s nothing revolutionary.
But then you hold it in your hands. And wind it.
When wound, this aperture reveals a world first: housed inside it is an alien-like silicon oscillator that beats at the astonishing frequency of 40Hz.
This monolithic silicon oscillator is unlike a traditional spring balance escapement, as this new oscillator made of monocrystalline silicon needs no lubrication, is resilient to oscillations in temperature, less sensitive to gravity, generates lower friction and wear on the parts, and is completely insensitive to magnetic fields.
The marriage of old and new has never looked so seamless. Welcome to the brave new world of the Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture.
Act 2. Scene 1. The Reveal
So what is it? Announced recently on March 26, 2021 — with the Australian expected delivery to be from August — presenting the new Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture ref. FC-810MC3S9 in 18k polished rose gold. It retails for 25’500 AUD and is limited to 81-pieces.
There are two other versions available as well: ref. FC-810MC3S6 is an 810-piece LE retailing for 7’895 AUD and features a white dial and stainless steel case; the ref. FC-810MCN3S6 is also an 810-piece LE retailing for a slightly lower 7’695 AUD and features a blue dial and stainless steel case.
Act 2. Scene 2. The Heart
And how does it work?
The 9.8mm diameter x 0.3mm ultra-thin silicon monolithic oscillator replaces 26 components of a standard assortment with a single component fitted with two regulation weights that will allow other watchmakers to also fine-tune the frequency and regulate the flexure oscillator. This revolutionary design combines 40Hz frequency with a low amplitude of 6° versus that of ~300° of a regular balance wheel.
It has been designed in partnership with Flexous, an independent innovative horology-oriented technology branch of YES!Delft specialising in compliant or flexible mechanisms.
I could give you yet another rehash of the press release like other review sites, but it’s been done to death. Monochrome Watches in partnership with Frederique Constant originally had an excellent video explaining how the new tech works, and you can check it out below.
Act 3. Scene 1. The Need for Speed
Does the concept sound familiar? Yes. It was first used by Zenith back in 2017 when they launched their 10-piece prototype high-frequency watches, the Zenith Defy Lab.
These beat at the frequency of 15Hz, and were encased inside a way larger 44mm diameter case. They were also all spoken for even before the media got a chance at promoting these. They were also not under the 10k AUD. And unlike the new FC offering, they were also not traditional looking timepieces.
A couple of years later, in 2019 Zenith took it up a notch, introducing the Defy Lab Inventor powered by the 18 Hz calibre ZO 342 with a 50-hour power reserve. Retailing then for $17’800 USD (~23’000 AUD) — so three times the entry-level version of the new Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture 40Hz — it was a more commercial attempt, with the brand promising these watches in “hundreds”.
Now 4 years after the watchmaking industry’s first foray into silicon-based tech, Frederique Constant raises the ante, introducing the Slimline Monolithic, it takes this tech and makes it actually commercially viable by releasing three versions in multiple numbers.
In the process, it also increases the frequency to 40 Hz rivalling Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive second’s hand movement, and also increases the power reserve to an impressive 80-hours.
The FC Slimline Monolithic and Zenith Defy Lab are not the only high-frequency watches from the industry. There is a whole list of attempts, some more successful than the other such as: Breguet Classique Chronométrie 7727 (10 Hz), TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrograph 100 (50 Hz), TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrotimer Flying 1000 (500 Hz), and the De Bethune Résonique concept (926 Hz).
But price-wise, the FC takes the cake so far.
If you are a watch lover and wish to be on the innovative side of cutting-edge watchmaking tech, the new Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture 40Hz is the watch for you.
To put things into perspective, most modern watches beat at the frequency of 4Hz. That theoretically gives you an accuracy of 1/8th of a second. Or you can say that the second’s hand ticks 8 times per second.
This is the primary visual difference between a quartz watch and a mechanical watch, the ticking of the second’s hand in the former and the sweep in the latter. These days, the smoother the sweep, the more desirable the watches can be. Case in point: Grand Seiko’s famous Spring Drive movement watches.
If a 4Hz watch can almost provide for a sweep, now imagine how smooth will be a sweep when powered by a 40Hz frequency?
Act 4. Scene 1. The Disruptor
Ronald Reagan once said: “Status quo, you know, is Latin for, ‘The mess we’re in”. The watch industry has maintained its status quo for a long time, still apparently concerned about another attack along the lines of the 70s/80s quartz crisis.
Even the advent of Apple watches and other smartwatches was seen as a threat by some. It took the industry a while but rolling with the punches, a number of brands embraced the concept. Even something as useful as silicon saw a slow adaptation, with Rolex impressively adopting it early for its balance springs and lending it to Tudor’s in-house watches.
Like every industry, it needs is a shake-up now and then; “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things,” said Theodore Levitt, an American Economist.
So while we saw our share of exciting creative timepieces from various brands at this year’s Watches & Wonders, this is Frederique Constant’s shot at innovation. And for the starting price of only 7’695 AUD, it works like a charm too.
Act 4. Scene 2. The Monotony Killer
The sun rays shimmer like a million lights in the middle of the day. The waves go up and down slowly. The palm trees scattered across in the distance sway gently, sharing a silent kiss with the wind. A branch floats carefree. Two pelicans dive in and out of the water. The fish swim about their day, flirting with danger. A nice picturesque day unfolds. In that moment, I am calm.
Nature is life. The beauty of its workings is always mesmerising. But this view from my hotel room in Newcastle is appealing because it’s different. It breaks the monotony of my fast-paced Sydney city life. And as welcome as it is, if I were to stare at it for days on end, it will begin to lose its sheen. Will the quality of the day itself have deteriorated? No. But the monotony of it to me would be a deal-breaker.
In a similar way, automatic mechanical watches have pretty much remained unchanged as far as their inner workings go. There is the usual balance wheel and balance spring in a conventional lever escapement. And there is nothing wrong with that continuing. Just like nature unravelling above, newcomers to the world of horology will continue to be amazed by it. And justly so.
But for those who have been around watches for a while, monotony can set in. Sometimes there is a desire to see a change. Not a drastic one, just something that disrupts the monotony.
Frederique Constant debuts this very change, thanks to their new FC-810 in-house movement — within COSC-specs I believe — which uses a ground-breaking silicon monolithic oscillator.
Ground-breaking because even though the tech has been employed by Zenith in their Defy Lab watches before, FC’s version is smaller, way affordable, and seemingly actually in production.
As much as I would have loved for the brand to release this modern watchmaking tech inside a fresh, newly designed, more sporty case and seal execution, I nonetheless appreciate the ‘timeless meets modern’ vibe they are going for here.
With the use of guilloche — stamped hobnail design — features, classic painted Roman numerals, and Breguet hands, it’s like teaching an old dog new tricks.
Jeff Bezos once said: “If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”
Frederique Constant has always been in the business of pleasing its customers, hence the while ‘affordable luxury’ DNA. Simply put, the new Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic pleasantly presents disruption in a familiar face.
Act 5. Scene 1. On The Wrist
On the wrist, the new FC Slimline Monolithic is like any other traditional watch.
Measuring 40mm in diameter and 11.4mm in thickness, the watch is only 45.2mm lug-to-lug, making it a very suitable option for those with slimmer wrists. It’s got a good wrist presence though, given it measures 43.2mm in diameter including the crown.
The case shape is interesting as well, with the top part sloping substantially inwards as we go towards the case-back, with the actual display sapphire crystal that sits on the wrist measuring only 28.2mm.
This ~12mm change allows the watch to sit nicely on the wrist and brings a sense of welcome nuance to the design as well.
The watch features a universally desirable lug interhorn spacing of 20mm, which is a relief given third-party strap changes will be easy.
Want this watch to be even more trendy and modern? You can add the FC e-strap and you have a modern timepiece that not only ticks with its own contemporary heart and also a strap that measures your activity.
Act 5. Scene 2. The Details
I particularly like the overall finishings — even though not hand-done — on the watch, and I reckon the blue version looks like a million bucks.
The ref. FC-810MC3S9 we went hands-on with features a polished 18K rose gold 3-part case with a somewhat oversized fluted crown for easy grip.
The dial features a number of guilloche patterns, with the sunburst in the hour marker track being my favourite. Its execution reminds me of the dial of design of Cartier Ronde De Croisiere.
The analogue date indicator at 12’o clock not only brilliantly mirrors the 6’o clock aperture providing the dial with great symmetry, but I also like its execution.
The periphery track with the numerals features a concentric-circles pattern, while the inner space features the same guilloché hob-nail pattern as the main dial; but here’s the impressive part: speaking volumes about attention to small details, this hobnail pattern is actually smaller than the one of the main dial, thereby bringing a surface textural interplay to the dial.
Ideally, I would have loved for all this to be hand finished — and water resistance to be more than 30m — especially in the ~25k rose gold version, but as it stands, it’s still a very handsome dial.
The case-back is also decently finished, with spiral-circular satin brushing, Geneva stripes, anglage, perlage and blued screws. The openworked rotor is decent too, with vertical brushing and embossed branding.
THAT’S A WRAP!
There is a Lao Tzu quote that reads: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.
The new Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture 40Hz is that one step. We await its evolution…
To find out more about the new Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture 40Hz and other FC watches, head to their website here, or visit their authorised retailer Linda & Co at various locations such as Broadway (02 9212 3633), Rhodes Waterside (02 9736 1175), and Macquarie Centre (02 9889 0692). All images unless otherwise specified are ©Watch Ya Gonna Do About It. On another note, if you like green watches, make sure to check out our reviews of Watches & Wonders 2021 releases here.