Frederique Constant Review: Brand History and All the Major Watch Collections

Frederique Constant Review: Brand History and All the Major Watch Collections

Frederique Constant has been making watches for only 35 years, but the Geneva-based brand’s list of accomplishments, and its impressive and diverse roster of timepieces, might well convince you that it has been at the horology game much longer. In this feature, we trace the history of Frederique Constant, showcase its plentiful milestones over the course of three-plus decades, and introduce you to the standout models in the current Frederique Constant collection.

1988: The Foundations

Peter and Aletta Stas

When Dutch entrepreneur Peter Stas and his wife Aletta Stas-Bax set out to establish the Swiss watch manufacturer Frederique Constant in 1988, they were rolling the dice on a business plan that was anything but a sure thing. The Quartz Crisis that had ravaged the traditional Swiss watch industry since the 1970s was still ongoing and the return of the luxury mechanical watch to prominence and collectibility had yet to ramp up in a major way. However, both the timing of the launch and the underserved niche that it targeted — affordable, elegant watches with Swiss mechanical movements for enthusiasts with relatively modest budgets — proved to be wise, as evidenced by the company still going strong in its 35th year, with an impressive string of milestones under its belt, which we’ll touch on below. Frederique Constant is today one of the largest Swiss watchmaking firms; the company doesn't disclose production numbers, but Peter Stas stated in 2019 that the goal was to increase capacity from 160,000 to 250,000 pieces annually. It sells those watches in more than 100 countries, and boasts no less than 30 in-house calibers in its relatively short history.

Frederique Constant Manufacture

Don’t bother Googling the name “Frederique Constant” in search of some ancient, forgotten watchmaker. The name of the company is actually an homage to Peter and Aletta’s great grandparents, Frederique Schreiner and Constant Stas, the latter a founder of a watch dial manufacturer in 1904, and combines both their first names. Dedicated to maintaining an elegant profile across the board for the brand but recognizing the demand for a sportier, more robust style of watch, the founders acquired Alpina, a historical Swiss watch brand known for its mountaineer-oriented watches, in 2002. Together, the companies became known as the Frederique Constant Group, adding a third brand, the exclusive, high-horology boutique Ateliers de Monaco, in 2008. The acquisition of the Frederique Constant Group by huge, Japan-based Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. in 2016 set the stage for its future growth and established Citizen’s footprint in the Swiss watch industry.

1994: Heart Beat

Frederique Constant Heart Beat 1994The first Frederique Constant watches, collectively dubbed the 18th Century Collection, were unveiled at a Hong Kong trade show in 1992. They were six prototypes outfitted with outsourced Swiss movements and assembled by a Geneva watchmaker, and they generated enough interest for the fledgling company to receive its first order. However, it would not be until 1994, two years later, that the Frederique Constant brand established itself and its signature look, with the release of the first Heart Beat models. As the name inferred, these watches were designed to show off the watch’s beating heart — otherwise known as the oscillating balance of its automatic movement, at the time a Swiss-made Sellita — through a thoughtfully placed aperture in the dial at 12 o’clock. This “open heart” style, or some variation of it, has since been adopted by other watchmakers but it is worth noting that Frederique Constant did it first. As Peter Stas once revealed to this writer in an interview, the clever idea behind the Heart Beat architecture (sort of a middle ground between a solid dial and a full-fledged skeletonized one) was a visual shorthand to the wearer, and to any skeptic who might notice the watch, that it contained a mechanical movement despite its very accessible price. 

2004: Manufacture Caliber FC-910

Frederique Constant Heart Beat Manufacture 2004

The goal of Frederique Constant’s ambitious founders was always to make watches with in-house movements, and that goal came to fruition in 2004, just 10 years after the identity-defining release of the Heart Beat models. In 2001, Frederique Constant had made its most impactful hire to date, the talented Dutch watchmaker Pim Koeslag, placing him in charge of the company’s movement development. The marriage of Koeslag’s technical expertise and vision with the resources of several elite watchmaking schools partnered with the brand, including Switzerland’s Ecole d’Horlogerie de Genève and Holland’s Horloge Vakschool Zadkine, led to the genesis of Caliber FC-910, Frederique Constant’s first manufacture movement. A manually wound caliber with a 48-hour power reserve, Caliber FC-910 was notable for several of its patented features, including the unconventional placement of the balance wheel bridge at 6 o’clock to be ideally displayed on the Open Heart dial — again, visual shorthand to differentiate Open Heart watches with the new in-house movement from their predecessors with Sellita movements (which placed the dial aperture at 12 o’clock). In 2007, Frederique Constant followed up with Caliber FC-935, which was not only its first self-winding movement made in-house but also one of the first watch movements in the industry to use non-magnetic silicon (or “silicium,” per the brand) for its escapement wheel; silicon components are much more widely used in watchmaking today.

2007: Vintage Rally Healey Collection

Frederique Constant Healey Series

The same year that Frederique Constant launched its groundbreaking automatic caliber with silicon parts, the brand — which had moved into its current manufacture building in Plan-les-Ouates, right around the corner from Rolex’s facility, a year prior — established its longstanding relationship with the heritage British carmaker Austin Healey. The subsequent Rally Healey series of tribute timepieces, which pays tribute to classic Austin Healey rally cars and their “gentlemen drivers,” has been a mainstay of Frederique Constant ever since; each watch is a limited edition and comes alongside a miniature scale model of a vintage Austin Healey car. The Vintage Rally Healey Automatic model from 2020 (pictured) has a 40-mm polished steel case and a dial in the deep, bold green historically associated with British motorsports and vintage Healey cars in particular.The automatic movement inside the 2,888-piece limited edition is Frederique Constant’s Sellita-based FC-303, with a 38-hour power reserve. As is traditional with the brand’s special Healey editions, its solid caseback is engraved with the image of a classic Healey automobile — on this model, it’s the Healey 100S N0J393 — and an individual serial number. Completing the package is the brown calfskin leather strap with contrast stitching and perforations inspired by vintage racing gloves.

2008: The First Tourbillon

Frederique Constant Tourbillon

In the mid-to-late aughts, the tourbillon was all the rage for haute horlogerie enthusiasts and just about every watchmaker that staked a claim in the luxury sector was driven to produce at least one, even the quintessential “affordable luxury” maison, Frederique Constant. (One could even make a case that the company’s Heart Beat dials were an early harbinger of the dial-side-display architecture that most tourbillon watches embraced, in contrast to their historical predecessors that kept that device hidden behind the dial.) In 2008, Frederique Constant introduced its Tourbillon Manufacture Limited Edition, equipped with the self-winding tourbillon Caliber FC-980, which boasted a silicon escapement and a day-night indicator in addition to the dynamically rotating tourbillon cage positioned in the traditional “Heart Beat” aperture at 6 o’clock. While its more accessible automatics and small complications remain the brand’s bread and butter, Frederique Constant has continued to cater to the bigger-ticket connoisseur with its tourbillon limited editions (which still tend to be priced at roughly half the cost of such a watch from most high-horology brands), and in 2021 even introduced a high-complication model that combined a tourbillon with a perpetual calendar. 

2009: Runabout Collection

Frederique Constant Runabout box setHaving already established its relationship with classic cars, Frederique Constant added vintage boats to its repertoire of timepiece influences with the launch of the Runabout collection in 2009. The watches take their name from the classic wooden motorboats built in the 1920s by Milanese boat designer Carlo Riva and today being preserved by Milan’s Riva Historical Society (RHS). Frederique Constant partnered with the RHS, as well as becoming a sponsor of the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance, one of the world’s most prestigious showcases of vintage wooden boats, in 2013; the limited-edition timepieces in the Runabout collection feature aesthetic details inspired by the boats and a sapphire exhibition caseback etched with the RHS flag. In a similar manner to the Healey editions, each Runabout is part of a collectible ensemble for sailing enthusiasts, packaged in a special gift box alongside a meticulously crafted replica boat. 

2012: Classics Worldtimer Manufacture

Frederique Constant Classics Worldtimer

Frederique Constant continued its well-established tradition of offering high complications at affordable prices with the release of the first Classics Worldtimer Manufacture in 2012. The ingenious in-house movement inside the watch, Caliber FC-718, allows adjustment of all the timing and world-time functions through the crown without the need for additional pushers — a rarity at the model’s sub-$5,000 price point. Its 42mm case has a luxurious polished finish, a convex sapphire crystal, and a dial etched with a textured world-map motif and bordered by concentric rings: an inner 24-hour day-night scale and a 24-city ring that rotates to set the time in any time zone in the world. At 6 o’clock, beneath the javelin hands that point to the local time, a subdial hosts an analog date indicator with a 1-31 scale. The original Classics Worldtimer is now available in a variety of dial colorways, and in 2021, Frederique Constant installed the innovative world-time movement inside the tonneau case of its Highlife collection to create a more sporty, streamlined version of the Worldtimer that also offers the Highlife family’s easy-change bracelet and strap system.

2015: Horological Smartwatch

Frederique Constant Horological SmartwatchIn early 2015, the overwhelming buzz in the watch world — the world in general, actually — was the anticipated launch of the Apple Watch and the dominance of the smartwatch that it would usher in, heralding the doom of the luxury mechanical timekeeper. Fortunately, despite the dazzling success of the former event, the latter event never quite transpired, but Frederique Constant was the first of Switzerland’s “traditional” watch manufacturers to identify the potential of a Swiss-made watch with smartphone connectivity and useful digital applications — or at least the first one to put one on the market. The Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatch launched in February 2015 — several months ahead of the April launch of the Apple Watch and nearly a year ahead of TAG Heuer’s Connected Watch release in November. Its high-tech movement sprang from a partnership established between Stas and Silicon-based Fullpower, a pioneer in wearable technology — a project geared to combining the classical elegance of a Swiss watch with the high-tech utility of a smartwatch. Like any good high-tech product, the Horological Smartwatch has evolved through several upgrades since the original version, starting with the “Notify” version in 2016, adding a notifications feature to the suite of functions. In 2018, the brand’s braintrust created an even more intimate marriage of smart tech and horology in the Classic Hybrid Manufacture, whose in-house Caliber FC-750 incorporates both automatic mechanical timekeeping and quartz-driven smartwatch capabilities. The Vitality models released in 2020 feature a “one-dial, two-display” system with a classical three-hand dial that can be switched over to display non-timekeeping, connected data with a push of the crown.

2016: Manufacture Perpetual Calendar

Frederique Constant Highlife Perpetual Calendar

Turning its attention from smart technology back to high horological complication, Frederique Constant unveiled its most complex timepiece to date in 2016, the original Manufacture Perpetual Calendar. Its movement, the self-winding Caliber FC-775, was the result of more than two years of development by Koeslag and his team. The calendar functions are designed to be more user-friendly than most, settable and adjustable via inset buttons on the case: the button near 5 o’clock advances the moon-phase display (at 6 o’clock on the dial); another button at 10 o’clock simultaneously advances the day and date, on subdials at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock; and the one near 11 o’clock simultaneously adjusts the month and the leap year, displayed on the same subdial at 12 o’clock. The movement is also a marvel of minimalist complexity, consisting of 191 parts and measuring just 6.7 mm thick, while holding a power reserve of 38 hours. As with the Worldtimer, the FC-775 caliber now finds itself installed not only in the elegant, round Classics case but also in the bolder, barrel-shaped Highlife (pictured). As per Frederique Constant’s mission statement, all versions of the perpetual calendar are offered at head-turning prices for such an elite complication, generally under $10,000.

2017: Flyback Chronograph Manufacture

Frederique Constant Flyback Chronograph

Another difficult-to-achieve high complication, inside another in-house movement, followed in 2017. The Frederique Constant Flyback Chronograph Manufacture, whose three-register dial was inspired by models from the 1930s, marked the debut of automatic Caliber FC-760. The movement’s noteworthy innovation is its unconventional, star-shaped column wheel that rotates on bearings to govern the integrated stopwatch’s start, stop, and reset functions. Working in unison with the operating lever, which is controlled by the start/stop push-piece, the star-shaped wheel is responsible for the mechanism’s exceptionally smooth operation. Instead of a traditional clutch, Caliber FC-760 uses a swiveling component with two toothed pinions. When the button is pressed, it connects the two levels of the modular caliber together: at the lower base level, it conveys the rotation of the center seconds to the actuating mechanism to turn the chronograph hands. Simultaneously, the lower central seconds hand also drives the seconds hand at 9 o’clock, which turns continuously in unison. The rotations of the chronograph hand are “recorded” by the 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock. The watch’s round 42mm case was originally offered in stainless steel and rose-gold-plated steel, and its tricompax dial finds room for an analog date display in addition to the small seconds and chronograph readouts, while bearing a historically inspired tachymeter scale on its outer periphery. 

2020: Highlife Collection

Frederique Constant Highlife Automatic

Frederique Constant rolled out its original Highlife collection in 1999, shortly after the brand established itself, and revived it in a big way, after a long hiatus, in 2020. Modern Highlife models are defined by their curvilinear tonneau-shaped cases, integrated and interchangeable bracelets and straps, and a textured globe motif on the dial, as seen on the navy-blue-dialed Automatic model featured here. Its three-part, polished steel case measures 41mm in diameter, the silver-toned hands and applied indexes are coated with white luminous material, and the convex sapphire crystal has an anti-glare treatment. The automatic movement inside the case holds a somewhat pedestrian 38-hour power reserve but also boasts a COSC chronometer certification for timekeeping accuracy, a bonus at this price point. As alluded to earlier, the Highlife collection, in just the few short years since its grand revival, has become a major pillar of the Frederique Constant brand, offering chronographs, Heart Beat editions, ladies’ models, and its own versions of the popular Worldtimer and Perpetual Calendar complications. 

2021: Slimline Monolithic

Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic

Frederique Constant kicked off the third decade of the 20th Century with a decidedly forward-looking, avant-garde movement technology. The Slimline Monolithic houses an all-new caliber outfitted with an innovative device called a “Monolithic oscillator,” which essentially replaces the 20-plus-piece, centuries-old balance-spring-based regulation system with a single-piece “flexure pivot oscillator” made of silicon and fitted with two regulation weights to integrate the escapement directly into its structure. The Monolithic movement beats behind a very classical dial with Roman numeral indexes, Breguet hands, and a guilloché texture, all framing the Heart Beat aperture at 6 o’clock that offers a view of the futuristic oscillator. Whether this type of movement proves to be the future of mechanical watchmaking, or remains a curious niche invention, it speaks to Frederique Constant’s continuing devotion to moving the industry forward in its 35th year and beyond. 

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