The Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph Automatic: A Sports Watch in Secret Agent’s Clothing
There are several aspects that make this chronograph something of an outlier for the classically focused watch collector. But, oddly, the more you examine it, the more it seems elegant, sporty, stealthy, bold, modern, and classic all at once.
For a watch brand which has made more than a name for itself delivering classic watch forms and complications that are also accessibly priced, Frederique Constant makes a hell of a straight-up, modern, no-apologies, integrated/swappable-strap steel sports chronograph.
While the accessible element still holds true for the Highlife Chronograph Automatic (which lists for $3,750), there are some mid-century touches, like the beefy, long stainless steel case, the circular dial sitting atop, and the subtle op-art embossed globe decoration on that creamy dial that made me think of the beloved “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” TV show. Still, in nearly every respect, it is a modern steel chronograph with enough elegance to ride along on your next business meeting.
Alternatively, it works just as well on the wrist of secret agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Let’s take a look.
In the Details
The globe decoration cited above not only flavors the timepiece with an understated elegance but also anchors some thoughtful circularity to the overall design. To wit: the angled date aperture between 4 and 5 o’clock follows the spherical edge of the decoration, and the longitude/latitude lines of the globe get a subtle pick up from the baton chapter indices.
In turn, that simplicity is echoed in the flattened chronograph pushers, the straightforward crown, the minimal numerals on the traditional 3, 6, and 9 o’clock three-register sub-dial design, and long-bladed hour and minute hands. This all adds up to the uncanny double-agent at-work/at-play nature of the wristwatch.
A navy blue outer tachymetric ring – with that same blue repeated in the three sub-dials and lumed indices and hands – and the inclusion of a navy-blue calf leather strap with a nubuck finish, navy blue textured rubber strap, and a three-link polished stainless steel bracelet at point-of-sale, contribute to the more sporty, technical nature of the Highlife Chronograph Automatic.
In fact, the integrated strap/bracelet approach that makes it incredibly easy to swap out what holds the watch to your wrist is inspired by the Highlife line’s integrated lugless design from its introduction 20 years ago.
Finally, there is still one additional touchpoint of the Highlife Chronograph Automatic, and it is classic Frederique Constant: a very elevated Côtes de Genève-decorated, visible FC-391 calibre that delivers 60 hours of power reserve. For this watch’s price point, it is not only lovely to look at, but it is also a solid value.
But make no mistake – the Highlife Chronograph Automatic isn’t a rough-and-tumble diver (despite its water resistance rating of 50 meters/164 feet). It carries a dash of traditional elegance that, despite my disruptive introduction above, falls right in step with all the offerings of Frederique Constant. For more information, visit the Frederique Constant website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)