Everything You Need To Know About The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture
The Geneva-based brand has always been about accessible luxury, and its new timepiece brings a revolutionary haute horology breakthrough straight to the people.
It was January 1675 when Dutch mathematician, physicist, and horologist Christiaan Huygens published his findings on the use of a spiral spring and balance wheel combination in the Journal des sçavans. Huygens’ contraption consisted of a thin, coiled spring attached to the balance wheel, which allowed the balance to oscillate back and forth at a constant frequency, thus controlling the speed at which the watch gears rotated.
For the next three centuries, this system became the operating principle at the heart of most mechanical watches. Yes, it has been tweaked, but rarely has it been changed completely. But today, another watchmaker with Dutch roots, Frederique Constant, has announced a radical new movement – the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture – that uses a flexible oscillator and ticks at an astonishing 288,000 vibrations per hour, which is ten times faster than most mechanical watches.
It’s a big announcement, especially for such a young company. Let’s break it down.
In traditional mechanical timepieces, the energy stored by a coiled spring is released in discrete bursts by a regulating organ comprised of an escapement and an oscillator. The escapement transmits impulses to the oscillator (the balance wheel for the vast majority of mechanical wristwatches). The escapement, in turn, is regulated by the oscillator. Each oscillation, therefore, allows the gear train to advance or “escape” a pre-determined amount.
The big breakthrough of the new Slimline Monolithic Manufacture timepiece is that it uses a single-piece, flexible-pivot silicon oscillator. Due to its jointless structure, this revolutionary oscillator replaces 26 movement components – including the balance wheel, hairspring, and Incabloc shock protection system – all while delivering a caliber with an 80-hour power reserve that is thinner in size and ticks ten times faster than a conventional movement.
Designed in collaboration with Flexous – a branch of the renowned Dutch Yes!Delft high-tech incubator and specialists in flexible horological mechanisms – this new oscillating system is the very definition of unique.
Flexous was also part of the development of 2017’s Zenith Defy LAB caliber ZO 342 – a mechanism that replaced the conventional balance, balance spring, lever, and anti-shock system with a one-piece unit etched from a silicon wafer.
How do flexible mechanisms work? At the launch, live-cast from Geneva, Flexous founder and CEO Dr. Nima Tolou used an origami bird to demonstrate how energy is transferred. Tugging on the tail makes the wings flap, yet all motion is generated using a single piece of paper.
“There are many benefits of combining the function of multiple parts into one monolithic movement,” told Tolou attendees. “Internal wear and tear are non-existent, and it is naturally shock absorbent and 100 percent anti-magnetic.”
Friction-free escapements are not new. Along with the aforementioned Defy LAB, in 2000, Ulysse Nardin introduced the Freak with its Dual Direct escapement, which made the mechanism lighter, more efficient, more elastic, more resistant to wear, and, above all, completely frictionless, so it did not need lubrication. So, no, being friction-free is not what makes the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture unique.
What does make the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture unique is Frederique Constant’s commitment to affordable luxury. When the brand approached Flexous, the challenge was not just to create a watch with advanced accuracy, frequency, and run-time. It was also to make a finished product that was less expensive than its competitors’ concepts.
One of Frederique Constant’s biggest successes was its 2018 Quantieme Perpetual Tourbillon – a stainless steel perpetual calendar priced at just under $20,000. Now, hoping to duplicate that success with the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture, the greatest challenge was figuring out a way to manufacture the watch in large-scale production so as to keep the price down.
After the presentation, Watchonista spoke to Frederique Constant Managing Director Niels Eggerding about this particular challenge. “Because compliant or flexible mechanisms are so new, almost anything is possible,” said Eggerding. Using the example of the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture, Eggerding said that the key was keeping the movement small. “The base had to fit into the 700 series,” he said. “And the thicker the silicon wafer is, it can take up to two weeks to make. Thick is expensive.”
Viva la Revolution
Eggerding also revealed to Watchonista that the Frederique Constant team worked hand-in-hand with Flexous adapting the new technology to the brand’s traditional collections. And one of the first things they noted was that the standard gear train could not cope with the breakneck speed of a 40Hz regulator that causes the seconds hand to make 80 moves per second for the smoothest possible sweep. This led to the design of a completely new base movement – the automatic FC-810 caliber.
This mini marvel is housed inside a 40mm case with an aperture at six o’clock on the dial to view the oscillator. This design also pays tribute to Frederique Constant’s instantly recognizable Heart Beat design while showcasing its cutting-edge technology at a price that respects the brand’s commitment to accessible luxury.
Other luxe touches include an elegant dial with a guilloché/stamped hobnail pattern, printed Roman numerals, and Breguet-style hands. On the reverse side, an exhibition caseback offers a full view of the FC-810 caliber and its traditional Geneva stripes with perlage and open-worked oscillating weight. The Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is available in three limited editions: 810 pieces in a stainless steel case with a blue dial, 810 pieces in a stainless steel case with a silver-colored dial, and 81 pieces in an 18k pink gold case also with a silver-colored dial.
Some commentators have noted that they would have liked to see such a ground-breaking watch presented with a less traditional design. But again, as Eggerding told Watchonista, part of the populist appeal of Frederique Constant is staying true to its signatures. He added, “The coming three years will be dedicated to the potential of expanding this technology into other collections like the sportier Highlife series. Rest assured, more will come.”
Available this fall, the Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture will be priced at $4,795 for the stainless steel versions and $15,995 for the 18k rose-gold model. Learn more on Frederique Constant's website.
(Images © Frederique Constant)