Rapid and competitive innovation, at least like what we see everyday with televisions and mobile phones, isn’t a characteristic of the watch industry. If anything, it feels like a lot of luxury brands are consumed with playing this horological Parkour to craft increasingly complicated and expensive (and, of course, utterly gorgeous and impressive) mechanical works of art that also tell time. Rolex isn’t trying to outdo Cartier by producing a superior watch more efficiently and at a lower price. That’s a game for quartz and Japanese automatics that Swiss Made mechanical watches refuse to play.
Related to this fact is the reality that luxury goods, especially mechanical watches, often defy rational economics as higher prices signal quality and prestige and, to an extent, result in higher demand. Often without a clue of what it’s made of, who built it, or where it came from, consumers are willing to spend bigger sums on high-end products from luxury brands because the price tag reinforces the elite perception of these products.
You get what you pay for, right? Often, yes. Always? No.
Frederique Constant not only dedicates itself to innovation but also openly pays strict attention to this relationship between price and value. Established in 1988, the brand stands for quality, design and innovation, and it takes these principles seriously in constructing every timepiece. They’re involved in all aspects of production. All of their watches are hand-assembled, the cases hand-polished and the finished watches rigorously scrutinized and tested for quality. And they must be doing something right. Enthusiasts give rave reviews on the quality and design of their watches and, according to their website, the company has grown 25-30% year-over-year for the last five years.
Do you really have to spend $8,000 for a beautifully decorated and manufacture movement? Why can’t a luxury watch brand redefine value expectations in the market? Frederique Constant embarked on a project that resulted in what has already become a legendary, accessibly-priced luxury timepiece with an in-house movement that has accomplished just that. The Slimline Moonphase Manufacture is a watch that transcends value for its price. It’s not just a lot of watch for your money. It’s a long overdue consumer-driven Swiss Made innovation.
Case & Dial
The case on the Slimline Moonphase is constructed of a mirror-polished stainless steel and tapers from bezel to case back. It’s a 42mm wide case excluding the onion-shaped crown, and while it’s about 2mm larger than a proper dress watch should be, it’s still an easy size to wear, owing to the architecture of the case. Its angular shape is not only amusing but offers a couple of benefits. First, it adds comfort since less of the watch is making contact with the wrist. Second, since the case tapers away from the lugs, the 21mm lugs don’t need to be as long as they otherwise would to accommodate a leather strap, which helps keep the watch’s wrist presence in check and visually eliminates the gap between the strap and the watch case that we often see with leather straps. The Slimline earns its namesake as the watch is just over 11mm thick, an ideal thickness for a dress watch.
Whether or not you want it, the blue dial is going to pull you in to its serenity. It’s deep and reminiscent of a moonlit sky, a fitting backdrop for its lunar complication. The domed shape of the dial and its slight sunburst pattern play with light in such a way that the dial will appear dark at times, almost black, but a subtle movement of the wrist under the right light and the dial will transform to a navy colored marble stone.
Pure elegance are the time-telling components of this watch. The hour batons (which remind me of the Girard Perregaux 1966 Full Calendar) and leaf-shaped hour and minute hands are all polished steel. A particularly subtle detail to point out is that the tip of the minutes hand curves down along with the edge of the dial. At 6 o’clock is the moonphase indicator with another polished leaf hand but with a counterweight. The absence of a running seconds hand completes the calm, formal aesthetic, although if you’re used to a seconds hand then this omission may confuse you. Like many peacefully sleeping grandmas on TV, you can’t always be sure it’s alive without leaning in closely to examine the watch or holding it to your ear to hear its heart beat.
Proportions on the dial are magnificent, which is another reason I’m forgiving of the case size. The overall design is restrained but confident, and you can’t argue that the entire composition is tastefully executed. One potential concern worth addressing is legibility. Silvered hands on such a blue dial might not normally make for an easy time-telling experience, but the indices are chiseled into pyramidal shapes that readily reflect light and the hands always seem to catch enough glint to be fully visible against the dial. The domed, anti-reflective sapphire crystal is virtually invisible from all angles, allowing for a completely unobstructed view of the time; however, the dial itself is at times reflective, often returning a reflection that amounts to slightly more than a silhouette of your head if you look at the dial straight-on.
Frederique Constant started out using ETA movements and didn’t begin producing in-house movements until the early 2000s. Inside the Slimline Moonphase Manufacture is caliber FC-705, one of the brand’s in-house creations. The FC-705 is a 26-jewel automatic movement with a frequency of 28,800 bph with 42 hours of power reserve. All the functions of the movement are operated by a single crown, a feature that promotes an elegant and formal case shape.
The display back is breathtaking. Every time I look through the sapphire exhibition case back and see the skeletonized and engraved gold plated rotor whirling in front of heavy pearlage and circular Côtes de Genève on the winding bridge, I think of decorations I’ve seen from brands like Zenith, IWC and Girard Perregaux. Naturally, I recall their price tags and when I take another look at the Frederique Constant I can’t shake the feeling that I’m getting away with something.
Style & Comfort
I’m thankful I was able to take a look at the blue model because the color of the dial and the alligator strap are deep and luxurious. Without a way around it, this is a dress watch. It absolutely kills with a gray or navy suit, but thanks to its more casual white stitching you don’t necessarily have to take it that far.
After one day, the strap broke in beautifully. As far as I can tell, the underside of the strap is leather, but I find it to be extraordinarily comfortable against the wrist, more so than many other calf-lined alligator straps. The keepers on the strap stay fixed where you place them, which is always a huge win in my book. Too many watch straps have keepers that eventually give out and slide down near the case and leave me with a loose end of my strap sticking out. This is just not a problem on the Slimline Moonphase. The tang buckle is subtly engraved with the brand’s logo in its corner. I generally prefer a pin buckle to a deployant, but I’m not sure this implementation was suitable for the rest of the watch because it seems relatively ordinary to the rest of the product.
The Final Word
At a retail price of $3,550, the Frederique Constant Slimline Moonphase Manufacture will irreversibly change consumer expectations in the luxury watch market. When an impeccably designed watch with a highly decorated manufacture movement retails for a half to a third of its next best competitor, brands take notice. But the Slimline Moonphase is more than just a reasonably priced watch. In every sense, it’s a luxury timepiece priced for wallet-conscious enthusiasts amidst a sea of more expensive alternatives from major luxury brands who are hurriedly climbing upmarket. As I mentioned before, it’s a consumer-driven innovation, and I don’t think we see enough of it in the watch industry.
While the Slimline Moonphase is slightly oversized for a dress watch and its clasp is unimaginative, the watch is aesthetically superb. It houses a manufacture movement, it’s stunning on the wrist, and it retails at a sensible price. Without question, the Slimline Moonphase Manufacture is one of the best values out there right now and a strong addition to any watch collection. A dress watch is one of those types of watches you might never have got around to purchasing. Maybe your day-to-day life just doesn’t require one. Well, if you’ve been waiting for the right watch to come along to nudge you in that direction, the Slimline Moonphase Manufacture is it.
- Model: Frederique Constant Slimline Moonphase Manufacture (FC-705N4S6)
- Dimensions: 42mm x 47.5mm x 11.5mm
- Case: 42mm stainless steel
- Dial: Blue
- Bezel: Stainless steel
- Crystal: Domed anti-reflective sapphire
- Case back: Sapphire crystal exhibition case back
- Lug Width: 21mm
- Strap: Blue alligator
- Movement: FC-705 manufacture movement w/moonphase and date complications
- Water Resistance: 30m
- Retail Price: $3,550