Sure, there have been several attempts in recent history of watch brands trying to replace the escapement, hairspring and balance wheel with a single-piece monolithic oscillator. There was the Zenith Defy LAB, made in a small series with a massive silicon framework occupying the entirety of the dial and vibrating at 15 hertz — all for the price of CHF 30,000. It’s a watch cool enough that I was compelled to buy one. There was the TAG Heuer Mikrogirder, winner of the 2012 Geneva Grand Prix’s Aiguille d’Or, which uses an “excitatory beam” blazing away at an insane 1,000 hertz. As far as I know, it was made as a concept watch, or possibly only in a few examples. Then, there is the Résonique High Frequency escapement created by none other than the genius Denis Flageollet, a 926-hertz device that he has placed in the public domain, inviting others to experiment with the technology because he feels it is critical to the advancement of watchmaking.
But there is no brand in the world save Frederique Constant with the courage, daring and resourcefulness to take a truly revolutionary silicon oscillator vibrating at an amazing 40 hertz or 80 beats per second, and put it into a regular production watch, which is incidentally priced at less than five thousand dollars. And I’m going to go on record here that their Slimline Monolithic Manufacture timepiece, which houses this staggering technical breakthrough, should be recognized as one of the most seminal achievements in modern watchmaking. It is proof positive that such is the testicular fortitude of the leadership at Frederique Constant that members of its management ought to be walking around with wheelbarrows for their enormous balls.
Which is exactly why I wanted to collaborate with them on a series of three models celebrating this titanic accomplishment. Our first watch is named the Frederique Constant × Revolution Slimline Monolithic FP. These last two letters represent the name “Future Past” because the idea was to create a watch that created the ultimate dynamic tension between modernity and classicism. The modernity, of course, comes from this truly revolutionary oscillator featured prominently at six o’clock on the watch.
The past comes from the inspiration of the dial, which references the classic gentleman’s chronometers of the 1940s. As such, we’ve selected a dial delineated by three different stepped sectors. The inner dial and the outer minute/seconds track are both aggressively frosted or, as the Swiss call this texture, grené. The raised area under the hour markers is circular brushed, and the finish causes this sector to appear lighter in color. For markers, we selected oversized applied Breguet numerals. And we’ve kept the Breguet style hands. As with any chronometer of worth, our watch features a large visible center seconds hand.
Finally, as a nod toward dandyism and joie de vivre, we’ve selected a stunning shade of salmon for this first watch, a hue I like to think is somewhere between the cheeks of a beautiful woman blushing involuntarily after you’ve told her a horrifically dirty joke and my favorite summer rosé, Domaines Ott. As such, the full name of this Monolithic watch is the FP(S) or Future Past (Salmon), which gives you a hint about the other models to come. But let’s first look at the underlying innovation represented by the Monolithic that makes it one of the most important watches of our era.
I like to think that the sound accompanying my mind exploding when my friend Pim Koeslag, Frederique Constant’s former technical director (and incidentally new owner of Dutch brand Christiaan van der Klaauw), showed me the Monolithic is akin to the final cannon salvo in ACDC’s “For Those about to Rock.” This, of course, occurred as he explained, “Wei, with this Monolithic oscillator, we’ve replaced 26 separate components including the escapement, the balance wheel, the hairspring and the anti-shock.” He then emphatically spelled out the advantages of the Monolithic oscillator to me.
Firstly, as it is crafted from a single piece of silicon integrating the four springs that drive its vibrations, it is totally unaffected by magnetism. Secondly, because it features a layer of silicon dioxide, it is not affected by thermal variation. Thirdly, it requires zero lubrication, so the traditional issue of the degradation of oil is moot. Fourthly, the angle of its amplitude, which is six degrees as opposed to a traditional balance wheel’s 300 degrees, consumes so little energy that even though it beats 10 times faster than a normal watch at 288,000 vibrations per hour or 80 beats per second, it consumes far less energy. How little you say? Well, in the same movement with a traditional oscillator, the watch would have 38 hours of power reserve. In the caliber FC-810 with the Monolithic oscillator, you have 80 hours of power reserve. As I mentioned earlier, what I love most is that Frederique Constant offers all these incendiary technical pyrotechnics at a price below USD 5,000. If this oscillator had appeared in any of the haut de gamme usual suspects’ lineup, it would be in a watch that costs a quarter million dollars.
Says Niels Eggerding, Frederique Constant’s managing director, “The objective from the very beginning when Peter Stas created our brand was to offer customers the greatest value possible, and that has to apply to everything we do, from the most accessible perpetual calendars to the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture. Of course, it would be impossible for us to recoup the huge investment we made in the watch, including creating a high-speed laser camera that can record 250,000 images per second in order to regulate the watches because using a traditional acoustic machine was impossible with an oscillator at this speed.”
The genesis of the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture timepiece occured during an encounter between Peter Stas and Dr Nima Tolou, founder and CEO of Flexous, an independent innovative horology-oriented technology branch of YES!Delft, specializing in compliant or flexible mechanisms. Says Eggerding, “One day, Nima Tolou approached Peter with the idea to create the Monolithic oscillator. What appealed to him was that it could be placed into a regular movement without tremendous modification and function perfectly.”
Says Koeslag, “We discussed it and said, ‘OK if we do this, we want to push the performance to the extreme.’ So we decided on the 40 hertz vibrational speed, which is far faster than any other regular production wristwatch on the planet. And we had to focus on achieving a higher standard of chronometric performance.” The first thing they had to do was find a way to effectively regulate the oscillator. They achieved this by adding two small weights which are used to change the inertia of the balance. Koeslag explains, “Even the most minute position change for these elements results in a huge difference in timing performance. So we really had to develop our own expertise at regulating them.” This, in combination with the high-speed laser camera, allows watchmakers to fine-tune the timepieces.
Eggerding adds, “Step one was to make sure the watches were reliable and viable for public release, which they are.”
One of the things I find most fascinating about the Monolithic is that the entire oscillator is not fixed by any axis to the movement. Instead, it is held in place by the stunning bridge which acts as a framework that retains it. The framework also acts to prevent the oscillator from bending to the point of breakage, a bit like an anti-shock device. Only the small silicon escapement wheel is fixed on an axis. When in motion, the oscillator’s movement is just barely perceptible. However, one look at the seconds hand tells you if the watch is in motion. On that note, at 80 beats per second, the hand looks like it is floating mysteriously around the circumference of the dial.
Says Koeslag with a laugh, “Occasionally, we get comparisons to the Grand Seiko Spring Drive seconds hand, but I have to explain that watch has no oscillator, our seconds hand is moving to the beat of ours — it’s just so fast, it’s almost impossible to see.”
The Frederique Constant × Revolution Slimline Monolithic FP(S) or Future Past (Salmon) will be made in just 100 examples and will come with two straps, a black calf leather strap with a deployant buckle, and an additional gray calf leather strap. It gives me incredible pleasure to collaborate with a brand that represents unparalleled courage, incredible innovation and unbeatable value on this iteration of what I feel is one of the horological world’s most important technical breakthroughs.
Frederique Constant × Revolution Slimline Monolithic FP(S) is available for sale on RevolutionWatch.com on 06 April 2023, 10pm SGT / 4pm CET / 10am EST. For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frederique Constant × Revolution Slimline Monolithic FP(S)
Movement: Self-winding caliber FC-810; 80-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Case: 40mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 30m
Dial: Salmon colored grené sector-style; oversized applied Breguet numerals
Strap: Black calf leather with nubuck finishing and deployant buckle; additional gray calf leather strap
Price: EUR 4,450 NET
Availability: Limited edition of 100 pieces