Why the Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture Is Still Astounding Value

With the release of the Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture, the Geneva-based brand once more challenges the assumptions of what one can expect from certain price points by pulling together a lot of technology in a sub-30K package.

Frederique Constant has once again done what they do best: provide astounding value for watchmaking that’s usually unobtainable to all but elite collectors. This time it’s a new version of a watch which combines the prestigious features highlighted in its name, a tourbillon and perpetual calendar. Introduced on the occasion of the Citizen Group’s Fifth Avenue boutique opening in New York, the newest model offers all that for under $30 grand.

There are so many watches in the world and ever more released daily, that one might think it should be getting easier to find diverse company structures and product offerings. One might imagine that there would be so many outliers disrupting pricing expectations that those outliers would form a category of their own, but it isn’t so. The mainstream industry is remarkably consistent in terms of pricing strategy. Margins vary from brand to brand, of course, but, from the outside looking in, there seems to be a broad correlation that is immediately explicable.

Major brands and members of unstoppable groups offer a high quality-to-price ratio because of their economies of scale. Smaller independent brands that use standard, usually off-the-shelf movements often do so to free up the budget for creativity. As such, it is more than fair to say that “not all ETA-powered watches are created equal”, and that such a movement or its many clones have a place in watches that run from $500 up to $5,000 and beyond, bizarre as that may seem to the uninitiated.

What Frederique Constant is doing (and has been doing for quite some time, however), is creating calibers that feature technologies — some of which are entirely new and in-house developed and made — that barely make any sense at this price point. The value (especially in terms of technical excellence) is mind-boggling. Whether one finds the aesthetics attractive or not is by the by in terms of cost positioning analysis. In this regard, these watches aren’t just incredible propositions, they are bold statements of intent of the brand itself and a rallying cry to brands of similar means: gone are the lazy days — your public demands more! Now is the time to deliver.

Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture

Frederique Constant makes high horology (relatively) accessible

Whenever Frederique Constant releases a new complicated watch, I brace myself. Dutifully, I read the press release. I absorb the images. I imagine or try the watch on my wrist. I form a professional opinion and then a personal one. Is it a good watch materially? The answer in Frederique Constant’s case is always yes. Does it do something new? For this brand, the answers veers wildly from, “No, not at all, it’s just a nice watch,” to, “What on Earth is that oscillator all about, and why does it seem to be shivering? Is it cold in here?” Is it good value? Undoubtedly, when it comes to FC, you get at least what you paid for and often a lot more. Although this may be jarring for those who equate value to cost (something I’ve never understood), watches from Frederique Constant become better value the higher up the price list you climb.

The weird and wonderful regulating organs or complications the brand has, in recent years, made its bread and butter, are special. They offer watch lovers who truly appreciate the workings of the watch and what’s going on behind the dial, the chance to own mechanisms that previously would have been totally out of reach.

Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture

What you need to know about the new Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar

I’m not suggesting $30,000 is not a lot to pay for a watch. It’s a massive amount of cash. Where I come from it’s a very nice car and a family holiday with plenty of spending money to boot. But for a Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar from an established maker that has global recognition, it is an extremely attractive option. Better still, this complication has been deployed in the Highlife line (my personal favorite case shape from the brand), and gifted with a remarkably restrained dial that doesn’t crow about its inner workings too much. Yes, the tourbillon is visible at six o’clock through a nicely framed aperture, but it is quiet.

Here, legibility is king, and the watch is all the better for it. The very concept of a perpetual calendar implies daily wear and thus, in my opinion, all perpetual calendar watches have a duty to be chameleonic.

The versatility of the Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture is hammered home by the strap options available for this watch. While its natural home is arguably the bracelet upon which it is presented, it also comes with a handsome (and aggressively tapered) rubber strap, which changes its appearance entirely. A dark blue alligator leather strap is also available, which would be the perfect pairing for a more formal evening event.

Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture

Better still, from a daily wear perspective, this model is water resistant to 100 meters, which while something I would hope most brands could offer in 2023, is not something one should ever take for granted on a watch boasting such esteemed complications.

The stainless steel case is 41 mm wide and 12.65 mm thick. Considering it’s housing an in-house automatic caliber with a tourbillon regulator and a perpetual calendar, that’s impressive indeed.

Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture

Although this watch lacks a seconds hand (which no doubt helps keep the overall height down to these wearable proportions), it displays the date in the 3 o’clock sub-dial, the day across the dial at 9 o’clock, with the month and leap year indicator comfortably sharing the 12 o’clock register.

This watch joins the collection in the brand’s 35th year, which has also been marked by the opening of the Citizen Group’s very first multi-brand boutique on Fifth Avenue, New York. With such an imposing presence on one of the most desirable streets in the world, Citizen (Frederique Constant’s parent company) is well-placed to push the brand in new and exciting directions, building on the foundations laid by a stellar three-and-a-half decades in the business.

Personally, I would like to see Frederique Constant’s monolithic oscillator technology in more packages. While the brand excels at creating watches of a timeless style, I think there is also an opportunity for FC to really lean into its growing reputation as an experimenter and bring out more adventurous and avant-garde case designs that cause as many waves in the aesthetics-focused community as their mechanics have done for the tech-obsessed.

Whatever the future holds, it looks to be in safe hands. With Niels Eggerding steering the ship and overseeing successful launch after successful launch, it is surely just a matter of time before the gloves come off for good.

Tech Specs

Frederique Constant Highlife Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture

Reference: FC-975BL4NH6B
Movement: FC-975 in-house automatic with a 38-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, Minutes, Date, Day, Month, Leap year
Case: 41 mm stainless steel, water resistant to 100 meters
Dial: Dark blue with tourbillon at six o’clock
Strap: 3-link brushed and polished stainless steel bracelet Including an additional navy blue rubber strap
Price: USD 28,995
Availability: Available now. Limited to 88 pieces.

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