Frederique Constant Is Serving Up a Feat of High Horology for a (Relative) Song
Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world.
At the loftiest heights of watchmaking, the tourbillon is a particularly celebrated curiosity. It was invented to at the beginning of the 19th century to solve a particularly thorny problem for watch owners. Pocket watches, see, tended to be worn on a fob chain and, when not in use, they would sit vertically in little waistcoat pockets, or left lying horizontally on a desk. This created problems for the accuracy of watches, as prolonged storage in one position meant that gravity could had negative effects on the delicate movement’s accuracy. The solution was the tourbillon, created by one of the all-time greats in watchmaking, Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Breguet’s "aha" moment came in 1795, when he realized that housing the escapement, the balance spring and the balance wheel in a constantly rotating mechanism would largely negate the effects of gravity. The tourbillon remains the pinnacle of watchmaking prowess at the highest levels—something of a litmus test of the chops of a serious watchmaking house. And it’s usually very expensive indeed. The microscopic extra parts (often more than fifty) required for a tourbillion, can easily push prices into six figures, and one priced below $50,000 dollars is as rare as hen’s teeth. One priced at $15,000 and change? It’s a positive unicorn. Enter Frederique Constant.
The Geneva brand is a refreshing rarity in watchmaking. Founded only in 1988, it is something of a whippersnapper next to the industry’s great icons, but it already has an impressive track record in offering—often at surprising prices— interesting dress watches that look and feel very refined. Accessibility doesn’t dissuade a brand with Constant’s self-confidence, however, from getting ideas above its station. Such is the case with the Classic Tourbillon Manufacture, created in a new 39mm size in celebration of the brand’s 35th anniversary (as well as fifteen years since it launched its first Manufacture Tourbillon). Initially revealed in gold at Geneva’s Watches and Wonders, the latest versions in polished stainless steel were revealed just last week. Available as a limited edition, the watches come with a deep blue or silver sunray dial (350 pieces each), with an outsized aperture at 6 o’clock revealing the tourbillon itself.
Here’s the thing; fascinating though the tourbillon decidedly is as a piece of horological wizardry, you don’t actually need one. Because—it turns out—there are actually two solutions to the problem of gravitational lag on the escapement. The first is to house it in a tourbillon. Ok. The other is to wear a watch on your wrist. Oh. The more or less constant movement of a watch on a wearer’s wrist more or less does away with the gravitational issues without the aid of a tourbillon. If Breguet had known back then that people would eventually get the crazy idea of strapping watches on their wrists, he might have scrapped the whole thing. Thank providence he did not. Tourbillons continue to be a horological obsession for high-end makers and collectors alike, and if your budget wont stretch to six figures, at least someone is making this kind of firework available for a relative song.
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