Here’s a question: what comes to mind when you think of Frederique Constant. Be honest. I think for a lot of people, they represent prototypical “entry level luxury” watches that so many are exposed to early on in their watch enthusiasm. Their house design borrows from old-world classics that are anything but contemporary, and the brand’s whole aesthetic is based on making the customer believe that they’ve stumbled upon an affordable equivalent to out of reach grails. It’s not a bad strategy, and FC has made a lot of attractive watches with interesting movements, but scrolling through their catalog there’s an overwhelming sense that they are stuck in a time that isn’t our own in terms of their watch designs. There’s one notable exception, however, in the form of the Highlife collection, which just saw a small expansion with the addition of the brand’s well regarded Worldtimer complication.
The Highlife line has actually been around for over two decades, but it was revamped last year with a new case design housing Frederique Constant’s signature (and affordable) perpetual calendar caliber. Unlike FC’s typical designs, which are filled with roman numerals and cases that veer toward a traditionally formal look, the new Highlife case is an integrated bracelet sports watch that is very much on trend and of the moment. Sure, it’s also evocative of a decades old period in watch design, but it’s worlds apart from what we normally see from the brand. The Worldtimer is a natural choice as an addition to the lineup, as it represents something Frederique Constant does incredibly well, which is to incorporate traditionally high end complications into affordable packages. Their perpetual calendar is famously under $10,000 at retail, and there’s similar value in their regatta timer, and the Slimline Monolithic, which while not technically a complication, brings a next generation silicon oscillator to a watch at a price point that was not previously possible.
But back to the watch at hand. The Highlife Worldtimer Manufacture is very much a traditional, old school worldtimer, capable of showing the correct time in each of 24 time zones at a glance through rotating discs that are set via the crown. Once the watch is properly set for your own home time, you simply find the city in the time zone you need to reference, and read the time off the 24 hour scale between the applied hour markers and cities disc. These watches often fall into the “travel watch” category, but I’ve always felt they’re most useful for someone who needs to keep tabs on multiple time zones at once, even if from a constant “home” time zone. Of course, nobody needs a watch to do this at all, and the hypothetical person I’ve imagined here likely has easy internet access making a complication like this completely irrelevant, but there’s a certain romance to having a mechanical device on your wrist that provides so much useful information, even if there are easier ways to get it.
The Highlife case is 41mm and is paired with a stainless steel bracelet as well as two straps, one in leather and the other in rubber (both in blue, to match the dial). The user can easily switch between the bracelet and either strap with what looks to be a straightforward quick-change system, which is thankfully becoming the norm on watches like this.
The retail price for the Highlife Worldtimer Manufacture is $4,295. That’s not an inexpensive watch, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find an integrated bracelet sports watch with this complication in the price range. Frederique Constant is a brand that’s easy to look past if their more traditional designs don’t hold much appeal, but the Highlife collection has a very different flavor, and is proving to be a solid platform for some of the brand’s more interesting complications. Frederique Constant