The use of silicon in watch movements has made serious headway since first appearing in the Ulysse Nardin Freak back in 2001. This is thanks to advances in production technology allowing manufacturers to incorporate silicone components into the serial production of movements. We’ve even seen the material used to redesign core components of traditional regulating organs altogether, such as the Zenith Oscillator first shown in 2017, and the Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement introduced as a prototype in 2008 and commercially in 2013. Today, a new entry can be added to the list, and it’s from an unexpected source: Frederique Constant.
With the introduction of the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture, Frederique Constant becomes the first to bring a novel oscillator design that replaces the balance and balance spring to broad production. What’s more, the watch they’ve put it in can be had for under $5,000. While the Zenith and Girard-Perregaux examples mentioned above did come to market, they did so in very limited quantities and were not cheap. The Frederique Constant is different, and while it shares similarities with the Zenith Oscillator, it goes about it in a very different manner, and the end result is dramatically different, for better or worse.
What’s so special about this thing? Well, in short, FC is using a single piece of silicone to act in place of where you’d regularly find the balance, balance spring, and lever, with the flexible material providing the returning force to the escape wheel, which is incorporated into a recession in the design. In doing so it replaces 26 parts, and comes with the benefit of being anti-magnetic, less susceptible to temperature deviations, and is four times lighter than the sprung balance it replaces. The silicon disc even has regulating weights atop it to fine tune the remarkable level of precision on offer here.
This results in less force being applied to the components, and consequently 2.5 times less torque is generated. The energy lost with the stop and go motion of the Swiss lever escapement is a thing of the past here, and with no lubrication required, the net result theoretically benefitting the long term reliability of the escapement.
The star of the show here is a single piece of silicon, the Monolithic Oscillator, which is visible through an aperture in the dial when you can watch it flex in rapid succession. Oh, did we mention this thing runs at 40 Hz? In a movement beating at 4 Hz, or 28,800 vibrations per hour, the seconds hand will tick eight times between each second, here, the same span will see the seconds hand ticking 80 times. The whole gear train had to be re-engineered to cope with the rate of oscillation, necessitating a 4th wheel between the barrel and escape pinion.
To produce the silicone heart of the Slimline Monolithic, Frederique Constant partnered with a company appropriately called Flexous. The spec was straightforward, with FC looking for an oscillator that was the size of a traditional balance, allowing it to fit inside a standard movement, high frequency, an 80 hour power reserve, and be cost effective to allow use within a reasonably priced watch. Each of these were achieved in spades, and we find the new movement, the automatic caliber FC-810 in three new 40mm watches, two in steel and one in 18k pink gold.
Unlike Zenith and Girard-Perregaux, who used the opportunity to show off their tech in highly progressive case and movement designs, the Frederique Constant looks, well, like a Frederique Constant. If you’re a fan of the brand’s formal aesthetic, this is good news. If you aren’t, the exciting technology inside probably just got decidedly less exciting. At a glance, the watch has the appearance of a ‘90s dress watch with an ‘open heart’ design and stamped guilloché pattern, leaving us scratching our heads a bit when they have cases like the Highlife in their arsenal. Hopefully we see the movement move into other lines or spawn new collections in the coming years.
But hey, cool tech is cool tech at the end of the day and Frederique Constant has achieved something remarkable here at an astonishingly approachable price point. The Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is being offered in three limited editions. The steel case model can be had with blue or silver dial, each limited to 810 units, while the 18k pink gold model is limited to just 81 units. Frederique Constant.