Affordable luxury has become the byword at Frederique Constant proving that you can have your horological cake and eat it too. Dispelling a lot of snobbery regarding the price of a well-made watch with complications, Frederique Constant demonstrates that you don’t have to flog a kidney to enter the complications market. We’ve recently seen the new and improved FC Perpetual Calendar retailing for under EUR 8,000 and today we will be looking at two new candidates in the rechristened sporty-chic Yacht Timer collection: the Regatta Countdown, a rather niche product designed for sailors, and a more conventional GMT for travellers.
The Call of the Sea
As any professional skipper knows, the start of a sailing regatta is a crucial, extremely tense moment. Trying to hold your position on an imaginary start line as you are being buffeted by the wind awaiting the signal flags and horn blasts to indicate the remaining minutes before the start of the race is no easy task. With a standard countdown time of 10 minutes, regatta racers need to be able to see the remaining time at a glance.
One of the most graphic and legible 10-minute countdown timers was the regatta calibre 1345 made by Lemania for Aquastar in the early 1970s. The movement was later taken on board by Omega, Heuer and Lemania itself. The beauty of Lemania’s automatic countdown chronograph was the colour-coded visual time remaining system with five large circles in the top sector of the dial changing from blue to red.
Essentially a reverse chronograph, Frederique Constant has adopted this five-circle countdown layout for its new Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown. This is not the first time a regatta watch sails into FC’s line-up, there was a family of Yacht Timers back in 1997 but with quartz engines.
Admittedly a niche product, the latest Frederique Constant Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown model features a built-in timer for the critical 10-minute countdown displayed in five apertures on the dial. The pusher on the top side of the case activates the regatta countdown in two steps. The first 5-minute countdown turns the colour behind the apertures from white to blue and then proceeds to the second and last 5-minute countdown as the five circles gradually turn orange.
Well-dressed on land and sea
Apart from the countdown function, these Regatta Countdown models do not have any details that suggest their nautical vocation. Ok, the chronograph pushers indicate a sporty function, but the overall look of the watch, with its “guilloché-style” dial and rose-gold plated hour markers, is dressier than any regatta countdown watch on the market today – check out this Panerai Luminor Regatta or the classic Rolex Yacht-Master II to get a feel for what countdown watches tend to look like.
The case is available in three different finishes: stainless steel with a silver dial; rose gold-plated steel with a silver or navy blue dial; and a two-tone steel and rose gold-plated model with a silver dial. As you can see, we had the steel/white dial and the rose gold-plated/white and blue dial models for our hands-on session.
The diameter is 42mm, perfectly sized for a sports watch but with plenty of elegant, polished accents over the brushed surfaces that are slightly at odds with its purported functionality as a regatta watch. The polished finishes give the watch a smart, elegant presence and there are other refined details like the brushed finish on the sides of the rectangular pushers. The case back is open and slightly domed but the lugs are tapered and curved to let the watch sit comfortably on the wrist. Water-resistance is of 100 metres.
The silver and navy blue dials all feature the same decoration, similar to the Clou de Paris hand-guilloché you would find on a Breguet dress watch. Naturally, the Breguet dials are hand-guilloché while the FC dials are stamped, but the result is pleasing. The baton-shaped hour markers are rose gold-plated and applied to the dial. The hands are also rose gold-plated and, like the hour markers, are treated with luminescent material to glow in the dark.
Another striking element on the dial of the Frederique Constant Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown is the central orange seconds hand to match the colour of the final 5-minute orange markers for the countdown. Although there are features that seem to contradict one another, making you wonder whether this is a sporty dress watch or a dressy sports watch, the overall effect is, I have to admit, quite pleasing. There is a generous sensation of space on the dial and legibility is good.
The FC-380 movement is based on an automatic Sellita SW-500 chronograph movement with a specific module for the regatta countdown function. Beating at 28,800vph, it has a 48-hour power reserve. Industrially finished, the rotor is gold-plated and decorated with Geneva stripes.
The steel and rose gold-plated models of the Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown come with a black, navy with white stitching or brown alligator strap and an additional rubber strap. The plain steel model retails for EUR 3,295 while the gold-plated models retail for EUR 3,595. Although the two-tone steel and gold-plate model is not online, it comes with a matching two-tone metal bracelet and will retail for EUR 3,495.
Yacht Timer GMT
Presumably, if you are an adept sailor you might even sail into different time zones and the Frederique Constant Yacht Timer GMT comes to the rescue with two new GMT watches. GMT models are not new to FC and have appeared in traditional garb in the Classics family. Although the watches are very different in nature, they share the same automatic movement. Beating at 28,800 alt/h, the FC-350 calibre features an in-house GMT module and has a 38-hour power reserve.
The 42mm case is identical to the regatta countdown model, minus the pushers, and is water-resistant to 100m and has an exhibition case back. The Yacht Timer GMT comes in two finishes: a rose gold-plated steel case and a two-tone steel and rose gold-plated case with an integrated metal bracelet. The gold-plated model comes with a brown alligator strap.
The dial also features the same “guilloché-like” stamped background, in white for the rose gold-plated model and anthracite for the two-tone. Even the hour markers are identical to the countdown model with the exception of the hour marker at 3 o’clock which has been truncated to accommodate the date window (both with a white background) synched to the local time.
A highly intuitive and easy to consult second time-zone function is featured on an inner 24-hour ring. The central GMT hand has a red-tipped arrow and a touch of luminescence in its centre. Instead of a day/night indicator, the GMT ring features a dark area and a light area to indicate whether it is day or night at your reference time. The price of the model with a steel/gold plate bracelet is EUR 1,995 while the price of the rose gold-plated model is EUR 2,095.
Both the Frederique Constant Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown and Yacht Timer GMT are handsome, well-executed models. The dials of both models have a lot of wide-open space with no sensation of cluttering. A curious addition to the family, the countdown model will appeal to a very limited sector of FC’s customers and probably explains the slightly higher than usual price tag – even though still reasonable. On the other hand, the GMT is a practical and versatile complication for anybody dealing with international clients/travel/trade etc.
The Yacht Timer family is FC’s vision of a sporty-chic collection and it manages to kill two birds with one stone. Both watches are borderline dressy (gold-plated details, guilloché dials) with a tiny twinge of sportiness (countdown function, pushers and the lume on the hands) although you’d be hard-pressed to find any other nautically themed or sporty details. Despite the mixed message and the fact that few owners will use the countdown model in a real regatta, I think the watches work quite well. The GMT model is a cinch to consult – shame the power reserve is so low – and you’re bound to attract all sorts of inquiries about those five holes on the dial of the countdown watch.
More information at frederiqueconstant.com.