Determined to shed its image as a brand limited to formal, classically inspired watches, Frederique Constant plunged into the luxury sports watch pool two years ago with its Highlife collection. Something definitely clicked because the brand’s more contemporary and sporty Highlife collection is driving sales noticeably. Represented by complications large and small, the Highlife finally received a chronograph last month. Presented in three flavours, the panda model with blue sub-dials and a silvery dial is fast on its way to becoming the most sought-after member of the family. Demonstrating the brand’s fresher, more contemporary direction, the hip French deep house and electro DJ, The Avener, promoted the panda model. Let’s take a closer look.
Like many brands, Frederique Constant’s Highlife collection of 2020 didn’t pop up out of the blue and can trace its family tree to the Highlife models of 1999. Although I find it hard to detect any similarities between the old and new, the original Highlife had a round, asymmetric steel case with a special leather strap or bracelet built into the case. The dial was a somewhat busy affair with upside-down numerals and dizzying amounts of information, but it was the brand’s very 1990s take on the chic sporty watch designed for everyday wear at an affordable price.
After a radical transformation, Frederique Constant pitched the 2020 Highlife as the brand’s new luxury sports watch collection. Swimming with the big fish in luxury sports watch waters is dangerous for several reasons. One is that you will inevitably be compared to the big fish (read Royal Oak, Nautilus, Overseas, et al.), and two, the market is more popular than ever, and everybody wants to have a finger in the pie. Teeming with contenders, ranging from the immutable, overpriced, and generally unavailable Royal Oak and Nautilus to indie brands like Laurent Ferrier, Urban Jürgensen and Czapek, the good news for Frederique Constant is that fewer brands in the accessible luxury category have dipped their toes into the pool. If we take EUR 2,000 as a benchmark, the Highlife is competing with the likes of Maurice Lacroix and its Aikon, Longines’ Conquest, Tissot’s Powermatic and even Citizen’s Series 8.
Luxury sports watch credentials
The makeover performed on the Highlife is so radical that comparisons between the old and new are nigh impossible, save for the ‘integrated’ bracelet concept with its polished middle links. The revamped Highlife collection is built around a 41mm steel barrel-shaped case, very in tune with the shaped case we associate with luxury sports watches. The sporty tonneau case with half-moon facets at each end features alternating polished and satin finishings on its middle, contour and bezel. Even the mandate for a textured dial is respected with the engraving of a globe with imaginary longitude and latitude lines, which admittedly works very well in this context. However, where Frederique Constant has truly excelled is in the bracelet/strap department, offering a user-friendly strap changing system (quick release pins), similar to the one used by heavyweight Vacheron Constantin in its Overseas family. All Highlife models, whether fitted with bracelets or straps, come with an extra rubber strap.
Since its debut in 2020, the Highlife has expanded its range and offers everything from a straightforward three-hand-and-date automatic with COSC certification to a perpetual calendar for under EUR 9,000, a QP with a tourbillon, a world timer (the last 3 with in-house movements), a skeletonised model and finally, the model we were all waiting for: a chronograph.
As our readers know, any watch at Frederique Constant with the word ‘manufacture’ tacked onto its name means that it is powered by an in-house movement. A good example of FC’s commitment to “affordable luxury” is the Flyback Chronograph Manufacture. Introduced in 2017, the complex flyback chronograph module (FC-760) took the brand six years to design and develop.
Instead of using its manufacture movement for the new Highlife Chronograph models, Frederique Constant went for a modified La Joux-Perret version of a Valjoux 7750 (FC-391). Seeing that there are three other models in the Highlife collection with manufacture movements – Worldtimer, the QP, and the QP tourbillon – why didn’t FC use its FC-760 manufacture flyback chronograph for the Highlife chronograph? The price argument doesn’t really hold because the difference is negligible; manufacture flyback in steel retails for around EUR 4,000, and the Highlife chronograph in steel retails for around EUR 3,000. Equipping the Highlife with the FC-391 automatic with its chronograph module developed in collaboration with La Joux-Perret no doubt responds to its sturdier build and longer power reserve of 60 hours.
The attractive steel chronograph with a blue and silver panda dial, one of the three models launched a month ago, was the only model released in a limited edition of 1,888 pieces. Like all Highlife watches, the case has a 41mm diameter and displays a combination of brushed and polished finishings. For example, the rounded rectangular pushers flanking the crown, the round bezel, and the sides of the case are polished, while the surface of the case and the caseback are brushed. A nice detail is how the pushers, set into the 14.22mm case, are slightly inclined, and their bases tapered to follow the contours of the barrel-shaped case. The case is water-resistant to 100 metres.
To give you an idea of how the watch wears on the wrist, our photographs of the Highlife Chronograph with a navy blue calfskin strap were taken on Frank’s 18cm wrist. Thanks to the quick-release pins on the back, the leather strap can be exchanged for the 3-link steel bracelet and navy blue rubber strap provided in the box.
The blue recessed sub-dials – small seconds at 9 o’clock, 30-min at 3 o’clock and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock – have white inscriptions and are exceptionally easy to read. What might strike you as unusual is the lack of a tachymeter scale on the chronograph. Instead, the blue flange of the dial is graduated to 1/5th of a second for more accurate chronograph readings. The applied hour markers, truncated at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock to accommodate the sub-dials, are treated with luminescent material, as are the baton-style hour and minute hand. A somewhat awkwardly positioned date window, crammed in sideways between the 4 and 5 o’clock markers, completes the functions on the dial. Despite the date window that seems like an afterthought, the overall mood of the panda dial is crisp, cool and contemporary.
The Highlife Chronograph is fitted with the FC-391 calibre; an automatic movement wound by a rose-gold plated rotor visible through the see-through caseback. The chronograph movement is an evolution of the Valjoux 7750 modified by La Joux-Perret. The cam-lever system of the Valjoux has been replaced by a higher-end column wheel, and the power reserve extended to 60 hours. That’s more than 20 hours extra compared to the more sophisticated in-house flyback movement with its 38h power reserve. After considerable work modernising and industrialising the column-wheel chronograph, La-Joux Perret’s L100 is one of the most competitive integrated automatic chronograph movements on the market and goes a long way in containing costs.
Availability & Price
The two-tone white and blue panda Frederique Constant Highlife Chronograph Automatic is limited to 1,888 pieces and retails for EUR 3,295. Unfortunately, gauging by its absence on the brand’s website, it looks like the reference FC-391WN4NH6 has been sold out!
More information at frederiqueconstant.com.