Wednesday, September 23

F. Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE: the epic new watch with a fusée-chain and remontoir d’égalité – our hands-on review

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Ferdinand Berthoud introduces an epic new watch with fusée-chain and a remontoir d’égalité, in a more conventional three handed dial layout. Two options are available in white or black grand feu enamel dial in a white gold or pink gold case. Limited edition of 10 pieces each. We received the watch for evaluation and photography, and this is our hands-on, detailed review of the F. Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE.

F. Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE.1 in white gold case, white enamel dial.

F. Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE

This a totally new model, from ground up, and departs from the FB1’s octagonal case shape, opting for a more traditional round case. The watch also features a grand feu enamel dial, in either white or black accompanied by a white gold or rose gold case.

The F. Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE.2 in rose gold case, black enamel dial.

The other key difference between the FB1 and FB2 is the latter omits the tourbillon, but keeps the signature fusée-chain. An additional complication in the form of a remontoir d’égalité is added to the movement to improve chronometry.

The case, dial and hands

The new case is a rather more classical shape – round. The dial is also more traditional, featuring a three handed stance, in either a white or black grand feu enamel.

The new case design retains a rather chunky look with the case measuring 44m in diameter with a 13.5mm thickness. The case looks heavy set, and robust, like a marine chronometer would, and ready to withstand the rigours of the sea and other adventures. The overall aesthetic feel is like a fine precision instrument, which indeed it is.

As in the FB1 cases, a window is framed by a white gold plaque which is attached to the case side by screws, and offers a window to peek into the movement via a sapphire glass insert. The fusée-chain is visible through this port hole.

The dial is a traditional grand feu enamel dial, made in the model of Ferdinand Berthoud’s Marine Clock No.6. It is a two tiered design, with a sunken central medallion and a raised perimeter marked with the hours in Roman numerals, and an outer circle of the minutes in Arabic.

The two tiered design is more complicated to make, as the dial comprises of two pieces, each domed, which is affixed to each other. Both are grand feu enamel, requiring a special kiln and temperatures of 800°C. Please refer to our detailed discription of the manufacture of grand feu enamel dials in our visit to the grand feu enamal specialist  Donzé Cadrans, as well as the Singapore based Travailleur et Jour.

The inscriptions on the dial are painted enamel, requiring additional firings on the kiln. As discussed, each time the dial is returned to the kiln for a firing, the chances of cracks, deformations increase, and the wastage rate goes up.

The hands are dagger shaped in 18k gold and feature a hollowed-out design. The shorter hour hand sits within the crevice of the central dial medallion, while the minute hand is highlited by a bulge half way across and extends to the base of the minute circle. The seconds hand is very thin, and made of titanium, weighing only 0.01g. It is a seconde morte, jumping once every second powered directly by the remontoir, this lightness becomes a benefit to reduces the power requirements of the remontoir. An arrow shaped DVD-blued 18k power reserve hand on the back of the movement is visible through the case back.

The overall aesthetic is one which is very sober, and classical, though the thick case makes it feel rather hefty. At first it a rather strange juxtaposition of heft and refinement, but perhaps a comparison can be drawn to the magnificent but massive casework of a Rolls Royce motorcar. So that appeases the mind. On the wrist, it sits securely and feels very comfortable – the weight becoming second nature very quickly, and indeed imbues the sense of absolute quality.

The movement FB-RE.FC

Flip the watch over, and one is overcome with awe at the magnificent beauty of the movement.

At first seem a bit barren, with superb use of negative space to offset the arrangement of the fusée-chain mechanism taking up half the real estate, and the movement lined up symmetrically on the 12-6 line. As described in our FB1 and Cabestan review, this is a reverse fusée system, where the chain makes a figure of 8 around the barrel and fusée. This arrangement allows for better balance on the forces pulling on the pivots of the barrel and fusée, and should prove more reliable than the implementation of a straight fusée as used by A. Lange & Söhne in their Pour Le Mérite collection.

The fusée-chain mechanism is installed in a flying configuration – pivoted only on one side, and is a patent of Ferdinand Berthoud.

Also visible over the mainspring barrel is a planetary gearing system for maintaining power, so that the barrel continues to discharge while it is being wound, and the Maltese cross stop work that halts the unwinding of the mainspring at 50 hours. Beyond this time, the barrel is no longer able to supply sufficient torque to maintain good chronometry. The click is also particularly well beautifully machined spring with a superbly finished beak.

Tracing the power flow from the back of the case, using the symmetry line across the 12-6 plane, we see the fusée on the top right which discharges power to the canon wheel which drives the pinion of the third wheel and consequently the fourth wheel. These wheels in the train are below the plate engraved with the Power Reserve markings and not visible from the case back. The power flow returns to visibility in the fifth wheel, also known as the escape wheel, right at the bottom of the movement, dead center. Over this escape wheel is fitted the remontior.

The remontoir technically is the name of a spring placed between two wheels on the power flow, but essentially it comprise of a separate escapement system with its own hairspring and locking and unlocking mechanism. This is performed by a lever system driven by a three sided jewel cam. The lever engages with three prongs which is fixed to and extending from the escape wheel. The prongs engage with the remontoir‘s lever to block the power flow when locked. When unlocked by the position of the three sided jewel as it moves, the remontoir is recharged by the forward motion of fourth wheel. During this recharge, the fourth wheel moves forward one small step until the next prong in line engages and locks the remontoir. And this occurs once every second, the sttoccato movement of the seconde morte movement is observed. The fourth wheel then drives the centrally mounted seconds hand indirectly (not visible from case back), which shows this jumping phenomenon to be seen once every second.

The remontoir system. Diagram by F. Berthoud.

The remontoir‘s spring is thus the only source which drives the swiss anchor’s classical unlocking and powering of the balance wheel. When it is locked, this small spring alone powers the balance, preventing the power of the mainspring to be fully unleashed on the balance. The spring itself is wound once a second by the mainspring. This is the reason why the remoitoir is a very effective constant force mechanism.

The remontoire is traditionally a power hungry device, particularly because of the friction it generates. Thus, it is installed at the escape wheel, where it receives the least force from the gear train. In addition, the use of the jewel cam and an extremely light seconds hand, reduces the power burden.

The FB-RE.FC calibre offers a power reserve of 50 hours, indicated a blued arrow-shaped hand placed on a sector engraved on the mainplate, visible from the case back.

Movement architecture, construction and finishing of the FB 2RE is exceptional. The maillechort briges are finished in a frosting made by fine manual graining with a brush, performed before the final drilling and milling stages. This ancient technique is similar to the one used by Greubel Forsey and Tulloch and endows the components with a brilliance not seen elsewhere.

The arrow shaped steel balance bridge is mirror polished, as is the upper part of the escape wheel bridge. The barrel and the fusée are satin-brushed, as are all 790 components of the chain. Finally, all the movement parts are hand-chamfered and bevelled with traditional tools. The quality control of these finishes is carried out under a much higher degree of magnification than is customary in watchmaking, using a 6.7x magnifying glass. The result shows. The finishing is exemplary, and absolutely the crème de la crème.

The competitive landscape

The F.Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE lives in a very special landscape, an epic new watch with the rare, perhaps unique combination of a fusée-chain and remontoir d’égalité. At S$307,500, it is not an inexpensive proposition, but we think it is not an unreasonable ransom, considering the attention to care and detail and level of finishing achieved. This price bracket makes it comparable to her siblings – the F. Berthoud FB 1 series. However, the earlier editions have a different aesthetic, a different dial layout and blessed with a tourbillon escapement.

The FB 2RE is perhaps unique in combination of this double complication, so it may be instructive and interesting for us to examine watches with either one of the complications, and not both together.

The most natural competitor in the fusée-chain mountain is perhaps the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite”, limited edition of 228 pieces now sold out, but offered in 2016 for S$118,500. The watch was released in two editions, and the 2016 release is in addition to the introduction Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” release in 2009 in platinum and rose gold, also now sold out, and limited to 250 pieces. The 2009 Richard Lange is offered in grand feu enamel dial, but the later 2016 offering is only in a metal black dial. Both releases use the Lange L044.1 which is hand wound, with fusée-chain, which the defining complication for the Lange “Pour le Mérite” collection. The Richard Lange does not have a remontoir d’égalité. The finishing on the Lange is excellent, especially series production watch numbering in the hundreds. In our judgement, good as Lange is, the finish is unable to approach the artisanal levels achieved by the FB2.

Another interesting consideration in the remontoire peak is the newly announced Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer – it retails for CHF 128,000 but the movement utilizes a dual train, dual remontoire, direct impulse escapement. But it lacks the fusée-chain. While we have not yet had the opportunity to examine the Lederer, the high resolution visuals we received look quite excellent and equal to the top independents.

In terms of finishing, we think the FB2 RE stands on the same pedestal as Greubel Forsey in our books. If Greubel Forsey were to make a comparable product, we would include it in this landscape, but they don’t.

Concluding thoughts

Karl-Friedrich Schuefele has always set out to be the best of the best with his work on Ferdinand Berthoud. He achieved this with the FB1, and now does it again with the FB2. This is not a product of vanity, or one which is hurriedly made. This is a product which is the result of careful thought and planning, of combining exceptional design skills and sense of aesthetics which is well tampered with the understanding of the brand and her historical roots. It is the magnificent result which comes from the toil of striving for exceptional finishing born out of noble roots, and the pursuit of excellence in the level achieved.

This is a masterpiece product if there ever was one. One can criticize the aesthetics chosen, but given the parameters within the selected aesthetic form, one must accept that the FB2 is true to its form. While there can be no argument that the quality of execution and finishing is impeccable and beyond reproach.

Photo Notes: Photographed with the Fujifilm GFX100 with GF120 Macro lens.

F.Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE specifications

REF. FB 2RE.1 / REF. FB 2RE.2
10-PIECE LIMITED NUMBERED EDITION IN 18-CARAT WHITE GOLD / 10-PIECE LIMITED NUMBERED EDITION IN 18-CARAT ROSE GOLD

CASE

• Round case in 18-carat ethical non-rhodium-plated white gold / rose gold, fitted with a transparent sapphire “porthole” at 10 o’clock.
Total diameter: 44 mm
Thickness: 14.30 mm
Water resistance: 30 metres
Crown diameter: 9 mm
Numbered edition: 1/10 to 10/10

• Dynamometric crown (uncoupling system) in 18-carat white gold, with black ceramic medallion
• Screw-in exhibition back in 18-carat white gold / rose gold fitted with a sapphire crystal pane glareproofed on both sides
• Domed “chevée” sapphire crystal glareproofed on both sides

DIAL

• Split-level dial in white / black grand feu enamel , black / white grand feu enamel hours & minutes track
• Inscriptions: “FERDINAND BERTHOUD” and “CHRONOMÈTRE VAL-DE-TRAVERS” in black / white grand feu enamel

HANDS

• Dagger-type hours and minutes hands in CVD-blued 18-carat gold
• Central seconds hand in CVD-blued titanium
• Arrow-shaped power reserve hand in CVD-blued 18-carat gold on the back of the movement

STRAP AND. BUCKLE

• Hand-sewn leather strap (125 x 70 mm, with a 20 mm buckle) – Various sizes available on request
• 18-carat white / rose gold pin buckle – Double-blade length-adjustable folding clasp available on request


FUNCTIONS

• Hours, minutes, deadbeat seconds, power reserve on the back of the movement, time-setting with stop-seconds device on the balance

MOVEMENT

• Calibre FB-RE.FC: mechanical movement with manual winding, constant force with fusee-and-chain transmission and remontoir d’égalité
Diameter: 37.30 mm
Thickness: 9.37 mm
Lignes: 16 ½
Jewels: 58
Frequency: 18 000 vph (2.5 Hz)
Power reserve: 50 hours

TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS

• Constant force with fusee-and-chain transmission
Suspended fusee – differential winding system (PATENT)
Suspended barrel – Maltese cross stopwork system (PATENT)
• Regulating organ
Ferdinand Berthoud two-spoke variable-inertia balance with four inertia blocks
Balance spring with hand-crafted steel Phillippe outer terminal curve (overcoil)
Swiss lever escapement
15-tooth escape-wheel
• Remontoire mechanism
One-second remontoire
Three-tooth stop wheel
Hand-crafted triple-faced synthetic ruby cam
Flat hairspring (steel alloy)

Components: 1,200 (including the chain)
Chain: 790 components
Length of the chain: 285 mm
Bridges: 26
Pillars: 10

DECORATIONS
• Nickel silver bridges with frosting-type finishing, secured to stylised steel pillars
• Engraved and black-varnished power-reserve indication on the back of the movement
• Hand finishing in keeping with the highest watchmaking standards

Officially chronometer-certified by the COSC

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