Review: Ferdinand Berthoud FB1L – the age of the moon

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We are keen fans of Ferdinand Berthoud. They are are a very small brand, though supported by the might of Chopard, and the Karl-Friedrich Schuefele. This SIHH, they announced a new version of their Oeuvre D’or, and for Baselworld, a totally new movement – an extension to the FB1 line with a new complication: the age of the moon.

The F. Berthoud FB1L is available in two versions. One in anthracite titanium case which is ceramicised and sandblasted matte finished white gold bezel and crown as shown above. And the other in a white gold case with ceramic lugs.

F. Berthoud FB1L

Two versions are offered. The options are not only the case and dial variations, but also in the engraved 3 dimensional moon shown on the dial. In version 1, shown above with the black dial, and a case in anthracite titanium which is treated with ceramics to harden the surface shows the moon display which is the far side of the moon. And the other, shown below, is offered in a white gold case with black ceramic lugs, and a rhodium plated sand blasted brass dial showing the near side of the moon.

Both are limited editions of only 10 pieces each. The dark version is called the Ref. FB 1L.4, and the light version is the Ref. FB1L.1.

The white gold FB1L with black ceramic lugs.

The case, dial and hands

The case remains true to the FB1 case design. Both models are offered in the FB standard octagonal case, with two sapphire crystal portholes to allow light into the movement as well as to be able to admire it.

The case diameter is 44mm with a thickness of 13.95mm is not overly large for a watch with the complications it sports. And in addition to the age of the moon, moon phase waxing and waning indicator, it is also equipped with a very large diameter tourbillon and a fusée chain system to supply a constant force to the tourbillon.

The resulting case lines are rather elegant, and harmonious with the intent of the design, which is to reflect the aesthetic elements of the Berthoud chronometers of old.

The dial layout makes use of the real estate available quite well. At 12 is a small dial with the hours and minutes. a huge seconds hand, which is bent by hand at its extreme end to reduce parallax is a nod to chronometer aspirations. (The movement is COSC Certified.)

The dial layout is pleasing and logical.

At 9 is the toothed feeler-spindle with steel spring at 9 o’clock which transmits the information of the age of the moon to the hand pointing at the age of the moon.

The dial, showing the age of the moon on the top left, the engraved Dark Side of the Moon in the middle, and the moon phase, if its waxing or waning.

The age of the moon and lunar cycles is engraved on a raised quadrant cartouche on the dial. This is shown in the sector marked 1 to 14. Day 1 is the first day since the new moon. Facing this “1” is a symbol of a circle to show the new moon. The next three quarters are spread over the same sector as the days go by. Facing the 14th day is a solid disc, symbolising the full moon. At this point, the hand performs a gradual backward move passing through the same quarters in the opposite direction: three quarters, two quarters, one quarter, until the return to the new moon.

The moon is a 3 dimensional half globe, and engraved to show either the Far Side or the Near Side of the moon. From it, a small indicator points at a moving cam which is used to indicate if the moon phase is waxing or waning.

The Near Side of the Moon display.

This original mechanism is inspired by a system for displaying the equation of time developed by Ferdinand Berthoud in 1752. It was based on the use of a feeler-spindle arm that followed an equation of time cam. In this instance, however, it is an age-of-the-moon cam.

This invention earned him the title of master watchmaker a year later, by decree of the King’s Council. This contemporary interpretation serves to provide a disc-free display of the age of the moon by means of a hand moving back and forth with an accuracy of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 15 seconds – corresponding to a mere one-day difference in 577 years of continuous operation. This exceptional result is made possible thanks to the large number of teeth on the moving disc revealed between 4 and 5 o’clock. The Chronomètre FB 1L thus achieves a degree of accuracy in displaying the age of the moon that exceeds conventional moon phase displays, most of which remain accurate over a period of “only” 122 years.

The dial layout is legible, despite every part of the real estate is utilized. In the Far Side of the Moon interpretation, it is indeed a dark, and mysterious feel, which is totally different from the the one with the Near Side of the Moon.

Both dials has a totally different mood and gives expression to the watch, though the layout is exactly the same. The design aesthetics play on the fact that the near side is visible to Earth, and thus light and bright in the polished white gold and silver hue of the dial. And the far side, sometimes called the Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd?) has the dark anthracite titanium case and black PVD sand blasted brass dial. Dark and mysterious, as we never see this side of the moon from Earth. Interesting nuances.

The movement: Calibre FB-T.FC.L.

As with the other FB1 watches, the movement is visible through the sapphire crystal caseback. And the view is to die for. What a beauty! The huge tourbillon, measuring 16.55 mm is in titanium, and is magnificently finished. The constant force system is also visible from the case back. In addition a power reserve indicator is also visible.

The movement – Calibre FB-T.FC.L. Visually looking much like the other FB1 variants, has almost 30% of the parts which are new.

We have come to expect immaculate finishing on any Berthoud, and we are not disappointed with the FB1L. The attention to detail, both in the design and layout and the execution is bar none. This is movement design and finishing at its best. Crème de la crème.

The tourbillon is magnificent as usual on other FB1s. Immaculately designed and finished.

The age and phases of the moon are two different measurements. The moon phase is common in watchmaking. This is an indication that shows the moon phase typically as a visual fascimile of what we see in the sky. A lunation or lunar cycle is the time interval between two new moons. But for astronomical use, the age of the moon is a more useful indicator. It counts the days since the last new moon. And couple with chronometric measurements of time, made it possible to determine longitude at sea with unparallel accuracy nearly 270 years ago.

As such the age of the moon, being more complicated to implement is a more rare in watchmaking than moon phase displays. Furthermore, as a scientific measurement, it is rather less sexy than the romaticism and the inescapable beauty associated with the moon phase display.

The cam assembly which moves to show waxing and waning of the moon phases.

However, the FB1L is not the first watch to show the age of the moon. There may well be more, but we know of at least the Patek Philippe Ref. 5015, a model in production only from 1994 to 1999 which is one such example.

The competitive landscape

It becomes more and more difficult to make comparisons to other watches as increasingly, independents are coming up with new ideas and complication cocktails. Here we have a moon age and moon phase display, with power reserve indicator, hour minute and seconds hand in a watch equipped with a fusée and chain constant force system feeding a huge tourbillon. A movement protected by no less than 3 patents and one more patent pending. So we will leave this section empty.

Concluding thoughts

This is an absolute marvel of a watch. It ticks all the boxes. Brilliant aesthetics which is classical but still leading edge. Execution and finishing which is second to none. A special complication showing the age of the moon which is a rather rare one in wrist watches. And the magnificent base of the FB1 movement which we already love to bits.

The comfort when worn is very nice indeed. The FB1L sits nicely on the wrist, and the elegant good looks complement its status within the haute horlogerie hierarchy.

The F. Berthoud FB1L gets a high recommendation from us, and makes the list of the Chief Editor’s Choice: Top 5 Watches from Baselworld 2019. And other than the understandably high price of about a quarter million Swiss Francs, we have few reservations.


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