Review: Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture – a unique take on the traditional oscillator

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It is not every day that a manufacturer does something incredible with watches. But for Frederique Constant, the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture might have just produced a rather remarkable timepiece.

In today’s market, it appears as though brands tend to tread a more careful path. This can be seen in the novelties over the last few years, where manufacturers tend to rinse and repeat popular models with different dial colours, vintage reissues, and “special editions” with subtle changes. Not that it is wrong, but these things tend to get a little predictable after a certain period.

Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture

The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is priced at S$7,093 for the stainless steel variant, and S$23,661 for the 18k rose gold model.

The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture, launched in March last year, is certainly one of the most interesting timepieces of 2020. Beneath its classic demeanour lies a fervid beating heart, which oscillates at 288,000 bph. That figure is nearly ten-times faster than a regular timepiece, and eight times the speed of the high-beat movements from Zenith and Grand Seiko.

Granted, it is not the fastest (the accolade goes to TAG Heuer’s Carrera Mikrogirder), but this particular Frederique Constant is definitely one of the frontrunners within the scene. What is more impressive is that Frederique Constant had managed to package it into a highly wearable timepiece, with a relatively accessible price point. For context, the TAG Heuer is priced at a princely-sum of US$120,000 (approximately S$161,840). This is indeed an exciting watch on paper. So, how does it fare in reality?

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is an elegant watch, with a 40mm three-part case that is crafted in either stainless steel or 18k rose gold.

It is interesting to note that the watch features a very classy case, which juxtaposes with the ultra-modern movement and escapement on the dial-side. Notably, the watch features a rather thin and rounded bezel, with a mid-case that angles inwards to create a rather sophisticated look. The curves also extend to the lugs and onion crown which, in the grand scheme of things, paired very well with the overall design of the timepiece.

Notably, due to the lug design, the watch is also very comfortable on the wrist. As the lug extends downwards, it reduces the overall length of the watch – which is a plus-point for collectors who have a smaller wrist. This combines both form and functionality, which is something that we appreciate a lot.

The contrast between modern and traditional continues onto the dial. There are many traditional watchmaking elements on the dial, such as the stamped guilloche dial, roman numerals, and the sub-dial that hosts the date display. In addition, the timepiece also features a pair of Breguet-style hands, which further accentuates the old-school theme that the brand is perhaps driving towards.

Interestingly, at the 6 o’clock position lies an aperture with a rather intriguing looking element. This is where Frederique Constant houses the Monolithic Oscillator. In the midst of everything traditional, this particularly futuristic-looking component does appear to be a little fascinating.

Overall, the aesthetics of the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is very pleasant. The placement of the Monolithic Oscillator might be polarising for some, but we love the contrast between the modern and tradition – all encapsulated within this well-designed package that offers something different from the usual.

The Movement: FC-810

Powering the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is Frederique Constant’s FC-810. The self-winding movement, notably, is the manufacturer’s thirtieth movement.

The pièce de résistance, naturally, lies in the brand’s groundbreaking oscillator. This is produced in collaboration with Flexous, a company that designs and develops innovative watch components. As we have mentioned above, the timepiece is special as it beats at over 288,000 bph, or a frequency of 40Hz. This is the first time that such a timepiece has been produced, at such a relatively accessible price point.

Of course, this is unlike most conventional watches. In order for the watch to operate at such high frequency, the standard balance wheel will definitely not make the cut. How Frederique Constant has done it is through the creation of an oscillator with monocrystalline silicon, which is said to be much more robust than the normal balance springs that we are used to. Interestingly, due to the lack of mechanical coupling (this mechanism uses much less components, vis-à-vis the standard escapement system), there is a lower generation of friction, resulting in a more reliable system that will generate less wear and tear.

The use of silicon also offers multiple benefits, which have been seen in other timepieces as well. These include full anti-magnetism properties, resilience to temperature variations, lightweightness, as well as the fact that it does not require any lubrication. Granted, most of these features cannot be seen through naked eyes, but on paper, it should translate into better reliability and robustness in the long run.

Notably, the operation of the oscillator is similar with that of the conventional balance wheel, to a certain extent. The oscillator oscillates on its axis, albeit at 6º instead of the usual of circa 300º on a typical balance wheel. Next, the regulation is done via the two bars, on the left and right of the structure. Finally, the mechanism is linked to the escape wheel, which can be found at the 12 o’clock position within the “open heart” aperture. All in all, it is a very innovative way to reinvent the wheel, with pretty good results altogether.

Performance-wise, the FC-810 is no slouch either. Aside from the incredible oscillator, the automatic movement also features a date function, as well as a respectable power reserve of 80 hours.

In the department of finishing, there are applications of perlage, satin-brushing, anglage, and circular Côtes de Genève. The finishing is what you will find in any entry-level luxury watch at a similar price range. It is decent, but definitely not mind-blowing. However, for the price and brilliant Monolithic Oscillator, it more than makes up for the finishing.

Competitive Landscape and Concluding Thoughts

The Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is priced at S$7,093 for the steel version, or S$23,661 for the 18k rose gold model. The former is limited to a production of 810 pieces for each of the dial variants (white or blue), while the latter is limited to a run of 81 pieces.

There is literally no competition in this space. The closest one is perhaps the TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrograph Anniversary Edition (priced at US$21,000, or approximately S$28,365) or the Zenith Defy Inventor (priced at US$17,800, or approximately S$24,420). Although it is not an “apple to apple” comparison, these aforementioned ultra high-beat timepieces are priced more than three times of the Frederique Constant. In terms of accessibility, nothing really comes close to what the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is able to offer within this realm of watches.

We do say that we really like what the watch offers, and the ideals that it represents. Here, we have a relatively modestly-priced piece that provides collectors with something unique and incredible. In addition, we really applaud Frederique Constant for being different – with the choice of pursuing horological excellence, instead of just regurgitating the “tried and tested” strategies of producing uninspiring timepieces with minute differences. It takes huge guts to do that, so kudos to Frederique Constant for the great work with this particular timepiece.

In conclusion, we are very happy with this piece. It wears well, and it offers something that is rather special at the same time. Coupled with a decent price point, the Slimline Monolithic Manufacture is a timepiece that true-blue watch enthusiasts should do a double take on.


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