Review: The New Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB3 SPC

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Ferdinand Berthoud knows a thing or two about overachievement. Brought back to life in 2015 by Chopard president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the brand needed just one year to win horology’s most coveted prize, the Aiguille d’Or. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, Ferdinand Berthoud – named after the great 18th century horologist – went on to sweep the Chronometry Watch Prize at the GPHG in both 2019 and 2020, reminding us that they don’t only make absurdly beautiful timepieces, but also precise ones. Earlier this month, the Fleurier-based watchmaker claimed its fourth GPHG prize – the Mechanical Exception Watch Prize. Met with meteoric success, the brand has gone from ‘latecomer’ to ‘the gold standard’ in no time at all.

When we first saw and handled the new FB3, our Chief Editor was rather overwhelmed by the watch which he saw. See his initial thoughts in this release notes commentary here.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB3 SPC

With the FB1 and FB2 winning critical acclaim and competitive prizes, it was only a matter of time before the third pillar of the Ferdinand Berthoud collection, the FB3, was unleashed into the world. Indeed, as of last month, a new chapter for Atelier Berthoud begins with the introduction of the FB3 SPC timepiece. True to expectations, this is a watch with contemporary design with deep roots in tradition, and one that takes both form and function to the highest level possible.

Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the eagerly anticipated Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB3 SPC.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the new Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB3 SPC measures a relatively wearable 42.30 mm x 9.43 mm. While it is by no means dainty, the watch is currently the smallest one on offer by the brand. The model is available in either 18-carat white gold or pink gold – ethically mined of course, in-line with Chopard Group’s ethos. Its round case recalls the curves of pocket watches from the early 19th century, such as the decimal watch No. 26 that inspired the FB3, made in 1793 by Ferdinand Berthoud’s nephew, Louis Berthoud. A “porthole” on the flank at 9 o’clock allows one to see the movement’s cylindrical hairspring from the side. The sapphire crystal front of the watch is domed and treated with anti-reflective coating on both sides.

The case of the FB3 SPC is amazingly nuanced in design with finishing that is equally meticulous.

The FB3 SPC features an openworked dial design, with the seconds sub-dial and inner bezel ring for the hour and minutes the only parts left that can really be considered dial. Rendered in sand-blasted brass, the sub-dial and inner bezel ring are eggshell-coloured in the white gold variant, and black-varnished in the pink gold variant. The hours and minutes are indicated by faceted, open-tipped hands, while the seconds hand is lancet-style with a counterweight. The power reserve hand is in yet another shape: arrow. The power reserve track is engraved, with each tick representing 12 hours from 0 to 1. The rest of the ‘dial’ is essentially the watch movement – and what a movement this is.

An openworked dial reveals in full glory the innerworkings of the FB3. A glass panel at 9 o’clock allows one to spectate the cylindrical hairspring from the side as it ‘breathes’.

The Movement

Driving the FB3 SPC is the 230-part, 47-jewel Calibre FB-SPC. The movement has a power reserve of 72 hours when fully wound and operates at a stately 3 Hz beat. The highlight of the Calibre FB-SPC is the shape of its balance spring which is cylindrical and not flat as normally seen. Cylindrical hairsprings are a watchmaking niche that Ferdinand Berthoud, the horologist, worked on in his time. Louis Berthoud favoured its use in the aforementioned No. 26 decimal watch.

The Calibre FB-SPC is the only one of its kind to satisfy the chronometric (precision timekeeping) criteria of the COSC: ISO 3159 certification, made possible only by very precise adjustment. This is an especially big deal for movements with cylindrical hairsprings because the vertical nature of the hairspring renders it more susceptible to variations in ‘normal behaviour’, like when the watch case is perpendicular to the ground (spring in horizontal position). Most cylindrical hairsprings today are fitted inside tourbillons to average out errors caused by positioning. The Calibre FB-SPC, with no tourbillon regulator, becomes a challenge to get right. And the only way to get the hairspring right is to create the curves in the spring by hand in two specific places (where it attaches to at the balance wheel as well as the balance cock) all while assisted by a 20x microscope. This deceptively simple endeavor is anything but, and required two years of research to perfect.

When it comes to movement finissage, few in the business do it better than Ferdinand Berthoud, a notion further reinforced by the Calibre FB-SPC. Every single bridge within the movement features a matte surface, achieved by fine sandblasting. T

heir edges are chamfered and then polished – all done by hand. In the white gold variant of the watch, these bridges are 2N gilded while in the rose gold variant, they are black rhodium-plated. There are also plenty of inward and outward angles to savour. Each movement is entirely finished by a single artisan to ensure consistency.

A close up shot of the escapement reveals the fine tolerances involved in the watchmaking and finissage of the movement.

The Competitive Landscape

Time-only wristwatches are the bread and butter of the watchmaking industry, making them the most common type of timepiece in the market. A time-only wristwatch with a cylindrical hairsping, however, is extremely rare. The Ferdinand Berthourd FB3 SPC is a metaphorical unicorn this regard.

The good people at Atelier Berthoud don’t like to do things the easy way and instead prefer to challenge the boundaries of mechanical watchmaking. It’s early days, but it seems we already have a strong contender for the Chronometry prize at GPHG 2023. Its CHF140,000 price tag is a choking hazard, but perhaps easier to swallow once you consider the exemplary craftsmanship and watchmaking involved in the making, as well as the limited supply (of 25 pieces a year).

Perhaps the most direct comparison might be the Alchemists Cu29, which also features a cylindrical hairspring. This time only, and with a lapis laazuli HM and S sub-dials. It carries an even higher price tag of CHF 198,800. The Alchemist is a lesser known, yet not proven track record as a maison, but the work that we saw when we examined and reviewed the prototype showed every reason to be very impressed.

Another most stellar example of a watch with cylindrical hairspring before the advent of the FB3 is the MB&F Thunderdome, first announced at the twilight of 2019. The watch showcases a triple axis tourbillon with a cylindrical hairspring within its cage, visible through the sapphire crystal dome that protects it. It goes without saying that the watch – born of the collaboration between Eric Coudray, Karl Voutilainen and Max Büsser – is also superlatively finished on top of its impressive watchmaking. The Thunderdome in platinum is a limited edition of 33 pieces, each priced at CHF270,000 (at launch).

MB&F Thunderdome

Another fine specimen that features the cylindrical hairspring is the Montblanc Collection Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama, from 2015. Unlike the MB&F this one here ‘only’ has a single axis tourbillon that houses a cylindrical hairspring. Two three-dimensional globes can be seen just below the regulating organ; together, they display the time in every time zone on Earth simultaneously. Finissage is unsurprisingly attractive, though perhaps not to the extent of the FB3 or Thunderdome. At the time of its release, the watch in 18k red gold was limited to 18 pieces only and priced at EUR250,000.

Close up of the Montblanc Collection Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama

Final Thoughts

Four prizes. That’s a whopping four GPHG prizes in the seven years since the first Ferdinand Berthoud timepiece came along. The new FB3 SPC has got a tough act to follow, but a betting man would bet the house on the FB3 SPC to come home with something from next year’s GPHG. Given the chronometry theme (with a unique twist), expect the FB3 SPC to be nominated for the Chronometry Prize at the least.

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