Earlier this year, Frederique Constant, the brand known for its accessible luxury focus, enter the crowded and hyperactive market of the sports watch with integrated bracelet, with the Highlife collection. In addition to the classic time-and-date and Heart Beat models, a third and far more complex iteration was launched, a perpetual calendar… And, hard to imagine, but I almost named this article “value proposition”, which could have been appropriate but this Frederique Constant Highlife is objectively not an accessible watch. What it is, though, is a properly accessible perpetual calendar watch, well below 10k euros, and one that you can now wear every day, everywhere. An interesting mix of sportiness, elegance, complex horology and fair price, which necessitated to come to the MONOCHROME’s office for a test.
The perpetual calendar is often considered as one of the most desirable complications one can wish in a collection. It is regarded as the ultimate type of calendar movement since it automatically takes into account all the oddities of the Gregorian calendar that is used in almost all cultures. This means that no adjustments are required for the months of 30 or 31 days, but also for February and its 28 days, and even when a leap year occurs, with 29 days in February, a perpetual calendar will still display the correct date. As you can imagine, such calculations imply a complex and often fragile movement and this is why, for long, the perpetual calendar has both been reserved to elite brands, and to elegant, delicate dress watches. Those days are gone, since the QP has slowly become more accessible (relatively speaking) and more and more sports watches are equipped with such high-end movements.
A few years ago, Frederique Constant embarked itself into a complex journey; developing and manufacturing a perpetual calendar that could fit into the brand’s vision of accessible luxury. That meant finding solutions to make the module adaptable to an existing, accessible and reliable automatic movement. Second, the QP module itself needed to be easy to produce and to assemble. This was done in 2016 when Frederique Constant launched its Manufacture Perpetual Calendar, a watch that does everything its QP name implies but priced below 8k euros… Impressive, indeed.
The new mission for 2020 was to enter another market somehow dominated by the industry’s heavyweights, the sports watch with an integrated bracelet. Once again, the watch had to be accessible, of high quality and classically designed, as all FC watches. And the final touch will come with the integration of the brand’s fairly priced perpetual calendar movement in this collection, with the idea to make it both accessible and properly wearable. Did the brand succeed in this mission…? Let’s find out.
The Highlife Perpetual Calendar
Let’s first talk about the watch itself, the Highlife as a concept. This watch hasn’t been created from scratch, as the name Highlife has been used in the past already. In 1999, the Highlife design was already characterised by its integrated strap/bracelet and distinctive case, with a central lug module but, back then, a round case and a certain baroque look. Those days are gone, of course, and the new Highlife is first far more contemporary, sportier and finally, it doesn’t hide its vocation to compete on the luxury sports watch market. This means that, if some of the design cues of the past model have been retained, a relatively soft and discreet 1970s feel has been added to this new collection.
The Frederique Constant Highlife has a design of its own. Certainly, it features the necessary shaped case that this category requires. It also comes with integrated straps and/or bracelets, it is made of stainless steel and is a mix between chic and sporty. However, some characteristics of the iconic luxury sports watches aren’t present, such as a complex shape for the bezel, a strong nautical inspiration for the case or, because we’re talking accessible luxury, an ultra-thin case or ultra-sharp polished bevels all around.
What does that mean? In fact, once you accept that this watch can’t be of the same high-end quality of a Royal Oak – obviously, there’s a huge gap in price – FC has done quite a good job in giving the Highlife its own personality. The case, measuring 41mm in diameter for a height of about 12mm, has softer lines than usually seen in this category. There’s a nice combination of concave and convex lines, bringing a certain dynamism.
The barrel shape, the rounded casebands, the half-moon facets located near the strap attachment, or the simple round and polished bezel, all of that give this watch more ‘chic’ than ‘sport’. A deliberate choice that fits the overall style of Frederique Constant, rather classic and timeless. In this vein, the case is water-resistant to 50m. Enough for daily use, but maybe best to remove the watch before jumping in the pool. Personally, I don’t see it as a problem, the watch being a perpetual calendar after all. But at least, you’ll know that it is resistant and protected enough for classic weekend activities.
The overall quality of the case is in line with a watch of this price range. It is clean, well adjusted and well assembled, but don’t expect the same sharpness as a VC Overseas or a Royal Oak. The case is the same as the COSC 3-hand model, a watch that retails below 2k euros. The combination of polished surfaces (bezel and casebands) and brushed areas (top of the case) is pleasant and adds to the luxurious appeal of the watch. On the wrist, the 41mm diameter gives this Frederique Constant Highlife Perpetual Calendar a certain presence, yet as often in this category, the integrated lugs allow for a compact feeling. The lug-to-lug measurement is just above 45mm, less than most watches with this diameter.
Looking at the dial, you’ll notice immediately something very satisfying. Despite being one of the most accessible perpetual calendars on the market, the Frederique Constant Highlife (and all FC perpetual) is equipped with a custom-made QP module, with correctly-sized sub-dials. The display feels appropriately dimensioned, and not packed in the centre of the dial as we’ve seen too many times in entry-level perpetual calendars. For the rest, all the necessary indications are there; date, week-day, months and leap year, and even the phases of the Moon. And all of the sub-dials are nicely integrated within the globe-like pattern applied to all watches in the Highlife collection, once again playing on curved lines to add dynamism.
Also available in steel with silvery-white dial and in two-tone with silvery-white dial, we had the blue model for our review; a classic colour for the category that never disappoints. Greatly contrasting over the stainless steel case, this blue dial brings a sportier and more technical look to this watch, more appropriate in our opinion than the light-coloured models. Time is indicated by sharp polished steel hands, pointing equally sharp applied markers. A decent amount of luminescent material has been applied on both elements, for a good day and night legibility.
If there’s no doubt on the complexity of the display, the movement itself has been conceived with accessibility and easiness of assembly in mind, in order to reduce costs. You don’t offer a perpetual calendar below 10k euros without some concessions. This means, for instance, that the movement isn’t integrated but modular, with the perpetual calendar mechanism powered by the brand’s classic manufacture automatic movement. This also means that the movement won’t be fully adjustable by the crown, as seen in some higher-end QP watches, but corrected via small recessed pushers in the casebands. If this allows for easy corrections, this system doesn’t have much mechanical noblesse… But if you think about it, even a Patek Philippe QP is equipped with such correctors. So nothing wrong on this side, especially considering the price range.
The back of the watch reveals the well-known manufacture self-winding base calibre that powers most of FC’s complications, including its chronograph or its Moonphase watch. Beating at a 4Hz frequency, it stores 38 hours of power reserve. The finishing, even if done by machine, is attractive with blued screws, perlage on the main plate, circular Geneva stripes on the large bridge and a gold-coloured rotor.
One of the features that is found more and more often in this category of watches is the ability to change between steel bracelet and strap without the need for a tool, thanks to so-called interchangeability devices. Whatever the price range, brands have made great efforts to develop simple mechanisms, allowing you to give your watch a different personality or to make it suitable for a certain environment – steel bracelet for weekends, leather strap for business, rubber for summer… The Frederique Constant Highlife Perpetual Calendar is no exception to this rule.
As standard, this specific Highlife Perpetual with blue dial is worn on an integrated stainless steel bracelet, with H-shaped brushed links and polished centre-links. Its shape complements well the case and its integration is adding a certain sportiness to the watch. This option is featured with a triple ‘butterfly’ folding clasp.
But as you’ve noticed on the caseback photo, the back of the lug module reveals a mechanism with pins and levers, allowing to remove the bracelet in a couple of seconds, without the need for a tool. The system itself is easy to use, and if not as precise and sharp as what is found on an Overseas, it is still doing the job perfectly. All Highlife watches are delivered with a spare textured rubber strap – whatever the movement or if you choose for a leather strap or a steel bracelet. In addition, the brand even offers a so-called ‘strapset’ with 3 suede straps (as seen above) for a reasonable price of EUR 295. That would give your Highlife Perpetual Calendar no fewer than 5 different personalities.
Time to answer the question we asked in the introduction. Did FC manage to make a perpetual calendar to be worn every day? Clear answer, yes. The Highlife Perpetual Calendar is a nice combination of complexity, fine watchmaking and versatility. Worn it on a leather strap and you’re good to go for a business meeting. Change for the stainless steel bracelet and you have a great all-rounder. And in summer, the rubber strap option will bring comfort and ability to handle some salty waters. And, let’s be honest, you’ll have the pleasure to wear a perpetual calendar, and that is always a treat for horology enthusiasts.
Now comes another question. Considering the price, there’s no denying that FC has done a tremendous job. A perpetual calendar, with a custom-built module, perfectly sized for the watch, far below EUR 10,000, is by no mean a small achievement. But if this watch is one of the most accessible QPs on the market, it isn’t cheap either. In this price segment, you’ll be able to opt for the classics, icons manufactured by established brands (Omega, Rolex or IWC, to name a few). So it’s all down to your requirements and needs – basically, choosing between the prestige of the brand or horological features. But if you’re in the market for an everyday wear perpetual calendar, and you have a tighter budget, look no further. The Highlife Perpetual Calendar will satisfy your needs.
Availability & price
The present steel-on-steel and blue dial Frederique Constant Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture (ref. FC-775N4NH6B) is priced at EUR 8,595, including Europe taxes and a spare blue rubber strap. The price starts at EUR 8,495 for a model with silver dial and leather strap. It is now available from retailers and from FC’s online boutique here.
And if it’s the style of this watch that attracts you, note that a time-and-date automatic blue model, with COSC-certified movement, steel bracelet and rubber strap included, will cost you a very reasonable EUR 1,795.
More details at frederiqueconstant.com.