The Frederique Constant Highlife Collection was the rookie of 2020
Is the Frederique Constant Highlife collection what the Swiss Made accessible luxury brand was missing in its product portfolio? Yes, it was, at least by scrolling through the sales volumes. According to rumors, the new watch collection exceeded any business expectations, and even more so considering how industry and market have been affected by the pandemic. If you own a watch brand, you won't miss a luxury sports watch in your catalog; here is a shortlist of some manufacturers joining the party in the last two years or so: Chopard, H. Moser & Cie., Czapek Genève to cite a few. Also, we can't forget how much Bulgari has invested with their Octo Finissimo lineup so far.
The aforementioned brings me to introduce the 2021 Highlife's design codes; Frederique Constant's designers sketched a seventies-inspired timepiece in steel, showcasing an edgy and men-oriented watch; the new Highlife is an excellent addition to the current and somehow too classic Frederique Constant catalog. Although the Swiss brand is the youngest ambassador of the Swiss Made industry, the Highlife 2021 prides itself on a 20-year old forerunner. When it first appeared, the original Highlife introduced the "Heart Beat" concept, i.e., an opening onto the dial to showcase the regulating organ, but Frederique Constant never filed such a solution for a patent. As a result, most luxury brands borrowed both name and idea.
If you're placing old and new on a desk, it is hard to find any similarity, the "Heart Beat" excluded in just a single case. With that said, the 2021 Frederique Constant Highlife debuts an entirely different product philosophy. I would not say I liked the old one at all, while I find the new one much more attractive, and even more so while looking at the top end, which includes the stunning Frederique Constant Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture, the talking piece of the collection.
Case and bracelet design
The case is 41 mm across, crown excluded. What is different across the board is the thickness. The base offering, including the Frederique Constant High Life Heart Beat and the Frederique Constant Highlife Automatic COSC, shares the same case thickness. The first-page news, from a connoisseur's perspective, is the perpetual calendar version. Stopping at 12 mm and 12,65 mm, respectively, the new Frederique Constant Highlife wristwatches were conceived with enhanced comfort in mind, despite the full steel perpetual calendar weighing too much, a kind of a letdown in this class of products where comfort holds the first place.
The H-link bracelet is top-notch quality and comes with a quick-release system so that you can swap it with a choice of various strap options to customize it while approaching the summer season, for instance. Please bear in mind that the new Highlife is water-resistant to up to 5 atmospheres and comes standard with a non-screw down crown. I hope engineers at Frederique Constant will soon raise product specifications that are standard in this category of products; take a look at what Bulgari did with their Octo Finissimo S, whose water resistance is now rated at 10 atm and the crown is screwed down.
The case design has a tonneau shape with an integrated bracelet showcasing polished and brushed links. I love the thin polished bezel extending to the case profile's edge and the extensive brushed surfaces on either top and low ends. Conversely, I do not like how intrusive are the calendar's correctors, especially when considering the terrific job done to design a case this sleek and clean.
The engraved globe pattern on the Frederique Constant Highlife dial is a winner since it seamlessly blends with the case and bracelet's overall design.
It also helps the time-only variants look more upscale, given the lack of any unique mechanical complication, and stands out across similar sports watches in steel. When paired with the rose gold plated case, the pattern works well, but it's less effective on a Heart Beat instead. The dark dials are, no doubt, the most attractive, from my standpoint.
The Frederique Constant Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
The Perpetual Calendar is the highlight; its watchmaking complication is among the most admired by watch aficionados and comes with the in-house designed and manufactured FC-775 caliber, a 4 Hertz mechanical movement featuring perlage and Côtes de Genève decorations. It gives this timepiece lure and appeal and equips variants in steel or two-tone and is a welcome addition to the brand's offering of refined timepieces, including the Frederique Constant Classic Worldtimer Manufacture and Frederique Constant Manufacture Slimline Power Reserve, for example.
The caliber guarantees 38 hours of power reserve when fully wound. I hope the brand's engineers will soon increase the total power reserve while placing the correctors somewhere else on the case; here is how to turn a very good watch into an excellent watchmaking piece. I'm also wondering if Frederique Constant is undertaking a thinner edition of this caliber; they could easily extend their value proposition to thin or ultra-thin timepieces with yet again an attractive value proposition.
In contrast, I find the base models less attractive; to my surprise, they both house outsourced calibers belonging to the FC-300 series instead of their in-house platform, which I reckon it's a step back from an expectation's perspective; the only reason I find is that they're geared towards attracting new buyers who are approaching the brand.
The new Frederique Constant Highlife collection: price and final thoughts
Frederique Constant nailed it with the new Highlife; since I first came across product images and details back in 2020, I realized how attractive the new product range is. Among its pros, I'll place the design on top; it is not as mainstream as elsewhere and in line with successful products like the Worldtimer Manufacture. What makes this timepiece a winner is that the designers took inspiration from existing sources of inspiration, namely belonging to the seventies and the eighties, but skilfully combined them all to make the Highlife quite an unseen and remarkable product. It was perceived as something utterly new, yet not disruptive. When I look at the current offering instead, I guess the brand should rapidly close the gap between the entry-level models, whose base price starts at 1,690 Euros, and the top-of-the-range variants 8,290 Euros with the in-house perpetual calendar. Again, my suggestion is to start with a Frederique Constant Highlife Power Reserve.
(Photo credit: Marco Antinori for Horbiter®)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®