While the Frederique Constant Highlife watches you see here feel like a whole new collection, they’re actually part of a revamp of the company’s Highlife line, which originally came out in 1999, long before yours truly was into watches. I recall distinctly that once I did start paying attention to mechanical timepieces, in about 2004 or so, one of the first marques I came across that seemed to be speaking to the early 20s me was Frederique Constant. I still feel like I’m always looking for value when I look at watches, but back then, as a recent college graduate, my drive to find deals was a bit more urgent, and it’s in this context that I first learned of Frederique Constant.
I came to see FC as a go-to brand for younger watch enthusiasts such as myself who were interested in classic designs paired with value for money. That brings me to what we have to introduce today. At launch, there are three branches of the revamped Highlife collection: Heartbeat models, known for their partially open dials (starting at $ 1,995); COSC-rated chronometer examples (starting at $ 1,895); and in-house perpetual calendars (starting at $ 9,095). While I think each of these branches is well-priced, it’s the perpetual calendar – which doesn’t use a new movement, mind you, though it is the best-executed Frederique Constant perpetual to date – that most excited me when I first learned about it.
The new Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture draws on the familiar FC-775, which we first saw in 2016 with the Slimline Perpetual. The movement is an automatic perpetual calendar caliber designed and manufactured at the Frederique Constant Geneva manufacture. When Stephen went hands-on with the Slimline Perpetual Calendar back in 2016, he declared it the best budget perpetual calendar available at the time, and I’m inclined to agree with his assessment. Debuting at a price of $ 8,795, it helped to reshape expectations regarding how a perpetual calendar could be priced, and it received a ton of attention, not just here on HODINKEE, but all around the watch-loving web. As a thoroughly classic dress watch design, the Slimline Perpetual was in line with a design ethos I had come to identify with Frederique Constant. And even if I didn’t think the watch was perfect – its 42mm diameter felt a bit big to me, especially considering the relative compactness of the displays, leading to a large amount of negative space – its value prop was very, very tough to argue with.
With the Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture, Frederique Constant’s perpetual calendar lineup is branching out with a design that appears squarely aimed at sating watch collectors’ appetites for Genta-esque sport-luxury watches on integrated bracelets while delivering that good ole FC value prop.
The new Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture is available in three examples at its debut, and each comes in a 41mm tonneau-shaped case that calls to mind a class of steel sport watches that originated in the 1970s and continues to hold the attention of watch collectors to this day. One version comes in a two-tone steel-and-rose-gold-plated case with a matching bracelet, another comes in all steel with a lovely blue dial, and the third version pairs a steel case with an alligator strap. In each case, the dial features a globe pattern, and the sub-dials are decorated with a bit of snailing. All versions come with an extra rubber strap that figures to add a pretty sporty dimension to the line, and changing the straps and bracelets can easily be done without tools.
Frederique Constant’s selling point seems to be built around value and delivering ownership experiences that might not otherwise be available. I think it used to be much more common for watch collectors to start small, with an entry-level time-only or time-and-date model from a venerable old brand. If the watch bug bit and one’s earnings allowed, one might progress up the ladder of prestige, and complications were reserved as the bonus prize for collectors who could afford them. But if there is one thing that I’ve noticed in my time covering watches, it’s been the democratization of mechanical watchmaking, including high complications. Even as many top-tier brands have seen prices grow over the last few decades at a pace faster than inflation, a number of upstart brands oriented toward value have also sprung up, creating comfortable new footholds for collectors.
In providing an option that scratches both the steel-sport-watch-with-integrated-bracelet and the perpetual-calendar itches, Frederique Constant is bound to draw comparisons to mega watches that cost many times more and that will, almost certainly, continue to be much more difficult to obtain at retail than the redesigned Highlife. I don’t think I need to name these brands or these models; they’re famous and few enough, and there’s a good chance you’ve likely already thought of them by this point anyway. Besides, I don’t think the new Highlife is direct competition for them. The stainless steel sport watch with perpetual calendar and integrated bracelet has found a new lane to drive in, and a whole bunch more watch lovers are going to be able to get behind the wheel. I think that’s cool.
Comparing these watches with the earlier FC Slimline Perpetual, I have to say that I like the new Highlife version quite a bit more. The proportions of the dials feel more harmonious to me, and I think that has to do both with the reduction in case size to 41mm and with the use of the large applied markers with lume. In some of the supplied pictures, I’ve noticed that the globe pattern appears subtler than in others, and I have to say, I appreciate the design more in the ones where it’s not so easy to pick up that pattern. That has me wondering if it might not have been an extra embellishment that would have been better left out. The new Highlife is one of a growing number of watches that I’d like to get a close in-person look at.
Brand: Frederique Constant
Model: Highlife Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Reference Number: FC-775V4NH2B: Stainless steel and rose-gold plated with matching bracelet; FC-775N4NH6B; stainless steel on steel bracelet with blue dial; FC-775S4NH6: Stainless steel with silver dial alligator strap
Case Material: Stainless steel or two-tone stainless steel and rose-gold plate
Dial Color: Blue or silver-colored
Water Resistance: 50 meters
Strap/Bracelet: Varies by model, but in all cases, an extra rubber strap is provided
Functions: Hours, minutes, day, date, month, phase of the moon, leap-year indicator
Power Reserve: 38 hours
Frequency: 28,800 vph
Pricing & Availability
Price: FC-775V4NH2B: $ 9,495; FC-775N4NH6B: $ 9,295: FC-775S4NH6: $ 9,095
For more, visit Frederique Constant.