Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1: Chain-And-Fusée Constant Force And Tourbillon, But Sapphire Crystal Was The Greatest Challenge
by Martin Green
Ever since Chopard’s co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele created the Ferdinand Berthoud brand I have been a fan.
Why? I quite honestly cannot put my finger directly on it. There are so many other tantalizing offerings in the world of haute horlogerie, especially at this price level, but for some reason I always return to the Chronomètre FB 1.
I think that it must be the quirkiness of this watch. With its remarkable movement architecture, unique case shape, and less-then-common dial layout it is a watch that not only stands apart but has truckloads of character.
Add that it wears remarkably well on my wrist, and you have a winner in my book.
The stairway to heaven goes through heaven
Given the remarkably low numbers that the brand crafts (“production” sounds so vulgar in conjunction with this watch) it does not have a factory building of its own, and quite honestly there is no need for it.
The Ferdinand Berthoud workshop is on the top floor of the Chopard Manufacture in the beautiful town of Fleurier. The stairway to this horological heaven passes through another, the atelier making Chopard’s high-end L.U.C. movements.
While Ferdinand Berthoud maximizes the opportunities that being part of Chopard offers, it is its own entity and by no means a Chopard on steroids in the sense of a Mercedes-AMG.
This also becomes clear when you enter the workshop. While Chopard’s manufacture is in an historic building, the facility inside is state of the art.
When you reach that top floor, you feel as though you are stepping back in time: under the exposed ancient roof beams, there is a small workshop with two master watchmakers forming the heart of Ferdinand Berthoud. This is the place where these special watches come to life, one by one.
A steady hand required
For people less familiar with the world of the haute horlogerie, and especially how and where these watches are crafted, the size of the space may be puzzling. Its no larger than a decent-sized spare bedroom yet offers the watchmakers all they need: a quiet space with plenty of natural light and a bonus in the stunning view.
The movement architecture of the Caliber FB-T.FC beating inside the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 is a complication by itself, as it is built between pillars with only the top bridges supporting the movement’s components.
Combine this with a fusée-and-chain constant force mechanism plus a tourbillon, and even very seasoned watchmakers have a challenge on their hands.
I often find that the watchmakers working on these more complicated creations have a very particular mindset; they are not daunted by the challenge but inspired by it. Challenges feed them with energy that fuels their patience and their steady hands to create masterpieces.
This is also illustrated by the answer that they gave me when I asked them what the most difficult part of their work was: the sapphire crystal main plate was the answer.
Not because of the hard, brittle sapphire crystal it is made of or the function that it serves, but more so that even the tiniest speck of dust becomes immediately visible. This means that the movement must be partially disassembled to remove the dust particle, should one be found, and then reassembled and regulated all over again.
The annoyance of this was clearly causing them more distress then the task of working on this complex movement.
Given the position that the great Ferdinand Berthoud himself holds in the history of watchmaking, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele could very well have utilized his name in a far more commercial way. The fact that he didn’t is typical for the way he conducts his business.
Just like his watchmakers, Scheufele applies a steady hand, looking for added value for his clients and for the world of watchmaking. With Ferdinand Berthoud, he has done just that. Even in the not exactly under-populated world of haute horlogerie, the brand stands apart. Both in terms of design and in technical merit.
That this was widely noticed and appreciated also became clear when in 2016 the brand was awarded the prestigious Aiguille d’Or at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
For more information, please visit www.ferdinandberthoud.ch.
Quick Facts Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1
Case: 44 x 13 mm, pink gold or white gold, no lugs
Movement: hand-wound Caliber FB-T.FC with chain-and-fusée constant force system, one-minute tourbillon, and pillar-style architecture, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 53 hours power reserve, C.O.S.C. certification
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve display
Limitation: 50 pieces in each case metal