Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE: Change Is Round
by Martin Green
Sometimes I wonder what people like Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, Jaeger-LeCoultre co-founder Edmund Jaeger, and Louis Cartier would think if they looked down from the heavens and saw the current collections offered by what was once their companies.
And while we’re fantasizing, I am also curious what Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) would think of the wristwatches bearing his name today. Appointed watchmaker-mechanic to the French king and the French navy in 1770, Berthoud spent a good part of his life solving the “longitude problem.” His marine chronometers were vital for the French navy to determine longitude on the high seas.
Berthoud passed away long before the first wristwatches would appear, but Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, resurrected the name in 2015. The new Berthoud watches received such a warm welcome that in 2016 Scheufele picked up what is widely considered as the most coveted prize in watchmaking, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s Aiguille d’Or, for Berthoud’s debuting FB 1.
This prize was awarded for good reasons: the design, finish, and execution of the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 was exceptional. And Scheufele’s goal was clear: he wanted to create a watch in 2015 that Berthoud himself might have designed. While many would concur that he probably came very close in doing just that, others argued that nineteenth-century watchmaker probably would not have opted to use a tourbillon in his watch.
While they may have very well been right, this creation was undoubtedly haute horlogerie of 2015 where a tourbillon generally helps to justify a certain price point that puts a “new” luxury brand on the map. I don’t think that Scheufele has much to worry about in that respect as Ferdinand Berthoud has established itself in record time as a very desirable brand making interesting watches.
With the Chronomètre FB 2RE, Scheufele and his team take yet another step in the right direction, addressing two elements at once: the original octagonally shaped case of the FB 1 line, not loved by everyone, is now replaced by a more traditional round case. And instead of a tourbillon center stage, we now have a one-second remontoir to provide constant force alongside the chain-and-fusée assembly.
The circle is round
I was never bothered by the octagonal case of the FB 1 as I considered it a rather original design providing the first models from Ferdinand Berthoud with a unique character. That said, I would definitely not turn down the Chronomètre FB 2RE on account of its round case.
Quite to the contrary: Ferdinand Berthoud gave the case a sort of industrial 1800s look. This watch would probably not look out of place on the wrist of an eighteenth-century French admiral. The shape of the lugs bolted to the case band helps it stand out among other round watches while establishing distinct family ties to the previous Ferdinand Berthoud models.
Another family trait it shares with its siblings is the viewing window on the side of the case for a peek at the chain-and-fusée assembly in action. A good-looking, oversized crown serves as a promise that the Chronomètre FB 2RE is a pleasure to wind and set; it also complements the rest of the design.
Ferdinand Berthoud opted for a two-part oven-fired enamel dial. The domed outer part shows the railroad track for minutes, Arabic numerals marking seconds in increments of five, and Roman numerals denoting the hours. Combined with the flat middle section of the dial, it makes for a very attractive design without compromising legibility.
The different surface “elevations” also have another advantage: the unique “milky” look of the enamel comes out much more as these two parts catch the light at different angles. It is then that you also notice that the text, numerals, and railroad track are not printed on the enamel, but are enamel, a feat requiring extra firing in the kiln – and yet another chance to damage to the precious dial.
While the dial is quite classic in appearance, Ferdinand Berthoud got creative with the hands. The hour and minute hands are both bold and skeletonized with very subtle tip designs, while the second hand is rather slender. This provides a dynamic look amplified by the round counterweight of the second hand as it passes over them. Perhaps a bit whimsical, but it works. And it works well.
The Chronomètre FB 2RE comes in two versions. The first features a white gold case with a white enamel dial, while the second is a pink gold case with a black enamel dial. Which you prefer is all a matter of taste.
The white gold Chronomètre FB 2RE has a beautiful, almost technical look to it, while the classically elegant pink gold with black dial combination looks far more precious and luxurious.
That glorious movement!
Any Ferdinand Berthoud already has a very high standard when it comes to its movement, yet the Chronomètre FB 2RE surpasses all that have come before it.
The inside of the case features a mirror polish so that it reflects the greatness of the movement. Here we also see a clear inspiration from Berthoud’s marine chronometers.
The movement features two German silver plates secured by pillars with most of the gear train sandwiched between. As a result, the back of the watch shows off its true delicacies: a chain-and-fusée assembly and a one-second remontoir d’egalite, symmetrically positioned side by side against the backdrop of the gorgeously frosted German silver plate.
The chain-and-fusée mechanism theoretically delivers power at a constant force, regardless of the force of the mainspring. It achieves this thanks to a cone-shaped component called the fusée around which the chain winds and unwinds, transferring and modulating energy from the mainspring to the movement.
Utilized in early mechanical clocks and later introduced into pocket watches in the mid-seventeenth century, the chain and fusée was the first significant mechanism in portable horology to improve isochronism. As the Dictionnaire Professionnel Illustré de L’Horlogerie by G.-A. Berner explains, “. . . the oscillations of a pendulum or balance are isochronous when their duration is independent of their amplitude.”
The remontoir d’égalité, a somewhat more modern constant-force device, ensures constant power release by directly providing energy to the escape wheel once each second, thereby eliminating perturbations and delivering the same amount of power to the escape wheel every time, further enhancing the watch’s precision.
The beauty of the movement’s design is not only that it is almost perfectly symmetrical, but also that these two exceptional devices can be admired and appreciated in full.
Ferdinand Berthoud’s patented chain and fusée is only secured from the bottom – yes, it is “suspended” or “flying” – and utilizes a differential-based winding system. The rotation of the spring barrel causes the chain to coil around the fusée, which is equipped with an unusual differential gear to avoid any unforeseen stopping. The barrel is also regulated by a Maltese cross stopwork device, which limits the number of turns the barrel makes so as to use only the flattest part of the spring’s torque curve. This ensures more consistency of force whether the mainspring is nearly full or nearly empty.
While the movement is more than impressive in a technical sense, its finish is also second to none. The two plates and bridges in German silver have been hand-frosted using a wire brush, providing a very fine grain with some reflective properties. This detail ensures that the movement parts above it are highlighted in a very subtle way.
Furthermore, the movement features further not only perfect anglage, but also black polish on the cleverly shaped balance cock. Each of the gear teeth are polished to perfection. This not only looks good, it also further reduces friction.
Big, thick, and expensive?
Priced at 210,000 Swiss francs the exquisite Chronomètre FB 2RE does not come cheap. But for that kind of money you literally get a lot of watch.
Measuring 44 mm in diameter and 14.3 mm in height, the Chronomètre FB 2RE is quite an imposing watch on the wrist – for all the right reasons. Its size also allows it to provide a lot of everything: a lot of luscious enamel on the dial, lots of exciting details on the case, and lots of eye candy from one of the best-looking movements to date.
Given all that – and the fact that the watch’s finish wanders into Greubel Forsey territory, which is certainly a benchmark in terms of finishing at this level – the price sounds almost reasonable. Perhaps I am biased because I prefer a remontoir d’egalite over a tourbillon any day of the week.
Ferdinand Berthoud is only making ten pieces in each color available at launch, but it is probably safe to say that other variations will follow.
I am betting on a (blue-dialed) platinum edition, but hoping for one in the carburized steel seen in the Chronomètre FB 1R.6-1. As I am in a gambling mood, I also think that the odds that Scheufele might get to pick up another Aiguille d’Or in 2020 are significant. Time will tell if I am right.
For more information, please visit www.ferdinandberthoud.ch/en/notre-collection/chronometre-fb-2re.
Quick Facts Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2RE
Case: 44 x 14.3 mm, white or pink gold
Movement: manufacture Caliber FB-RE.FC, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency with chain-and-fusée and one-second remontoir d’egalite, suspended spring barrel, Maltese cross stopwork system, variable inertia balance, power reserve 50 hours; 1,200 components, including 790 for the chain, 26 bridges German silver, and 10 pillars, officially C.O.S.C. chronometer-certified
Functions: hours, minutes, deadbeat hacking seconds; power reserve indicator on back
Limitation: 10 pieces in each color
Price: 210,000 Swiss francs