The Naked Watchmaker just announced its collaboration with Frederique Constant, the Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture. Although I’ve enjoyed recent collaboration models, this one misses the mark in some important ways, emphasizing the mechanics at the expense of utility and beauty. It’s surprising that Peter Speake’s new company would make such a mis-step on their first outing into the hot collaboration space!
The Naked Watchmaker X Frederique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Let’s start with the excessively long name. There’s not much that can be done about “The Naked Watchmaker” (20 characters) or “Frederique Constant” (19 more), but “Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture” is really a mouthful and frankly doesn’t suit this particular watch. Would it have hurt to come up with a more catchy name that took up less space? I’m going to call it the Naked Frederique Constant Perpetual, or “Naked Freddy” for short.
Today’s collaboration is a special edition of the existing Frederique Constant Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture, featuring their “manufacture” Cal. FC-775 automatic movement. It really is an excellent piece, and Frederique Constant offers it for a bargain price under US$10k. At 10.2 mm thick (6.7 mm for the movement alone) it’s not particularly slim, but felt good on the wrist when I handled one at a retailer. And it’s hard to argue with the value for the money. The meager 38 hour power reserve is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise-respectable movement.
The Naked Watchmaker collaboration is essentially the same watch, skeletonized and re-colored, yet still just a little more expensive. The dial is cut away, at least what isn’t covered by comically over-sized sub-dial tracks, to reveal a mix of blue-coated, gold-colored, and shiny metal components. The hands are similarly up-sized and skeletonized. The display case back reveals an engraved blued plate, gold-colored rotor, and machined steel movement finishing. Note that the movement is not skeletonized or apparently modified much from the original.
One gets the sense that the “Naked Freddy” is as much a “colorway” as a new watch, but it surely required a bit more effort to re-color the movement components and the hands are all new.
More subtle are the changes to the calendar and moon phase indication. The year hand is removed, replaced by a simple disc showing a red dot between January and March on leap years. And the overlay to the moon phase disc is gone, rendering this complication useless.
The Emperor’s Clothes
Peter Speake’s name and reputation is impeccable. He founded Speake-Marin and was a member of the AHCI for most of the 21st century. After selling that company, he founded The Naked Watchmaker with long-time partner Daniela Marin and has continued his service to watchmaking enthusiasts.
Frankly, we love the Naked Watchmaker concept and have been a big fan of their amazing teardowns of some of the most interesting watches of today and yesterday. The idea that watchmaking and mechanical ingenuity should take center stage is certainly something we at Grail Watch are on board with, and it works to highlight the best of the modern watchmaking industry.
But what happens when “naked” is taken literally? “Open heart” is a term and concept popularized by Frederique Constant decades ago to highlight their mechanical watchmaking in the face of quartz, and has served the company well. But the idea of exposing the wheels, balance, and bridges of a movement are as old as watchmaking, with cut-away “squelette” dials and movements appearing regularly since the 19th century.
The challenge of an open dial is that many movements aren’t really very interesting below the main plate. Glashütte Original and Schwarz Etienne solved this by flipping the movement in their PanoInverse and Irreversible models. Many others skeletonize the main plate to reveal deeper levels inside the movement. But far too many simply saw away the dial and hope that no one is turned off by the mundane and un-balanced components this reveals.
The perpetual calendar should be an exception to this rule. Most such mechanisms are sandwiched between the dial and main plate, and they tend to be an interesting mix of wheels, levers, and springs. Take a look at the Frederique Constant perpetual calendar “explosion” at right and you will notice the many components that were previously hidden beneath the plain dial of the “Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture” watch. But you will also notice that the levers are slim and unremarkable and the wheels are positioned for functionality rather than visual harmony. And this is an “all hands” calendar display, with four sub-dials at 3, 6, 9, and 12.
The best watch designs achieve an invisible harmony between usability, artistry, and mechanical reality. The complexity of a great watch disappears and the work taken to achieve it is only revealed on close inspection. Open heart or skeleton dials too often sacrifice readability in favor of the “junk drawer” look underneath, and this perpetual calendar needed four sub-dials with markings for all those hands.
The designer tasked with cutting away the dial of The Naked Perpetual certainly had his work cut out for him!
We immediately notice the sharp contrast between the brown dial (or what remains of it) and the blue components underneath. This pleasing color combination provides good contrast, visual interest, and depth. But the markers around each of these five dials are super-sized in a failed attempt to preserve some sort of readability. Perhaps if the scales had been pared down to single letters like the hour track it would be less busy-looking. And the use of bright white on the markets and hands just adds to the tangled visuals of the dial.
Then we notice the hands, which are so large and open that they resemble construction cranes. The timekeeping hands feature white Luminova, which is nice, while the calendar hands call too much attention with red flagged tips. Strangely, the month indicator, which is the slowest and least-useful hand on the dial, is emphasized with a giant building truss of a hand and the largest red triangle. I don’t really mind the elimination of the superfluous “1-2-3-4” leap year hand at 12:00; perhaps Frederique Constant should use the “dot under dial” method in future models!
By far the biggest mistake is the anti-useful moon phase indicator at 6 on the dial. Most such mechanisms use a two-moon disc with a cutout overlay to show the moon waxing and waning, but this disc is eliminated for some reason, leaving two plain white dots to pointlessly rotate. And the brown and white scale for this sub-dial is unrelated, reading “GENEVE L.E./Q.P.” to balance the “FREDERIQUE CONSTANT” at 12, making this dial quadrant an expression of confusion.
We are left to ponder the jumble of blue, gold, and grained steel components under this tangle of brown and white. While an enthusiast might enjoy getting a glimpse of the wheels, levers, and cams, they aren’t visually arresting like a beating balance. The irony is that with no running seconds hand, there is very little to see here. We are simply left to ask ourselves why Frederique Constant went to so much trouble to expose all these components only to obscure them under such heavy brown loops.
The Grail Watch Perspective
We love the trend of collaborations between respected independent watchmakers and inexpensive Swiss manufacturers, but The Naked Watchmaker and Frederique Constant missed the mark with this Slimline Perpetual Calendar Manufacture. The dial is a mess of components and colors, visually distracting and difficult to read. And the perpetual calendar mechanism simply isn’t interesting enough to be exposed like this. We certainly hope that Speake and Marin will return with a better-thought-out collaboration in the future! At least this one isn’t as ugly as recent skeleton dial attempts by Rado, Tissot, and Baume & Mercier!