Without doubt, my most intense experience at Geneva Watch Days 2021 was with Ferdinand Berthoud. “Go ahead, try it”, said my host Jonathan as I sat drooling over the magnificent Chronomètre FB 2RE, which won the Chronometry prize at last year’s GPHG awards. I hesitated, in consideration of the fact that the timepiece costs much more than the value of my house. Jonathan insisted, “Just start winding it and see what happens”.
The feeling transmitted by the large crown is unique, with a series of firm, reassuring clicks, a pleasurable sensation that instils a sense of superlative engineering quality. And after just a half-turn, the movement started running immediately, and the deadbeat hand started ticking its way around the dial. “That’s the beauty of the fusée-and-chain constant force mechanism”, said Jonathan, “Right down to the end of the power reserve, the watch runs with its habitual precision”.
I turned the watch over and marvelled at the sense of space. At the top, the incredible sight of the two fusée drums, with the miniature chain, which totals 28.5 cm in length, part of the 1,200 components in the movement, and at the bottom, the one-second remontoir d’egalité mechanism that acts as a torque regulator as well as giving the second hand its characteristic one-second deadbeat movement.
These elements are set in generous open space, with all of the rest of the movement hidden between the mainplate and the dial. A window on the caseband provides another view of the fusée chain. The dial itself is pure marine chronometer style. It was love at first sight, like those occasions when you meet someone so beautiful and special, that even though it would be an impossible story, you are grateful for having spent some time in his or her company.
Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB RS
This year’s highlight collection is the Chronomètre FB RS, which incorporates feedback from collectors regarding the case and the possibility of seeing the movement dial-side. The series is limited to 20 Régulateur Squelette movements, which can be housed in round or octagonal cases. A lot of the skeletonized movement can be seen from the front, principally the tourbillon bridge – the tourbillon itself is visible through the caseback – and part of the 53-hour power reserve indicator mechanism on the left. Time indications are shown by a centre-sweep seconds hand, minutes on the dial at 12 o’clock, and hours on a disc at 2 o’clock. In addition to case shape, collectors can also specify the material, rose gold, steel or platinum, and they have the possibility of personalizing dial colour. Considering all these options, purchasers can be assured that their watches will be virtually one-off pieces. The price of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB RS starts at 235,000 Swiss francs in carburized steel (a particularly scratch-resistant case material), or CHF 244,000 in pink gold.
Ferdinand Berthoud, a quest for precision
The prices of these watches reflect the enormous investments of design time and artisanal skill needed to craft them, with only a few dozen watches made every year. When Karl-Friedrich Scheufele bought the right to use the name Ferdinand Berthoud in 2006, his ambition was principally to make mechanical watches that tell the time accurately. The success of the project can be gauged from the prizes it has won: Aiguille d’Or, the top GPHG prize, in 2016, and the GPHG Chronometry Watch Prize in 2019 and 2020.
Ferdinand Berthoud is a brand with a clear, uncompromising mission: precision. Their watches are all COSC certified (-4/+6 seconds/day), but Ferdinand Berthoud also has its own more demanding internal certification process, which specifies an incredible -1/+2 seconds per day. The in-house Fleuritests verify accuracy and reliability, and time-keeping precision is measured for the entire power reserve.
Ferdinand Berthoud and Chopard
Ferdinand Berthoud is still closely linked to Chopard, but their core businesses are totally different, and it is gradually becoming separated from its parent brand on a day-to-day basis. It benefits from its close relations with Chopard in many ways: for example, it has begun to use ethically-sourced gold, a Chopard feature, and after-sales service for Ferdinand Berthoud watches are accessible through any Chopard boutique.
To conclude: I was extremely happy to rekindle my hands-on contacts with this incredible brand after 2 years of separation due to the health emergency. While for most people, FB is a useful abbreviation for that social network, for me from now on, FB will always exclusively be Ferdinand Berthoud. Read more about Ferdinand Berthoud at their website.