And with a superbly designed, executed and finished implementation such as with Ferdinand Berthoud, the result of course is a feast for the eyes:
(Fusée-et-chaîne details of a Ferdinand Berthoud movement)
A power reserve indication gauges the energy in remaining in the mainspring via a unique conical guide (suspended of course!). Finally, we find a very large tourbillon on every watch offered so far, with other idiosyncratic details like regulator dials or clever moon phase indications being reserved to specific models. Whatever the references, every such technical detail has a sense and a place serving timekeeping, such as the offset time and the large, central seconds hand.
(Chronomètre FB 1 during assembly and completed)
Solid choices are made in respect to the materials used, which are all of a high quality but clearly take the backseat in favour of the watchmaking delicacies. Cases for most of the watches come in gold and titanium, but also bronze (a somewhat odd choice for a watch in this price range, but befitting a company whose founder excelled at marine chronometers), and a highly scratch resistant (1200 Vickers), carburised steel alloy.
Completely the opposite is found for the movement bridges (and also for some dials), which are mostly crafted in German Silver, a material extremely susceptible to handling errors.
(Conventional vs. carburised steel as used at Ferdinand Berthoud)
The finishing is of the highest quality one can ask for, yet again it is quite different from what one would usually find in finest watches: the decorations here are devised such that they emphasise the intrinsic qualities of the materials used – brass, German silver or steel mainly. Also, the handwork done is at the same very high level throughout the watches (be it front- or backside), so the consistency we identified as an important criterium is well observed.
(Superb dial and hands detailing)
(Flawless bridge finishing with perfectly sharp anglage on both inwards and outwards corners)
Which brings us to the last criterium: aesthetics! One has to keep in mind that Ferdinand Berthoud’s conception recalls the time when watches were not fashion but – at times – mission-critical scientific instruments. And just as with the Breguets of the foundation years, the entire dial elements are laid out following their respective function, chronometry primarily, as dictated by the construction of the movements.
One of Berthoud’s marine chronometers, No. 12, served as direct inspiration for the modern watches and is exhibited on the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
(Ferdinand Berthoud Marine Chronometer No. 12, exhibited at the MIH)
As a consequence, the idiosyncratic implementation of complications at Ferdinand Berthoud leads to a, well, not exactly mass-compatible watch design, with lots of eccentric indications distributed around an – at times – vastly open dial area.
A few examples:
(Chronomètre FB 1L)
(Eccentric time display Chronomètre FB 1 – Œuvre d’Or)
(Moon phase indicator Chronomètre FB 1L)
We at the eclecticum find that such an approach has a particular attraction and charm which reveals itself slowly over time. But a look at the other side is an instantaneous delight and an exercise in pure symmetry. So, technology first, design to make the best out of it. As purists, we certainly appreciate this hierarchical order!
(Unmistakable: power reserve indicator and dial surface Chronomètre FB 1 – Œuvre d’Or)
(Unmistakable: Dial layout Chronomètre FB 1L)
(Unmistakable: movement layout Chronomètre FB 1L)
Lastly, there are no ambassadors, no elaborate marketing campaigns to speak of, and also the people behind the brand are refreshingly passionate, approachable and down to earth. In case you would like to handle one or even buy, you will have to make some efforts as you won´t find them at any Chopard Boutique – there are (at the moment) only seven Points of Sale in total.
(Ferdinand Berthoud booth at SIHH 2019)
Good or bad, but it makes sense to us as it ensures that the brand gets in direct contact to its collectors, and this is reflective of what the watches speak of.
In a nutshell – the criteria in summary:
- In-house manufacturing capacity: definitely there, of considerable depth particularly in one count those of the Chopard parent as well.
- Handmade: definitely of finest handmade quality, not only the movements, but also dials, hands or cases.
- Consistency of production quality: its early days, but so far, the FB watches could serve as a role model for consistency.
- Superior finishing: the finishing not only is of superb quality, evenness and sparkle, it is also masterfully applied and devised such that it exposes the quality of materials used.
- Unique materials: FB uses a number of mainstream but highly adequate watchmaking materials. The hardened steel or ceramics for some cases are rather exceptions.
- Advanced technologies: we found a great number of technical details which represent the top of traditional chronometrics, but less so anything modern and ground-breaking.
- Outstanding design: FB’s watch designs follow their function and emphasise the technology they house. They are not immediately likeable but reveal their attractions over time.
- Consistency in Presentation: the overall package of FB – watches, technology, execution, price and communication match each other nicely and do not pretend to be something else.
When we think about (modern) Ferdinand Berthoud we think of a manufacturer that embodies one of these rare cases where the resurrection of an ancient and forgotten name is mastered with a combination of a modern identity with tremendous historical and intellectual substance. The overall œvre of the brand is consistent in great a number of aspects including (i) design, (ii) technology and also (iii) execution, always respecting the highest values and skill levels of haute horlogerie. That all (!) watches being Chronometers, officially certified by COSC, makes it even better (for those who do not put particularly weight on a COSC certificate: please remember that ironically tourbillons rarely get certified).
What we particularly appreciate is the clever fusion of traditional and modern elements. The brand takes clear inspiration from its past, particularly when it comes to dial design and certain technical details, but embeds this into a modern composition thereby avoiding the perils of historicising their past and at some time becoming slave to it (and by doing so, foregoing the chance to shape their own future).
(Chronomètre FB 1R)
How contrasting is the picture at Ferdinand Berthoud! The historical aspects here merely serve as anchors for the elaborate watchmaking around – and this even blends nicely with contemporary design elements such as ceramic cases. While traditional as far as the material used and the complications are concerned, the watchmaking offered by FB is of a self-sufficient opulence and distinctiveness we rarely see implemented in such a compelling concept. There is an inherent logic in the composition of the watchmaking details which feels natural and – since carried directly over to the aesthetics – lends the Ferdinand Berthoud watches their unmistakable character. Every aspect seems well-considered and based upon chronometric reasoning, which creates the strong notion of a well-conceived objective holistically driving the development and creation of these watches.
This, in our minds, lifts the answer to the question we posed at the very beginning of this article (“What would a wristwatch look like if FB were to make one today?”) on a meta-level: the answer is not confined to the aesthetics, as so often, but considers and continues the conceptual work of the ancestors.
(Chronomètre FB 1 – Œuvre d’Or)
If you read all of the above, we are sure you sensed our affection for Ferdinand Berthoud – and in fact, we have lots of respect for both the brand and the people driving it …
We can go even thus far as to confess that to our surprise we could not identify any watch produced by Ferdinand Berthoud, yet, that we would not like to call our own (we have favourites still, of course…). Any and all of them are pieces that would satisfy the most discerning and eclectic connoisseurs around (design notwithstanding). Kudos to the whole team and especially Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (the man behind) or providing the necessary freedom and making the resources needed available to allow such an endeavour to happen.
As it (still) is a young-old brand we wish them all the best for a bright future, and we sincerely hope they manage to maintain their current high level in the long run – right there at the pinnacle of watchmaking.
P.S.: A special thanks goes to Ferdinand Berthoud General Manager Vincent Lapaire and Jonathan Richard for generously sharing technical details and answering countless questions of ours.