Chronometrie Ferdinand Berthoud
The über high-end Maison, Chronometrie Ferdinand Berthoud is celebrating its fifth birthday. In a comparatively short period of time, it has produced several incredible watches. These models respect the legacy of Ferdinand Berthoud while embracing contemporary styling. Based on the brand’s track record to date, watch aficionados can look forward to more mouthwatering creations in years to come.
Today’s watch industry is enriched by numerous talented individuals who conceive new ideas, painstakingly assemble and regulate movements or imbue timepieces with an array of artistic crafts. Indeed, the sublime virtuosity of these people working in the aforementioned disciplines cannot be overstated.
However, when viewing the history of horology through the ages, the most remarkable individuals lived and worked from the latter part of the 17th century to the early 1800s. In particular, the greatest minds focussed on solving the longitude problem, making increasingly accurate marine chronometers.
John Harrison (1693-1776) was the first clockmaker to find a suitable means of calculating longitude at sea. At the time, there was a sense of urgency to create a suitable instrument. Indeed, in its day, this was similar to the post-war space race. Prior to Harrison unveiling his H1 ‘sea clock’, there was a significant risk of crashing on rocks due to inadequate means of navigation. The first of Harrison’s marine chronometers, the H1, was tested on a return voyage to Portugal in 1736.
Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) was an accomplished scientist and master watchmaker. Berthoud was born in Plancemont, Switzerland but spent most of his life in France. Berthoud began work on developing marine chronometers around 1760. He was no doubt incentivised by the huge rewards on offer from the British and French governments to produce a suitable means of calculating longitude. Interestingly, in 1763, Berthoud was tasked by the King of France to examine Harrison’s H4, however, the Englishmen jealously guarded his work from prying eyes and refused. Undeterred, just two years later, in 1765, Berthoud produced two marine clocks.
Berthoud and Harrison were remarkable. Other luminaries of the time include John Arnold and Antide Janvier, These men lived at a time when computers did not exist. Likewise, there were no CNC, profile turning machines, wire erosion or a multitude of materials now available today. And yet, despite these comparative disadvantages, they produced incredibly accurate instruments. Indeed, their greatness has never been replicated.
In 2015, the Chopard Group rekindled the Ferdinand Berthoud name, unveiling its first model, the suitably named FB1. Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the Co-President of Chopard, was clearly aware of Berthoud’s legacy. He employed vast resources to ensure this first watch was worthy of Berthoud’s name. The FB1 was inspired by some of Berthoud’s clocks and watches, however, it was notably contemporary. Furthermore, the watch incorporated several inventions, again a respectful nod to Berthoud’s legendary creativity and inventive mind.
Since the brand was revived, Chronometrie Ferdinand Berthoud has come a long way. Its initial model was a breathtaking tour de force. It is therefore surprising that the Maison conceived new models which shared the same degree of magnificence. Indeed, the virtue of every creation from the brand has attracted widespread praise, winning GPHG awards in 2016 and 2019. Based on its impressive track record, Chronometrie Ferdinand Berthoud is likely to indulge horophiles with more creations for many years to come.
The brand’s press release (July 2020)
The date was Tuesday, September 22, 2015; the place, Paris. At the Yacht Club de France, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele officially unveiled Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, the fruit of many years’ exploration of the works of Master Watchmaker Ferdinand Berthoud. At a time when standardisation, generic movements, and ever-shorter times to market had become the norm, the manufacture chose to go against the flow by offering the fruit of patient creation: an entire universe, commensurate with the stature of the man who inspired it: Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807).
Ferdinand Berthoud, Watchmaker-Mechanic by appointment to the French King and Navy from the time of Louis XV through until the Empire, was one of the greatest figures in watchmaking. He wrote a large number of treatises and is considered to be the father of timekeeping for the French Navy. He was also responsible for some of the most significant advances in the determination of longitude, the key to supremacy on the high seas in the eighteenth century.
Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud set out to live up to this legacy. The goal has remained unchanged: namely, the quest for precision. Implementation was preceded by a long period of meticulous historical research. A large number of timepieces made by the master were acquired, together with first editions of his watchmaking treatises. Each acquisition was carefully analysed, documented, and restored. The collection is now housed in a dedicated private museum at the manufacture in Fleurier, Val-de-Travers – the district in which Ferdinand Berthoud himself was born in 1727.
Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud’s approach is based on two pillars: honouring the master’s legacy, and pursuing his quest for precision. The innovation that defined Berthoud’s watchmaking genius has been transposed to the twenty-first century. The movement has been designed, produced, and fully hand-decorated using traditional tools, then assembled and adjusted in the manufacture, before being officially certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres).
Ferdinand Berthoud’s legacy beats within it: featuring a distinctive pillar structure, the movement is equipped with a fusee and chain mechanism, enabling the energy of the power spring to be distributed in perfectly smooth, constant fashion to the escapement.
Boasting a large-diameter tourbillon cage, the assembly is housed within an octagonal case. Just as on Ferdinand Berthoud’s sea chronometers, this features side windows, allowing the movement’s workings to be admired. On the dial, the emphasis is on an instantly readable time display, with a large seconds hand positioned in the centre – a reminder that precision is at the heart of the FB 1 collection.
Timepieces are produced in strictly limited, numbered editions – only a few dozen leave Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud’s workshops every year. It did not take long for seasoned collectors to be won over by the sincerity and integrity of the approach, and distinctions were not long in following. In 2016, barely a year after its launch, the FB 1.1 was awarded the Mejor Reloj – the highest award at the SIAR Madrid watch show. That same year, Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud also scooped the Aiguille d’Or, the top prize at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) competition, for its FB 1.1 chronometer.
In 2019, it was the Chronomètre FB 1R’s turn to win an award at the same event, with its regulator-style display and timekeeping performance commanding the attention of the members of the GPHG jury.
That same year, another new model was added to the collection – the Chronomètre FB 1L. At the intersection of astronomy and timekeeping, this version features a patented complication, providing an entirely new way of displaying the age and phases of the moon, with a hand that moves back and forth along a specially graduated scale.
Far from resting on its laurels, Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud is continuing its efforts unabated. The firm is now preparing to unveil the second chapter in its history, in which another outstanding movement will be playing a major role.