Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785

Angus Davies reviews the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785, a technically complex timepiece which successfully fuses modernity with traditional craftsmanship.

This detailed review of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

In 2015, Ferdinand Berthoud unveiled its inaugural model, the FB 1. At the time, I proclaimed the timepiece was ‘my favourite watch of 2015’. I seldom make such bold statements, however, few watches can surpass the excellence of this watch and, in my opinion, the FB 1 was deserving of my unabashed praise.

Since the launch of the FB 1, Ferdinand Berthoud has augmented the appeal of the model by releasing an array of additional variants, incorporating alternative materials such as platinum and titanium.

However, innovation is part of Ferdinand Berthoud’s paradigm and, therefore, it was inevitable that a new collection would ultimately join the company’s existing catalogue of models. At SIHH 2018, Ferdinand Berthoud unveiled the FB 1R.6-1.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

FB 1R.6-1

The FB 1R.6-1, measuring 44mm in diameter, features an octagonal case formed of ultra-resistant carburised steel, a material with incredible resistance to scratching. The dial incorporates an hour display at 2 o’clock, an open-worked minutes display at 12 o’clock, a central sweep seconds display and, lastly, a power-reserve indicator at 10 o’clock. Beyond its pulchritudinous appearance, this watch is a technical tour de force, endowed with a chain and fusee tourbillon, suspended fusee, barrel and power-reserve, and a tourbillon with direct-drive seconds hand.

A few months ago, the FB 1R.6-1 was joined by a younger sibling, the Ferdinand Berthoud Chromometer FB 1R – Edition 1785, housed in a patinated bronze case. In the past, bronze was used for maritime chronometers, therefore it seems a fitting material for this naval inspired timepiece.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

Unlike several other watches formed of bronze, the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 has been ‘aged’ within the company’s atelier. This series of bronze watches consists of five unique pieces, each endowed with their own distinct patina. The cases vary in colour with some appearing brown while others are distinctly green.

The dial

The surface of the dial is actually ‘the reverse side of the regulator-display complication plate’. The plate is made of nickel silver and adorned with vertical satin-brush, deftly applied by hand. Prominent screw-heads are positioned at 5 and 11 o’ clock.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

An aperture positioned adjacent 2 o’clock reveals the prevailing hour. Black Arabic numerals are presented on a clear sapphire disc which rotates above a white background, causing the numerals to stand out. A fixed, thermally blued hand points to the hour, succinctly conversing with the wearer.

The minutes display positioned at 12 o’clock is open-worked, according views of the gear train and the brand’s hand-engraved pyramid-motif decoration. A lone, blue dagger-shaped hand collaborates with neat markings and Arabic numerals and, in so doing, clearly imparts information. Close examination of the minutes display reveals the hand is faceted and the minutes counter is ‘finely chamfered, bead-blasted and adorned with gilded chamfers’.

A slender, blued bronze sweep seconds hand circumscribes the dial with notable grace. A small counterweight heightens the sense of elegance.

The power-reserve indicator employs an elaborate mechanism in order to indicate the barrel’s state of wind. A feeler spindle communicates the volume of energy stored in the sole barrel to a ‘set of finely chamfered and rhodium-plated levers visible through a cut-out in the regulator-display plate’. A blued hand arcs from ‘0’ to ‘1’, succinctly indicating the power held within the barrel. However, it is not the information provided by the power-reserve indicator which makes this watch impressive, but rather the means of communication. The wearer is indulged with a fascinating horological vista where gleaming levers orchestrate the display with stylish aplomb.

While appraising the dial ensemble of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chromometer FB 1R – Edition 1785, I was struck by its clean and cultivated appearance. Everything is polished and refined. Each detail exhibits newness and modernity. The case on the other hand provides a fascinating juxtaposition. This octagonal bronze housing is patinated, conferring an aged character with its variegated finish. While the dial appears formal, the exterior of the watch feels more relaxed.

The case

The patinated bronze case measures 44mm in diameter with a height of 13.95mm. While the height is not inconsequential, it remains impressive for a movement featuring a fusee and chain, tourbillon and complex power-reserve mechanism. One reason for the slimmed-down character of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chromometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 relates to the suspended fusee and barrel. By eschewing upper bridges, the height of the movement is reduced.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

Gracing each side of the case are lozenge-shaped portholes, affording views of the fusee and chain in motion. The bronze crown features a knurled pattern and a titanium medallion on its vertical flank.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

In order to realise the five cases necessary for this limited series of watches, Ferdinand Berthoud state they actually made 50. Each case has been subject to an ageing treatment, in order to replicate the patina typically found on 18th century maritime instruments. The Swiss watch company expended much effort in order to imbue each watch with its own unique shade. Furthermore, the case treatment was checked for ‘dermo-compatibility’ in compliance with the REACH regulations.

Ferdinand Berthoud has equipped the FB 1R – Edition 1785 with an exhibition case-back. The widescreen format of the sapphire crystal allows the wearer to absorb every distilled element of the Calibre FB-T.F.C.R-2. A circlet of gleaming metal surrounds the pane of sapphire crystal.

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chromometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 is affixed to the wrist with a rolled-edge, hand-sewn, chestnut brown alligator strap paired with a titanium pin buckle.

The movement

The Calibre FB-T.F.C.R-2 is a hand-wound movement with an array of attributes intended to appeal to watch aficionados.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R - Edition 1785

Ferdinand Berthoud has equipped this movement with a tourbillon. This horological device, the preserve of the finest watches, was patented in 1801 by Abraham Louis Breguet. It negates the adverse influence of gravity on the balance. By placing the escapement within a rotating cage, the tourbillon compensates for positional errors.

In this instance, the tourbillon consists of 67 components held within a titanium carriage and affixed to an arrow-shaped tourbillon bridge. This latter bridge is mirror-polished and chamfered by hand. Breathtaking craftsmanship is omnipresent.

A problem with most ‘regular’ watches is that torque drops as the mainspring unwinds, resulting in less power being transmitted to the balance wheel. This reduction in power adversely affects the accuracy of the movement. Again, Ferdinand Berthoud has addressed this problem, fitting the watch with a fusee and chain. ‘When the movement is fully wound, the chain is entirely wrapped around the small end of the spindle-shaped fusee and the mainspring is at maximum power. The force dwindles over time and the chain coils around the drum, transitioning from the narrow to the broad end of the fusee. The varying diameter of the fusee compensates for the reduction in mainspring torque. The escapement thus receives a constant supply of energy, thereby equalling out the amplitude of the balance wheel and improving the movement’s precision’.

A Maltese cross stopwork system restricts the winding turns of the mainspring, ensuring only the most stable portion of the spring is used.

Most tourbillon cages rotate 360° every 60 seconds. By fitting a small hand to the revolving cage, the complication is used to display the running seconds. The Calibre FB-T.F.C.R-2 is unusual in that it is equipped with a tourbillon with a direct-drive seconds hand. This know-how is patented in common with several other specification highlights found on this movement.

The power-reserve display features a highly complex system. Viewing the movement via the case-back, an openworked bridge can be seen on the right. Looking through the openworked bridge, a mirror-polished cone can be seen. This cone moves ‘up and down along a screw-type arbor attached to the barrel. A mobile arm topped by a roller acts as a feeler spindle and its position on the cone reflects the barrel’s state of wind’. The feeler spindle transmits the state of wind to the aforementioned indication shown on the dial.

Beneath the transmission wheel is a decorative section of movement, engraved with the company’s pyramid-motif decoration. This pattern is said to have been inspired by a skeletonised astronomical clock by Ferdinand Berthoud which is now held in the L.U.CEUM collection.

The movement consists of 18 half-bridges, each openworked and formed of nickel silver. These, in turn, rest upon six polished titanium pillars. The balance has a frequency of 21,600 VpH (3Hz) and the maximum power reserve is 53 hours. The Calibre FB-T.F.C.R-2  is comprised of 1,158 parts, of which 790 parts relate to the chain.

Every element of this movement is magnificent. The variable-inertia balance incorporates four weights, positioned on the inside of the balance wheel. The location of the weights mitigates disruption to the air, aiding precision. A hand-crafted Phillips terminal curve improves the isochronism of the balance spring and, by default, also aids precision. The watch is a certified chronometer (COSC).

The finishing of the Calibre FB-T.F.C.R-2 is sublime. Straight graining, mirror-polishing, anglage, circular graining and smooth polishing, harmoniously co-exist. Each finish is the product of skilful craftsmanship, where hands and traditional tools are used to create flawless components.

Closing remarks

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 is a paragon of fine watchmaking. Each element of its specification is the consequence of protracted thought and patient endeavour.

The dial exhibits a clean-cut, smart appearance. Each indication is conveyed with a notable degree of lucidity. The svelte profile of the direct-drive second hand brims with grace. The vertical satin-brush, applied to the reverse side of the regulator-display complication plate, is beautiful and exhibits a smart mien. In contrast, the patinated bronze case appears charmingly distressed. 

The mixture of formal and relaxed character traits with contemporary and historical elements, imbues the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 with a unique personality. Furthermore, despite the seemingly disparate components used, the complete watch exhibits a cohesive appearance.

However, my favourite aspect of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 is the movement. It is enriched with sublime finishing and a plethora of technical highlights. A tourbillon, a fusee and chain providing a constant-force supply of energy to the escapement, a pillar-type movement construction and an innovative power-reserve display all differentiate this watch from mainstream pretenders.

In the 18th century, the raison d’être for a marine chronometer was to establish longitude and navigate seas safely. A prerequisite of such a device was precision, otherwise the lives of mariners could be placed in jeopardy. The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785 incorporates many details to deliver superb precision, including a variable inertia balance and a Philips terminal curve. Indeed, it is the technical prowess of this watch which makes it remarkable and worthy of bearing the historical name of Ferdinand Berthoud.

Further reading

Technical specifications

  • Model: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronometer FB 1R – Edition 1785
  • Case: Bronze; diameter 44mm, height 13.95mm; sapphire crystal to front and case-back; water resistant to 3 ATM (30 metres).
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; power-reserve indicator
  • Movement: Calibre FB-T.FC.R-2; Hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz); 49 jewels; power reserve 53 hours.
  • Strap: Rolled-edge, hand-sewn, chestnut brown alligator strap paired with a titanium pin buckle
  • Price: £208,000 (RRP as at 16.8.2018)

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