Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L is the latest creation from the Fleurier-based company. Since 2015, the eponymous brand has indulged connoisseurs with innovative horology, exalted levels of craftsmanship and incredible precision. As Angus Davies reveals, this latest watch proves no exception.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

In the world of horology, there have been several important figures who have observed, questioned, innovated and enhanced. Some of the luminaries that have strongly influenced clockmaking or watchmaking are John Harrison, Christiaan Huygens, George Graham et al. Some horophiles may well argue that esteemed British watchmaker George Daniels (1926-2011) is equally deserving of praise and respect.

However, perhaps the most venerated names in watchmaking are Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antide Janvier and Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807). This latter watchmaker is synonymous with making marine chronometers. His first marine chronometer, the suitably named ‘Marine Clock no. 1’ was completed in 1761.

After creating the Marine Clock no. 1, Ferdinand Berthoud was tasked by the King of France to appraise John Harrison’s H4 Marine Timekeeper, however, the Englishman thwarted Berthoud’s attempts to see the clock. Berthoud would go on to make additional marine clocks whilst enjoying the patronage of the French Royal Navy.

Each subsequent iteration of Berthoud’s marine clocks incorporated improvements. These changes enhanced reliability and mitigated the influence of changing temperature, however, most notably, Berthoud relentlessly pursued superior precision. It must be remembered that a marine chronometer that runs just a few seconds slower each day, could lead to a ship being several miles adrift at the conclusion of a lengthy voyage. Precision is absolute when using a marine chronometer as a navigational tool.

In 2015, the name of Ferdinand Berthoud was revived by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the co-president of Chopard. Scheufele is a purist and clearly appreciated and respected Berthoud’s legacy. The rekindled company’s inaugural watch was not a cynical adaptation of an 18th century pocket watch, but an overtly contemporary watch. The result of a clean-sheet design, the Ferdinand Berthoud FB1 incorporated some stylistic influences from Berthoud’s marine clocks. Moreover, the FB1 was infused with a high quotient of mechanical complexity and peerless finishing.

The Fleurier-based company’s second model, the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1R, shared the same 8-side case design, fusee and chain transmission and lateral portholes as the aforementioned FB1. However, it also featured an innovative regulator-type display and an elaborate power-reserve indicator.

An examination of Ferdinand Berthoud’s paradigm reveals an obsession with innovation, precision, design, artisanal craftsmanship and no-compromise finishing. Since the brand’s inception it has released various animations of the aforementioned watches, however, the company’s fastidious standards have remained unchanged.

At Baselworld 2019, Ferdinand Berthoud revealed its latest creation, the Chronomètre FB 1L, a peerless exemplar of haute horlogerie intended to sate the desires of the most discerning individuals. However, consistent with its siblings, the FB 1L incorporates some new indications.

The dial

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L is offered in two versions. The FB 1L.1 ‘Near Side of the Moon’ combines 18-carat polished white gold for the case middle, side elements and crown, with black ceramic used for the lugs. The FB 1L.4 ‘Far Side of the Moon’ employs sandblasted 18-carat white gold for the case middle, while the lugs and side elements are formed of dark grey ceramised titanium. This latter material is said to be ‘on average four times harder than standard titanium’.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

Image – FB 1L.4 ‘Far Side of the Moon’

The specification of the case determines the colour of the dial. Both watches have a distinct character all of their own. Personally, I prefer the innocent face of the FB 1L.1 ‘Near Side of the Moon’.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

Image – FB 1L.1 ‘Near Side of the Moon’

An off-centre hour and minutes display is positioned below noon. Once again, it employs open-worked dagger-style hands and Arabic numerals in the Maison’s personalised font.

Consistent with other Ferdinand Berthoud models, the FB 1L features a tourbillon with direct-drive seconds. This patented know-how puts the seconds wheel and pinion in mesh with the wheel driving the tourbillon carriage. It is just one example of the brand’s incredibly innovative mindset.

The lower hemisphere of the dial is dedicated to the display of the age and phases of the moon.

The age and phases of the moon – background

The moon moves by approximately its own diameter each hour. With the advent of the telescope, the pendulum clock, the micrometer screw and logarithms in the 17th century, astronomers were able to observe the moon against a background of stars in order to determine longitude.

Image – Ferdinand Berthoud instrument optimised by Jean-Charles de Borda

Ferdinand Berthoud was dedicated to the creation of instruments capable of determining longitude. An instrument ‘optimised’ by Jean-Charles de Borda, led to the eponymous ‘Borda circle’. Borda was an engineer, working at the same time as Berthoud, and his device was able to ‘measure angular distances by repeating the same observation several times on the circle without returning to zero’. Repeated measurements minimised the margin of error.

The Borda circle saw the sextant (accurate to 0.2 NM) supersede the octant (accurate to 150 NM). Moreover, the Borda circle conferred advancement when contrasted with the ‘Reflecting circle’ conceived by Tobias Mayer, a German astronomer. Mayer was well known for his lunar tables which facilitated the precise determination of the moon’s position and, by default, longitude.

The Fleurier-based Maison states that the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L is ‘a tribute to these pioneers who combined their knowledge to achieve a level of chronometric and astronomical precision that would change the course of history’.

Many watch companies equip timepieces with a moon phase indication which depict the moon as it ‘waxes’ and ‘wanes’. The moon phase comprises of four phases: new moon, first quarter, full moon and third quarter. A lunar cycle, the period taken for the moon to move to the same position, is 29.53 days (2 decimal places). While the moon phase indication is a traditional watch complication, it lacks the accuracy necessary for astronomical use.

The age of the moon is ‘a far more accurate indicator which counts the number of days since the last moon’. By using the age of the moon in combination with the chronometric measurement of time, it was possible to determine longitude with impressive accuracy almost 270 years ago. The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L combines a chronometer with both age and phases of the moon indications.

The age and phases of the moon – dial indications

The age and phases of the moon indications are presented on an arcing cartouche. The right hand side of the track shows a pictorial depiction of the moon waxing and waning. However, it is the scale shown on the left hand side of the cartouche which is groundbreaking.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

A lone blued hand points to the numerals shown on the left side of the cartouche, indicating the prevailing age of the moon. This is a patented complication, upholding the Swiss firm’s penchant for innovation. Day ‘1’ is the first day since the new moon. On the 14th day, as the moon phase indicates a full moon (depicted with a black outline), the blued hand slowly returns to its point of origin and points to a graphic, indicating a new moon.

Image – FB 1L.4 ‘Far Side of the Moon’

An aperture, positioned in between 4 and 5 o’clock shows the current moon phase, waxing and waning. As the hand pointing to the age of moon indicator moves in two directions, the information shown via said aperture allows the wearer to ascertain the direction the moon phase hand is moving i.e. towards a full moon, or conversely, towards a new moon. Furthermore, the wearer is able to see part of the cam via the aperture. The age of the moon cam integrates with a feeler-spindle arm which in turn orchestrates the movement of the blued hand pointing to the left side of the cartouche.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

The age of the moon indication proves incredibly accurate, ‘corresponding to a mere one-day difference in 577 years of continuous operation’.

Lastly, returning to the dial aperture, located in between 4 & 5 o’clock, the blued hand pointing to the current moon phase encircles a decorative depiction of the moon. The specific version of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1 determines how the half moon is depicted i.e. visible or hidden.

The case

Consistent with other Ferdinand Berthoud models, the Chronomètre FB 1L is housed in a 44mm case. The inaugural watch from the Maison (2015), the FB 1, featured four portholes gracing the flanks of the case. However, the octagonal case of this latest watch is endowed with just two sapphire portholes, providing room for a sliding function selector, positioned between 4 and 5 o’clock. This function selector, when set to ‘L’ or ‘M’, allows the wearer to set the age of the moon or time when used in conjunction with the crown.

The crown on the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L measures 9mm in diameter. This generous scale confers ease of manipulation, yet does not impinge on the wearer’s wrist. The crown is exquisitely detailed with lattice-like knurling and tasteful branding on the crown’s vertical flank.

When Ferdinand Berthoud unveiled the FB1 in 2015, the modular case looked supremely refined but rather complicated. However, the design of this case proved inspired. Since 2015, the Maison has cleverly combined different materials, every time imbuing each model with its own unique character. While the FB 1L is initially available in just two case options, I suspect more varieties will follow in due course.

The domed and arched sapphire crystal has received anti-reflective treatment on its inner and outer surfaces. It confers superb views of the dial indications while allowing light from the sides to flood the dial plane. This watch has been produced to the highest order.

The movement

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L is endowed with a hand-wound movement, the Calibre FB-T.FC.L. Once again, the Fleurier-based firm has placed half bridges upon titanium pillars, bestowing the movement with an amazing allure.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

This movement perpetuates the Swiss firms fondness for the classical fusee and chain transmission system. Its elaborate composition ensures that a constant force is supplied to the escapement, preventing the amplitude of the balance falling as the energy held within the barrel wanes. Furthermore, this movement is fitted with a stopwork system which halts the movement when there is insufficient energy to serve the escapement without impairing accuracy. It is the combination of these two systems which contributes to the model’s impressive precision.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L

A power-reserve indicator is positioned to the rear of the movement. A lone hand moves from ‘0’ to ‘1’, succinctly expressing the energy held within the barrel.

As stated earlier, the watch features a tourbillon, mitigating the negative effects of gravity on the regulating organ. However, there are several other aspects of this movement’s specification which have a positive influence on accuracy.

The Calibre FB-T.FC.L is fitted with a variable-inertia balance wheel, featuring four rhodium-plated nickel silver inertia blocks. The benefit of a variable-inertia balance, when contrasted with a simple balance fitted with a regulator, is that the hairspring breathes more concentrically aiding precision.

The inertia blocks are C-shaped and positioned in-board on each spoke of the balance. As the blocks do not protrude from the rim of the oscillating balance wheel they do not create air turbulence, once again, enhancing precision.

There is an overriding mechanical rectitude with Ferdinand Berthoud. The balance spring features a Phillips terminal curve, a detail exclusive to some of the finest watches. By upraising the spring’s outer coil and reducing its curvature, the spring breathes more concentrically (isochronism), improving precision.

I have repeatedly used the word ‘precision’ when discussing the Calibre FB-T.FC.L, however, this was an obsession of Berthoud in the 18th century and it remains of huge importance to the Swiss company of today. The excellent chronometric performance of the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L is validated with the award of COSC certification.

Beyond the functionality of this movement, the wearer is indulged with some of the finest finishing I have ever seen. Indeed, the FB 1L justifies the appellation, ‘haute horlogerie’.

Closing remarks

The proclamation of the hours, minutes and particularly the seconds is clear and beyond reproach. However, it is the display of the age and phases of the moon which sets the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L apart from its contemporaries. These latter indications prove both legible and intuitive to use.

Beyond its prowess for conveying information, the FB 1L is infused with a high quotient of innovation. The tourbillon with direct-drive seconds hand, the suspended fusee differential winding system and the suspended barrel with Maltese cross stopwork system are all patented.

Now, Ferdinand Berthoud has invented an ingenious cam and feeler-spindle ‘serving to display the age of the moon by means of a hand’. The Maison has filed a patent for this ground-breaking feature. However, each invention has relevance to the work undertaken by Berthoud in the 18th century. Moreover, the design of each model, despite being modern, has some links to the marine chronometers made by the 18th century Swiss genius.

Uppermost in Berthoud’s mind was precision and this clearly remains an obsession for the modern-day Ferdinand Berthoud brand. There is a plethora of precision enhancing characteristics to be found on this watch. Indeed, the high-end company has not stinted on the FB 1L’s specification and its pursuit of perfection is manifest.

Ultimately, there is another quality which the FB 1L exhibits in abundance. While it differs from its forebears, it shares a close family likeness to the FB 1 and the FB 1R. This consistency reinforces the longevity and residual values of the earlier models. Quite simply, Ferdinand Berthoud does not render earlier models obsolete by abandoning the design codes of former creations unlike some lesser, mass market brands.

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L is worthy of the 18th century watchmaker’s name. Furthermore, I suspect if the Maison keeps making thought-provoking watches, such as those created to date, then its work and innovative spirit will be viewed positively for many years to come.

Further reading

Technical specifications

  • Model: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1L.1 ‘Near Side of the Moon’
  • Case: 18-carat white gold case with black ceramic lugs; diameter 44mm; height 13.95mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds; age and phases of the moon; power reserve on the back of the movement
  • Movement: Calibre FB-T.FC.L; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600VpH (3Hz); 55 jewels; power reserve 53 hours
  • Strap: Hand-stitched rolled-edge alligator leather strap, paired with an 18-carat white gold double-blade folding clasp. Pin buckle available on request.
  • Price: CHF 265,000 (RRP as at 22.7.2019)
  • Limited Edition: 10 pieces
  • Price: CHF 250,000 (RRP as at 22.7.2019) – FB 1L.4 ‘Far Side of the Moon’
  • Limited Edition: 10 pieces

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