Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection is the latest body of work from the eponymous Swiss brand. Since launching its inaugural model in 2015, Ferdinand Berthoud has repeatedly conceived horological creations par excellence. At SIHH 2019, the Fleurier-based Maison showcased two watches with 18-carat gold dials, adorned with matchless hand-engraving.

This detailed article about the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection includes numerous images, specification details and pricing.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

In 1889, Pietro Mascagni heard of a competition sponsored by the music publisher Sonzogno, offering a prize for the best one-act opera. The young Italian, a mere 26 years of age, composed Cavalleria Rusticana based around a story by Sicilian writer, Giovanni Verga. The following year, the rousing melodies led to Mascagni winning the competition. Moreover, the music was a resounding success, playing to audiences around the world.

However, despite Mascagni continuing to write impressive operas, he went to his grave, aged 81, never able to replicate the success of Cavalleria Rusticana. His seminal work remains Mascagni’s chef-d’œuvre.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

White gold FB1.1

A few years ago, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the co-president of Chopard, acquired the rights to the illustrious name of Ferdinand Berthoud. Monsieur Berthoud, a revered horological figure, was responsible for creating incredibly precise chronometers for the French Admiralty in the 18th century.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele

In 2015, the modern-day Ferdinand Berthoud brand launched its inaugural timepiece, the aptly named FB 1. It showcased technical virtuosity with contemporary aesthetics. The movement incorporated pillar-type construction, doffing its hat to the Ferdinand Berthoud Marine Clock M.M. no. 6 of 1777. It also encompassed a fusée and chain transmission system, similar in concept to the aforementioned clock of 1777. Furthermore, the movement, the Calibre FB-T.FC, included a ground-breaking power-reserve indicator using a cone and feeler system and an innovative tourbillon with direct-drive seconds.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Ferdinand Berthoud Marine Clock M.M. no. 6 of 1777

Beyond its mechanical prowess, the watch featured peerless finishing. The eight-sided case incorporated lateral portholes, affording views of the fusée and chain. Despite measuring 44mm in diameter, the virtual absence of lugs ensured the watch would fit all but the most diminutive wrists. Lastly, would-be customers could select one of two variants, 18-carat rose gold with black ceramic or 18-carat white gold with titanium.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

The original design brief was to produce a watch that Ferdinand Berthoud could have conceivably created if he was living in the 21st century. To my eyes, the revived Maison fulfilled this objective masterfully. Indeed, at the time, I stated, ‘Chronomètre FERDINAND BERTHOUD is my favourite watch of 2015’. Despite the passage of time, my adoration for this watch has never waned.

I was reminded of Mascagni while I attended the launch of the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 . The problem with achieving greatness and breathing its intoxicating fragrance is that it engenders a desire to replicate that magnificence again and again. Returning to Mascagni, in some accounts, it is said he was haunted by the legacy of Cavalleria Rusticana and felt great sadness at being unable to repeat the performance of his legendary opera. I remember, back in 2015, asking myself whether Ferdinand Berthoud could ever replicate the brilliance of the FB 1. Fortunately, I did not have to wait too long to receive the answer to my hushed question.

The Chronomètre FB 1R.6-1 was launched in 2018. In this instance, the watch was inspired by the  Marine Chronometer 7. Similar to its older sibling, the watch incorporated a tourbillon, fusée and chain transmission and the Maison’s innovative power-reserve indicator using a mobile cone system. However, the FB 1R.6-1 differed by featuring a regulator-type display. The hours were proclaimed via an aperture at 2 o’clock and the minutes were articulated using an off-centre dial with a dagger-shaped hand.  A central sweep seconds hand and the previously mentioned power-reserve indicator, completed the inventory of indications.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Carburised stainless steel FB 1R.6-1

Ingenuity extended to the 44mm case, which shared the same appearance as the FB 1 (now termed the FB 1.1 and FB 1.2), but was formed of carburised stainless steel. The material, measuring 1200 Vickers on the hardness scale, proved exceptionally resistant to scratches.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Bronze FB 1R5

Last year, the brand surprised me with the release of five bronze watches, the Ferdinand Berthoud Chromometer FB 1R – Edition 1785. Each piece was unique with its own distinct patination. I would never have predicted the Swiss company would have launched a bronze watch, an alloy popularised by several mainstream brands. However, the bronze timepieces offered by many of these companies appear pale when compared with the dark tones of FB 1R – Edition 1785. Indeed, the look of each bronze case made much sense, emulating the appearance of historical maritime artefacts.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Sextant

Now, the brand has returned to its inaugural model for inspiration and crafted two new watches, each featuring a hand-engraved ‘patinated’ gold dial and, in the case of the FB 1.1-2, a gem-set case. The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection harnesses the familiar, while embracing originality. Each watch is endowed with all of the technical attributes of the FB 1.1 and FB 1.2 (launched in 2015) but also incorporates artisanal crafts not seen on previous watches from this esteemed maison.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

The dial

The two models which form the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection are endowed with 18-carat gold dials. The FB 1.1-2 dial is formed of 3N yellow gold, while the FB 1.2-1 has an 18-carat 5N rose gold dial. Both timepieces feature engraved and ‘patinated’ surfaces.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Ferdinand Berthoud describe the dial surface as ‘patinated’, however, I would describe it as ‘pitted’ where minute indentations adorn the dial’s epidermis. This finish is created using a combination of engraving techniques. Firstly, the surface is finely grained with a graver. Thereafter, a tool, referred to as a ‘rocker’, is applied to the surface, imparting a shimmering appearance to the dial. There is a wonderful absence of machinery, the resultant surface is the product of artisanal hand-craftsmanship.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Once the horological gold canvas has been endowed with a sumptuous texture, it is hand engraved with numerous words and figures. The typography used mimics the cursive script found on historical Ferdinand Berthoud marine chronometers.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Positioned at noon is an off-centre hour and minutes display which lucidly conveys the prevailing time using openworked, blued or plated dagger-shaped hands (finish dependent on the model). The hands are faceted and made of 18-carat gold.

A large, lozenge shaped aperture spans an area between the dial centre and 6 o’clock. This opening reveals a direct-drive seconds tourbillon. The fourth wheel is in mesh with the wheel driving the tourbillon carriage. Both wheels are the same size, affording a wonderful symmetry. The aperture reveals straight grained surfaces, gleaming bevels, including internal angles on the upper tourbillon bridge, and circular grained wheels. The central sweep seconds hand is formed of bronze and is either plated or blued, depending on the model selected.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

A power-reserve indicator is positioned at 9 o’clock. A neat, lone hand conveys the state of wind, employing the previously mentioned cone and feeler system. This approach grants an ‘extremely accurate measurement’ of available energy.

Both the opening for the tourbillon and the power-reserve indicator feature glorious chamfered edges which shine resplendently adjacent the textured gold dial surface.

Lastly, a chemin-de-fer sits atop the main dial plane. Its railroad track facilitates read-off. Indeed, the peerless legibility of this dial illustrates that aesthetic beauty and eminent practicality can co-exist in blissful concert.

The case

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection consists of a gemset 18-carat white gold model (FB 1.1-2) or an 18-carat rose gold option (FB 1.2-1). Each is limited to just five examples. While the former is paired with a yellow gold dial, the latter is partnered with a rose gold surface. This arrangement also extends to the gold used for the half-bridges equipping the respective hand-wound movements.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Consistent with other models from this prestigious Maison, the case construction is incredibly complex and beautifully refined. The caseband sections, gracing both side of the watch head, are not integrated to the main case, but retrospectively affixed into position, forming the distinctive octagonal shape.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

On the FB 1.2-1, the case sports four apertures which reveal the movement within. In particular, they reveal the fusée and chain (see later). The FB 1.1-2 eschews the glazed apertures in preference for five baguette diamonds per aperture.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

The golden winding crown of the FB 1.2-1 is generously proportioned, facilitating ease of adjustment. The prominent diamond-patterned band enriches the appearance of the crown and aids manipulation. A tasteful rose gold medallion adorns the vertical flank of the crown. The crown fitted to the FB 1.1-2 is decorated with 14 baguette diamonds, supplanting the aforementioned diamond-patterned grip found on its all gold sibling.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Both watches measure 44mm in diameter which on paper may sound large. However, the watches ‘wear smaller’ owing to the virtual absence of lugs and the propensity of the strap to sit perpendicular to the watch head. Given the lack of elongated lugs, I would expect this watch to suit those individuals more accustomed to wearing a 40mm watch. 

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

The lugs affixed to the FB 1.1-2 are black ceramic with black DLC-treated titanium fastening screws. In contrast, the lugs fitted to the FB 1.2-1 are formed of 18-carat rose gold with matching screws.

The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection showcases exemplary watchmaking with movements refined to the highest order. Thankfully, both models within the collection are fitted with an exhibition caseback.

The movement

The movement fitted to the two models forming the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection, the Calibre FB-T.FC-3, is essentially the same as the calibre unveiled in 2015. Its greatness was evident at the time and its lustre has not diminished over the years. However, consistent with this high-end Maison, the latest version of the movement features some new finishes. The gold half-bridges are yellow or rose gold, the hue determined by the dial material.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

The finishing on the Calibre FB-T.FC-3 is superb. The ‘half-bridges’ are enriched with a ‘pyramid motif’ imparted by hand using deftly applied tools. There is prevalence of handcraftsmanship found on the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection models. Moreover, the Maison shrewdly references Ferdinand Berthoud clocks from the 18th and 19th century. For example, the ‘pyramid motif’ was inspired by a decoration found on the base of a Ferdinand Berthoud clock kept in the company’s archives.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

For the first time, Ferdinand Berthoud has used ‘invisibly-screwed cartouches’, positioned within recessed sections of the half-bridges. The silver-toned cartouches contrast wonderfully with the warm hues of the adjacent bridge surfaces.

In my review of the inaugural models, back in 2015, I discussed at length the plethora of technical highlights which make the Calibre FB-T.FC-3 extraordinary. Readers can read more by perusing this article. However, I feel it is incumbent on me to point out some of the salient details of this movement.

Setting aside the aforementioned direct-drive seconds tourbillon and the power-reserve indicator with its mobile cone system, there are additional technical virtues which differentiate the Calibre FB-T.FC-3 from its contemporaries.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

One problem with a hand-wound movement is that as the power held within the mainspring diminishes, the amplitude of the balance wheel drops, impairing accuracy. Ferdinand Berthoud has equipped the Calibre FB-T.FC-3 with a fuseé and chain system, a ‘constant-force’ device which ensures the amplitude of the balance remains unaffected by the changing supply of energy. Once the power reserve has reached the limits of its chronometric range, a stopwork system prevents the mainspring serving any more energy to the balance and potentially compromising accuracy. The mainspring is capable of delivering 53 hours of autonomy.

The variable inertia balance features four gold-plated nickel silver inertia blocks. While the rate of some balances is controlled using an index adjuster (raquette), the variable inertia balance uses weights which are rotated, influencing the moment of inertia and, by default, the rate of the watch.  An index adjuster nips the hairspring, altering its effective length and, as such, the rate of the balance. By nipping the hairspring, its concentricity is impaired and its precision is compromised. The isochronism of a variable inertia balance is not diminished as the hairspring breathes more easily, conferring enhanced precision.

At the heart of the Ferdinand Berthoud paradigm is a mechanical rectitude. The hairspring features a Phillips outer terminal curve. Applying the curve by hand proves time-consuming and requires much skill. Once again, this feature enhances isochronism. It is this repeated obsession with precision which has led to the watch being certified as a chronometer (COSC).

This movement overflows with excellence. The Maison has four patents filed for some of the movement’s groundbreaking features. However, beyond said ingenuity, there are further attributes which confer ownership delight.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Ferdinand Berthoud Marine Clock M.M. no. 6 of 1777

The movement employs a pillar-type construction. Titanium pillars secure the half-bridges to the mainplate, creating sufficient room to accommodate the fuseé and chain system, barrel and tourbillon. When the tourbillon is examined from the rear of the watch, this construction method affords incredible three-dimensional views of the balance in flight and the pallet lever nodding in agreement. The horological spectacle is intensified by the sheer scale of the tourbillon opening and the distinctive arrow-shaped tourbillon bridge. Ferdinand Berthoud has delivered an impressive sense of theatre seldom seen elsewhere.

Closing remarks

At this juncture, most readers will be able to discern that I am wholeheartedly smitten with the latest Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection. Both models harness traditional craftsmanship while appearing contemporary. Furthermore, they successfully reference the eponymous company’s maritime past with a gimbal-inspired case and period pyramid motif.

They also incorporate wonderfully textured golden dials and incredible hand-engraved cursive text. It is difficult to choose between the two models from the Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection, however, by the smallest margin, I think the gem-set watch is probably my favourite.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d'Or Collection

Such is the impressive performance of these two watches, I once again ponder whether Ferdinand Berthoud could ever surpass this level of excellence. I asked myself a similar question in 2015 and I now feel compelled to debate the point once more. Unlike Mascagni, whose death prevented him from eclipsing Cavalleria Rusticana, I suspect there will be further Ferdinand Berthoud creations which will outdo the brilliance of the FB 1.1-2 and FB 1.2-1. However, at this stage, it is difficult to envisage how this could ever be possible.

Further reading

https://www.ferdinandberthoud.ch

Technical specifications

  • Model: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection FB 1.1-2
  • Case: 18-carat white gold; diameter 44mm; height 13mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; seconds and power-reserve
  • Movement: Calibre FB-T.FC-3; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 45 jewels; power reserve 53 hours; 1119 components (includes 790 chain parts)
  • Strap: Hand-stitched alligator leather paired with an 18-carat white gold pin buckle
  • Price: £202,500 (RRP as at 11.3.2019)
  • Limited Edition: 5 pieces
  • Model: Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre Oeuvre d’Or Collection FB 1.2-1
  • Case: 18-carat rose gold; diameter 44mm; height 13mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; seconds and power-reserve
  • Movement: Calibre FB-T.FC-3; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 45 jewels; power reserve 53 hours; 1119 components (includes 790 chain parts)
  • Strap: Hand-stitched alligator leather paired with an 18-carat rose gold pin buckle
  • Price: £185,000 (RRP as at 11.3.2019)
  • Limited Edition: 5 pieces