In an industry where many brands count their heritage in centuries, after 35 years in business Frederique Constant is still very much a scrappy startup. Launched by Aletta and Peter Stas in 1988 and named for their respective great-grandparents (there isn’t, nor ever was, a watchmaker named Frederique Constant) the idea behind the company is as audacious now as it was then: make the highest quality products possible and sell them for as little as possible. Thirty-five years later, Frederique Constant is among the top watch brands in the world, with much of its reputation built on pieces like the Classic Tourbillon Manufacture launched at Watches & Wonders Geneva earlier this year. Powered by the brand’s FC-980 in-house calibre and priced at $19,995, it’s as elegant as it is (relatively) accessible. We caught up with the brand’s longtime CEO Niels Eggerding to talk shop and see what’s next from Geneva’s most underrated watch brand.
What’s your favourite way to describe Frederique Constant to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
There’s nobody in our price segment who’s capable of doing what we are doing — we offer luxury for a more fair price than many other brands do today. We don’t hire Hollywood ambassadors, we don’t do crazy things, we just want to have a beautiful product with an in-house movement for a price that people appreciate. I can talk for hours like that, but let’s start there.
What are the key differences then, between a Frederique Constant watch and one made by other Swiss luxury brands?
For a long time now, for 35 years, we’ve taken the position to make less margin compared to all of the other brands around us. We made it into the top 30 watch brands in the world because we did something disruptive; something that nobody did before. We started 35 years back with high luxury finishing and a luxurious look and feel, but accessible and affordable in price. We make 4,000 Worldtimers in a year with an in-house calibre, starting at $5,500, and in the luxury segment, that’s unique.
At 35 years old, Frederique Constant is a young brand by Swiss standards. Does that put you at a disadvantage?
I think in a broader sense it’s a disadvantage because we’re up against the big Maisons that have existed for 150 or 200 years. But we have achieved 30 in-house movements in 35 years. And when we do an in-house movement like the perpetual calendar we launched back in 2017, we do 1,000 units a year — that’s something that many big houses don’t even do. But we still always have to prove ourselves.
Why is it so important to create calibres in-house rather than buying them from another supplier?
In 2002 we started to build our own calibre for two main reasons. One: unlimited growth potential, because you’re not dependent on the big groups delivering you the movements. And two: it allows us to be much more creative because the design is dictated by the movement. So this resulted in the first manufacture calibre back in 2004, and since then, we have been launching two to three new in-house calibres every year.
Why was it important to add a tourbillon to the collection?
Back in 2008, we did our first tourbillon, which was pretty revolutionary at the time. It was a very unique piece that we produced in very limited numbers and at a high price. Although it was accessible for a tourbillon, it was still 40,000 euros. After that, we made a tourbillon perpetual calendar and offered it for around 25,000 euros. Then we had the idea to introduce a more basic tourbillon in high volume and make it the most accessible one in the industry. The decision to make it was not difficult, it was much more difficult to get the atelier ready to produce the volume we wanted to make. We needed to produce around 700 to 900 pieces to offer it for around $20,000.
Other than the price, what makes the piece unique?
The uniqueness comes in the design of the 39-millimetre case, which doesn’t exist that much in the industry. It’s much more common for a tourbillon to be 41 or 42 or even more. We launched at Watches & Wonders Geneva this year and it was an amazing success: uniqueness in design, uniqueness in price, and an in-house calibre. So now we have to produce it. We are producing around 60 pieces a month, and it’s high pressure for the atelier. But that’s a luxury problem, right?
How long does it take to produce each one?
We have about 30 watchmakers, about five of them are capable of doing a tourbillon, and we produce about 60 per month. So an average watchmaker is spending about five to six working days to produce one tourbillon. It’s that special. That’s why so many houses are not producing them, they’re buying the movements. But you really need to produce it yourself to make it accessible in price.
What we can expect from Frederique Constant in the next year or two?
I’m not gonna say too much, but next year all the manufacture calibres will have an increase in power reserve, with a 72-hour power reserve as the minimum. We’re also working on a completely new tourbillon calibre that’s fully integrated with extra functionality that we’ll introduce in 2025. And as of this month, we’re going to launch a collaboration with Christiaan van der Klaauw for Only Watch. It’s going to be very unique, it’s something that’s never done before, and we will introduce it as an haute horologie calibre in 2025. So you will see more and we will disrupt more.