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The Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1.3

The Chopard Group has a number of interests other than the creation of Chopard watches, including two very large movement manufacturing centers in Fleurier. One of its more recent enterprises was the founding, in 2015, of a brand separate from Chopard named for the great French chronometer maker, Ferdinand Berthoud, and which launched with a fake watch ?the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 ?which takes its inspiration from the notion of a "marine chronometer for the wrist." We spent A Week On The Wrist recently with this fake watch and came away very favorably impressed; there are a number of engineering and design decisions present that make it not only very visually interesting and horologically compelling, but also much more wearable than the industry is generally capable of making complicated super-watches in general, and replica watches with a chain-and-fusée in particular.

Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1.2, in rose gold.

The newest version of the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud has just been announced: FB 1.3, which adds a platinum model to the existing white and rose gold models (FB 1.1 and FB 1.2 respectively).

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As we mentioned this is except for the case metal, identical to versions 1.1 and 1.2 however I think it's worth reviewing some of the more distinguishing characteristics of the case and design. The octagonal shape, first of all, is a shout-out to the gimbal equipped boxes in which marine chronometers were traditionally kept, and the very large center seconds hand and regulator clock-type placement of the hour and minute hands, is another nod to the history of precision timekeeping. The presence of a center seconds hand, by the way, is unusual for a tourbillon wristwatch. Typically, a tourbillon with a one-minute carriage (the most common type nowadays) has a running seconds indication through the simple expedient of mounting the seconds hand on the upper pivot of the tourbillon cage. In the FB 1.x models, the tourbillon cage has a driving wheel on it that in turn, propels the gear on whose pivot the second hand rides (it's a one minute tourbillon, so it's a simple 1:1 gear ratio).

Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1.3 in platinum.

The caliber FB - T.FC.

The power reserve indicator is also a marine chronometer characteristic though of course, power reserve indicators are found in a very wide range of other timepieces as well. In marine chronometers they served an essential security function (you can't very well find your longitude at sea if your chronometer has been allowed to run down, and I can only imagine the woeful consequences to a ship's fake watch officer if this were allowed to happen) and also helped ensure that the chronometer's power was being drawn from the optimum section of the mainspring's torque.

To further ensure unvarying torque to the escapement, many if not most ship's boxed chronometers were also fitted with a chain-and-fusée. This device is an extremely old one in horology; some of the very earliest known spring driven clocks had them, and the device may very well predate spring driven clocks entirely (there is a picture of a fusée cone as part of a crossbow winding mechanism in a military manuscript dating to 1405). The basic idea is the same as that behind the conical stacked gears in a 10-speed bicycle: the varying diameter of the fusée cone offers a gradually increasing mechanical advantage to the mainspring as it winds down, so that the weaker part of the mainspring's power reserve has the greatest mechanical advantage.

Cone and mainspring barrel for the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1.3.

One of the challenging characteristics of a chain-and-fusée is that when you wind the watch, you're winding the chain back onto the fusée and if you think about it for a moment, you'll see that this means that during winding, power flow to the movement (which goes from the mainspring, to the fusée, to the gear train) would be interrupted. John Harrison solved this problem in his H4 marine chronometer by inventing what's called "maintaining power" which in his version, consists of a small secondary spring in the fusée that's engaged during winding, to maintain pressure on the gear train. Similarly, the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 series has a maintaining power system as well (as do all modern replica watches which use a chain and fusée, for obvious reasons; the Ferdinand Berthoud system is original to the fake watch and FB has filed for a patent for the mechanism, the differential planetary gears are visible on the movement side of the watch, on the base of the fusée cone).

Assembly of the fusée chain.

Assembly of the differential maintaining power system in the fusée cone.

Another interesting aspect of the FB series is the overall construction of the movement, and there are a couple of interesting points. First is the general movement architecture ?in general modern movements use some variation on the bridge(s) and mainplate construction pioneered by Lépine in the mid-18th century. The Lépine caliber construction was preceded by what's called "pillar and plate" movements, in which the going train was sandwiched in between two plates, held together by "pillars" supporting and connecting the two plates at their peripheries. The pillar and plate system was almost entirely superseded for replica watches by variations on the Lépine architecture, but it survived in clocks and in marine chronometers.

Marine chronometer by Berthoud, late 18th century, with pillar and plate construction and "gridiron" bimetallic temperature compensation.

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In modern wristwatches the pillar and plate system is virtually never used; one notable exception is the Glashütte watchmaker Moritz Grossmann, which uses that construction for its movements including the caliber 100.1. Generally speaking the reason for avoiding it is that in addition to adding thickness, it makes movement assembly more difficult, for the same reason that 3/4 plate construction is more difficult; you have to get all the upper pivots for all the gears in the going train to fall into the upper jewels at the same time (which is something I've experienced in working on vintage American pocket replica watches and the first few times you do it, it's a bit of a nightmare). However in the case of the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB series, there's an additional detail that helps keep the fake watch a wearable size: the mainspring barrel and fusée are both attached only to the lower (dial side) plate. This is a so-called "hanging barrel" construction and generally, you only find it used in extra thin movements like the Vacheron caliber 1003. It's not ever a feature of actual boxed ship's chronometers (there would be no reason for it in that context) but in the FB 1.3 it means that the movement can be quite thin for a chain-and-fusée caliber, at just 35.50mm x 7.96mm and the fake watch itself comes in at a very wrist-friendly 44mm x 13mm ?for this sort of watchmaking, very manageable indeed.

The Ferdinand Berthoud caliber FB-T.FC, with upper plate removed, showing support pillars.

A power reserve indicator was a standard marine chronometer feature, and the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1.3 has one, but with a little twist ?the mechanical implementation is via a cone, which moves up and down an arbor connected to the mainspring barrel as the fake watch is wound, or as the barrel unwinds. A feeler arm "reads" the height of the cone and translates its position into the changing position of the power reserve hand.

Power reserve cone and feeler arm.

As we've mentioned in our earlier coverage what we have in the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1.3 is not a pure marine chronometer for the wrist ?this would be impractical and undesirable. The marine chronometer and its construction is more a point of departure than a goal, and the watch, with its tourbillon and hanging barrel-and-fusée construction, reads just as much as a kind of historical overview of precision portable mechanical timekeeping, including the freesprung, adjustable mass balance, and materials choices, such as the use of German silver/maillechort for the plates (the pillars are titanium, interestingly enough).

Placement of the balance and balance spring in the tourbillon cage.

Circular polishing of the mainspring barrel.

Hand-polishing of the fusée cone flanks.

Final assemblyof the movement.

Placement of the upper bridge for the power reserve cone.

Casing up the watch.

US pricing is $260,400 and the first piece will be delivered this week. Full specs can be found in our in-depth introduction; see the FB 1 at ferdinandberthoud.ch. 50 piece numbered and limited edition; as with the other FB 1 series models this is a COSC certified chronometer. Available by application via request for private meeting. Hit contact@ferdinandberthoud.ch for more information.

Chopard Fusee-and-chain Ferdinand-berthoud