The following article was written by Andrew E. who accompanied aBlogtoWatch Founder Ariel Adams on a trip to Geneva to build a watch with Frederique Constant. This is his account of the experience and you can read Ariel Adams’ full account of “What It’s Like To Build A Watch” here. We thank Andrew for recounting his experience and sharing his mutual passions for watches:
When I first tried to describe what it was like to win the watch lover’s trip of a lifetime, I ended up writing a lengthy travelogue that while descriptive, failed to adequately put into words how it felt to win the aBlogtoWatch/Frédérique Constant Holiday 2012 giveaway. How can you write about something so insanely cool for a watch nerd? Even though the experience has come and gone, I still struggle to describe the mixture of elation, incredulity, excitement, and gratefulness that I feel about the whole thing. So in this article, I would like to paint a broad – and wholly inadequate – picture of what has happened to me since that fateful January day that Ariel Adams told me I was the winner.
So a little about me: my name is Andrew and I’m a surgeon from Indianapolis, Indiana. I’ve always liked watches, but only within the last few years have I really cultivated an appreciation of mechanical watches. Part of my fascination with timepieces is that they are such intricately designed and expertly assembled tiny machines that turn the unwinding of a spring into a useful device that accurately tells time. More personal to me, though, is that with a little maintenance, a watch can serve someone for a lifetime and then be handed down to the next generation for his or her enjoyment. I treasure my father’s and grandfather’s watches, and since I became a parent, I wanted something that I could pass down to my children. So when the opportunity arose on ABTW to travel to Geneva to build a watch at the headquarters of Frédérique Constant and Alpina, I jumped at the chance to enter the contest. Certainly I was comfortable working with my hands, and the chance to assemble something to pass down to my kids was very intriguing. I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning, but I figured I would give it a shot.
When Ariel emailed me on January 2nd to congratulate me on winning, I thought I was the victim of some cruel Internet hoax. Luckily it actually was Ariel and not a Nigerian diplomat or the UK Lottery, and he assured me that this was real. We made plans for the dates to visit the manufacture, and Frédérique Constant graciously allowed my wife to come for the coolest wedding anniversary trip ever. Sylvie at Frédérique Constant was a great help in arranging travel and preparing me for my first-ever visit to Europe. After the longest 4 1/2 months of my life and a red eye flight (and the accompanying jet lag), I was in Geneva!
We were able to schedule some time to see a little of the city, but obviously the big attraction for me was going to be my time at Frédérique Constant. The evening before the watchmaking program, I finally met Ariel. He’s a lot like he sounds on the HourTime podcasts: funny, extremely knowledgeable, and a veritable encyclopedia of the watch industry. He also seems to know everyone in the watch business, so he was a great resource in getting me familiar with the Swiss watch industry. I think he was as giddy as I was to get a chance to make his own watch. My overall impression of him was that he’s just a neat guy and fun to talk to, and we had a blast over the next few days.
I was surprised to find out how long these watchmakers and artists trained, with 4-6 years of schooling followed by an apprenticeship. Considering the skills needed to design, build, and detail these watches, I understand the price premium that we pay for a Swiss timepiece. Not only do we pay for tiny, difficult-to-fabricate pieces and the materials themselves, but also the long development processes and the highly skilled labor that bring these designs to light. For me it makes the relatively attainable prices of the Frédérique Constant and Alpina manufacture lines much more remarkable.
As we were under time pressure at the end of the program and the personalized plate for the automatic movement still required finishing, I was not able to complete assembly of the automatic winding mechanism. Despite this, Pim was able to get it cased so I could see what it would look like and take some pictures. Ariel and I were given choices of dial colors, steel or rose gold-plated cases, and different straps. I chose the classic appearance of stainless steel and the dark blue face, but couldn’t decide between the blue alligator strap and the steel bracelet. Pim made it easy by giving me both! Sadly, I left the Manufacture without my new watch, as it still had to pass Quality Control, but it would be sent to me once testing was complete. As a testament to the excellent and nearly foolproof design of the movement as well as Pim’s expert instruction, my watch passed QC with no problems and was shipped to my home. But the several weeks of waiting were excruciating.
Frédérique Constant really knocked it out of the park with presentation of the watch. It came in a beautiful lacquered wooden box that, according to my coworker, looked like it cost more than her wedding ring. Upon gazing at my now-complete creation, I was smitten. The first thing you notice is the expansive blue dial with a subtle sunray pattern in the light, but it can look matte black on first glance. The markers and leaf-shaped hands are long and thin, offering a timeless appearance that harkens back to 1960s-era watches but in a much more contemporary size of 42 mm. Despite the size, it doesn’t look huge, even on my skinny 6.5-inch wrists, and it easily slips under a cuff. When compared side by side with my other watches, it doesn’t look much thinner, even alongside my wife’s FC-700 (yeah, she wanted a Frédérique Constant too). On the wrist is a different story; the elliptical or lens shape of the case in cross section really allows it to sit with a much lower profile. With its large convex sapphire crystal, thin bezel, and low height on the wrist, it seems to fit the Slimline name well. The watch is very comfortable and has a nice weight. I have been wearing it on the highly polished steel bracelet, which is very flexible thanks to its seven-element links. This was my conceit toward having a more custom watch, since this model is not available from the factory with the bracelet, but rather the blue alligator strap with a tang-and-buckle fastener. And in the spirit of customization, I got the alligator as well with a beautiful deployment clasp prominently featuring the Frédérique Constant shield. Overall I love the looks and comfort of the watch.
Some may be disappointed with the lack of a seconds hand. Typically I like having a running seconds hand, since one of the joys of owning a mechanical watch is seeing its smooth movement around the dial compared to the tick of a quartz watch. However, on this watch I don’t miss it since the dial is so classic and legible, and the moon phase complication and date hand at the 6 o’clock position add additional visual interest. The moon phase is a feature I’ve been interested in for a while now, since one of the superstitions in medicine is that the most complex or strangest patients come out during a full moon. I intend to use the moon phase to gauge for myself if there may be some truth to this (though the literature indicates otherwise). The moon phase, like all settings in this watch, is controlled through the crown.
Of course, I have to mention the personalized movement! The automatic caliber FC-705 is fully visible through the sapphire caseback. Ordinarily it is decorated with perlage and circular Côtes de Genève and bears the Frédérique Constant logo and descriptive text. The customized plate engraved at Blandenier instead features my hand-engraved initials “A.C.E.” on a brushed background that allows the letters to pop. The brushed finish also nicely complements the finish of the large, open gold rotor that allows a largely unimpeded view of the balance wheel and escapement. This is a lovely movement; I find myself taking off the watch often just to look at the back.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Ariel Adams and aBlogtoWatch for masterminding this incredible giveaway, and Frédérique Constant for their sponsorship and for giving me an amazing experience that I will carry with me forever. I have to especially thank Pim Koeslag for being an unflappable and patient instructor, as well as a lot of fun to hang out with on our field trips. I would also like to thank Rhodior and Blandenier for allowing us to peek into the world of the suppliers and decorators, which while seldom acknowledged, are the craftspeople who give detail and warmth to the mechanical watches we watch nerds love. After this experience I have a far greater appreciation for watchmaking as a whole and an enhanced love for well-crafted timepieces.