As the rise of the smartwatch casts a threatening shadow over the Swiss watch industry, the Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture proposes an idea to fight back. This isn't like the battery-powered hybrid smartwatches we usually review; the Hybrid Manufacture merges a mechanical movement with smartwatch superpowers.
It's the first to do so. Well, the first to market; Conex Watches SA is also using a Swiss-made movement in its X-One H1, but that won't be available until much later in the year. But time is ticking, and Frederique Constant's CEO Peter Stas acknowledges that Apple and other tech companies are encroaching on Swiss territory.
With the Hybrid Manufacture, these two worlds collide in a way they haven't before, appealing to the crowd who don't want a screen on their wrist but don't want to be left behind in the connected era. At $3,495, going up to $3,795 for the rose gold, it's much more expensive than most other hybrids we've reviewed, but relative to the wider watch market Frederique Constant calls this "accessible luxury".
It's a wearable for the classic watch lover; a smartwatch for the smartwatch haters. But does it deliver as good an experience as other hybrids and the smartwatches that it's up against?
Today's best smartwatch deals
Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture: Design
From the look to the feel, everything about the Hybrid Manufacture screams that this is a classic Frederique Constant watch, nothing to let slip the smarter abilities hiding inside. The polished stainless steel case is heavy at 79g, but measured at 42mm across it's a good fit for most men's wrists and some women's. That said, everything suggests that this watch is primarily being targeted at men, and when I spoke to CEO Peter Stas he suggested the female market was less interested in mechanical watches. I'm not so sure of that assertion myself, but I can tell you that FC does offer the Horological Notify watch for women.
The watch comes in four different designs. I've been wearing the silver case with the white face, but you can also get it with rose gold, or with a blue flourish on the face. There's also a limited edition version with a black face ‚Äď only 888 of them have been made.
On all four models there's a sub-dial at 12 o'clock that acts as a gauge for your activity levels, and one at 6 o'clock that displays the date. The words "Frederique Constant Geneve" and "Hybrid" are stamped across the face, though I'd prefer it didn't have the latter. Otherwise it's a nice big display with printed roman numerals on all but the 888 edition, which instead has markers. Each one comes with an alligator strap, also available in a range of colours.
But that classic design runs beyond the surface: turn it over and the sapphire crystal back reveals the mechanical movement beating inside. Everything here looks as you'd find it in a classic mechanical watch. On the right side is a crown for adjusting the time, and on the left is a button that you'll need to press when you want to sync the watch with the smartphone app. Which brings us neatly to‚Ä¶
Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture: Features and fitness
Without a digital display, Frederique Constant respects its limitations and focuses almost solely on health and fitness; you won't get notifications buzzing on your wrist. If you're after something that can handle notifications, the majority of the hybrid smartwatch crop do offer some level of support.
As for those health features, the Hybrid Manufacture is mostly just a glorified step and sleep tracker. It will keep a tally of steps and convert them into distance and 'active minutes', which show you your most ‚Äď you guessed it ‚Äď active moments of the day. As a step tracker it's very accurate. I put it up against the Fitbit Versa and my own tally, and the results were constantly in line, give or take a few steps here and there.
Where things get more interesting is in the dynamic coaching ‚Äď small tips that the app will offer up based on your health information. A lot of these are vague, apply-to-all advice but sometimes you'll get things that are more specific to you based on what it's learned. For example, it might tell you that too much evening activity is having a negative impact on your sleep. I've been given a few of these tips in my time reviewing the watch. Contextualizing the data is always a good thing.
But as I say, this is not a watch made for serious fitness. Fine for keeping an eye on how regularly you're getting up from your desk at work or letting you know you should probably walk instead of getting the bus, but I wouldn't wear it when running. Firstly because I'm going to wear something that'll do a better job of tracking my workout, and secondly because the Manufacture is much heavier than something I'd ideally wear for that kind of activity.
My feelings are similar when it comes to sleep tracking. I'll sometimes wear a fitness tracker or light smartwatch ‚Äď something like the Fitbit Versa or Garmin Vivomove HR ‚Äď but only because they'll monitor my sleep. Otherwise, my watch sleeps on the bedside table. The problem with the Manufacture is that it's too heavy to be comfortable to wear in bed. I did so for the purpose of testing it for this review, but on any other day I'd find it too irritating. Whether you will too comes down to personal preference.
The sleep tracking itself is as accurate and useful as I'd expect from a watch that relies solely on movement data. Case in point: one evening I took the watch off so I could go running, and when I put it on a few hours later it told me that I'd been asleep the whole time (on the plus side, I did get a sleep score of 195% that day ‚Äď result!). When I did wear it to bed, the reading seemed to be vaguely in line with reality. The results will show up in a graph displaying deep sleep, light sleep (ie when you're moving around a little in your slumber) and wake time.
In sum, it does the job, but don't expect pinpoint accuracy. If you're not comfortable wearing a watch in bed it offers an 'under pillow' mode, where you can slip it under the pillow and have it track your movement there instead. Again though, don't expect great accuracy there.
But my favourite smart feature of the watch has nothing to do with fitness. In the app there's a 'Watch analytics' page where you can see the health of the movement split into a few different graphs. There's one for the rate of the oscillation, one for amplitude (how much rotation there is as the balance wheel swings) and one for the beat error (how equal each oscillation is). These are nerdy watchmaking insights that everyday users probably won't care about, yet there's something really cool about being able to see it. But it's not just there to make you feel like a regular horologist ‚Äď you'll also know when it's time to take the watch in for a repair.
Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture: Battery life and charging
As this is a watch of two parts, battery is also a bifurcated issue. The "smart" part runs on a battery rated at about seven days, but once that runs out you still have that self-winding mechanical movement ticking away, so it will continue to work just fine for telling the time. The app will tell you when it's time to charge up, which you do by putting the watch onto the included charging dock.
Many hybrids come with coin cell batteries, and most these days run longer than a week, some for months on end, so the seven-day battery life feels quite short for a watch in this category.
What's more impressive is how Frederique Constant has managed to cancel out the negative magnetic effects between the mechanical and electronic modules, which it did using a patented anti-magnetic shield case. It's how the watchmaker has managed to squeeze two separate technologies into a single device ‚Äď and not something to be sniffed at.
- Expertly crafted Swiss design
- Mechanical movement meets smarts
- Health insights
- As a smartwatch, expensive
- Fitness tracking is limited
- Only one size