The Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture is what happens when a traditional Swiss watchmaker sits up, pays attention to technology companies parking tanks on its beautifully manicured Genevan lawn, and does something about it.
It may not be the whole-hog approach taken by Tag Heuer, maker of the Connected range of smartwatches with touchscreens and Intel processors. Instead, the Hybrid Manufacture is the result of Frederique Constant discovering a way to blend the centuries-old way of using jewels, mainsprings and a balance wheel, with Bluetooth, step-counting, and a rechargeable battery.
There is nothing quite so vulgar as notification alerts and a loudspeaker. Instead, this is a hybrid smartwatch which presents an opportunity for mechanical Swiss watch fans to dip their toes into the smartwatch waters, while sitting firmly on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture price and release date
- Priced from £2,995 to £3,295 ($3,495 to $3795, AU$5,300)
- On sale now
We feel that price needs explaining right off the bat, because regular TechRadar readers will likely balk at the idea of a smartwatch (actually, a half-smart hybrid watch) costing three grand. This is what happens when the Swiss get involved with making connected watches; they leap from the pages of glossy lifestyle magazines filled with yachts and private jet charter companies, and they end up mixing it with us technology folk.
We think this is a good thing, and are thrilled that the smartwatch industry has caused the Swiss to change their centuries-old ways, even if only slightly. But it means us accepting that they sell a great many mechanical watches with four, five, even six-figure price tags without batting an eyelid. It is tricky, therefore, to compare the Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture with the smartwatches which normally grace the pages of TechRadar.
Frederique Constant sells watches for between approximately £1,000 and £3,500, so at a fiver under £3,000, the Hybrid Manufacture fits into the range in the same way a Galaxy S9 does over at Samsung.
Design and display
- Classic Swiss watch design with steel case and alligator strap
- Water resistant to 50 meters
- Additional smart dial at 12 o’clock can offer three different pieces of information
The Hybrid Manufacture has a similar design to other Frederique Constant watches, with a stainless steel body (rose gold is offered as an option), black alligator strap, and a large but not overbearing 42mm case. Despite its smartness, the Hybrid Manufacture is almost exactly the same size and weight as our regular non-smart watch, a Tissot PRC 200, and thus felt very familiar as soon as we put it on.
That is to say, once we had switched the strap for one which fitted better. This writer’s slim wrists couldn’t quite be accommodated by the smallest option on the Frederique Constant’s strap, but if we had bought this watch ourselves, an extra hole could easily be stamped into the strap. The strap itself is soft, supple and has a secure clasp mechanism with the Frederique Constant logo on the outside.
The case is approximately 11mm thick (the same as the Apple Watch 3), but tapers at the front and back so feels closer to 8mm or so, keeping it in line with other non-smart watches with 42mm-wide cases. This compactness makes the Hybrid Manufacture feel almost dainty compared to the bulky Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41 we reviewed recently.
There are four versions of this watch, but only three are available in the UK at the time of writing. These are the steel with silver dial and black alligator strap as seen in this review, plus a model with a rose gold plated steel case, silver dial and dark brown alligator strap, and a steel model with dark grey dial and matching alligator strap with contrast blue stitching. A steel model with navy dial and blue alligator strap is limited to select European markets.
Mechanical watch fans can admire the Hybrid Manufacture’s FC-750 movement through the sapphire crystal back. Designed and built in-house, the movement comprises 33 jewels and has a 42-hour power reserve, meaning it will keep time for almost two full days of not being worn. An anti-magnetic shield in the case prevents the electronics from interfering with the mechanism.
The self-winding mechanism is activated whenever the watch moves, but it also comes with a display case with integrated rotating charger, which spins the watch to keep it running when not worn. The case, which plugs into the mains, also changes the watch’s battery by feeding power through a button at the 10 o’clock position - more on this later.
Sapphire is also used on the front of the watch, and the face includes Roman numerals, plus a second dial at six o’clock displaying the date. A third dial at 12 o’clock can be configured to show a variety of things, such as your daily activity, a second time zone and the watch’s battery level, or start a stopwatch for a run.
We’re fans of the Roman numerals and textured guilloche detailing in the centre of the dial. The second and third dials also look at home here, although the smart dial and its various readouts takes some getting used to.
The face may look cluttered at first, but each element is thoughtfully laid out and serves to make the watch feel more compact than it really is. It’s a satisfying thing to look at and doesn’t appear overly large, even on smaller wrists.
The dial shows three pieces of information by showing one constantly, then one briefly with one press of the 10 o’clock button, and a second briefly with two quick presses. We set the watch so it always shows our daily activity progress, then one press displays a second time zone and two presses shows the status of the battery.
That battery, by the way, only powers the watch’s smart functions and Bluetooth connection. If it runs out (after between six and seven days), the time and date will continue to function as normal, and can be adjusted via the crown in the usual way.
We were less impressed with the ‘Hybrid’ motiff on the face, as it reminds us of when manufacturers slap ‘Turbo’ on a product for no reason at all - like on a pair of sunglasses. Granted, this is genuinely a hybrid watch, but the badge ever-so-slightly cheapens the look of the timepiece, at least to our eyes.
To the untrained eye, there is no reason - apart from that Hybrid badge - to assume this is anything other than a beautiful, mechanical Swiss watch. We applaud Frederique Constant for that, and it excites us to think what other Swiss brands (cough, Rolex...) could do by mixing a dash of tech with their classic recipe.