Constant is a curious name for a watch brand, right? For an industry that meters the relentless march of time, the idea of not changing goes against type. But constant can also be a good thing—the reassurance of continuity, the legacy of reputation. These are the intangibles that elevate a brand, staking a claim on longevity and the implication of quality through tradition.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Swiss watchmaker Frederique Constant can call on several hallmarks of quality—in-house movements, genuine Swiss origins, even a tourbillon at the tippy top of the lineup. But the brand is also (relatively) new. Founded in 1988 by Dutch couple Peter Stas and Aletta Stas-Bax, Frederique Constant was actually named using a combination of the co-founders’ grandfather’s names, Frederique Schreiner and Constant Stas. Launched under the guise of providing luxury watches at an approachable price point, the company’s success led to the acquisition of Alpina Watches in 2002. Frederique Constant stepped up its game in 2009 by developing its own in-house movement, and the cycle shifted once again when Citizen Holdings took over in 2016, drawing Frederique Constant into an assemblage of watchmakers that includes Alpina, Bulova, and Arnold & Son.

Frederique Constant spans a wide gamut, from smartwatches and sub-$1,000 quartz pieces to mechanicals to perpetual calendars, and yes, tourbillons. This time around I’m testing the Highlife Worldtimer, and appropriately enough my travels are taking me 6,000 miles from home to Spain’s Costa Del Sol—a fitting test of this allegedly worldly timepiece. Vámanos!

International Intentions

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My routing to Spain took me through the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the glass and concrete masterpiece (and some might say, master mess) by architect Paul Andreu. Because I’m testing two Frederique Constant timepieces at the same time (separate review coming soon), I chose to switch gears to the Worldtimer upon touching down at de Gaulle. When I pulled it from my suede watch roll and tried it on my wrist, my first instinct was to kick myself for not putting it on at LAX. As part of the brand’s Manufacture line, the $4,495 Highlife Worldtimer is themed for world travel—spot on for these purposes.

Packing an in-house FC-718 movement that runs at 28,800 BPH, the Worldtimer operates with a 38-hour reserve. All functions are managed through a 3-position stem, which operates handwinding, time setting, date setting, and city selection between 24 time zones. The slightly concave sapphire front crystal frames a 41mm stainless steel case with a 25.5mm lug width, and behind is a sapphire exhibition back displaying the 26-jewel movement, incorporating pleasantly ornamental Côtes de Genève and perlage finishes.

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Real World Travels

Traveling can be a great opportunity to experience a timepiece in unexpected settings, and the Frederique Constant Highlife Worldtimer is no exception. Though I had a few links of the stainless-steel band removed at home for a proper fit, my first real experience with the piece started at Charles de Gaulle, and continued in Spain where I traveled to test Mercedes-AMG’s new C 63 S E Performance sedan. The Benz has evolved into a bit of an outlier in the performance space, combining an energy dense four-cylinder engine with an F1-derived battery pack to deliver 671 horsepower. Similarly offbeat is the Worldtimer, because it operates in a rare sub-$5,000 space with an in-house movement and world time functionality.

Paris is not one of the 24 options on the city disc that rotates around the outside of the dial, so I selected Geneva instead— which is fair enough, given its origin of manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva. Setting the time is straightforward enough, though I did find the crown a bit slippery when winding up the power reserve. The deployant clasp clicks together nicely with the Frederique Constant logo presenting at the intersection of the two edges, though doing so requires one side to snap over the other (and therefore one side to be folded first.

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Strapped onto my smallish 6.75-inch wrist, the 41mm case is scaled just right for an elegant, proportionate look. The hornless case design makes for a comfortable fit, and the metal band integrates nicely into the body—though the look is not for everyone. Those who gravitate towards more conventional case/strap proportions might prefer larger lugs; Frederique Constant’s look is more ‘elegant evening timepiece’ than ‘macho wrist emblem’.

On the Road—And Track

Frederique Constant’s strap system uses two small pins to enable swapping straps easily without tools, and the Highlife Worldtimer comes with two sporty alternatives: blue nubuck, and blue rubber. I was bummed to find the two extra straps didn’t make it into my travel bag, so I soldiered on with the stainless-steel option.

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At first glance, the Worldtimer’s mostly navy blue, matte-finished dial seems fairly chill: a 24-zone outer dial, white indices, and a date dial at six o’clock. Peer closer, and you’ll find a stylized globe’s latitude and longitude lines against the center of the face, against which a 24-hour clock is separated by day (white), and night (navy.) Align your present city at 12 o’clock, then refer to the outer disc and you’ll find the hour in a different city corresponding onto the outer disc. While the reference points might be handy if you’re making a slew of international calls while globetrotting, for my purposes I usually resort to doing the simple math in my mind of, say, when in Europe, adding three hours and switching AM/PM to figure out the time back home in Los Angeles. Just like it’s easier to check the world time on your smartphone than it is to use your mechanical watch as a sliderule on your wrist, the worldtime function is more for functional ornamentation than it is for real life use— the same way the stopwatch function on your iPhone is more convenient than logging laps with a Speedmaster. And yet, as any horological obsessive can attest, it’s not about ease, it’s about the experience, an intangible that watches like a Worldtimer deliver in spades.

Relative Fancy

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At the race Ascari circuit in Andalusia, Spain, the Worldtimer’s polished stainless-steel finish felt a bit highfalutin against the Mercedes-AMG C 63’s stark Alcantara and leather-lined cabin; It seemed weirdly old world in contrast to the numerous TFT displays, OLED gauges, and touchscreens in the AMG.

Once done scooting the high-performance hybrid around the track, an interesting thing happened on the way to dinner in downtown Malaga: amidst the low-key local crowds, the Worldtimer felt weirdly fancy once again—not that a $4,500 watch shouldn’t feel upscale, but in big cities like LA, NYC, and yeah, Geneva, challenger brands like Frederique Constant are going up against the big boys we’re all know quite well that can cost orders of magnitude more.

In contrast, at the Air France business lounge in Charles de Gaulle Airport (and against that still-avant-garde architecture), the Worldtimer somehow seemed simpler, more unassuming. Which begs what may be the ultimate question: Are you buying a watch for its inherent attributes—its features, craftsmanship, maybe an in-house movement? Or are you into big brand names with a whomping wow factor? Those seeking an oversized statement might gravitate to second-hand watches from mainstream brands—a perfectly acceptable solution that scratches a very specific itch. But for enthusiasts willing to venture into underdog territory, Frederique Constant’s well-executed Worldtimer offers a satisfying timepiece without a heavyweight brand name, and a fresh way to stand out among more familiar players.

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