Despite its excessively (well, to my taste) long name, the new Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey automatic chronograph watch makes an impression of a very well-designed accessory. While I wouldn’t call it ‘revolutionary’ or ‘groundbreaking’, it successfully combines standard elements of design into a very attractive time measuring device. Oh, some purists would probably wince a little at the way they use gold-plating to make a stainless steel body look dressier, but I find nothing wrong with it: for those on a tight budget, a gold-plated watch is an excellent choice.
This new Vintage Rally Healey is just another example of how going a well beaten path not only saves you time, but also lets you invest the spare energy into designing an object that, while not unique in a slightest way, looks very elegant and refined. The way they combined textures, colors and materials into a single object of conspicuous consumption looks very convincing: the watch doesn’t feel neither like one of those numerous generic-looking rip-offs, nor like a metal Frankenstein put together using off-the-shelf parts without applying too much creativity in the process.
As I have already stated, the gold-plated model looks dressy and elegant, while the version in stainless steel (which I feel to be more versatile) is very sporty thanks to a nice mix of polished steel, silver-toned dial and black “oxydized” hands that, together with applied hour markers sporting the same finish, looks very contrast and easily readable in almost any lighting scenario (in this respect Superluminova is always inferior to gas tubes filled with self-glowing tritium), while staying smart and cool.
Perhaps, its only problem is the lack of unique features: buying a Swiss made watch, I would like it to have its character, something that would make it stand out from the crowd. Well, in this price range (Frederique Constant offers its ref. FC-397HS5B6 in polished stainless steel for less than CHF 2900), this is what you should probably expect from an average timekeeper: to be average.
Case & Strap
With its size of 42 millimeters in diameter, the watch is a bit too massive by today’s standards, but, as you can see on the photo, it still doesn’t look as intimidatingly large as some other “medium-size” chronographs do.
The lugs are relatively short and ergonomically shaped, while the chronograph push-pieces set at their usual places at 2 and 4 o’clock are easy to operate. Even the crown seems to be ideally sculpted for a modern man who often has fingers on, well, a thicker side.
The convex sapphire crystal plays nicely with the polished bezel making the watch look even more refined.
What disappointed me a little was its relatively low water resistance rating. A sporty chronograph with water tightness of just 50 meters? Well, that’s not really convincing. Of course, it is still good for taking a shower or an occasional swim, but I would still feel somewhat nervous submerging it under water.
Although clearly inspired by the famous Breitling design, the strap doesn’t look like a rip-off. It looks quite neat with its fine leather and accurate stitching. It will probably be a lot more comfortable during hot summers allowing you wrist to breathe. Perhaps, you would also need to get yourself a nice pair of driving gloves in matching color to make you image complete.
As for the mechanism I, unfortunately, can’t give you much information besides the fact that it is powered by a certain Caliber FC-397, which is reportedly based on an ETA blank movement. Although I am pretty sure that it is a combination of a base caliber with an add-on chronograph movement, it would still be reasonable to assume that, given ETA reputation when it comes to making reliable and sturdy movements used in millions of watches produced during the recent decades, you probably have nothing to worry about in the dependability department. Just don’t forget to service it at proper intervals and at authorized locations.
The very dark green, almost black color of the dial seems to be a very nice choice, especially when it is combined with rose gold-plated surface of the case.
Probably referring to the dark green paint that some Austin Healeys were sold in, the color provides the dial with a sense of depth and actually makes the watch look a lot more elegant than you could have probably imagined when dealing with a relatively inexpensive timekeeper from Frederique Constant.
As it is often the case lately when it comes to vintage-themed chronographs, the timekeeper’s face sports only two sub-dials: a small seconds display at 9 hours and a 30-minute chronograph indicator at 3 o’clock. Together with the usual Healey logo on the bottom part of the dial, as well as nicely done guillochework on the central part of the dial, the whole display looks quite balanced. Even the logo at 12 o’clock that otherwise would look like somebody at FC had a CAPS LOCK problem, doesn’t sting my eyes that much.
Frankly, I miss a simple calendar aperture (that’s something that I would require from a sporty timekeeper to enter my short-list), but I also understand that, adding one, it would probably ruin esthetics of the watch.
Frederique Constant will limit the timepiece’s production to just 2888 units.
See also: Frederique Constant Runabout Chronograph Automatic Limited Edition (Refs. FC-393RM5B4 and FC-393RM5B6)
Photos: Frederique Constant
WWR preliminary verdict
Build quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3/5
Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Automatic Chronograph (refs. FC-397HS5B6 & FC-397HDG5B4) watch specification
Price: CHF 2850
Movement: Automatic, FC-397 (base ETA), Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 25
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 46 hours
Movement decoration: No data
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph
Case material: Stainless steel / Rose gold-plated steel
Bezel material: Matches case
Crown material: Matches case
Case shape: Round
Bezel shape: Round
Case size: 42.00 mm
Case height: No data
Lug width: No data
Dial: Dark Green / Silvered
Hour markers: Applied, luminous
Water resistance: 50 meters
Strap: Black or brown “Racing” leather strap
Crystal: Sapphire, convex
Case back: Transparent