Despite its excessively (well, to my taste) long name, the Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey collection makes an impression of a well-designed accessory. While I wouldn’t call it ‘revolutionary’ or ‘groundbreaking’, this homage to the legendary Austin-Healey 3000 successfully combines standard elements of design into an attractive time measuring device. 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 the slightest way, looks elegant and refined. The way they combined textures, colors, and materials into a single object of conspicuous consumption looks convincing: the watch doesn’t feel either like one of those numerous generic-looking rip-offs or like a metal Frankenstein put together using off-the-shelf parts without applying too much creativity in the process.
The gold-plated model looks dressy and elegant, while the version in stainless steel (which I feel to be more versatile) is sporty thanks to a nice mix of polished steel, silver-toned dial, and black “oxidized” hands. Together with the applied hour markers, they sport the same finish, look contrast, and are 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 it still doesn’t look as intimidatingly large as some other “medium-sized” 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 convincing. Of course, it is still good for taking a shower or an occasional swim, but I would still feel somewhat nervous submerging it underwater.
Although probably inspired by Breitling, the strap doesn’t look like a rip-off. It looks neat with its fine leather and accurate stitching. It will probably be a lot more comfortable during hot summers allowing your wrist to breathe. Perhaps, you would also need to get yourself a nice pair of driving gloves in a matching color to make your 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’s 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 is a great choice, especially when it is combined with the 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 it look more elegant than you could have probably imagined when dealing with a relatively inexpensive timekeeper from Frederique Constant.
As 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, as well as nicely done guilloche-work on the central part of the dial, the whole display looks well-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 shortlist), but I also understand that adding one would probably ruin the aesthetics of the watch.
Frederique Constant will limit the timepiece’s production to just 2888 units.
Photos: Frederique Constant
Build quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3/5
Frederique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Chronograph (refs. FC-397HS5B6 & FC-397HDG5B4) specification
Price: CHF 2850
Movement: Automatic, FC-397 (base ETA caliber), Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 25
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 46 hours
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph
Case, Bezel, and Crown: Stainless steel / Rose gold-plated steel
Size: 42.00 mm
Dial: Dark Green / Silvered
Hour markers: Applied, luminous
Water resistance: 50 meters
Strap: Black or brown “Racing” leather strap
Crystal: Sapphire, convex