Let’s face it, there are a lot of things we all know about the now-legendary Francois Paul Journe. Though he started building pocket watches in the ‘80s, the brand F.P. Journe as we know it got its start in 1999, and over the past couple of decades the man has become one of the most awarded watchmakers in modern history.
Many of us are familiar with the broad range of innovative timepieces he’s released over the years—the Chronometre a Resonance, Octa Quantieme Perpetuel, and the much loved Chronometre Bleu, for example, but even after this long much of the inner workings of Journe’s craft are less commonly known. In this feature, we’re going to have a peek under those covers, and hopefully reveal a few fun facts about the brand that you can use to impress your fellow watch enthusiasts the next time the famed watchmakers becomes the topic at hand.
True Watchmaking In the Heart of Geneva
Having visited innumerable watch brands over the years, it has been long clear that not all manufactures are created equal. Most often Geneva-based watch brands may hold an office in the city, with manufacturing taking place up in the valley or in an industrial park on the outskirts of town. Journe on the other hand occupies roughly a city block just south of where the Rhone River empties into Lac Leman, and the large facility is anything but show. Much of the manufacturing, finishing, and assembly (other than case manufacturing which takes place offsite) of the brand’s watches is completed in the facility under the watchful eye of Francois Paul himself.
Championing Complicated Watchmaking
When you look at the GPHG’s “Leaderboard” when it comes to the most awarded brands, it’s actually an interesting breakdown. Giants like AP, Piaget, TAG Heuer, and Vacheron top the charts, and then in a 3-way tie you have F.P. Journe in 5th place with 7 awards received between 2002 and 2010. These include 3 overall wins of the “Aiguille D’Or”, a complicated watch prize for the Chronometre a Resonance, and a special jury prize for the Octa Calendrier. He holds a solid 2-award lead above the likes of Greubel Forsey, Gronefeld, and Voutilainen, amidst a sea of larger conglomerate-backed watch brands.
The Sub-1,000 Sweet Spot
Though F.P. Journe’s watches remain in very high demand, it seems the firm has really hit their stride in terms of production volume. Usually averaging between 900 and just under a thousand pieces annually, it seems Journe has no intent or interest to increase his production capabilities. “Given the demand of the Chronometre Bleu, it would not be difficult to alter my current production strategy to focus on that model and produce 1,200 or 1,400 watches a year, but I have no interest in that. I want my team to be working on a range of complex and not-so-complex models, which will keep us producing close to 1,000 watches a year.” Stated Journe in an interview a handful of years ago.
Evolution of Quartz
The launch of the quartz-powered Elegante line by F.P. Journe came as a bit of a shock to many in the industry, and though it initially seemed as simple as Journe wanting to provide a continuously-running alternative to potential female clientele, the master of watchmaking also had bigger ideas in mind. By using individual drive motors for each hand the idea behind the elegante was for any hand to have to travel no more than 180 degrees when the watch is “woken up” from its sleep mode. In past conversation with Journe, he mentioned the idea of being able to apply the same principle to a perpetual calendar or other complications, where he could deliver the same level of high-complication at a more affordable price, using methodology that could effectively ensure a long battery life as well. So crazy it just might work?
An Obsession with Perfection
To be a masterful watchmaker you have to a certain passion for precision and specificity. That said, sometimes Journe pushed that passion to a degree that’s hard to wrap your brain around. Case and point, when he was crafting the Octa Quantieme Perpetuel, he was set on the date change triggering an instantaneous and simultaneous jump of all the calendar indications.
This desire for the perfect jump led to a reasonable production delay, not to mention the firm’s acquisition of a high-speed camera in order to properly monitor the transition and make the adjustments necessary to ensure his specific vision was finally attained.
If you happen to be Geneva and be fortunate to cross paths with Francois Paul—likely to happen if you are attending any of the big watch auctions that take place in Geneva each year—have a close look at what’s on his wrist. If a new watch is in the tail end of its development phase, odds are Journe will have one of them on his wrist. Case in point, I was fortunate enough to get a first-hand look at his new Rattrapante in November of last year, having bumped into Journe at the bar of the La Reserve hotel after a Phillips watch auction. The model was set to be unveiled in January, and he had been giving the piece some wrist time to see how it performed “out in the wild”.
An All Aluminum Sports Watch, Because Why Not?
Though there have been a few brands to toy with the idea of aluminum cases on watches over the years, when Journe decided to pen his first sports watch—what became the Linesport collection—he opted to use aluminum for not only the case and bracelet, but also for the caliber itself. The end result was an incredibly lightweight watch with a very unique finish. Before long Journe opted to transition the case material to titanium, making those early versions even more collectible than initially anticipated.
A Hint of Inspiration
When F.P. Journe unveiled his latest creation, a rather large and slender two-register split-seconds chronograph for the 2017 edition of the Only Watch auction, a well-trained eye may have picked up on its source of inspiration. The 44mm masterpiece in many ways bears a fairly striking resemblance to the $1M+ Ref 4113 split-seconds chronograph from the 1940s. It turns out one of Journe’s friends and more prominent collectors often wears a complicated Journe on one wrist and the 4113 on the other, making it the prime candidate from which to draw a little inspiration. Of course come January, a trio of split-seconds chronographs with a big date complication were added to the F.P. Journe Linesport collection in titanium, gold, and platinum.