A collector’s guide to F.P. Journe: the young watchmaker with an illustrious history

A primer on the brand creating some of the most innovative and in-demand watches in the world. Illustrated with timepieces from The Art of F.P. Journe in Geneva on 12 May, which includes 39 of the watchmaker’s rarest creations

What makes an F.P. Journe watch so desirable?

In 2021, a few weeks after an F.P. Journe watch passed the $2 million mark at auction for the first time, a leading specialist told the Financial Times  that the saleroom price of certain models by the independent Swiss watchmaker had risen eight-fold in just four years.

That increase, he said, was ‘phenomenal to the point where these watches overshadow watches from Patek Philippe and Rolex’.

While Patek Philippe and Rolex are both well over a century old, the watchmaker F.P. Journe only founded his namesake business in 1999. In the video above, Remi Guillemin, head of Christie’s European Watches department, reveals that F.P. Journe makes 95 per cent of its own components. This devotion to craftsmanship, coupled with the fact that it creates fewer than 1,000 watches each year, has made the brand highly sought after.

F.P. Journe. A platinum wristwatch with power reserve, made and presented in tribute to George Daniels. Chronomètre Souverain model, circa 2010. Sold for HK$3,250,000 on 22 May 2021 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

F.P. Journe is also the last Swiss watchmaker left in central Geneva. It is headquartered in a 19th-century former gas-lamp factory in the city’s Plainpalais district, a long, low building flooded with natural light — creating ideal conditions for the business’s 120 craftspeople to machine and assemble each watch’s components by hand.

So far as pricing goes, a new F.P. Journe watch can start at around $15,000, and climb to six figures. However, as Pierre Halimi, the President of F.P. Journe North America, points out: ‘The primary market price is whatever we choose. The secondary market price reflects what the watch is really worth.’

The F.P. Journe x Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue. Sold for CHF 4,500,000 on 6 November 2021 at Christie’s in Geneva

The secondary market record for an F.P. Journe watch currently stands at CHF 4.5 million ($3.98 million). This was achieved in November 2021 at Christie’s in Geneva by a watch made in collaboration with the film director Francis Ford Coppola, called the FFC Blue. A truly unique timepiece, it marks the hours with the fingers displayed on a blue automaton hand, and was sold to raise funds for Only Watch.

F.P. Journe himself has pioneered dozens of groundbreaking technologies, and been showered with awards. He is the only person to have won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s top prize, the coveted Aiguille d’Or, three times.

Who is F.P. Journe?

Born in Marseille in 1957, François-Paul Journe left school aged 14. At the suggestion of his uncle Michel, he studied horology, first at his local technical college, then at a watchmaking school in Paris. In 1977, he joined Michel’s clock restoration workshop on the capital city’s Rue de Verneuil, famous for its antiques shops.

‘What interested me most was building, in the sense that I wanted to make watches from A to Z,’ the famously publicity-shy Journe said in a rare interview in 2010.

After eight years with Michel, having developed an obsession with the science of 18th- and 19th-century timekeeping, Journe established his own watchmaking business, first in Paris, then in Switzerland. Initially he produced timepieces to commission for individual collectors and luxury brands, such as Asprey of London.

François-Paul Journe, founder and owner of F.P. Journe, in his atelier at the manufactory of the company in Geneva, 2016

François-Paul Journe, founder and owner of F.P. Journe, in his atelier at the company’s headquarters in Geneva, 2016. Photo: Pascal Mora / New York Times / Redux / eyevine

One of Journe’s biggest inspirations was the legendary British watchmaker George Daniels (1926-2011), who revolutionised mechanical watchmaking by inventing the co-axial escapement — an incredibly accurate energy-release system that did away with the need for certain lubrication oils. Journe said it was thanks to Daniels’s books, The Art of Breguet  and Watchmaking, that he ‘learned patiently on my workbench how to make my first watch’.

In 2021, Christie’s in Hong Kong was tasked with selling a platinum watch that Journe had presented to Daniels as a sign of his gratitude. Inscribed ‘FP to George Daniels my Mentor 2010’, and accompanied by a heartfelt letter praising Daniels for valuing artistic merit over utilitarian function, it sold for HK$3,250,000.

What are some of F.P Journe’s most important models?

Journe launched his company with the Tourbillon Souverain — a model he had initially prototyped in 1991. Unveiled at the Swiss watch fair Baselworld, it was the first wristwatch ever to use a constant-force remontoire — a mechanism that regulates the force delivered by the mainspring to the escapement, improving the movement’s accuracy.

Twenty of the watches were made, each pre-sold to a collector before completion as part of Journe’s innovative ‘Souscription’ (subscription) service, which helped him raise initial capital. In return for their faith, each collector received a discount on the final price and first refusal on Journe’s subsequent four models.

In the short film above, Guillemin presents watch number two from this first series, which he describes as the very essence of the brand, embodying both years of research and Journe’s talent for watchmaking. It was initially purchased by the same collector who had bought number one from the series, so that the joy of this extraordinary timepiece could be shared with a friend.

In 2000, Journe again broke new ground, this time with his Chronomètre à Résonance model, which he had been doggedly working on since 1983.

It’s the only wristwatch to operate on the principle of resonance, with two oscillating bodies inside the movement that keep one another synchronised. The watch’s face contains two dials that simultaneously tell the same time, demonstrating the movement’s accuracy.

The watch above is one of a handful of elusive pre-production Chronomètre à Résonance watches made by F.P. Journe before they were offered through its subscription service.

In the same year, F.P. Journe launched the Sonnerie Souveraine model. This minute repeater was so complicated that its 465 parts took three months to assemble, and so innovative that it was granted 10 patents.

In 2008, Journe began production on his Centigraphe Souverain, born of a collaboration with the former executive director of the Formula One Ferrari team, Jean Todt, to create the ideal chronograph for motor racing. The result was the first watch to be able to measure elapsed time to 1/100th of a second, and which can, in theory, time an object moving at 360,000 kilometres per hour.

In 2010, around 20 of the watches were released in platinum, with a red dial that was colour-matched to a sample of ‘Ferrari red’ that Todt had sent to Journe. ‘It’s the ultimate timepiece for both watch and car collectors,’ says Guillemin.

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6422439

F.P. Journe. A platinum automatic dual-time wristwatch with date and power reserve. Octa UTC model, no. 175-UTC, circa 2015. Sold for CHF126,000 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6422429

F.P. Journe. An 18ct pink gold automatic wristwatch with brass movement, moon phases, date and power reserve. Octa Lune model, case no. 044-03L, circa 2003. Sold for CHF126,000 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Journe has gone on to release several other models over the years, variously building in calendar (Octa Quantieme Perpetuel), lunar phase (Octa Lune), day/night indicator (Octa Jour/Nuit), power reserve (Octa Sport) and dual time zone (Octa UTC) complications, providing something for every client’s need.

What keeps F.P. Journe collectors excited?

As the company’s chief watchmaker, Journe is constantly striving to improve each model. Some, like the Tourbillon Souverain, have gone through several upgrades, including changing the shape of certain components and increasing the size of some numerals, to amplify accuracy and visibility.

F.P. Journe. A platinum limited-edition automatic wristwatch with day/night indication, date and power reserve. Octa Jour/Nuit Ruthenium model, no. 49/99-02A, circa 2004. Sold for CHF138,600 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Journe also experiments with rare, unusual and sometimes fragile materials for dials, such as ruthenium, mother-of-pearl and jade.

Between 2017 and 2018, Journe even set himself the challenge of creating a watch with a dial made from ‘damascus steel’ harvested from the barrels of antique Holland & Holland guns.

F.P. Journe. A stainless-steel limited-edition automatic wristwatch with ‘Steel Damascus’ dial. Chronomètre Holland & Holland model, no. 1382-32/38, circa 2018. Sold for CHF163,800 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

However, the most recognisable features of F.P. Journe watches tend to remain constant, including asymmetric faces with exposed inner workings, clear case backs and blue hands.

Nearly every dial is also finished with the company’s Latin motto, ‘Invenit et Fecit’, meaning ‘invented and made’.

How can I buy an F.P. Journe watch?

F.P. Journe. A platinum automatic annual calendar wristwatch with black dial and retrograde date. Octa Calendrier ‘Black Label’ model, no. 730-Q, circa 2012. Sold for CHF201,600 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

New and anniversary models are launched through the company’s tightly controlled network of just 10 boutiques worldwide. Some watches — in particular those from the ‘Black Label’ edition of certain models, which are created in platinum and black lacquer — are only available to VIP collectors who already own F.P. Journe pieces.

Others, such as the titanium and pink gold Centigraphe Souverain, which was created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first F.P. Journe boutique, in Tokyo, are offered to a select few loyal customers chosen via a secret ballot.

For very special clients, personal requests can be made directly to F.P. Journe himself. Reportedly, he once made a custom watch for a client who was running in the Tokyo marathon.

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Since 2016, the business has also run its ‘Patrimoine Service’, which purchases, authenticates and restores out-of-production F.P. Journe watches, then re-offers them with new boxes, authenticity certificates and warranties.

However, many of the rarest and most in-demand F.P. Journe watches are only likely to appear at auction.

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