‘I create a piece because I want it, I dream it’ — 10 things to know about F.P. Journe watches
A collector’s guide to the brand created by the impassioned watchmaker who is heir apparent to the industry’s pioneers
François-Paul Journe is known as someone who thinks for himself, says what he thinks, and has not been afraid to follow his own path.
Born in Marseille in 1957, he left school at 14 and, at the suggestion of his uncle Michel, studied horology first at the local technical college, then at the Paris watchmaking school, before joining Michel’s clock restoration workshop on the Rue de Verneuil in 1977.
‘What most interested me was building, in the sense that I wanted to make watches from A to Z,’ he told the Financial Times in 2010. After eight years with his uncle, he set up on his own, first in Paris, then in Switzerland, working to commission for collectors and luxury brands such as Asprey of London.
One of Journe’s enduring inspirations has been George Daniels (1926-2011), the legendary British horologist who revolutionised mechanical watchmaking by inventing the coaxial escapement, and has been called the greatest watchmaker of the modern era.
When the estate of George Daniels was auctioned in 2011, a beautiful platinum Chronomètre Souverain wristwatch that Journe had given him before his death was among the lots.
Inscribed ‘FP to George Daniels my Mentor 2010’ on the balance, the watch was accompanied by a heartfelt letter in which Journe expressed his gratitude to Daniels for showing others how to make watches of artistic rather than utilitarian merit.
It was when he saw a watch by Daniels, he writes, that ‘without knowing it my path in life was determined and I decided in 1997 to make a watch for myself. Thanks to your books such as The Art of Breguet and Watchmaking, I learned patiently on my workbench how to make my first watch.’
The watch sold for £44,450 — almost triple its low estimate — and is offered at Christie’s in Hong Kong on 22 May with an estimate of HK$2,000,000-6,000,000.
‘This timepiece is probably the only watch from the entire FPJ collection that reveals his admiration and gratefulness to his mentor Georges Daniels,’ says Alexandre Bigler, vice president and head of Watches at Christie’s Asia Pacific.
‘It’s a watch filled with emotions that carries the tribute of a legendary watchmaker for another.’
While working with his uncle Michel, Journe became fascinated by the world of 18th- and 19th-century timepieces, and these historical watches and astronomical clocks continue to inspire him today.
In 2002, he was thrilled to acquire a resonance regulator created by Breguet’s contemporary, Antide Janvier, one of the three first-known applications of the phenomenon of resonance, which had inspired Journe’s own Chronomètre à Résonance.
By the late 1990s, Journe had had enough of working for other companies. In 1999, he launched his own brand with the Tourbillon Souverain, a watch he had produced in prototype form in 1991.
It was an ingenious invention — the first tourbillon wristwatch to incorporate a remontoir d’égalité, a constant-force mechanism originally invented by John Harrison for his H2 marine chronometer.
He has continued to innovate ever since, inventing and manufacturing a new mechanism for each new model, as underlined by his company signature, ‘Invenit et Fecit’ (‘invented and made’).
Launched in 2000, his Chronomètre à Résonance broke new ground with a system he had been working on stubbornly since 1983, and it remains the only wristwatch to operate on the principle of resonance, according to which two oscillating bodies in close proximity come to synchronise.
His Sonneraie Souveraine, also from 2000, was so complicated it was granted 10 patents. Journe makes new timepieces for himself, he told the New York Times in 2016. ‘I create a piece because I want it, I dream it,’ he said. ‘I make it like it was a new child.’
F.P. Journe watches are not just innovative in concept but idiosyncratic in design. Journe’s love of mechanics is expressed in the Tourbillon Souverain through apertures in the dial that put the tourbillon and the remontoire — the heart of the watch — on show.
Other trademark F.P. Journe features include large Arabic numerals; blue-steel hands to indicate the hours, minutes, seconds and power reserve; and cases in platinum or 18K rose-gold. Models with unusual dials, such as the rare jade one below, are highly sought-after.
F.P. Journe has been showered with awards, from the Prix Gaïa in 1994 to four category awards at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPDG). Most significantly, he is the only watchmaker to have won the top GPDG prize — the coveted Aiguille d’Or — three times over.
He won it for his Tourbillon Souverain with deadbeat seconds in 2004; for the Sonnerie Souveraine, with grande sonnerie and petite sonnerie, in 2006; and for the Centigraphe Souverain — in which the timekeeping mechanism is isolated from that of the chronograph, allowing the chronograph to measure hundredths of a second despite a 3Hz movement — in 2008.
Journe moved to Geneva in 1996 and, unlike many of his peers who have since relocated to the industrial suburbs, he continues to operate from a 19th-century gas-lamp factory in the Plainpalais district.
Here, a small team of 120 craftsmen machine and assemble the tiny components for fewer than 900 watches a year. Journe himself remains the chief watchmaker. Everything reinforces the integrity and authenticity of his approach.
Although 20 per cent of the company was bought by Chanel in 2018, F.P. Journe remains one of Switzerland’s smaller brands, launching new and anniversary models through a tight network of 10 company-owned boutiques and retail spaces.
Many of the company’s watches are also produced in very limited numbers. To fund the launch of his company in 1999, F.P. Journe offered 20 of his Tourbillon Souverain at a 50 per cent discount — and these Souscription Tourbillons, as they are known, and subsequent Souscription Chronomètres à Résonance, are highly collectable.
Ruthenium editions of the Tourbillon Souverain and Chronomètre à Résonance — 99 pieces of each, with ruthenium-coated dials and ruthenium movements, produced between 2001 and 2003 — are also in great demand. In 2020, a ruthenium Chronomètre à Résonance sold for CHF212,500 at Christie’s in Geneva.
Another coveted model is the Chronomètre Bleu Byblos, launched to commemorate the opening of F.P. Journe’s 10th boutique, in Lebanon, which was also produced in a run of 99 pieces.
F.P. Journe’s business relies on word of mouth among collectors. Indeed, some of the company’s watches — the 12 pieces per boutique and two pieces per model per year in the Black Label Collection — are only available to those who already own an F.P. Journe timepiece.
Other models are just for the lucky few: in 2013, the 10th anniversary of the Tokyo boutique was celebrated with a run of just 10 T10 Tourbillons in platinum cases — with the 10 owners drawn from a pool of the company’s 99 top clients.
In 2016, the company launched its Patrimoine Service, which purchases, authenticates and restores out-of-production F.P. Journe watches for resale with new boxes, certificates of authenticity and three-year warranties.
Prices for early, rare and unique F.P. Journe watches have been rising steadily over the past 10 years, and in 2019 they really took off, with a Chronomètre à Résonance from the turn of the millennium selling for HK$2 million at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
The watches also perform well at charity auctions. In 2015, a unique Tourbillon Souverain Bleu sold for CHF550,000 at Only Watch, the biennial auction of one-off luxury timepieces for the benefit of the Monaco Association against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy; while another Tourbillon Souverain raised CHF650,000 for Action Innocence, a Swiss charity protecting children on the internet.
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In the 2017 edition of Only Watch, a 44mm Monopusher Split Seconds Chronograph with a blue dial and unique movement fetched CHF1,150,000. And in 2019, an Astronomic Blue, with a 44mm tantalum case, an Astronomic prototype movement in 18K rose gold and a blue chrome dial, sold for CHF1,800,000.