By Amr Sindi
This is the story of arguably the greatest and most established independent watchmaker of our time, a true living legend of watchmaking whose name will go down with the greats that paved the way before him: Franois-Paul Journe.
The Formative Years
Francois-Paul Journe might not be the prodigy of a long line of watchmakers, but horology was definitely in his genes. Journe graduated from the Ecole d’Horlogerie de Paris in 1976, and began his watchmaking career working for his uncle in Paris, restoring many important clocks and watches from yesteryears. This was an invaluable experience that would allow Journe to not only expand his breadth in watchmaking, but also meet some of the most important collectors in the world.
After creating his first pocket watch in 1982, one equipped with a tourbillon escapement, he decided to set up his own watchmaking workshop, where he continued creating one-off pocket watches for a few collectors in the know, as well as a number of clocks commissioned by venerable retailers like Asprey of London.
Invenit et Fecit
It wasn’t until 1991 that F.P. Journe created his first-ever signed wristwatch, featuring a tourbillon with a remontoire d’égalité constant force mechanism, a world-first. That first watch, which remains in F.P. Journe’s personal collection, would then become the basis for the very first model offered by his eponymous brand, “F.P. Journe – Invenit et Fecit” in 1999.
But even years before creating has brand, F.P. Journe had already developed a unique aesthetic and blueprint for what his watches would look like, with an emphasis on chronometric performance in the same vein as the greats that came before him; continually building and improving upon existing theories and models.
The Tourbillon Souverain was later revised to include a dead-beat seconds display in lieu of the window revealing the remontoir, as well as solid red gold bridges and base plate for the movement, something that is now a key element of all Souverain and Octa watches. The impprtance of the tourbillon was confirmed when F.P. Journe received the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2004 “L’Aiguille d’Or”, or Golden Hand, for the Tourbillon Souverain.
The Harmony of Duality
In 2000, Journe created the Chronometre à Resonance, the first wristwatch to successfully utilize the phenomenon of resonance, whereby a system is able to store and easily transfer energy between two different storage modes, such as kinetic and potential energy. The result is a watch with a unique movement with two escapements, sets of gear trains and dials, running in perfect sync. The updated Chronomètre à Résonance would go on to win the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2010 prize in the “Grand Complication” category.
And that was not the only landmark that year – months after the award, F.P. Journe would set up his company’s watchmaking ateliers in the heart of Geneva, taking over a historical building dating back the late 19th century.
Arguably F.P. Journe’s greatest piece to date, the Sonnerie Souveraine made its debut in 2006. The result of six years of research and boasting no less than ten patents, the grand strike minute repeater watch remains his greatest technical conquest to date.
A study in efficiency, ergonomics and pure ingenuity, the Sonnerie Souveraine features a grand striking sonnerie and minute repeater, all powered from a single mainspring barrel. And because striking watches are usually finicky and delicate to manipulate, the Sonnerie Souveraine is made in such a way that, according to F.P. Journe, it’s “safe to use by an eight-year-old child”.
Continuing the brand’s winning streak, the Sonnerie Souveraine received Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2006 “L’Aiguille d’Or” or Golden Hand prize for the Sonnerie Souveraine.
And while his complications are nothing short of phenomenal, even the simplest F.P. Journe watch, the Chronometre Bleu, is special. The Chronometre Bleu is housed in a case crafted from tantalum, a non-corrosive metal element that’s harder than steel and heavier than gold, making it much more difficult and costly to machine and finish. Despite being entry-level, the Chronometre Bleu is also fitted with a unique blue dial finished with multiple layers of lacquer that reflects countless shades of blue like no other.
So one has to wonder, what marvel will F.P. Journe create next?
Amr Sindi – Switzerland
A Saudi-born, Swiss-bred watch lover who just so happens to live in the world capital of horology. What started as a childhood fascination quickly became an all-consuming obsession. Today, I’m fortunate to be able to live and share my passion for watchmaking and all things Swiss through The Horophile.