Over more than three decades, with unerring consistency, François-Paul Journe has constructed a neo-classical watchmaking approach whose watchwords are balance, harmony, rigour and legibility, the inevitable product of an exemplary coherence between the aesthetic exterior and the technical interior. Time has proven him right.
- François-Paul Journe
François-Paul Journe’s horological journey officially began nearly 35 years ago, in 1991, at the booth of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI) in Basel, where he exhibited his first tourbillon, made entirely by hand. Since then he has continued to “make and remake the same watch,” as he explained to Europa Star several years later, in 2003, when he had become F.P. Journe, invenit et fecit. To lend credence to his comment, he showed us a carefully framed paper napkin, the same napkin on which, in 1994, he had mapped out his future. “Look,” he said. “It’s all there. For the benefit of my friends, I sketched out everything I wanted to achieve in watchmaking. Look carefully... here you have the Résonance, here’s the Octa, there’s the Réserve de Marche, and over there you can see the Calendrier. All the ideas are there, all the future developments are sketched out...”
This little anecdote is not as inconsequential as it might first appear; in fact, it goes a long way to explaining why F.P. Journe has managed to weather the turbulence and excess of the last two decades without so much as a wobble. Through hell and high water, François- Paul Journe has pursued his own horological and stylistic course with unswerving consistency, refusing to be swayed by the ostentatious trends and attention-seeking exaggerations that have dominated the watchmaking scene. That is the source of his company’s resilience.
- F.P. JOURNE - FIRST TOURBILLON POCKET WATCH 1983
- “Fascinated by the exceptional tourbillon watches that I had had the opportunity to admire in my uncle’s workshop, but without the financial means to acquire any, I decided to build my own tourbillon chronometer. Working with the little experience I had behind me, I devoted all my free time to this project and it took me five years to complete it. I crafted every single component as well as the case in gold and in silver. This watch completed in 1982 is still part of my collection.” F.P. Journe
HARMONY IN FORM AND FUNCTION
His watchmaking style can be categorised uncontroversially as “neo-classical” because of its pursuit of a certain stylistic harmony, a formal and functional equilibrium in which, as in classical architecture, the outside is a faithful expression of the inside, just as the arrangement of the interior is dependent upon the exterior. In a watch industry that is constantly striving to make a splash (“faire le buzz”, as they say in French) François-Paul Journe has never strayed from the path he set out on all those years ago. His approach has always remained substantially the same. It invariably begins on paper, where Journe starts by designing... the dial. This is not because the watch’s appearance is dictated by abstract design concerns: it’s because of his quest for what he calls the “equilibrium” of the watch. As he explained in 2003, and continues to maintain today: “I know where I want to go, I know what functions I want to give the watch, I’ve laid out the technical principles I want to follow, but everything starts with the dial. I begin by sketching out the hour and minute hands, then the functions I want to add to the watch. Above all, I’m looking for an overall harmony in the dial, because in my view the dial should be the direct expression of what goes on inside the watch. The harmony I’m looking for is both stylistic and technical, from the outset. It’s not about making it look nice; it’s about finding out what the watch is trying to say, and how to say it. The inside and the outside are not two separate aspects. A watch is a coherent whole, and it has just one way of expressing that, and that expression is the watch itself.”
- F.P. JOURNE - CHRONOMETRE A RESONANCE
- F.P. JOURNE - TOURBILLON SOUVERAIN (LEFT) - TOURBILLON DES 30 ANS (RIGHT)
Some 25 models later (not counting variations in materials), this rigorous approach has not wavered in the slightest. The consistency of his aesthetic and technical approach provides the perfect explanation for the “timeless” quality of his watches, which are consummate modern classics. Journe himself describes his watches as “tools”, because the legibility of their different functions and displays, their user-friendliness, their wearability and their usefulness remain cardinal values of his watchmaking approach.
THE OCTA QUANTIÈME PERPÉTUEL WITH INSTANTANEOUS JUMP
One of his latest creations, now available in F.P. Journe boutiques in Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Hong Kong, Beijing, Boca Raton, Beirut and soon Kyiv, is no exception to this rule. A glance at the dial tells you everything you need to know about the new perpetual calendar with instantaneous jump: perfect formal balance underpinning optimum legibility and functionality.
The new perpetual calendar with instantaneous jump – the 9th member of the Octa collection – differs aesthetically from most other perpetual calendars on the market by its generous apertures for the day and month, and its double-window large date – a characteristic of F.P. Journe watches.
- F.P. JOURNE - OCTA QUANTIEME PERPETUEL
The result is that the time and the intuitively placed calendar indications can be read off without any confusion and with the utmost simplicity. Ease of use is also one of the major features of this timepiece, and it’s a key point, given that adjusting perpetual calendars is often something of a brain-teaser and that, generally, midnight adjustments are strictly verboten. Here, all corrections are carried out via the three-position crown, except for the rapid month correction, accomplished with a small hidden corrector lever beneath the lug at 1 o’clock. The wearer can make adjustments whenever he likes, whatever the time of day. No specialised tools or correctors are required, which would in any case risk scratching or otherwise damaging the case. Months with 28, 29, 30 or 31 days are automatically taken into account, and leap years are shown in the centre of the dial under the fulcrum of the hour and minute hands (years 1, 2 and 3 are in black; the leap year is marked with a red L).
In order to drive these functions and displays, which take just 16 thousandths of a second to complete their instantaneous jump (a feat that, it is worth noting, took François-Paul Journe several weeks, months even, of testing and minute adjustments, because the large windows require bigger discs, which are consequently heavier to move), the watchmaker used the exclusive Octa calibre 1300.3. This 18-karat rose gold automatic movement was designed from the outset to be able to easily incorporate all the current and future complications planned for the Octa collection. Its off-centre 22-karat red gold rotor has a self-blocking ball bearing system that winds the movement in just one direction, ensuring that the slightest wrist movement is maximally exploited to power the slip-spring barrel, giving an effective power reserve of more than 120 hours. The power reserve is indicated by a hand at 9 o’clock on the dial.
Available in platinum or 18 karat red gold, with a diameter of 40 or 42 mm, and a red or white gold dial fixed by a steel circle with silver chapter ring, the Quantième Perpétuel with instantaneous jumping replaces the annual calendar model, the Octa Calendrier, which is now a collector’s piece.
- F.P. JOURNE - OCTA CALENDRIER
IMAGE AND LEGACY
It is F.P. Journe’s custom to systematically cease production of old models once a new model is created. With manufacturing capacity limited to 900 watches per year, F.P. Journe has always made a point of limiting production of its successive series, and never producing any additional watches, even in the event of very high demand. In order to reinforce this principle, the Manufacture F.P. Journe recently launched a new service that offers its collectors the opportunity to buy rare watches that are no longer in production. Depending on the (very few) opportunities that arise, and after careful personal study by François-Paul Journe of the watches available at auction or by private sale, the Manufacture buys back its own pieces and refurbishes them fully in its workshops, before offering them once again to its most loyal clients, with a new 3-year guarantee.
François-Paul Journe sees this as a way of preserving his heritage, strengthening confidence and retaining control of his company’s image and authenticity.
It’s an original approach, which is in perfect keeping with his passionate desire to keep strict control over distribution. “While today you can easily find prestigious watches available at a 40 or 50% discount, you will never see any of my watches on special offer. I’ve spent over 20 years building up my image, and I’m not prepared to jeopardise that on a whim. In my view, much of the current crisis is due to the blindness and greed of many large watchmaking companies.
Now, they’re paying for their recent excesses.” Just as he has never been swayed by the currents of fashion, François-Paul Journe refuses to be swayed on this point. Time will prove him right – as it already has
Source: Europa Star 5/16 Winter 2016 Magazine Issue