F P Journe watch maker

F.P. Journe watch company

At The Watch Press we relish the opportunity to feature some of our own personal favourite watchmakers and their often astonishing accomplishments in their field. We all have different reasons for our choices, be it design, complication, sophistication or even quirkiness of a particular manufacturer. However, it is quite rare for a watchmaker to encompass most of these characteristics, as well as quite simply being one of the most important watchmakers working today.

Our subject on this occasion is the incredibly talented Frenchman François-Paul Journe whose Invenit et Fecit (Invented and Created) philosophy adorns the dial of each of the watches which leave his manufacture.

François-Paul Journe himself was born in rural Provence in 1957 and at the youthful age of only 16, having shown little academic promise, was enroled in the Ecole d'Horlogerie in Marseille where his parents hoped he could acquire a useful trade under the eye of his cousin who was program leader in the school. Having shown some promise as a trainee in Marseille, Journe then enroled in the prestigious Ecole d'Horlogerie in Paris on the suggestion of his uncle, Michel Journe, whose own Parisian watchmaking business specialised in the maintenance and upkeep of France's most important horologic collections - including the state collections as well as those of the most fastidious private collectors. Emerging as a qualified watchmaker in 1976, the young F P Journe went to further develop his skills under the watchful eye of his uncle Michel.

Over the course of the next eight years, F P Journe would find his uncle's workplace to be a haven for some of watchmaking history's most treasured timepieces, dating back to the earliest days of measuring time by mechanical means. Almost unbelievably, the young watchmaker was able to study and work on timekeeping's most innovative creations, absorbing and practising the techniques of the master watchmakers of the past.

With such an incredible background, it seemed perhaps only natural that François-Paul would specialise in the same maintenance and restorative field as his successful uncle, but the young man, obviously aware that his talent was most likely unique among his peers, had ambitions of his own.

1978 saw Journe begin working on his first unique timepiece; a ‘remontoir’ constant-force  tourbillon pocket watch based on the work some three centuries earlier of the legendary Abraham-Louis Breguet, whose ideas Journe would recreate as true to the originals as possible, employing artisan techniques long thought to be dying out along with older master watchmakers. The finished piece emerged some five years later, each component designed and machined by Journe in his uncle's workshop.

First F.P. Journe Tourbillon Pocket Watch

Journe’s work inevitably began to attract the attention of informed collectors of traditionally-made complication timepieces, and his one-off creations became highly prized collectors pieces – although they were a very rare item indeed as he created them when time allowed in Michel’s busy workshop.

F P Journe continued to hone his skills and concentrated on perfecting age-old but elusive complications and techniques. In 1984 he commenced work on a resonance timepiece – a work so complicated that it's very mechanical concept had remained something of a black science in the centuries since the phenomonem was discovered and reported by the sixteenth century Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens. It was first applied to horology in approximately 1780 by legendary watchmaker Antide Janvier who found that two pendulums mounted together would soon begin to swing in unison under the effect of resonance and which also shrouded the beat rate from outside influences such as shock.  As a result, the resonance movement offered a higher, more precise degree of rate consistency.

Journe's ambitious project relied upon two identical movements aligned side by side with the two balances operating in this apparently mystical union, separated by a hair's breadth from each other, yet at precisely the exact distance (0.4mm) which would result in the frequency of vibration of one balance being able to compensate for and regulate that of it’s counterpart so that both movements were engaged in a strange, almost mystic alliance with one another.

The following year, 1985, Journe founded his own workshop, also in Paris. From here his business and reputation continued to develop.

His obsession with the more obscure and intricate aspects of ancient horology resulted in the creation of a number of ‘Old Master’ timepieces. Revisiting the legendary works of Abraham-Louis Breguet, François-Paul Journe indulged himself and simultaneously showcased his incredible talent by producing pocket watches of rare accomplishment such as the astronomical planetary watch which plotted the position of the planets and was itself commissioned by a collector of scientific instruments, his self-winding perpetual calendar which combined the fusée-détente escapement and constant-force remontoir, retrograde date, moonphase and equation of time.

François-Paul Journe

Journe's unique combination of obsession and ability drove him onwards to create ever more elaborate timpieces. He concentrated his efforts on developing his own skills and as he taught himself to recreate - and further refine - some of the grande complications of a century and more before.

His comprehension and appreciation of the skills and philosophies of his forebears, many years past, saw his services become highly sought after. To underwrite his own passions and the pursuit of his horologic visions, he accepted commissions from some of the most revered Swiss watchmakers and began to design and develop complications to order. Aware of the increasing demand for complication timepieces, he established a partnership with a Geneva manufacture workshop from where he would make use of the vast knowledge he had acquired in the previous twenty years, applying his production techniques to produce highly complex movements for Breguet, Cartier and Corum as well as a Grande Sonnerie chiming complication for the Piaget house and a Pendule Sympathetique for the house of Asprey.

Remarkably, it was not until 1991 that Journe created his first wristwatch, by now having long replaced the pocketwatch as the style of choice. Based on his Remontoir pocket watch, the wristwatch, which is still owned by Journe himself, would become the prototype of the Souveraine Tourbillon, a flagship piece available to this day although, as is typical of the inventor, it has recently been revised to feature  'seconde morte'  or dead-second, where the second hand comes to a  rest between the passing of each second.

The F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souveraine wristwatch

By 1996 Journe struck out  on his own by establishing his own manufacture workshop also in Geneva; TIM SA. Capitalizing on the success of his recent work for the grande manufactures, the French masterwatchmaker was now also an entrepreneur and building his new company in the heart of the Swiss watchmaking world.

While manufacturing by commission, Journe also began to work on an exclusive collection of pieces which would bear his own name. The fruits of his labours appeared at the Basel show in 1998 and to the public, the name F.P. Journe -Invenit et Fecit was born.

Inspired further by the reception his collection had received, Journe realised the possible potential to elevate his stature from being a relatively unfamiliar name to all but the most fervent of collectors, to being recognised in his own right as a master of his trade, and so futher designs, including the Souveraine Tourbillon were put into development.

To celebrate the new millenium Journe unveiled his Sonnerie Souveraine, an unfeasable accomplishment which featured both grand and petit sonnerie as well as a minute repeater. It had been done before of course, by Journe himself, for Piaget, but this was a combination of notoriously delicate mechanisms which were extremely succeptible to expensive damage by the slightest misuse or shock. Journe resolved to perfect such a complication so as to be simple enough for an eight year old child to operate safely.

The same year also witnessed yet another world's first for Journe in the form of the Souvraine Chronomètre à Résonance, the elusive, mystical complication on which he had worked for almost twenty years was finally captured in the confines of a 'production' wristwatch.

The F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance. Click image to reveal movement

As the F P Journe Invenit et Fecit name found international acclaim, the increase in attention resulted in an increase in demand, and Journe opened his new headquarters in the arty Plainpalais district in the centre of Geneva. Having soon outgrown the cramped TIM SA workshop and one employee, the new facility would eventually accomodate fifty skilled watchmakers.

The following year, 2001, saw the unveiling of Journe's first automatic wristwatch movement. Housed in the new Collection Octa wristwatch, his Octa calibre movement once again changed the parameters of watchmaking by becoming the first to boast 120 hours of power reserve, accurately keeping time for five days since last worn.

In 2002 the efforts of Journe and his manufacture would be repaid when the Octa Calendrier was awarded the "Grand Prix dHorologie Genève" Special Jury prize. Indeed, this major recognition was swiftly followed by the outright 'Best Man's Watch' award for the Octa Lunar in 2003, and to crown these achievements, in 2004 the Souveraine Tourbillon gave Journe the ultimate accolade with the "Grand Prix dHorologie Genève" Aiguille d'Or (Golden Hand) award, the highest honour in the industry.

Indeed, major awards were being won around the world and the name of François-Paul Journe was increasingly thought of in the highest regard throughout the world of appreciative yet demanding savant collectors and to service the growing international enthusiasm for his works directly, the first FP Journe boutique outside Geneva was opened in Tokyo in 2003.

2006 saw Journe's presence requested once more at the "Grand Prix dHorologie Genève" to collect his second Aiguille d'Or award, on this occasion to see his Sonnerie Souveraine honoured.

The F.P. Journe Sonnerie Souveraine
The F.P. Journe Sonnerie Souveraine

New boutiques were opened in Hong Kong, Geneva and Paris (with additions following in late 2009 in New York and Beijing) where the prospective client could experience the FP Journe philosophy in an informative, in-house environment - particularly in the "Espace FP Journe" salon in Florida.

By now, watch collectors and followers knew to expect the unexpected when Journe unveiled his latest addition to his collection, and he did not disappoint. However, when the Souveraine Centigraphe was presented in 2007, it was to break new ground once again. This astonishing manual wound complication chronograph featured three registers each with it's own tachymetric scale inset. Once the chronograph is activated, the dial literally springs into life when the flying seconds hand begins it's hypnotising beat around it's 100th/second scale, the other registers displaying twenty-second and ten-minute counters.

The F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine

The Centigraphe Souveraine would join it's two most esteemed predecessors by winning the Aiguille D'Or award in 2008. Such repeated acknowledgement of the skills and ingenuity of the FP Journe manufacture by the most prestigious - and demanding - juries around the world demonstrated the watchmaker's personal drive for pushing established boundaries and presenting ever more breathtaking horologic achievements.

In reading the history of François-Paul Journe, one must surely be struck by the level of accomplishment which this man has achieved. Through a combination of being inately talented and pure doggedness his watches have become marvels to observe and behold. The master watchmaker from Provence has set new benchmarks in the art of haute horologie and most likely represents today our closest association with the great fathers of the craft some three hundred years ago.

The F P Journe Centigraphe Souveraine