F.P.Journe - Past, Present and Future




Invenit et Fecit - more than just a company slogan,
for François-Paul Journe it is a way of life.

by Ian Skellern
(c) January 2005





(click on images to view a larger version)

 


Looking back


The impact F.P. Journe has made on the world of haute horology in five short years has been nothing short of amazing. Since the company's foundation in 1999, they have stunned the world year after year with their visually distinctive and technically innovative watches.

It is worth while looking back at how François-Paul Journe came to be where he is today, so as to better appreciate his watches to date, as well as those of the future.

The academic life did not suit the young François-Paul and he left school early - not out of choice - to study at the watch-making school of Marseilles, his hometown in the south of France. Two years later, his outspoken attitude had him expelled for the second time. Realizing that while he did not like formal study, he did love watch-making, François-Paul seized an opportunity to move to Paris. There he could both continue his studies and work with his uncle, who was a well respected restorer of antique clocks and watches.

The eight year partnership with his uncle was a very successful one; not only did François-Paul learn an immense amount by working on beautiful, 19C, high-grade watches, he also met many important and influential collectors.
In 1976 he graduated from the Ecole d’horologerie de Paris and soon afterwards began working on making his own tourbillon pocket watch. Making it himself was the only way he could afford one!

By earning my watchmaker's diploma, I left scholastic rhythms behind me, with a feeling of gaining incredible freedom!" François-Paul Journe

"My eight-year period of working with my uncle Michel Journe allowed me to discover the origins of watchmaking up until the 19th century and enabled me to meet many important collectors." François-Paul Journe

With his own reputation as a skilled restorer growing, François-Paul fielded increasingly numerous requests to make special one-off pieces. He refused these commissions at first, wishing to be absolutely certain that he could actually make a working watch by proving to himself that his own tourbillon functioned correctly.

In 1982, after five years of work, he finished his tourbillon - and it worked ! François-Paul then started taking commissions and made many, very special time pieces. These included three Pendule sympatique clocks for Asprey’s in London and a very complicated skeleton perpetual. By the time his uncle retired in 1985, François-Paul was making watches to commission full-time - always trying something new.

François-Paul Journe's very first watch - a tourbillon of course!

 


Perpetual calendar, retrograde-date and equation of time.

 


One of three pendule sympatique clocks made for Asprey's.

In 1989, François-Paul had a new opportunity; one that took him to Switzerland. There, with business partners, he set up a company to conceive and develop movements, as well as trouble-shooting for the large brands . While this was a technically productive period for François-Paul, it was less successful financially and emotionally and the partnership dissolved acrimoniously a few years later. Despite that, the experience did teach François-Paul valuable lessons in the field of the industrial manufacturing processes in the watch industry, as well enabling him to form important relationships.

Wearing his own Souverain Tourbillon with remontoire, by 1994 the desire to break out on his own with his own brand grew and grew. That year, while at a restaurant with a friend, he sketched out on a napkin ideas for four of his future models.

"I created my remontoire system in 1982 when making my second pocket-watch. The prototype of the "Tourbillon Souverain" model, incorporating a remontoire within a wristwatch for the very first time, was made in 1991. I crafted the movement as well as the gear-trains entirely in eighteen-carat gold. It is still part of my collection." François-Paul Journe,


The first Souverain Tourbillon with remontoir.
Still worn daily by François-Paul Journe.

It took five years for this sketch to become real.
Clockwise from top left: Octa Power Reserve,
Resonance,Calendrier and Chronograph.

 

"The collection of chronometers carrying my name and the label of authenticity "Invenit et fecit" met with tremendous success when presented at the Basel Show. However, I had drawn the aesthetic lines of the collection five years earlier." François-Paul Journe.

The year is 1999 and a star is born. The world of haute horology saw a new brand launched - F.P.Journe. François-Paul presented his tourbillon at the AHCI booth in Basel that year where it was very well received. The next year he had his own booth at Basel and Montres Journe was well and truly established. Nothing simple at this stage, his model range consisted of one very complicated watch - his tourbillon with remontoire. The grand sonnerie being a unique piece.


The following year 2000, was an extremely busy one: F.P. Journe premiered their now iconic Resonance model; moved into their present building and were working on the automatic Octa caliber which was released in 2001. Not one to waste a moment, François-Paul was also working in partnership with Harry Winston on the Opus One project, which also made its debut in 2001.

"The creation of the Octa calibre was a real challenge for me, partly in terms of chronometry or timekeeping, and partly with respect to day-to-day comfort. I thus devised an automatic winding mechanical movement with a large power-reserve (120 hours) that could incorporate many future complications within the same volume. All models in the Octa collection are of identical size and thickness." François-Paul Journe.

The hard work started to pay off as the industry recognised his talent in a series of prestigious awards.

The Octa Calendrier was awarded the jury's ‘Special Prize’ at the 2002 Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. The following year it was the turn of the Octa Lune, which won the 2003 award for 'Best Mens Watch'. In 2004, the icing on the cake, the top prize from the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix, the ‘Aiguille d’Or’; presented to F.P.Journe for the Tourbillon Souverain dead seconds.

                             

               Octa Calendrier                                                             Octa Lune                                  Tourbillon Souverain with dead seconds







And the awards kept on coming. François-Paul Journe flew over to Tokyo at the end of 2004 to collect yet another prize for the Tourbillon Souverain dead seconds; this time awarded by Japanese journalists for ‘Best Watch’ of the year 2004.



Also in Tokyo, the F.P.Journe boutique, which was only inaugurated in 2003, has already been expanded. Now occupying two floors of the prestigious Collezione building, they have made the most of this architecturally famous landmark which was designed by the acclaimed Mr.Tadao Ando. The interior staircase, overhead passage and railings were designed by François-Paul Journe.


                   





Despite spending a considerable amount of time collecting awards last year, F.P.Journe have also managed to develop the technology and expertise to manufacture all of their movements in 18 carat gold.

This has the dual benefit to collectors of making the future golden movements very special and the now phased-out brass movements increasingly rare. All going well, the new 18 carat movement parts will start to be manufactured in-house from early 2005





A full year by anybody’s standards; however, on top of everything else, F.P.Journe had the added complication of completely transforming their atelier. The associated building work has had the staff moving around the building as floors are alternatively stripped and re-built.




The Present





Despite only moving into their building in 2000, F.P.Journe have already made it a well known landmark in Geneva's world of watchmaking. Seizing the oppotunity to buy the property in 2001, they have been able to take advantage of the extra space available now that a few of the other tenants have left, and are undergoing substantial rebuilding and renovation. This Stage 1 is due for completion early in 2005.

"Moving from one employee to fifty implied finding a special location. It is in this historical building in the heart of Geneva that we produce three to four watches per day!" - François-Paul Journe.

ThePuristS were recently invited to F.P. Journe’s atelier in Geneva, to see first hand the enormous transformation they are undergoing.

Our hosts were Masaki Saito (Sales Director), Natalia Signoroni (Communications and PR) and, due to a rare (and very fortunate for us) quiet period in his schedule, Mr. François-Paul Journe.

                   

                      The 'soon to be no more' board room' with the famous Janvier Resonance clock. Inside, François-Paul going
                     through some holiday snaps

"The acquisition of this regulator was an extremely emotional moment for me, since it was made circa 1780 by one of the most brilliant French watchmakers in history: Antide Janvier. It symbolises the link between the creation of my "Chronomètre à résonance" and the most interesting 18th century research. It is one of the world's most beautiful regulators, which was the first known application of the phenomenon of resonance, along with two other such pieces currently on display in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva and the Paul Dupuis Museum in Toulouse. It is now part of the Montres Journe SA collection." François-Paul Journe.


    
Downstairs we have the administrative offices and further on we have the watchmaking workshops

    
              Upstairs will be the new watchmakers rooms. At present it houses the chef d'atelier (George), quality control,
              parts distribution, computing and research and development.




It is action stations down in the entre-sol (half basement) as well. This floor will be transformed into the workshops which will manufacture the new 18 carat, rose gold, movement parts. At present, the manufacture of these parts is out-sourced; however, because the process of working with (the harder) gold parts is so original, F.P. Journe was instrumental in developing the new production techniques with their partners. By moving this production in-house, F.P. Journe will have increased manufacturing flexibility, as well as total control over the entire quality chain.
                                                                                                                   In the near future, nearly all of the parts for gold movements
                                                                                                                like these will be manufactured in the room shown below.



                  

This will soon be the workshop where the new 18 carat gold movement parts will be manufactured.


        
There is still a 'little' work to be done to complete the basement area.


It isn’t all cold, hard, science at F.P. Journe. There is rumored to be a ghost haunting the atelier – and the ghost of a watchmaker at that ! Apparently the building was used as a watchmaker's workshop around 100 years ago. The story goes that an argument between a watchmaker and his chef d’atelier led to the latter’s demise.

Present day watchmakers tell of tiny parts flying from their tweezers across the room for no apparent reason and then disappearing - and I thought that happened everywhere !



A Glimpse of the Future



2005 is shaping up to be an exciting year on many fronts.

Building wise, Stage 1 of the renovations should be completed within the next couple of months. In the longer term and dependent on planning permits being granted, Stage Two will see the construction of two more floors on top of the present building: Invenit et Fecit applies to more than just the watches !

In this planned vertical extension, François-Paul plans to put something back into the industry by hosting a watch-making school for experienced craftsmen. This school will be dedicated to fostering the knowledge of making complete watches; knowledge which François-Paul feels is being rapidly lost today. The extra space will also enable more work to be done on customising, as well as housing a dedicated atelier for designing and constructing special one-off time-pieces. All going well, this should be operational in 2007.


            
              The building today. Note that the entrance will be moved from its present location to near the blue rubbish skip.
              If planning approval is granted, we will see another two floors constructed on top of this building to house a
              watchmakers school and a dedicated customizing/one-off atelier


The gold parts production workshop should be up and running early 2005. This will eventually lead to F.P.Journe being a totally integrated facility: both manufacturing their 18 carat movement parts and assembling them totally in-house.

And it is not just the 'industry standard' parts that F.P.Journe are planning to manufacture themselves; in partnership with a Swiss metallurgy laboratory, F.P.Journe are researching and developing a metal compound for producing their own balances. The goal is to obtain a superior, more temperature stable metal than is available on the market at present. Not only should that lead to more accurate and consistent time-keeping, it will also have the added benefit of reducing the dependence of the company on third party suppliers. While testing of the new balances is planned for the later half of 2005, they will most likely not see commercial production until 2006.


Towards the end of 2005, Tokyo should have their own, F.P. Journe trained watchmaker who is working and training for 12 months in the after-sales service centre. The idea is to speed up minor servicing issues by dealing with them locally. There are also plans for New York to be able to provide a similar level of service. Due to the long and intensive training period, however, that is unlikely to happen before 2006.



New models for 2005? Well we will have to wait a little longer yet for the official launch in April 2005; however, the all new Grand Sonnerie promises to be a watch well worth waiting for: four years in development, 450 parts, with an 18 carat gold movement housed inside a steel case.

You will be able to see the hammers striking through the dial along the lines of the unique Grand Sonnerie.

                                                                                   The hammers of the new Grand Sonnerie will be visible in a similar
                                                                                          fashion to F.P.Journe's unique sonnerie pictured here.

"The "Sonnerie Souveraine" was extremely complex to make due to its innovative concept, revealing part of the mechanism through the dial. It is now part of a private collection." François-Paul Journe.
*note: this refers to the unique sonnerie - not the new Grand Sonnerie.


François-Paul chose a steel case because he feels that the acoustic properties of steel are superior to either gold or platinum. The Grand Sonnerie is planned to have the honour of being the first watch to have an in-house manufactured 18 carat gold movement.

A fitting honour for what is certain to be a stunning watch in all respects.

Do not imagine that the all new Grand Sonnerie will be just a re-cased version of the one-off Grand Sonnerie. Bearing in mind that grand sonneries have been manufactured in pocket watches for over 200 years and with wrist-watch sized movements for over 100, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is not much left to invenit. On the contrary, F.P.Journe have no fewer than ten patents for technical innovations on this new flag-ship model.

To help launch the new Sonnerie, F.P.Journe has recently purchased a beautiful, 250 piece collection of vintage complicated pocket watches - all in steel cases. This collection will go on tour and be displayed with the new Grand Sonnerie. A reminder that history has always treated steel with the greatest respect.

Rumour has it that New York will be graced with the collection's premier in May 2005.

While a fully working prototype of the Grand Sonnerie is planned for April 2005, due to the complexity of the design and movement, testing is very likely to continue all year so that the first production models will not be available until 2006.

The new Chronomètre Souverain will also be premiered in April 2005. I cannot give any trade secrets away before then; however, I can reveal that it will be a a simple, elegant watch with a strong F.P.Journe identity. Unlike the rest of the present Souverain collection, the Chronomètre Souverain will have central hands like the Octa Divine.

Early April 2005 will see the veils lifted on both the building and new watches. Patience until then.





Invenit et Fecit . . . F.P.Journe are just warming up !




Ian Skellern - January 2005

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If you have not done so recently, I highly recommend reading the interviews Alex and Jaw conducted with François-Paul Journe.        Alex's interview 2002                              Jaw's interview 2003

*I would like to thank Max Hellicar and Felipe Jordão for the invaluable help and contribution they made to both the content and quality of this article .

**A special thank you also to Alex Ghothi and Jaw. Their excellent interviews provided valuable background material for this article.

*** Last but not least, a big thank you to the staff at Montres Journe for their time, patience and beautiful watches.