In 1976 a young watchmaker by the name of François Paul Journe graduated from the prestigious École d’horlogerie de Paris. At that time he was barely a shadow of the highly accomplished watchmaker he would go on to become, however his unwavering confidence in his potential was clear from the start, later saying of the experience; “By gaining my watchmaker’s diploma, I left scholastic rhythms behind me, with a feeling of gaining incredible freedom!”
In the beginning…
Like all great watchmakers however Journe had to start somewhere. After all you don’t just wake up one morning a highly accomplished craftsman with several notable creations to your name. No the process takes time, years in fact, and as with every skill in life we must start from the beginning and slowly hone our abilities through hours of practice and repetition. For Journe this apprenticeship of sorts came in the form of eight years spent working in his uncle’s antique watch restoration workshop in Paris. According to Journe this experience allowed him to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the origins of watchmaking up until the 19th Century, whilst at the same time allowing him to meet many important collectors, both of which would serve him well later on his watchmaking journey.
Being only a young man at the time – early 20’s – Journe found himself constantly surrounded by wonderfully complex timepieces that he could never hope to afford, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and build one himself. “Fascinated by the exceptional tourbillon watches that I 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” explains Journe. “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 gold case. This watch is still part of my collection.”
Little did he know it at the time but this incredible achievement would become the building block of his future success as a watchmaker, a fact that was celebrated just last year with the unveiling of the F.P. Journe T30, a special 30th anniversary edition of this amazing first tourbillon which you can read all about here. A few short years after the successful completion of his original pocket watch, Journe set up his first workshop in 1985 on the rue de Verneuil in Paris, establishing what he referred to as a calm environment where could continue creating tailor-made watches for collectors.
A number of notable achievements would follow in the ensuing years – none of which we have the time or space to go into detail discussing here but are well worth your while researching – as well as the eventual establishment of a movement manufacturer in Switzerland in 1989. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t until 1991 that Journe created his first wristwatch, the Tourbillon Souverain, which is where things really start getting interesting for us.
Fast forward 20 years or so and not much has changed. The name F.P. Journe is still synonymous with high-end, limited production timepieces created specifically with collector’s in mind, although of course the range on offer is now a little more expansive. So much so in fact that we couldn’t cover all our favourites in just one article even if we wanted to. Instead I have had to settle for picking one piece that I think epitomes the spirit of Mr. Journe’s incredible watchmaking abilities.
F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain – Hands-On
I have always loved the elegant simplicity of F.P. Journe’s Chronometre Souverain. For me this represents the ultimate in refined watchmaking. All superfluous details have been banished from the design and what we are left with is a gorgeous timepiece in its purest form. For the uninitiated this may seem almost too simple, boring even but that just means you are not looking closely enough. The off-white dial with embossed numerals is crafted from solid gold and housed in a 38mm or 40mm platinum or rose gold case. It displays only the most rudimentary of indications; hours, minutes, small seconds on a sub-dial and power reserve and yet it is unquestionably one of the most beautiful timepieces I have ever seen.
Turn the Chronometre Souverain over and the sapphire case back reveals the inner workings of the manually wound Calibre 1304, which has of course been designed and constructed in-house. As eye-catching as the dial is subdued, the 18k rose gold baseplate and bridges of the movement have been partly circular grained and are complemented nicely by polished screw heads with chamfered slots and pegs with polished round ends. Closer inspection also reveals two mainspring barrels in parallel, which work together to offer a total power reserve of 56 hours, as indicated on the dial. The most important feature however is perhaps the F.P. Journe chronometric balance fitted to the movement, which helps provide an exceptional (chronometric) level of accuracy.
The most important thing for me though is how the Chronometre Souverain looks and feels on the wrist. As you might have guessed the platinum case, in combination with the solid gold dial and movement, is quite weighty (relatively speaking of course) however this is balanced out by the fact that the diameter is only a moderate 40mm (which can be reduced to a further 38mm if you so wish.) As such it is extremely comfortable whilst at the same time providing a constant reminder that you are wearing something of genuine quality and value. Plus its subdued style means you can wear it with just about anything, be the occasion formal or casual.
You may not be convinced yet but I promise you it takes a moment to fall in love with a Journe, all you need to do is put one on your wrist. Of course once that happens the problem won’t be the price, it will be the waiting list. Assuming your the patient-type though, the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain in Platinum can be yours for US$37,590 for the 40mm version and US$36,440 for the 38mm version.