F.P. Journe: Top-Shelf Independent Watchmaking

F.P. Journe: Top-Shelf Independent Watchmaking

| 12.18.23

In just under 25 years, F.P. Journe has become one of the most influential names in the watch industry. 

The man himself at the workbench in Geneva. - (Image by New York Times)

Serving as the visionary for his own eponymous brand, Francois-Paul Journe himself is considered by many to be the father of the modern independent watchmaking movement. In many ways, his impact transcends the watches he has crafted — indeed, the model he’s set for influential, limited-production watchmaking maisons has paved the way for the expansion of the independent watchmaking space as a whole, inspiring a new generation of collectors and horologists to explore the world of high-end cratfsmanship.

Today, in an effort to pay a small tribute to this legendary wacthmaker, we’re going to cover a series of special pieces that exemplify the Journe philosophy and help us to understand how a brand can have such a tremendous impact in such a short period of time.

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain 

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain - IN THE SHOP

Early in his career, after studying horology in school, Journe joined his uncle’s clock repair shop, working to restore vintage classics from Breguet, Antide Janvier, and others. Exposure to these classical legends helped shape his brand’s philosophy and the styling of his later creations. Alongside his inspiration from the watches he was repairing, Journe also began reading “The Art of Breguet”, George Daniels’s brilliant guide to watchmaking. Inspired by Daniels’s depiction of Breguet tourbillons, Journe decided that rather than merely repairing the classic works, he needed to make a watch of his own. In 1983, he completed his very first piece — a tourbillon pocket watch. 


For context: In the ‘80s, tourbillons were extremely rare. It seems that today almost every major watch brand  — or, at least those on the high end — is making one, but 40 years ago, a tourbillon was a rare commodity. That Journe’s first piece was a tourbillon pocket watch with detent escapement and double barrels is perhaps the best foreshadowing for his later success as a brand. 


When Journe established his own manufacture, his very first model was a tourbillon wristwatch, which has changed slightly in the years since its 1999 debut: While this particular variant has been discontinued and replaced by the Vertical Tourbillon Souverain, the version we have here is the closest modern relative to the early Journe tourbillons and perhaps best captures Journe’s approach to the complication: It features a tourbillon aperture at 9 o’clock balanced by the time display at 3 o’clock, while at 12 o’clock is the power reserve indicator and at 6 o’clock sits the seconds display. 


This seconds display showcases the next key innovation found on this watch —  namely, deadbeat seconds, which “ticks” like that of a quartz watch. This is the natural result of the remontoir d'egalité constant-force system used to maintain consistent distribution of torque from the mainspring to the escapement as the power reserve winds down. Interestingly, as the watch loses power and the remontoir stops working, the seconds return to a typical running seconds! This is a level of refinement you do not find on lower-end watches and speaks to the command Journe has over these complications. 

F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance 

F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance - IN THE SHOP

Next up is Journe’s second model, the Chronomètre à Résonance. Inspired by the pendulum clocks of Antide Janvier, the Résonance exploits a unique physical phenomenon called “sympathetic resonance” dictating that when two vibrating objects — in this case, balance wheels — are placed in close proximity, their frequencies (beat rates) eventually synchronize, which offsets the inaccuracies of each timekeeper via its proximity to the other. (When looking at the caseback of the Resonance, you gain a small glance at the brilliance of the system.) Journe tried and failed to create a successful Resonance watch before eventually perfecting it, selling the earliest models alongside the Tourbillon in the first years atelier’s operation.


Like the Tourbillon, this particular piece is the modern extension of the Resonance concept. Unlike early models, its Calibre 1520 features a remontoir d'egalité constant-force system as well as a single mainspring barrel and a differential that links the dual balances. Additionally, this variant, with its salmon dial and platinum case, is an off-catalog configuration: The dial side features both 12-hour and 24-hour displays with guilloché subdials and subsidiary seconds registers, while dual knurled crowns and a platinum case add a sense of subtle luxury and refinement. 

If you appreciate unique movements and rare, high-end horology, this is an outstanding piece. (For lack of a more eloquent description, it’s a complete supercar on the wrist!) And while the Tourbillon and the Resonance are perhaps the two most characteristic examples of the F.P. Journe brand ethos, that’s not to say the maison hasn't made an array of other impressive pieces as well. Next, we’ll take a look at a few of the other collections that you might not encounter quite as often in the wild…

F.P. Journe Élégante Titanium Diamond-Set

F.P. Journe Élégante Titanium Diamond-Set - IN THE SHOP

When a high-horology brand creates a quartz watch, the tendency is for one’s eyebrows to inevitably rise. But we say: Chill out and hear us out! Yes, F.P. Journe, master of traditional watchmaking, makes a quartz watch. But no, this is not your typical quartz movement. Of course, if Journe is involved, he’s gonna flip the script and completely redefine the market segment, which is truly the case with the Élégante.


Made originally for female collectors who desired Journe pieces, the Élégante could be considered a type of analog “smartwatch.” After 30 minutes of inactivity, it “falls asleep” — in other words, the battery stops powering the handset and timekeeping stops. However, while the hands cease running, the movement continues to track the current time, even while it’s conserving energy and not displaying that time. As soon as one picks the watch back up and moves it once again, the hands reset to the correct current time. 

The Elegante is perhaps the most energy-efficient, high-performance quartz watch ever made — indeed, the batteries last an entire lifetime. Needless to say, after male collectors set their eyes on it, Journe had to expand the collection.

F.P. Journe Chronomètre Souverain

F.P. Journe Chronomètre SouverainIN THE SHOP

Typically viewed as Journe’s “entry-level” mechanical watch  — (whatever that means) — the Chronomètre Souverain is a special piece all on its own. Featuring the classic Journe numerals, a subsidiary seconds display, and a power reserve display, we see on this piece many of the features typical of Breguet watches: A guilloché main dial with different textures on the sub-seconds and power reserve is plenty interesting even before flipping the watch over, whereupon one is greeted by a spectacular movement. (More on that in a moment.) Plus, since this particular model is a “boutique edition” piece, it features a unique black dial. 

After a look at the movement, one understands what makes this a Journe: Namely, a calibre fashioned entirely from rose gold with a fissure between the twin barrels and the balance wheel staff. Interestingly, it looks almost as though the balance is floating — this is because the gear train between the power supply in the mainspring barrels and the escapement is buried between the movement and the dial, meaning it’s completely obscured on the caseback. The Chronomètre Souverain’s heft is due to this solid-gold movement and the watch’s solid-gold case — a rare pairing even at the high end of watch collecting. There’s a certain solidity this watch possesses that is reassuring on the wrist. 

If you’re looking for a time-only piece that’ll give you the Journe look but with a slightly more collectable, boutique-y twist, look no further. Indeed, this is a fantastic dress watch for any collection. 

F.P. Journe Octa Lune 

F.P. Journe Octa Lune - IN THE SHOP

Finally, we have a member of the Journe Octa collection, which debuted in 2001 after the development of Journe’s signature automatic calibre. All Octa models feature a slightly off-center automatic rotor with full barleycorn guilloché finish. The Octa Lune in particular features a time display on the right side of the dial, with a date display, a power reserve indicator, and a moon phase display taking up real estate on the left side. 


Interestingly, while the power reserve only displays 120 hours — which is impressive in and of itself — it’ll actually remain running for closer to 180 hours. The reason for the 120-hour display is that Journe only counts the amount of time the watch is running with full chronometric precision; if the power reserve winds too low, the precision decreases. Additionally, the power reserve display shows not how many hours remain in the power supply, but rather, the number of hours since the watch was last wound. This means that at full wind, the reserve will read "0." This is a relatively uncommon display methodology, but it is consistent across the Journe models. 


The dial, meanwhile, is constructed from solid 18K rose gold, while the case is fashioned from platinum. Though it’s perhaps not as emblematic of the brand as something like the Chronomètre Souverain, its asymmetric display, precious-metal construction, and excellent proportions make for a winning formula. Plus, with automatic winding, it can easily be worn every day.

The Future of Journe Collecting

After looking at a list as impressive as this one, it’s easy to forget that these watches emerged from a manufacturer making fewer than 1,000 pieces each year, and that the entirety of the brand’s existence can be expressed in a mere 25-year history. At the same time, the list represents just a small percentage of the dozens of models the company offers today. The amount that Journe has achieved in this short span rivals many far older manufacturers. 

With the endorsement of many “influencer” watch enthusiasts such as Kevin O’ Leary, these timepieces are receiving growing attention, which, in turn, has also led to a changing client demographic. Journe the maison has been forced to contend with an emerging trading culture and has strictly limited who receives access to their watches to prevent excessive trading. Thus, when you do have the opportunity to purchase a Journe pre-owned, it’s a relatively rare opportunity. Prices continue to climb steadily, and given the brand’s stunning craftsmanship and aesthetics, it isn’t difficult to discern why. Be sure to get in touch with us to check out this incredible marque's wares for yourself!