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François-Paul Journe: inventive and independent, with a...

François-Paul Journe: inventive and independent, with a heart of gold

Thursday, 31 January 2019
By Victoria Townsend
Victoria Townsend

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6 min read

Last December, François-Paul Journe was in Paris to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the F.P. Journe boutique. He was visibly pleased to be among friends, including some of his very first customers.

Paris is one of nine F.P. Journe boutiques in the world, and the fourth to celebrate its 10th anniversary, after Tokyo, Hong Kong and Geneva. Like all the boutiques and the timepieces they display, it is the fruit of the long road that Journe has travelled since his unruly school years in Marseille, where his independent spirit did not always serve to his advantage. The restoration of clocks at his Uncle Michel’s shop in Paris, to where he was sent, the years of watchmaking studies and the discovery of Abraham-Louis Breguet, thanks to his mentor and “spiritual father” George Daniels, developed his passion and channelled his free thinking into the search for “that which did not yet exist”. He designed and made his first timepiece – a tourbillon pocket watch – entirely by hand “because I wanted one and there were none available at the time,” he tells us. Invenit et Fecit. He was in his early twenties and working at his Uncle’s shop during the entire five years, from 1978 to 1983, which it took to complete. In the meantime, his second timepiece was nothing less than a specially ordered Planetarium, which again he completely designed and developed. Along with his determination “to invent and make” came the strength to decide and choose.

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The Centigraphe Souverain Anniversaire
As for all boutiques celebrating their 10th anniversary, this watch is a limited series of ten with Paris engraved on the back. This is a beauty, in a 40mm polished titanium case with a ruthenium dial that displays elapsed times from 1/100th of a second to 10 minutes. The manual-winding Calibre 1506 is in 18k rose gold.
Determined and independent

His decision to withdraw from Baselworld seventeen years ago is one taken by many brands today, and for the same reasons. His first participation was in 1987, as a member of the AHCI – Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants. “At the time,” says Journe, “I was making bespoke timepieces to order. I went to Basel for the pleasure. George Daniels was exhibiting there with the AHCI and we weren’t looking for clients. We returned again… 1990, 1991, and then I stopped for seven years because I had nothing special to show. I returned in 1999 with the Tourbillon Remontoir d’Egalité, a world’s first, then in 2000 to present the Régulateur à Résonance, the first wristwatch with resonance, and again in 2001 when we had our own booth. But I left Baselworld in 2002 because I had asked for a specific location and ended up somewhere else, in a place I didn’t want. It was also becoming quite expensive, so I suggested to my then retailers that I stop investing in Basel, use the money to advertise, and have them come visit me once a year in Geneva. And they agreed.”

Another decision is the refusal to have the Poinçon de Genève on F.P. Journe timepieces.

Another decision is the refusal to have the Poinçon de Genève on F.P. Journe timepieces; Journe believes each brand should be its own judge of the watches it produces. “And to take matters even further,” he continues, “I do not inscribe ‘Swiss Made’ on my watches. ‘Swiss Made’ is good for Swatch. If we at F.P. Journe were to use it, it would mean I make only 60% of each of my watches, but”, he smiles again, “we make 100% of each of our watches!”

Good causes and discretion

François-Paul Journe is as loyal in friendship as he is discreet about his charitable actions. Japan is one of his favourite countries. “In 2001 I’d just finished the N° 1 Centigraphe, requested by a client who wanted a sports watch, when the tsunami hit. I decided to offer the Centigraphe instead to Christie’s for auction in Hong Kong, where it sold for US$ 450,000. The money was donated to Médecins du Monde and to an architect who constructed a communal building in Sendai to help the victims.”

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F.P. Journe, Invenit et Fecit, the book
Also presented was the richly documented “F.P. Journe Invenit et Fecit”, written by Jean-Pierre Grosz (published by Editions Montres Journe S.A.). From the first baby pictures in 1957 to photos of the Vagabondage III and élégante, the book provides 360 pages of personal and professional insights and anecdotes.

In addition to the tsunami relief, the F.P. Journe Monopusher Split-Seconds Chronograph with his first split-seconds movement fetched a whopping CHF 1,150,000 at the 2017 Only Watch auction, in aid of the non-profit AMM – Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophy. From the very beginning, 30% of the profits from all Centigraphe watches have been donated to yet another cause –- the ICM Brain and Spinal Cord Institute in Paris. In addition, the Young Talent Competition that he began in 2015 with the AHCI awards a diploma to the best young watchmaker together with a CHF 3,000 grant to buy tools. In collaboration with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in 2018, the winner is also given free access to FHH certification. So what advice would he give to a young watchmaker? “You have to hang on, resist, be determined,” he says, “as I had to do (smiling). It shouldn’t be too easy; don’t accept too much help, so that you can develop your own free will.”

The future and Chanel

Monsieur Journe looks to the future. At midnight on December 31st 2018, the brand stopped taking orders for the most complicated piece he has ever made: the Sonnerie Souveraine, “with 912 hammer strikes every day, or 34,053 triggerings per year. I’ve made 50 of them, but we have to move on to other things, and with production of only 900 watches per year, we can’t do everything.” He’s currently working on an “astronomical watch” for the 2019 edition of Only Watch which, he says “isn’t a Planetarium, but a watch for astronomers, with sky measurements, equation of time, etc. A watch such as this takes between three and four years to make.” The new Centigraphe Sport 2, recently presented with a yellow dial in the lineSport collection, will be available in gold or platinum with gold or platinum bracelets respectively. And of course other lines will be developed, too.

Why did Journe allow Chanel to buy 20% of his company?

Given his thirst for independence, the final question had to be about Chanel. Why did he allow Chanel to buy 20% of his company? The reply is quick and to the point. “Firstly, they are my friends; secondly, they love horology; thirdly, I wanted to close the doors to predators in the event I have an accident tomorrow. There are no particular problems, but you can never foresee an accident. The F.P. Journe door is now locked and bolted against the publicly-listed watch companies. That way, my children, who are not watchmakers – one is a historian and the youngest wants to play professional basketball – have all the time it takes to discuss with people who are not… who are nice. Of course I think about the future. Unfortunately, transitions exist, as with Cartier. I believe that when a brand is deeply rooted and strong, it generally continues. Brands that fail and fall often don’t have a good image to begin with. You need to work seriously to develop and keep a good image.”

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