Welcome back to an original aBlogtoWatch feature, “My First Grail Watch.” In this series, we ask prominent people in the watch industry about the first timepiece that they lusted after. Today, we’re talking with Francois-Paul Journe, who heads up his eponymous brand, F.P. Journe. Coincidentally, he’s just celebrated 30 years with the company, so our interview could not have occurred at a better time.
aBlogtoWatch (ABTW): Who are you, and what is your relationship to the watch industry?
Francois-Paul Journe (FPJ): I consider myself as a mechanical engineer and watch constructor above all – of course, I am a watchmaker as well. It is more than a passion, it is my life! I believe I am one of the only watchmakers to continue producing watches in the same manner and with the same respect as it used to be done when horology was a science.
There are fundamental values in high horology that pertain from the last 250 years that needs to be respected. I mark it as a point of honor to continue working like our great masters of the 18th century used to. The politeness of a watch is to give time, with precision, and that is what I am doing. I am totally against watch creations that have nothing to do with time anymore but which are purely marketing realizations, without any soul or fundamental respect of the horological ethic.
In an increasingly segmented industry, few watchmakers have the opportunity to create a watch from start to finish, and even less are able to follow its destiny. In our Manufacture, our watchmakers pursue their training and hone their skills by working with new, exclusive and technically innovative calibres. Each watchmaker is responsible for making a specific watch, from beginning to end, according to his professional affinities – and above all his technical sensitivity. This how a real watch should be made and we are only a very few still working like this. I cannot consider making watches any way otherwise.
ABTW: When did your fascination with watches start ?
FPJ: At watchmaking school I finally found something that interested me. I really realized the potential of creativity and satisfaction I could get when I worked in my uncle’s workshop – a famous restorer in antique horology – in Saint-Germain-des-Prés! It was an extraordinary collaboration that allowed me to discover amazing historical timepieces, and dive with passion into the history of time. I wanted to know everything, understand everything.
I discovered the intellectual process of brillant minds from 18th centuries such as Antide Janvier, Abraham Louis Breguet, Berthoud, and few others. Getting into the heart of their creations, I was amazed with what they had done with the very limited tools they had at that time. Chronometry was a serious concern then! Watchmakers were considered like scientists. Today, we call a person who can change a battery a watchmaker.
I really feel I became a constructor in chronometric mechanisms at the age of 25, when I finished my first (all handmade) pocket watch with tourbillon and remontoir. It took me five years to complete it during my spare time and weekends. You don’t learn this in watchmaking school… When it was finished, I spent 24 hours straight gazing at it when it first started ticking!
ABTW: What was your first grail watch, that one piece you believed would be an apex of your collection at the time?
FPJ: Apart of my very first tourbillon pocket watch, it is certainly the Sonnerie Souveraine, the most difficult and most accomplished horological creation ever realized. It meant six years of research for the Invenit and 10 patents for the Fecit, over 500 components, 4 month of assembling, adjusting and fine tuning, and this without counting the manufacturing of the components entirely produced in our central Geneva Manufacture.
It takes a truly great watchmaker to make a grand sonnerie, and I do mean GREAT. There are very, very, few companies, let alone individual watchmakers, in the whole history of horology that have designed and constructed a wristwatch with a functional grande et petite sonnerie with minute repeater. The result is a safe to use Grande Sonnerie with a low-tension movement and gentle mechanisms that have to be very finely adjusted to ensure unfailing chimes 35,040 times a year.
ABTW: What drew you to this particular watch and movement?
FPJ: Grand strike clock watches were previously extremely delicate to use, with the least wrong manipulation proving fatal to the mechanism – for instance, setting the time while the chimes were ringing. My objective was to construct a grand strike that could be used by a child without any risk of damage. This goal was one of the most difficult in my career, and certainly the one that has given me the widest challenge.
The Sonnerie Souveraine F.P.Journe is today the only grand strike totally safe to use. In order to make it even more special, this watch does not have a reference number. Instead, it has the name of its owner engraved on the case and the movement. It makes this unique timepiece even more special for its wearer and makes him feel he is part of the history.
ABTW: Your first grail was one you created – what brought you to that task?
FPJ: My first tourbillon pocket watch which was my dream or grail at the time, and as I couldn’t afford to buy one, I constructed one myself.
ABTW: Do you still have the pocket watch?
FPJ: Yes of course. I still have it – it is part of the personal collection of F.P.Journe. And even if I continue to create other innovative and precise mechanics, like the Chronomètre à Résonance or the Chronomètre Optimum, or new timepieces to come, my first tourbillon will always remain my first watch, and the Grande Sonnerie will always remain the Grande Sonnerie.
Our thanks go to Mr. Journe for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us, and of course we extend our congratulations on hitting the 30-year milestone!