F.P. Journe

Watchmaking freedom and mastery

Yannick Nardin
F.P. Journe
Summer 2023

Geneva is like heaven on earth for watch lovers, a breeding ground for small and large brands, some of which are practically institutions like Rolex and Patek Philippe. Here, “outsider” François-Paul Journe, a talented master watchmaker from Marseille, figured out how to make a name for himself. His creations, which are as rare as they are consistently excellent, strike a special chord for collectors.

What’s the international recipe for making a luxury watch? A sprinkle of innovation, a large pinch of tradition, and lots of aesthetics, without forgetting the expert know-how and the technology of course! In practice, each watchmaker experiments with their own spin on the recipe, adjusting to suit their particular goals and preferences. And François-Paul Journe makes no secret of his: it’s the 18th century that makes him tick, an era when Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon and Antide Janvier invented double pendulum clocks, also known as Resonance clocks. This rich heritage provides ample inspiration for François-Paul Journe, who works to both preserve and revive that history, in his quest to innovate, safeguard, and perhaps even surpass the high expectations of luxury watchmaking. As a true defender of history and watch culture, in 2015 he even acquired Jean-Claude Sabrier’s specialized library at auction for CHF 760,000; a testament to his commitment.

From Marseille to Geneva

François-Paul Journe must have been born under a lucky watchmaking star in 1957, because by the age of 14 he was already so passionate about watchmaking that he left his hometown of Marseille for Paris, where his uncle then taught him the art of restoration. It was an opportunity for Journe to restore some of history’s greatest treasures to their former glory. But the young man had big dreams and even bigger ambitions... After becoming a master watchmaker and designer, Journe created movements for other watch brands until he decided he was ready to establish his very own watch brand in Geneva.

His time had come. Journe was finally ready to fully develop his passion and reveal his artistic vision to the larger public, with innovative timepieces that act as “the link between the golden age of horological science and contemporary watchmaking.” In 1999, François-Paul Journe launched the first Tourbillon Souverain with a remonteur d’égalité in wristwatch form — the first of many exceptional designs to come. The watchmaker also unveiled a collection of chronometers that were signed “F.P. Journe — Invenit et Fecit” (Latin for “invented and made,” which certifies each piece is an entirely original conception by Journe and composed with rigorous craftsmanship). His name thus became an iconic brand, and he became known as one of the world’s best contemporary independent watchmakers.

Freedom and fine watchmaking

Master watchmaker François-Paul Journe remains at the head of the brand as its eternal guardian. He rigorously supervises the development of all components, designing each watch like a work of art that expertly marries creativity with technological know-how. With the utmost respect for tradition, Journe integrates innovative materials like tantalum and aluminium to create exceptional mechanisms, like the FCC, for example, which stands for Francis-Ford Coppola (with whom he developed the concept), and which features a hand with animated fingers to indicate the hours.

François-Paul Journe knew that independence was the only way to guarantee total creative freedom. That’s why he still produces almost every single component required for making his watches, including the movements, cases, and dials. He has since achieved much notoriety and won many awards in recognition of his extraordinary work. François-Paul Journe is the most awarded watchmaker of the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix, and, in 2006, the French Minister of Culture named him a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

F.P. Journe watches are in high demand, and when they go up for auction they are listed as the headliners (and have been for years), along with other big-name brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe. Producing only around 900 pieces each year, F.P. Journe’s watches are rare and enduring, equipped with exceptional complications that are highly sought-after by collectors. In May 2023, Christie’s held an auction to celebrate François-Paul Journe, featuring 40 of his watches — a unique moment in horology history. The star of the show was his Tourbillon Souverain from 1999, which sold for CHF 2,707,000. Despite this success and recognition, the watchmaker is wary of profiteering, and continues to steadfastly apply his philosophy of minimal marketing, and maximal watchmaking value.