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Purpose Built

<< Back to Robb Report, 2014 Watch Collector

François-paul journe resists attempts to label his watchmaking techniques with descriptors such as “contemporary.” “I’m simply creating my own style,” he insists, “not doing things for the sake of another style.” In fact, Journe has remained as individualistic as ever, because in many ways the leaders in watchmaking have come around to his methods. Journe has consistently developed his watches around a well-defined concept; consider the chronometrically minded Tourbillon Souveraine or steel-cased (for ultimate sound quality) Sonnerie Souveraine. At the same time, he has pursued a set of aesthetic goals, like well-proportioned thinness, which is now back in fashion. His two most recent efforts, a multi-feature chronometer and an all-in perpetual calendar, both stand as excellent examples of the new, postmodern style of watchmaking because each of their complex assemblies aligns with the larger purpose and identity of the timepiece.

In the case of the Chronométre Optimum, that purpose is accuracy. “For me, this watch is a pure base to create the utmost precision,” he says. Watchmakers have experimented with double barrels, the remontoir spring, and new escapement designs many times in history, but they have never combined them.” The remontoir d’égalité, a device that provides constant force to the escapement (preventing a loss of accuracy as the mainspring winds down), was a feature of Journe’s early Tourbillon Souveraine. In the Chronométre Optimum, that mechanism is crafted in titanium, and its operation powers an unusual reverse-deadbeat seconds display on the caseback. Journe’s escapement—the component that both powers and regulates the oscillating balance wheel—is a completely new construction. The two-wheel design is intended to send impulses more directly to the balance than conventional escapements, providing energy efficiency and stability, with the added benefit of requiring no lubrication.

It is easy to admire Journe’s pursuit of accuracy, as do many watchmakers who are themselves experimenting with mechanisms like the constant force device. Journe’s other new creation, his Quantième Perpetual (or perpetual calendar), occupies a category that many watchmakers have ignored in the past few years. However, the focus and coordination of its functions make this timepiece as much of a study in contemporary watchmaking as its newfangled cousin.

According to Journe, his concept for the Quantième Perpetual was driven by three principles: improved visibility, improved function, and ease of handling for the owner. To achieve these goals, Journe designed a system for instantaneous date change visible through large windows, as well as a setting system which, except for months, is operated through the crown. As user-friendly as these functions seem, they are among the most daunting challenges in perpetual calendar design. Creating the instant jump on numeral discs rather than hands in particular gave Journe and his team fits. “Parts that move in a fraction of a second don’t stop by themselves,” he quips. “Stopping discs accurately is much more difficult than with hands because of the extra inertia. It probably added six extra months to the development.”

One of the less heralded aspects of Journe’s two most recent timepieces is the fact that both, despite their complexity, are thinner than 11 mm. Journe credits this to his own style of movement design, which he has been able to refine thanks to an early investment in his own manufacturing facility. “Most watchmakers tend to work in layers, which leaves them with a very thick watch,” he explains. “While I also work in layers, I can put things next to each other, working in width rather than height.”

Aesthetics, however, are not just a side benefit of Journe’s methods, but an essential part of the creative process. “I usually know what I want to do when I start drawing,” he says. “The watch must be beautiful not just ornamentally, but balanced with its technical functions.”

F.P. Journe, 305.531.2600,