François-Paul Journe — A Factory of IdealsBy Suzanne Wong
To ardent disciples of fine watchmaking, the name “F.P. Journe” is a clarion call to exalt the values of mechanical ingenuity, high performance and design excellence at the highest levels. The company motto “Invenit et Fecit” (Latin for “invented and made”) refers to the in-house design, construction and production of all its watches. What uniquely distinguishes an F.P. Journe timepiece, however, is not its technical mastery nor its chronometric prowess, although these are undeniably present. In fact, it’s not the presence of anything, but the absence of something that defines an F.P. Journe watch: the absence of compromise.
Everything For a Reason
For example, most watchmakers still see design as a discrete stage in the creative process rather than an underlying element. As such, the external components — case, pushers, crown, dial; call these the “user interface”, if you will — are positioned almost entirely in service to the movement. Things are located where their respective wheels and levers need them to be, and not always to the overall benefit of the watch. At F.P. Journe, the philosophy behind each timepiece is that design takes precedence, because it is the aspect of the watch that is the most directly relevant to the wearer. You’ll be hard‑pressed to find an F.P. Journe watch that isn’t visually balanced with strong symmetries, because these watches go back to the etymological root of the word “design”, which has little to do with aesthetics and everything to do with purpose and intention.
There are no accidents when it comes to an F.P. Journe watch; everything is done deliberately. In the Octa collection, all watches share the same self-winding base movement, but there are variations in the indication of hours and minutes — some models have central hours and minutes while others have off-centered indications. In most cases, you would assume the movement was built to have the time indication in one particular place, and subsequently extra offset wheels were fitted to the movement when it was decided to position the hours and minutes indication elsewhere on the dial. Not with the Octa caliber 1300.3, which was designed from the very beginning to have two possible locations for the time indication, so that a wide variety of additional complications and displays could be accommodated.
The Tourbillon Souverain was launched in 1999, a year of great significance for F.P. Journe enthusiasts, because it was also the year that the celebrated Souveraine collection was created. At the time, it was the only commercially available wristwatch with a tourbillon and remontoire.
What was particularly surprising about the Tourbillon Souverain was its dead-seconds indication, at a time when the mechanical watch industry was still super paranoid about associating itself with the quartz oscillator. Combining the tourbillon and dead seconds in a single movement was a mission statement of sorts, because these two features are particularly prone to messing with chronometric performance; that’s just how they are. The remontoire helped with that, of course, but it was also a way to show how serious they were about fine watchmaking at F.P. Journe.
The Octa Collection
The entire Octa collection is built on a single self-winding movement. That’s pretty terrific, especially when you consider the range of functions expressed in the full collection, and that all the individual calibers have the exact same dimensions.
The best thing about the Octa collection, however, even in light of its versatility and self-winding utility,
is how different all of the models look. Even when two models share the same combination of complications, such as the Octa Automatique Lune and the Octa Divine, both of which have a large
date and moonphase display, they look distinct — the date is larger in the Octa Divine, and the moonphase disc is in a completely different place. It only serves to highlight the commitment of F.P. Journe to creating the most visually pleasing timepieces, to the extent of modifying each and every movement to best suit an individual model, in this case building the caliber 1300.3 from the ground up to accommodate two locations for the time display (central and off-centered).
Chronomètre à Résonance
Resonance is the tendency for an oscillating system to exhibit its greatest amplitude when excited at its natural frequency. Resonance, therefore, is in play in every single mechanical watch out there: the balance and hairspring wouldn’t work otherwise.
What most of us are actually thinking of when we talk about resonance is the phenomenon of locked harmonic oscillation, where adjacent oscillating systems with the same natural frequency become phase-aligned in an environment of mutual and secondary excitation, resulting in higher vibrational stability (which translates to better chronometric results) and energy efficiency (boosting Q factor, reducing energy consumption, increasing isochronous half-life).
To see this take place in the F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance, you need only a smartphone and some patience. Over the course of about 20 minutes, having first jiggled the watch around so the twin balances were unsynchronized, I filmed the movement in slow motion with my iPhone and watched as the balances inexorably drew each other back into full phase alignment.
It is debatable, whether the benefits of a phase-locked twin-oscillator system can be fully incorporated into a wristwatch, with its low-inertia balances, high frequency (compared to the 18th-century pendulum clocks that were first built around this principle), constant state of motion, and the overall sensitivity of such a system. Indeed, if you’re after the most precise time you’ve ever had in your life, then that might not be a good reason to get this watch. What is a good reason to buy this watch is its beauty. Savor the mirror symmetry of its rose-gold movement, the reflected motion of the free-sprung balances, the central pinion that engages with one of the balances to allow fine adjustment of the distance between balances, the screwed dial plates, the differing displays of 12-hour and 24-hour time.
This is the high point of the F.P. Journe collection. There are other sonneries. There are other rattrapante chronographs. There are other jumping digital-time watches. There is only one Chronomètre à Résonance.
The one watch in the entire Souveraine line that comes closest to a basic everyday watch, the Chronomètre Souverain has hours, minutes, small seconds and power reserve — just the essentials, all killer, no filler. The two barrels with low-torque mainsprings provide 56 hours of power reserve, which drive a free-sprung balance beating at 3Hz (21,600vph).
The “Chronomètre” part of its name refers not only to the precision of its timekeeping, but also to the visual inspiration taken from traditional marine chronometers. The double barrel is one such feature, an indication of the extreme care needed to stabilize the regulating organ at sea. Another aspect, which you’ll find throughout the Souveraine collection, is the indication of power reserve, which points to the zero mark when fully wound rather than indicate the remaining power reserve (as is far more common).
The object of the Chronomètre Optimum is to provide optimal chronometry in a wristwatch, and it does so by addressing a number of key points. The first is variable mainspring torque. If you have a mainspring that gives off a whole bunch of energy at first and then drastically falters at the end, you’re going to have problems towards the latter half of your power reserve. Even if you have a perfectly isochronous balance, which maintains a constant period of oscillation despite amplitude fluctuations, the fact is that a wristwatch is continually moving around and the balance is always on the receiving end of some uncalled-for interference.
The Chronomètre Optimum has two low-power mainspring barrels in parallel, which goes some way towards flattening the mainspring torque curve. Going one step further, the caliber 1510 also has a remontoir d’égalité to aid in the delivery of a constant level of torque to the escapement. This isn’t just any old remontoire: it’s a one-second spring remontoire that re-arms itself every second so perfectly even packets of energy can be transmitted to the balance. This, thanks to the precisely geared and tensioned system, also conveniently provides a sharp and instantaneous dead-seconds indication.
Now we come to the special double direct impulse escapement, which could have been problematic, but isn’t in this case, since the one-second remontoire takes care of all variable torque issues. Unlike a regular anchor escapement, the unlocking and impulse points are separated here, allowing for a freer oscillation for the benefit of overall chronometric performance. The action of this escapement also involves rolling rather than sliding friction at the point of impulse, which is a big plus if you want a lubrication-free regulator. This is super important, because all oils degrade over time, and there can be a splatter problem if improperly applied.
There’s a long tradition behind the wandering hour. Supposedly it originated with some 17th-century pope who wanted a night clock he could read in the dark. He commissioned a backlit wandering-hour clock, and the rest is (literally) history. The trick with the Vagabondage is not only that there are associations of wandering in the name, but it also contains a certain amount of tension and energy in its syllables, which fits nicely with the jumping-time indication that characterizes two incarnations of this amazing watch.
Jumping-time indications, especially when there’s more than one disc involved, are notoriously energy-hungry. The good news is, there’s a remontoire, and that solves the matter for the Vagabondage. Extra load on the system comes once every 10 seconds, when an additional seconds disc jumps, and on the hour, when the digital hour disc jumps. The latter load is not so much of a problem, as the secondary power reservoir that is the remontoire only services the balance and the jumping seconds, while the hours disc and minute hand obtain energy from further up the gear train.
The Vagabondage III was a world’s first when it debuted in 2017, and it’s still very much a world’s only, since no one else has attempted jumping digital seconds. The flat tortue case sets it apart from the rest of the F.P. Journe collection, but the style of the numerals, the hands and — for those who look a little closer — the remontoire, are immediate markers of provenance, even without any branding on the watch dial.