May 2020 36 Min Read

A Collectors Guide to Early F. P. Journe

By A Collected Man

Chapter II of III

Francois-Paul Journe can only be admired for the ingenuity and refinement with which he designs his watches. Part of the reason why his early pieces have gained such fervent enthusiasm from collectors is that they truly allow you to observe the gradual evolution of the brand. The proximity with the man, and what he was attempting to create, is tangible. It can be caught on a caseback engraving or glimpsed at from the finishing on a dial. 

Having previously covered the story of F.P. Journe prior to establishing his own brand, within the context of our three-part series, we now move onto our Collectors’ Guide, to the first three watches that F.P. Journe produced. Breaking down the Tourbillon Souverain, Chronomètre à Résonance and Octa Réserve de Marche, we attempt to highlight their key features and evolution from one generation to the next. We also hope to detail and quantify the different variations of each model, through our own experience handling these pieces, as well as insights provided by collectors and experts.

We chose to look at these three references, not only as they were the first to be introduced by the brand, but also because they embody specific goals that Francois-Paul was hoping to achieve in his early years. Focusing on brass movement models, before Journe eventually transitioned to gold, also felt appropriate. These are widely accepted as best representing the first period of the manufacture’s history, and to some in the collector community, the first brush strokes of the watchmaker.

Our attempt to put forward a guide to these early models is by no means exhaustive or complete. As new information emerges, we hope to keep this updated, so that it may act as a helpful reference point to budding and experienced collectors alike. It is also worth noting that while the information provided is as accurate as possible, exceptions and anomalies, which go against the indications set out below, do exist. With F.P. Journe still very much being an artisanal operation in the early days, consistency in production to the level of larger manufacturers should not be expected. In fact, from our point of view, it’s probably not even desirable.

The three foundational models: the Octa Réserve de Marche, the Chronomètre a Resonance and the Tourbillon Souverain.

We would also like to point out the information shared in this guide builds on the research and efforts of others who have meticulously studied these pieces; we would like to thank them and will credit their research throughout. Specifically, we would like to thank Pierre Halimi, Gino Cukrowicz, Osama Sendi (The Journe Guy), Felipe Jordão, SJX, Shawn Mehta, Anthony Kingsley and Rexhep Rexhepi. All of them have been essential in putting this article together.

While these three watches were announced in the order mentioned above, according to Pierre Halimi, a friend of Journe’s for over 30 years and the current General Manager for the brand in North America, Journe wanted to release his time only Chronomètre Souverain first, in 1999. However, he was shrewd enough to realise that he needed to prove his worth as a watchmaker, before he could pursue a project such as this. He had to offer something that no one else in the industry could. A prime example of his pragmatism. Executing a complex tourbillon and harnessing the power of resonance certainly achieved that. In the case of F.P. Journe, it certainly cannot be posited that the tagline “Invenit et Fecit” was merely dreamt-up by a marketing team. 

In combination, the three models we focus on summarise much of Francois-Paul Journe’s early vision. The Tourbillon Souverain is an homage to Breguet and Daniels, a sort of graduation into the pantheon of the great watchmakers of the past. The Chronomètre à Resonance is the watchmaker’s first significant attempt to conquer new ground. The Octa Réserve de Marche, for some time less celebrated by collectors than the previous two, is noteworthy for building the foundation of a whole series of complicated models which would follow in later years.

The Tourbillion Souverain

It is no coincidence that Journe chose for his first pocket watch and wristwatch to be a tourbillon, the complication designed by Abraham Louis Breguet to counter-act the effect of gravity on the regularity of horological movements.

In this section, we will be breaking the model down into four generations identified by collectors and scholars: the Souscription, with 20 examples produced in 1999; the second generation, with either 16 or 17 watches made in 1999; the third generation, with around 60 pieces completed between 1999 and 2001; and finally the fourth generation, with an estimated 220 to 320 watches produced between 2001 and 2003. On top of these, one should also be aware of the Ruthenium models made between 2001 and 2003, in a limited run of 99 pieces.

According to Osama Sendi, otherwise known as The Journe Guy, an expert on F.P. Journe who has been studying the heritage of the brand for the past several years, the Souscription and the second series were actually made in parallel, rather than sequentially. Some of the Souscription Tourbillons were actually delivered as late as 2000, later than some of the earlier second-generation watches.

A Souscription T (top), a third generation T with a rose gold dial (right) and a fourth generation T with a yellow gold dial (left).

The changes we can observe across these four generations are interesting, as they mark the evolution from a single watchmaker individually crafting his pieces, to a more established company capable of consistently repeating the same quality. The quirks and unusual details of the early pieces – from the shimmer of the dial to the depth of the engraving on the caseback – help tell this story. For the following section, we would like to specifically thank Felipe Jordão and Jiaxian Su, otherwise known as SJX, for their foundational research in the field of these early tourbillon wristwatches, which we aim to build upon here.

The Dial

The early dials on F.P. Journe watches have been an area of particular fascination for collectors, on account of their different inscriptions, colours and shimmer. The Souscription Tourbillons, which we’ve either had the opportunity to handle privately or view publicly, have all displayed the classic, yellow gold dial plate that many associate with this model. It is understood that they were all fitted with this design, which presents its own distinctive features. 

An early hand-finished dial on Souscription Tourbillon, distinguishable for being numbered on the dial, as well as featuring a small font on the power reserve and a rounded remontoire cock.

It’s when we move into the second generation that we start to see white gold dial plates, and then in the third where rose is introduced into the collection. Across all configurations, it is understood that yellow gold is the most common dial material, followed by white gold. Seldom seen, rose gold is the rarest variation. F.P. Journe also produced a Ruthenium-coated dial, as part of the Ruthenium collection, which also happens to be the only model to be housed in a 40mm case, instead of the more classic 38mm format.

The earliest dials were hand-finished, leaving them with some very faint parallel scratches on the surface, barely visible at an angle. By many accounts, it appears that hand-finishing stopped at some point during the third generation. Rather noticeably, early dials also featured a layer of clear lacquer, giving them a distinctively shinier surface and the impression that the text on the dial almost floats above it. This feature also disappears during the third generation, replaced by a more matte finish overall. As a rule of thumb, as time progresses, the dials gradually lose their shimmer and intensity, becoming more matte and subdued in colour. 

A Souscription T (left), a third-generation T (middle), a fourth generation T (right).

Inspecting the font on the dial, you can also see continuity between the Souscription and the second generation, with many of the same features being retained. Indeed, a smaller font is used for the power reserve, as well as smaller dots to indicate the seconds around the tourbillon aperture.

In contrast to the Souscription, however, the second generation features a “Remontoir d’Egalité” indication at 12 o’clock. This inscription remains in place until the end of the series. It’s worth noting that early-on, a curved apostrophe was used, a feature appearing consistently during the second generation, which seems to disappear at some point during the third.

Flat remontoire cock, larger screws and scaled-up font on the power reserve of a third generation example with rose gold dial.

Further on, with the advent of the third generation, the font size on the power reserve is scaled-up again, almost to the same level as that of the minute track in the silver sub-dial. Following this, the lettering and numerals remain the same on the dial until the line was discontinued.

We also start to see some structural changes taking place as we enter the third generation, with the remontoir cock now lying flush with the dial, where it was previously rounded. In fact, when looking at a Souscription or second generation, the balance cock is often what most people turn to first, as a distinguishing feature. 

Flat remontoire cock and large power reserve font on a fourth generation.

Then, as we move into the fourth generation, the screws holding the dial plate shrink in size. It’s worth noting that the screws on the caseback also change from normal flatheads, to holt heads with three notches in the top. These screws were also retrofitted to earlier models when they came in for service at the manufacture, which is why they are also known to appear on earlier pieces. 

The first and last generation, side by side.

Whilst quite uniform overall, there is also some subtle variation in the style of the subdials. Some feature a two-tone finish, with a silver outer-ring, while others are more uniformly white. This appears to be sequential, with the two-tone examples featuring more consistently on earlier models, though exceptions to this do exist. We will expand on this topic in the section on the Chronomètre à Resonance, as many of the same variations appear there. 

The Movement

The movement that powered these tourbillon watches was the calibre 1498, which Journe himself produced. Made entirely from rhodium-plated brass, these might seem at odds with what the manufacture is known for today, but as a young company, keeping costs down was important, with brass being more affordable than the gold he would eventually transition to. 

However, while the metal might not have been precious, the finishing was still of a very high quality. While there was a display-back fitted on all early models, not much of the movement can be seen, as the mechanism is covered by a large base plate, finished in classic Côtes de Genève style.

Movement side with a Souscription Tourbillon.

This covering of the movement may have been a result of George Daniels’ influence, as the watchmaker was far more concerned with the functioning of the timepiece, than displaying its aesthetic properties. That being said, the intricacy of the movement can still be seen through the apertures on the dial, with the tourbillon and remontoir on full display.

The calibre holds 25 jewels and a shock-absorber mechanism, along with a straight-line lever escapement, and monometallic four arm balance with four timing weights, adjusted to five positions. Visible inside the tourbillon cage is the self-compensating free-sprung flat balance spring.

A seldom-seen third generation with a rose gold dial.

If you look closely on the Souscription and second generation, you may also notice a small hole on edge of the cage, which helped ensure that the tourbillon cage is properly balanced. Displayed through an aperture at 6 o’clock, the constant force remontoir mechanism ensures that the energy coming from the mainspring doesn’t fluctuate as it winds down.

The Case and Numbering System

The Tourbillon Souverain is understood to only have been produced in platinum and rose gold, with the latter being rarer. This is also the case for the Chronomètre à Resonance and the Octa Réserve de Marche. This may have been due to the fact that platinum was more widely desired than rose gold, both on account of its exclusivity and versatility. 

Interestingly, an early brochure for the Tourbillon Souverain, accompanying one of the Souscription models we’ve had the opportunity to handle, seems to suggest that cases were initially offered in platinum, yellow gold, rose gold and white gold (“boîte en platine ou or jaune, blanc ou rouge”). It seems that this was only an early idea, potentially abandoned due to the difficulty of setting-up a broad production line.

An extract from an early Tourbillon Souverain brochure, indicating the model may have been initially offered (but not made) in more metals.

The case design remains broadly unchanged throughout the lifetime of the model, with some small changes here and there (in the design of the platinum hallmark, for example). Watches from the first generation distinguish themselves by being the only ones to have their serial numbers printed on the dial, as well as on the caseback. This was done in a XX/20 format, to show where in the run of twenty subscription models a specific watch came.

Following these, the second generation of tourbillons were numbered on the caseback in the form of “No. XX” up until the 34th model produced. The 35th introduced a new numbering system, along the XX/99T format. The “99” refers to the year 1999 and the “T” stands for Tourbillon. With this new numbering system, we enter the third generation, estimated to go up to 9X/01T. Then comes the fourth, and final generation, which takes us from 9X/01T up until XXX/03T. Adopting its own rules entirely, the Ruthenium edition was numbered XX/99-01T, in order to signal its limited nature.

 A fourth generation, with case number 13X/01T.

Curiously enough, the year 2000 seems to have been entirely omitted from the numbering system. Based on publicly known examples, it appears that the case numbers jump straight from 1999 to 2001, with no case from the year 2000 having appeared at market, or on forums. We know that F.P. Journe was not against using the 00 indication, as Resonance cases in the XX/00R range have appeared.

A potential explanation could be that Journe ordered his cases in batches. It may be that a larger order was placed in 1999 to cover production until a new batch needed to be ordered in 2001. We are familiar with one particularly rare example with a rose gold dial (bearing the number 8X/01T) where the movement was produced in 2000, and the watch was cased in 2001, as confirmed by F.P. Journe. It may have been that the movement was produced in late 2000 and cased once new cases were delivered in 2001.

Following the same logic, some examples dating from 1999, may house a movement made in 2000, having then been enclosed in an earlier case. This would be unusual, but not impossible. Indeed, Shawn Mehta, a collector of F.P. Journe watches, close to the brand through his stepfather Gino Cukrowicz, an early partner and shareholder in the brand, brings some insight. Mehta had the opportunity to handle a Resonance with a case made in 1999 (when it was first ordered), that was actually cased in 2000, the year that the Resonance was introduced. Regardless of the above, this is just speculation, with no official confirmation as to what the actual reason may have been. 

Shallow engravings on a Souscription Tourbillon (left) versus deep engravings, applied by laser, on a later T (right).

Throughout production, we also see the style of engraving on the caseback change. While all of the watches come with a display caseback, there is a substantial amount of engraving around the circumference of the crystal. The technique used to inscribe these changed as we enter the fourth generation, transitioning from a fairly light hand engraving (with a burin), to a much deeper and uniform lettering applied by laser, which is still used to this day. 

This distinction is often referred to by collectors as “shallow” versus “deep” engraving. This is yet another indicator of Francois-Paul Journe refining his production process, gradually moving towards a more systematic methodology.

Production Figures and Details

The Chronomètre à Resonance

As Rexhep Rexhepi, an independent watchmaker who previously worked for Journe, put it, “When I think of Francois-Paul Journe, I think of the Resonance.” For Rexhepi, having the opportunity to work on this model while at F.P. Journe was “a childhood dream come true.”

Indeed, the Chronomètre à Resonance has become synonymous with the watchmaker, as one of his most ingenious and recognised inventions. Initially, unsuccessfully attempted in a pocket watch in 1983, Journe was able to hone the phenomenon of acoustic resonance in a wristwatch some fifteen years later, with the prototypes displayed at the 1999 Basel Fair.

Mastering Resonance

First recorded by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the 1600s, we see early examples of resonance being used in horology in the 18th century by the French clockmaker Antide Janvier, who was the royal clockmaker to King Louis XVI. It is worth noting that, at the time, the process had not yet been named resonance, a term later coined by Francois-Paul Journe.

Francois-Paul Journe alongside a regulator clock by Antide Janvier, which now sits in the meeting room of his workshop. On his wrist is a Chronomètre à Resonance, which operates along the same principles.

What Huygens, Janvier and later Breguet and Journe all realised was that the oscillating movement of an escape wheel or pendulum releases energy. Part of that energy can be heard in the “tic tak” of your watch movement, however the rest of it is released and lost into the air.

By simply placing two of these regulating systems extremely close to each other, it was found that they could feed off each other’s energy, thus regulating one another and gaining precision.

A conceptual drawing for the Chronomètre a Resonance, from 1999, alongside the dial of the first prototype, with an amusing typo on it, courtesy of The Journe Guy.

While the phenomenon may have been documented for some time, no one had put resonance to work in a wristwatch before. A more experienced watchmaker than when he first attempted to tackle the project, Journe began development of this in 1994. He went through months of adjustments, carrying a prototype movement in his pocket, so that he could occasionally put it to his ear and listen for the resonance. It was finally finished, cased and dialled in 1998.

Apparently, this prototype was secretly worn on Journe’s wrist at the 1998 Basel Fair, before being properly exhibited the following year. That watch unfortunately no longer exists, as the gold case was melted down and reused, while the movement was disassembled. A heavily aged dial still exists.

Funnily enough, as Journe shared in a talk at the Horological Society of New York, this dial features a mistake on the word Resonance, spelt “Resonnance.” As Journe himself put it, “this dial proves that I was not very diligent in school, because there is a big spelling mistake.”

The Evolution of the Resonance

In addition to the twenty Souscription Tourbillons, few people are aware that Journe also produced twenty Souscription Resonances. According Gino Cukrowicz, one of the first retailers for the brand and a shareholder in Montres Journe SA, the clients who purchased the Souscription Tourbillons were also offered the chance to buy a Souscription Resonance. They were given the right of first refusal on the matching serial number which, unlike the tourbillon, was only inscribed on the caseback.

Cukrowicz points out that most of the deliveries of the Souscription Resonance occurred through his retail point, Ginotti, in Antwerp, or through La Pendulerie, in Paris. The original retail price was CHF22,000. Funnily enough, Cukrowicz also shared with us that the number for his store, featured on the certificate for the Chronomètre à Resonance Souscription, still works to this day.

Sendi also points out that if the owner of the Souscription Tourbillon turned down a matching Resonance, it was sold as a normal production piece to another client, who would be not be made aware of the Souscription number or concept. 

Three pre-Souscription Resonances, from a private collection, including a white gold dial with a case from 1999.

However, interestingly enough, the twenty Souscription Resonances appear to not have been the first Resonances produced by Journe. One should be aware that throughout Journe’s work, case numbers are not necessarily reflective of the order in which the watches were produced. According to Sendi, while Journe reserved numbers 1 to 20 for the Souscription Resonances, some pieces were actually produced prior to these. They have come to be referred to by some as the pre-Souscription Resonance. They can be identified by the shallow engraving applied by hand on the caseback.

The Souscription Resonances were actually manufactured later and feature deeper, more consistent engravings, applied by laser. Sendi estimates that these shallow engraving cases go all the way up to around number 70, until the watchmaker transitioned to a deeper engraving style towards the end of 2000.

A Souscription Resonance, number 008/00R.

Interestingly enough, Gukrowicz shared with us the existence of number 022/99R, one of the earliest pre-Souscription models with a rose gold dial, which is unusually housed in a case from 1999 (despite the model being officially launched in 2000). Gukrowicz actually sold the watch to the original owner through his shop, Ginotti, in Antwerp. As expected, it features the distinct shallow engraving.

Having been the first to share the existence of a Resonance with a case from 1999, Sendi confirms that around 10 early Resonances feature a case from that year. He has come to refer to them as pre-production pieces, on account of the fact that the model was only released the following year. As he puts it, “Francois-Paul Journe must have felt ambitious by ordering cases before then.”

A very early yellow gold dial, from a pre-Souscription Chronomètre a Resonance.

In total, Sendi estimates that around 40 to 50 first generation Resonances with shallow engravings are in existence. For reference, an example with shallow engraving recently came up for sale at Christie’s, bearing case number 044/00R. Interestingly enough, not all of them appear to be in the iconic yellow gold dial and platinum case combination. We are also aware of some pink and white gold dial examples known to exist in private collections.

Shallow engravings on all three pre-Souscription Resonances.

Following the pre-production, pre-Souscription and Souscription pieces, the remainder of the production cannot necessarily be categorised into different generations. The changes are harder to spot than in the Tourbillon Souverain, where different sized screws and fonts appear. They’re gradual, occurring throughout production, and more subtle.

We will therefore refer to the pre-production as the first generation (with around 10 pieces), the pre-Souscription as the second generation (with around 30 to 40 pieces), the Souscription as the third generation (with 20 pieces) and the rest of the production as the fourth generation (with around 318 pieces). There are also 99 Chronomètre à Resonance pieces from the Ruthenium Collection.

While estimates place the number of total brass movements produced by F.P. Journe at approximately 2,000, it is assumed that no less than 467 brass movement Resonances were produced. We will discuss how this estimate was calculated further on. First, we aim to outline some of the traits and gradual changes that we’ve come to observe.

The Dial

Throughout the lifetime of the Chronomètre à Resonance, there appear to only be very minor changes to dial layout, dial screws and font style. The more noticeable changes are focused on the dial finishing and shimmer, as well as the style of the subdials used.

A thin style of power reserve on number 008/00R (top) versus a thicker style of power reserve on a later example, numbered 35X/04R (bottom).

Interestingly, one of the most noticeable variations we’ve spotted, has been on the font of the power reserve, which alternates between a thicker and thinner font. It becomes particularly noticeable when looking at the numbers “2” and “3”. The thinner font seems to appear more consistently on earlier serial numbers (e.g. 008/00R, 052/00R, 062/00R, 141/01R), whilst the thicker font appears more frequently on later serial number (e.g. 212/02R, 282/02R, 292/03R).

That being said, some later examples are also known to feature the thinner font (e.g. 259/02R), which does not allow us to conclude that the thinner font was only featured on earlier models, then later replaced with a thicker one. 

A rose on rose Resonance.

Moving on to dial colour and shimmer. We have had the opportunity to handle three pre-Souscription Resonances with yellow gold, rose gold and white gold dials, all cased in platinum. This would suggest that all three dial colours were available from the pre-Souscription onwards.

It is believed that the Souscription Resonance was also offered with a yellow gold, white gold or rose gold dial (as opposed to the Souscription Tourbillons which all came in the iconic yellow gold dial and platinum case configuration. In fact, it is rumoured that the first Souscription, numbered 001/00R, features a white gold dial. All three dial colours are also known in the fourth generation.

A selection of Resonances in various configurations.

As is to be expected, the intensity and shimmer of the dials gradually diminishes throughout the lifespan of the Resonance. As with the tourbillon, the production process and lacquer on the dial was upgraded, resulting in dials that didn’t oxidise. Comparing an early example (008/00R), with a later one (3XX/04R), we can clearly see the dial becoming more matte overall.

It is believed that the highly shiny dials were actually supplied by the same company that produced Journe’s cases at the time, instead of a dedicated dial maker. This is why Journe was compelled to hand-finish them when they arrived at the manufacture.

Noticeably thinner font, greater shimmer and hand-finished details on these two pre-Souscription Resonance dials in white and rose gold.

This hand-finishing is evident on some of the earlier Resonance watches, with very faint parallel scratches on the surface, barely visible at an angle. According to Sendi, this hand-finishing is particularly noticeable on the pre-Souscription dials, with the process having been refined by the Souscription pieces.

There are also some noticeable variations in the subdials used across the collection. The early subdials have a higher tendency to develop patina and turn a brownish hue. On later examples, this doesn’t appear to occur as much, with a consistent white tone being retained. 

Three style of subdials: two-tone (left), stark white (middle) and lightly browned with patina (right).

Further to this, some two-tone subdials have also been known to exist, where the minute and hour track is silver and the guilloche pattern in the middle, is a crisp white colour. It is unclear whether these were limited to the earlier production watches, but they do seem to appear more frequently on some (but not all) earlier examples.

It is complicated to place the subdials into distinct generations, as the variations are inconsistent, clients could sometimes make special requests and subdials were sometimes replaced during service.  

An interesting variation we’ve been able to notice is in the design of the seconds hand. Indeed, both “thin” and “thick” seconds hands are known, mostly identifiable by the shape of the counterweight at the end of the hand. From what we can tell, the thick seconds hand features on earlier models, whereas the thinner hand comes in the later models. In our mind, too many of the later examples feature the thin seconds hand for these to be service parts.

Three styles of seconds hands: thick (left), a mysterious full (center) and thin (right).

Based on publicly known examples, the change seems to occur within the 270 to 285 range, as production transitions from one to the other. Serial numbers firmly below that range, for example 225/02R or 259/02R, all seem to feature thick hands. Those firmly above that range, for example 291/02R or 325/03R, also seem to feature thinner hands. It therefore appears that there are in fact two generations of second hands.

The reason we’ve given a transitional range, rather than an exact number, is because within that interval, both style of hands appears inconsistently. It is worth noting that the later style of hands may also have been used as service hands, so may appear on some earlier examples. Further, the above should only be taken as a rule of thumb, rather than a definite rule. Sendi points out that hour, minutes and seconds were often ordered in large batches and used inconsistently. In fact, some old hands from the brass movement era are still believed to be used to this day in new watches. As we’ve come to learn with early F.P. Journe, inconsistencies are numerous and, for some of us, form part of the pleasure of studying these pieces.

Oddly enough, we have also noticed that number 282-02R features a seemingly unique style of seconds hand, where the hole on the rear of the counterweight is filled, rather than hollow. This appears to be a service part, though there is no way to know for certain. Indeed, the watch has come up at auction twice, once at Antiquorum in 2012, then at Christie’s in 2013. It was only the second time it sold publicly that the full seconds hand came to be featured on the watch.

The Movement

Most of the early Resonance watches are powered by the caliber 1499, made out of rhodium-plated brass, with Côtes de Genève embellishments, and constructed with 36 jewels. The movement features a resonance-controlled, twin independent gear-train, straight-line lever escapement, monometallic 4-arm balance with 4 timing weights, self-compensating free-sprung flat balance spring, oscillating at a rate of 21,600 vibrations per hour. The winding crown at 12 o’clock adjusts both subdials, with a crown at four o’clock to synchronize the seconds hands.

The caliber 1499.

Within the brass movement era, there is little variance in the movement design. Mehta shared with us the rumour that towards the end of the production of the caliber 1499, Journe borrowed a few Resonances from close collectors, in order to test certain updates on the movement.

The Case and Numbering System

The Chronomètre à Resonance was primarily cased in platinum and rose gold, with the latter metal being rarer, yet again. A small handful of two-tone Chronomètre à Resonance watches were also produced during the brass movement period. The existence of one of these was recently confirmed, as it has been consigned for sale in a Phillips auction in Geneva. It is a Souscription Resonance, bearing the number 014/00R, sold by Journe to Lorenz Bäumer, a Parisian jeweller.

Sendi, who is close to many collectors of these early pieces, has had the opportunity to handle three different two-tone Resonances, though he does confirm that more than three were actually produced in total. 

A two-tone Souscription Resonance, number 14, with deep engravings on the caseback, coming up for sale at Phillips.

The case design remains broadly unchanged throughout the lifetime of the model, with some small changes here and there. A more noticeable change, which has only appeared on one model so far, is a double rope design on the crown at 12 o’clock, nicknamed “fat fingers” by some collectors.

The case numbering of the Chronomètre à Resonance is more consistent than what is found on the Tourbillon Souverain. The first and second generation Tourbillon Souverains, feature a different numbering format to the later models. The Resonance adopts the later formatting style from the beginning – for example, 008/00R. 

The only known Resonance with a double rope pattern on the crown, nicknamed by some as 'fat fingers'.

A few things to bear in mind. It is worth pointing out that the year is not an indication of when the watch was made, but rather the year where F.P. Journe’s supplier produced the case.

Having the cases pre-numbered meant that any possible flaws could be caught during the production of the watch. In turn, the case could then be easily traced back to the rest of the batch that was ordered. This becomes evident when we consider the Resonance N. 22/99R sold by Gino Cukrowicz, where the case will have been produced in 1999, but the watch likely assembled the following year.

One of about only ten pre-production Resonances from 1999 (left) and an early pre-Souscription from 2000 (right), both with shallow engravings.

Furthermore, early clients were allowed to reserve special numbers. For example, purely hypothetically, a client could reserve N.88, even if production had not yet reached that number. Journe would just produce the case N.88 much earlier. That is why, on rare occasions, two watches with sequential cases numbers may display very different characteristics.

A few unusual exceptions to the case numbering system above are also worth mentioning. Firstly, in 2005, Journe produced a unique set of watches, using the old brass-movement number format. For this set of unique 38mm platinum pieces with yellow gold dials, the serial number 1000-R was used. This is a good example that Journe sometimes went beyond the conventional serial range, in order to grant a client a number he or she desired. It’s also worth pointing out that the prototype sold at Antiquorum in 1999 was numbered 000. The 99 limited edition Resonances from the Ruthenium Collection are numbered according to the XX/99-01R format.

Deep engraving, applied by laser, on a Resonance bearing number 14X/01R.

The highest serial number to be publicly recorded (that we’re aware of) is 368/04R, which sold at Christie’s in 2007, and then again in 2009. Based on that serial number, assuming no numbers were skipped and integrating the 99 pieces from the Ruthenium Collection, this allows us to estimate that no less than 467 brass-movement Chronomètre à Resonance watches were produced.

To go one level deeper, we estimate that around 87 or 88 watches feature a case stamped from 1999 and 2000. This range is based on when we know case numbers transition to the XXX/01R format. Indeed, we are aware of the existence of both a 087/00R and 089/01R case. As we know from Sendi that around 10 cases bear a stamp from 1999, this suggests that 77 to 78 cases may bear a stamp from 2000. Due to the subtleties and quirks in case numbering mentioned above, this remains an estimate. 

Production Figures and Details

The Octa Réserve de Marche

The final model we will be looking at is the first automatic watch released by Journe: the Octa Réserve de Marche. The watch came to market in 2001 and was discontinued in 2014. Whilst there is a lack of clear generations, as there are with the Tourbillon, the main focus here has to be on the movement that was developed for the line, the calibre 1300, otherwise simply known as the Octa.

That base caliber birthed a whole collection of complicated watches, which endure to this day. Whilst other Octa watches, such as the Octa Lune or the Octa Chronographs, exist in the brass movement era, we have chosen to focus instead on the model which established the foundation for all the others. 

Whilst more will be familiar with the Souscription Tourbillon and Souscription Resonance, it is actually a little-known fact that this concept actually also existed for the Octa Réserve de Marche, Octa Calendrier and Octa Chronographe. Indeed, Sendi confirms that the concept of the Souscription, including the right of first refusal for the same number by the original owners of the Souscription Tourbillon, was extended to all these pieces. Today, Sendi is only aware of two or three complete collections, with matching numbers throughout. As we will develop later on, the Souscription Octa Réserve de Marche watches, numbered 1 to 20, were actually produced relatively late in the lifespan of the model.

The idea behind the Octa

This was the first automatic movement developed and produced by Journe. He approached the project very thoughtfully, displeased with a lot of the automatic movements that attempted to elongate their power reserve by simply making bigger main springs, or smaller balance wheels. These simple fixes ultimately led to a decrease in timing and performance.

However, this was not the only issue that Journe hoped to fix in the development of the movement. Another pet hate of his was modular complications, which he often compared to making a sandwich. By adding layers to the base calibre, in order to achieve the desired dial configuration, the movement was made unnecessarily thicker.

 Two Octa Réserve de Marche, with white gold and oxidised yellow gold dials.

What Journe aspired to do was create a base calibre that could hold all kinds of complications, without gaining a fraction of a millimetre in thickness or width. This is why all the movements in the Octa line we have today share the same dimensions, no matter what complication they hold. It is believed than another motivator for Journe was the fact that in the infancy of his brand, he did not have his own casemaker, so being able to order the same size of case for all his watches was much more practical and economical.

The earliest version of an Octa Réserve de Marche that is publicly known, is the prototype that was sold at Phillips last year. With the serial number “Proto/00A”, this is supposedly one of three prototypes made by Journe in 2000, all owned by members of the Montres Journe SA board. 

A platinum-cased Octa Réserve de Marche, with a white gold dial.

By looking at auction records, the highest serial number we’re aware of that still contains a brass movement is 459-03A. We’ve also had the opportunity to privately handle an early 38mm rose gold movement example with a 52X-04A case number. Considering that it is believed that the serial numbers continued rather than resetting after the introduction of gold movements, this helps us estimate production numbers. This would suggest that between 459 and 530 brass movement Octa Réserve de Marche were ever produced (excluding three prototypes), before they were replaced with the rose gold movements partway through 2004.

The Movement

The Calibre 1300 was, like the 1498 and 1499, made entirely from rhodium-plated brass save for one component, the bi-directional rotor in 22K rose gold. This is a logical choice for many watchmakers, for a rotor with a high karat gold count has a significantly higher mass than other materials such as brass or stainless steel. This extra weight is ideal in order get the most out of small movements of the wrist, when winding a mainspring.

The development of the movement took a long time, with the main task being refining the mainspring to a point where it gave consistent power to the gear train, for as large a proportion of its unwinding as possible. Together with a specialist spring maker, Journe finally settled on a design that was a metre long and 1mm thick.

Amusingly, while the power reserve on the dial reads 120 hours (or 5 days), the spring will actually power the watch for another 48 hours on top of that. However, the chronometric performance for those additional hours was not as Journe hoped or promised with the watch. For this reason, Journe stopped the power reserve at just 120 hours, which was still the largest that had ever been put into a wristwatch at the time. Another example of his uncompromising attitude to quality.  Sendi points out Journe had initially planned for the movement to have a full 8 days of power reserve, later choosing to adjust this downwards. Some very early warranty cards feature an 8 day power reserved, rather a 5 day one. 

The distinctive offset rotor of the Octa Réserve de Marche, with rounded Côtes de Genève finishing.

The other concern with the movement, as discussed above, was its adaptability and longevity. Creating a design that could incorporate complications from a moon-phase to a chronograph without gaining thickness was no small task. To get around this, Journe created a small space on the dial side of the movement that allowed him to work complications into it, as and when he needed to.

One detail worth mentioning is the slightly offset rotor. According to Sendi, Journe wanted the ability to have complications on the front and back of the watch, such as a star chart. Having the rotor offset meant that he could place a pivot on the back, allowing him to subsequently add something in.

One variation on brass movements, first noticed by Jordão and built on by Sendi, is the use of rounded Côtes de Genève on most models, with a small handful displaying straight line Côtes de Genève. The straight line finishing only seems to feature on the first batch of models produced in 2001. Though it is unconfirmed exactly how many straight-line movements were produced, the highest number we are aware of is 13X/01A. As we’ve explained, though Journe case numbers aren’t always sequential, we can nevertheless estimate that no less than 110 straight-line calibres were produced and cased (excluding numbers 1-20, which were made later).

Early straight-line Côtes de Genève.

Interestingly, the Souscription Octa Réserve de Marche models, numbered 1 to 20, do not feature the straight-line Côtes de Genève. According to Sendi, this is on account of the fact that they were actually produced in 2003, more than two years after the model was actually introduced. On top of the more modern movement finishing, they also feature noticeably newer dials, points out Sendi. This is due to the fact that when Journe introduced a new model, he would always reserve the first twenty numbers, then make them later. He would almost always start with case number 21.

We should also mention that while this movement was a brilliant feat of micro-engineering, it did have some teething problems early-on. To get around the issue of have an oversized date window, Journe used two discs with the outer going from 0-3 and the inner going from 0-9. A number of early clients found that their discs would not stop at 31 but keep going up all the way to 39, unless corrected. Though this has been rectified on many of pieces during servicing by F.P. Journe, a few examples out there still feature this early malfunction. Otherwise, this quirk can easily be rectified by the manufacture.

The Dial

As with the Resonance, there don’t appear to be many alterations to the dial of the Octa Réserve de Marche throughout the brass movement period. However, as with the other two models, we do notice that early dials carry a higher shimmer and texture, than later ones.

The dials are also known to oxidise, more or less homogenously, which can create some interesting patina. From a manufacturing perspective, that tendency to oxidise is of course a defect, hence why the dials change over time, as Journe refined his production process. Early subdials are also more likely to patinate and take on a brownish hue, while the later ones seem to hold their original tones much more.

An oxidised yellow gold dial, which has turned a pinkish hue.

That being said, at the time when he introduced the Octa Réserve de Marche, Journe was already changing the way he made dials. We therefore don’t see the same degree of shimmer as we would see on early Resonance and Tourbillon watches. Furthermore, the silver and white subdials present on some of the early variations of the other two models, also won’t be found on the Octa Réserve de Marche. By then, the process was much more formalised.

Details of an oxidised rose gold dial.

As with the previous two models, these were also available with yellow, white and rose gold dials. Exact production figures of each gold are not known, though the yellow-toned dials seem to appear most frequently.

We are also unaware of any yellow gold dials with a rose gold case, and have only come across a small handful of watches with a rose gold dial in a platinum case (which should not be confused with oxidised yellow gold dials which appear rose). All other combinations are known to exist, with the yellow gold dial and platinum case appearing to be the most common.

Thin seconds hand (top) and thick seconds hand (bottom).

An interesting variation we’ve also been able to notice, among many other constant design features, is in the design of the seconds hand. As discussed in the Resonance section, both “thin” and “thick” seconds hands are known, mostly identifiable by the shape of the counterweight at the end of the hand. In the case of the Resonance, production seems to more or less transition from one style to the next.

In the case of the Octa Réserve de Marche, the thick hand appears to be original to most, if not all, brass movement watches. The thick hand appears on one of the prototypes, the vast majority of models which have appeared publicly, and is also pictured on the warranty card which accompanies the watch. Our assumption is that the thin hand is actually a later replacement part, fitted on some watches serviced by F.P. Journe. It appears extremely infrequently, with even late brass movement models (as high as 492-03A) having the seemingly original thick hand. In addition, a watch sold at Christie’s in 2017 (267-02A) is actually an Octa Réserve de Marche which now finds itself in our possession.

The collector from whom we acquired the watch had it serviced by F.P. Journe after purchasing it at auction. Interestingly, in the auction catalogue, the watch has a thick seconds hand. It now has the thin seconds hand, which can only have been replaced at service. It is also worth noting that the thin seconds hand design is used on later gold movement watches, so it would therefore make sense for these to be fitted on older watches coming in for service.

A shimmery white gold dial.

The Case and Numbering System

Brass movement Octa Réserve de Marche watches are believed to all have been cased in rose gold and platinum, with the first prototypes being cased in the first metal. The serial number was engraved on the case back in the format off XXX-01A, along the same logic described for the earlier models, with the later number indicating the year of the case.

You may find that many of these watches that come up for auction, have a later year stamped on their guarantee than on the caseback. This is most likely due to a couple of factors. Firstly, as we’ve discussed, the case may have been produced earlier than the watch itself. Secondly, not as popular as they are today, it was not unusual for some of these watches to sit with retailers for a few years. For example, one came up at Antiquorum with a case number ending in 03A, yet only originally sold from the retailer in 2006. This wasn’t only the case with the Octa range, as we recently handled an early Tourbillon Souverain that had a case from 2001, but didn’t sell until 2012.

Shallow engraving on one of the three prototypes, sold at Phillips.

We also see the same evolution in the caseback engraving as with the previous models, evolving from a shallow hand-engraved style to deeper laser-engraving. The best example of this is the prototype that was sold at Phillips last year. When you compare this with an example that we’ve handled, stamped in 2003, you can see the clear difference between the two styles and how deep the etching goes. Sendi is careful to point out that the engraving on the prototype was only applied after the model was assembled.

Production Figures and Details

The Set

As ever with collecting, the importance of a correct and complete set cannot be overstated. We wanted to briefly mention what to look out for when considering the box and papers accompanying an early F.P. Journe watch. Though there is of course some variation, in the interest of brevity, we will outline some general points.

The two main styles of early F.P. Journe boxes.

There is a variety of early boxes which are easily distinguished by their dark, varnished wood tone and outer blue box. There are two style of boxes for the main production, one smaller, narrow one and a larger one.

A separate box was made especially for the Ruthenium Collection. The early pieces were typically sold with a small instruction booklet, as well as a guarantee card with the serial number printed on it. In most cases, the date of sale will have been completed by hand and the card will also bear the stamp of the official retailer.

The small instruction booklet usually found with all three of the models.

Seeking to look after its heritage, the brand holds an archival record of the pieces it has made and sold. As a result, they can issue Certificates of Authenticity, and keep an up to date a database of stolen watches.

Parting Thoughts

We do hope you have enjoyed this detailed look at Journe’s life and work. As mentioned, we do not consider this guide to be exhaustive or complete, and we hope to keep it updated as new information emerges. As such, we would like to encourage collectors, connoisseurs and enthusiasts of early Journe to compare the information outlined here, with their own collection and knowledge. Please do reach out to us via, should you have any information which you believe would help us improve this article.

Finally, we would like to thank those who have been of great assistance in putting this three-part series together. Their generosity, both with their knowledge and their time, is greatly appreciated. We would especially like to thank Pierre Halimi, William Massena, Gino Cukrowicz, Osama Sendi (The Journe Guy), Rexhep Rexhepi, Felipe Jordão, SJX, Shawn Mehta, Michael Hickcox and Anthony Kingsley.

We would also like to thank Francois-Paul Journe himself for providing a quote for this series, as well as the brand for providing us with a rich collection of archival photographs. Equally, we are grateful to Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and Antiquorum for making their imagery accessible.

To find more about F.P. Journe prior to setting up his own brand, you can read Chapter I: The Story of early F.P. Journe here.