The Rare and Unusual Watches of F.P. Journe
By A Collected Man
Chapter III of III
There are various approaches to becoming an independent watchmaker. You might choose to focus on creating one-off pieces or a short-run, limited series, such that each watch is essentially unique, or close to. You may even accept some design input from the client for whom the watch is produced. The advantage of this approach, from a collector’s perspective, is the sense of personal involvement with the watchmaker and the feeling of owning a watch which is unlike any other.
The alternative approach, the one taken by François-Paul Journe, is rather different. It involves carefully crafting models with a relatively long lifespan and little choice for customisation. This is based on the idea that once a design is crystallised in the mind of the watchmaker, no further changes should be made, until it can be improved on substantively. To create endless variations of a particular model, say the Chronomètre à Resonance, with different colours, metals and finishing, would only dilute the strength of the original design.
To that end, François-Paul Journe offered little scope for customisation on his early models. They were available in two case metals, rose gold and platinum, and three dial colours, yellow, white and rose gold. Even within those, not all configurations were available. For example, a rose gold case would never be paired with a yellow gold dial. When Journe eventually updated his early models, during the transition from the brass to the gold movement era, the changes were significant, both technically and aesthetically. This systematic and consistent approach to building his collections over a long period of time, is part of the reason why the watchmaker has been able to create such iconic models.
As a result of this approach, Journe created very few limited editions or unique pieces during his early days. A lot is still unknown about these, considering so few were produced, and an even smaller number have been publicly shared. This makes the ones we are aware of all the more intriguing. Whereas many quirks, oddities and exceptions exist in his production models, we chose to focus here instead on watches which were truly intended to be set apart from the rest. On account of their rarity and diversion from normal production, we refer to these as the outliers.
In this article, we will aim to comprehensively detail the limited pieces produced during the brass movement era, based on the information available to us. As some unique pieces and limited series may have never appeared publicly, there will undoubtedly be many missing. That being said, part of the fun of collecting and studying these watches is that there is always more to uncover. 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.
On top of these watches from the brass movement era, we will also cover limited editions produced later which pay homage to the early days of the watchmaker. They prove that, despite François-Paul Journe constantly moving forwards, he certainly does not forget his past. Rather, he respects it.
The Brass Movement Era
The Ruthenium Collection feels like the obvious place to start. Here, François-Paul Journe selected five watches from the latter part of his brass movement production and gave them a special treatment. All the dials and brass movement plates were coated in ruthenium, a rare inert metal belonging to the platinum family. Due to its extreme hardness and insensitivity to oxidation, it is often used in electronics or aerospace engineering, though rarely ever included in watches.
All of the pieces from the collection are housed in a 40mm platinum case, which is larger than the usual 38mm size of the time. In fact, with the exception of the Octa Zodiaque, these are the only 40mm brass movement watches around, which makes them all the more unusual.
Limited to 99 pieces for each model, the Ruthenium Collection includes the Tourbillon Souverain, the Chronomètre à Resonance, the Octa Chronographe, the Octa Calendrier and the Octa Réserve de Marche Jour et Nuit. Interestingly, the last watch was only ever made available as part of the Ruthenium Collection. In total, 495 Ruthenium Collection pieces are understood to have been produced.
Aesthetically, the pieces from the Ruthenium Collection are rather distinctive. The dials feature the grainy texture and shimmer which has come to be associated with the early pieces, while at the same time offering the depth of a darker colour-tone, which is broadly absent from Journe’s production. Ruthenium has a complex colour, which varies depending on the angle and intensity of the light. The dials can go anywhere from a dark, charcoal colour to a lighter, smoke grey. They even display tones of blue and green in certain lights.
Exclusively produced between 2001 and 2003, the Octa Zodiaque pays homage to the importance of astrology in the history of timekeeping. Again, unusually housed in a 40mm case, the dials display a separate outer chapter for the month and a corresponding sign of the Zodiac. When worn, the outer circle moves each day, driven by a large date system which indicates the month and sign of the Zodiac at 12 o’clock. A rather charming complication with an ingenious layout.
Only 150 examples of the Octa Zodiaque were ever made. At this stage, it is worth briefly mentioning the distinction between a limited edition and a limited series. The former is a run of pieces which is explicitly limited to a certain number and which also has its own case numbering style. The latter is visually different from standard production; however, it is not clearly limited to a certain number and it keeps the same numbering format as the standard production.
Technically, the Octa Zodiaque and the Ruthenium Collection are the only limited editions produced by F.P. Journe during the brass movement era. For example, the Tourbillon from the Ruthenium Collection is numbered in the XX/99-01T format and the Octa Zodiaque in the XXX/150-Z format. All other limited pieces are not explicitly limited as part of their numbering system.
Interestingly enough, both the Octa Zodiaque and pieces from the Ruthenium Collection are often accompanied by a unique style of certificate, in A4 format, which confirms the authenticity of the watch and the total number of pieces within the limited edition. The more traditional guarantee card, about the size of a credit card, has also been known to accompany these watches. However, in most cases, the Octa Zodiaque and the Ruthenium pieces only come with the larger certificate. Interestingly enough, this exact same style of certificate would later appear alongside watches from the Black Label Collection.
The other outliers from the brass movement era mostly involve different styles of dial finishing on otherwise unchanged production models. To begin with, the Regency models are distinguished by their unique hand-engraved dials. François-Paul Journe had always been fascinated by the 18th century, which he considers to be the golden age of time measurement. The Régence Circulaire motif, which pays homage to the clockmakers and artisans of the time, was inspired by geometrical motifs of the Regency period.
Still included in some models today, it takes an artisan two full days to complete this type of dial. In traditional fashion, the motif is first carefully drawn on the raw gold dial. Then, the artisan incises the pattern directly into the metal, thanks to different kinds of burins. These tools are usually made by the artisan themselves, suited to their own style of working, as well as the size and shape of their hands. After two days of painstaking work, the dial is be inspected for any imperfections and given to another artisan for final polishing.
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, estimates that around five to six Tourbillon Souverains with brass movements were produced with this dial motif. As for the Chronomètre a Resonance, only two were ever made, one with a rose gold dial and the other with a yellow gold dial. Interestingly enough, four Octa Réserve de Marche watches are known to carry a Regency dial, however all of them have rose gold movements. According to Sendi, this is due to the fact that the dials were made during the early days of the brand, but never actually cased up in a watch. In 2014, the old dials were found, touched-up and finally cased.
In total, it is therefore estimated that under ten watches with brass movements carry a Regency dial, with a further four early dials later cased in gold movement watches. However, it is worth pointing out that this remains an estimate. As part of a limited series, rather than a numbered edition, it is unconfirmed exactly how many Regency dials were produced during this period.
For an exhibition abroad in 2000, François-Paul Journe produced three Tourbillon Souverains with an intricate Labyrinth dial. Applied using a similar technique to the Regency, the Labyrinth dial displays a different pattern. According to Journe himself, the first three watches sold very rapidly, prompting other clients to enquire about having hand-engraved dials.
Even rarer than the Regency, it is believed that the Labyrinth dial was only ever made available in the Tourbillon Souverain, with rose gold and white gold examples having appeared publicly. In total, Sendi estimates that no more than five Regency dials would have been produced during the brass movement era.
New York Skyline
Integrating another unusual dial finishing technique, the New York Skyline series features engraved details of the city’s monuments and skyscrapers. Made to commemorate 9/11, these pieces were exclusively available through Cellini.
The finishing seems to have been applied to the Tourbillon Souverain, Chronomètre à Resonance and Octa Réserve de Marche. Only one example is publicly known in each model, which may suggest only three New York Skyline watches were produced in total. Indeed, so far, we have only seen a white gold dial Resonance, as well as a yellow gold dial used on a Tourbillon Souverain and Octa Réserve de Marche.
All three models feature distinctive elements: the Tourbillon has the crown of the statue of liberty overlapping with the power reserve, while the Resonance has the Chrysler building peaking in between the two sub-dials, a monument which also appears on the Octa Réserve de Marche.
N. 1000 Set
Possibly unique, not much is known about this one. This set is composed of six platinum pieces, all of which have a gold dial, a classic 38mm case and a brass movement. Believed to have been made for Cellini in New York in 2004, the watches included in the set represent the latter part of F.P. Journe’s brass movement production, which would come to an end the very same year. The Tourbillon Souverain, Chronomètre à Resonance, Octa Chronographe, Octa Lune, Octa Réserve de Marche and Octa Calendrier are included within the set
Rather curiously, it features a peculiar numbering system. Indeed, all these pieces have the number 1000 engraved on the caseback, followed by the letter corresponding to their particular model. For example, the Tourbillon Souverain is numbered 1000-T, with T for Tourbillon. With total production for each model having never reached this quantity, the number seems to have been specifically chosen for this set.
This is not unusual, as François-Paul Journe frequently allocated specific numbers to watches, without this being representative of when they were produced. Indeed, as we discussed extensively in our Collectors’ Guide on his early pieces, he would frequently set specific numbers aside for close clients and friends, or jump ahead to a certain number if requested.
There are more unanswered, than answered questions regarding this set. Why the focus on these specific models? Why the number 1000? If the set had not come up for sale at Antiquorum in 2010, we would probably not be aware of it today. This is most likely just a glimpse into all of the limited series and unique pieces which were produced by F.P. Journe during his early days. Many of them will still be with their original owners or tucked away in collections, such that we can only imagine the wonderful and unusual things out there.
Whilst not made by the brand itself, the Opus One watches are certainly worth mentioning. With Max Büsser at the helm of Harry Winston, the idea behind the series was to cooperate with an outstanding independent watchmaker each year, to create a signature edition of timepieces. In theory, the watchmakers would receive greater exposure by working with an established brand, whilst the jeweller would expand its horological credentials.
It is said that the Opus One series was kicked off after a chance encounter between Büsser and Journe at the Baselworld fair in 2000, the first year the watchmaker displayed watches in his own booth. Following this meeting, François-Paul Journe collaborated with Harry Winston on three models, essentially reproducing the complication and dial layout of his first three models: the Tourbillon Souverain, the Chronomètre a Resonance and the Octa Réserve de Marche.
Though the design was clearly influenced by Harry Winston’s style, the complications remained untouched. In fact, the Opus One models were powered by the exact same calibres that went into Journe’s production models, with the calibre numbers still clearly engraved on the movements. Overall, the rather unusual and ornate design clearly bears the mark of Max Büsser, with the same visual cues used throughout the remainder of the Opus series. In a way, these pieces almost feel like the precursors to the even more dramatic designs Büsser would later create with MB&F.
Production was limited, with every watch essentially being a unique piece. The first collaboration centred around a watch integrating the phenomenon of resonance, with six different pieces created, two of which were set with Harry Winston diamonds. Next followed a tourbillon, with another six pieces. The final six models integrated the world’s first automatic movement outfitted with a five-day power reserve, the same one which powered the Octa Réserve de Marche. In total, eighteen Opus One watches were created during this collaboration.
Looking back, it may seem curious to us that François-Paul Journe would want to pursue this collaboration. Why would he not exclusively focus on the eponymous brand he had just launched? After all, François-Paul Journe had said that the core motivator behind starting his own brand was that he was frustrated of giving his horological creations to others.
However, the difference with the Opus One series, in stark opposition to his time creating movements for others, is that his work was recognised. In fact, it was celebrated. Previously, his contribution had been hidden, so that the brands for whom he worked could take the lion share of the credit. Perhaps it was this approach and the potential for wider recognition it represented, which pushed Journe to undertake the project.
As we are strictly covering the early work of François-Paul Journe, we contemplated whether or not to include some of the later pieces produced by the watchmaker, which nevertheless felt relevant to understanding his early days. On the one hand, these watches are not from his brass movement period, and therefore not strictly within the remit which we have set ourselves. Further, as François-Paul Journe moves into modernity, there are too many limited editions, series and unique pieces to concisely mention, from Jade dials to the watches produced for Only Watch.
On the other hand, there is a small selection of more contemporary pieces produced by the watchmaker which felt compelling enough for us to cover. Those that pay homage to his early days. They are a tribute to where he came from and prove that, despite constantly focusing on evolution, François-Paul Journe never forget the importance of looking back. Not only do these pieces shed a light on the first steps of the watchmaker, but they also tell us what he remembers most fondly.
It is easy to understand why François Paul-Journe’s Stainless Steel Set is so sought-after by collectors. In 2015, thirty-eight sets were made to commemorate the end of the 38mm case size, which had been used in the majority of Journe’s early models. This was the very first time that any dress watch from the brand, excluding a grande et petite sonnerie, was made available in steel. As many will be aware, stainless steel has become something of a legendary metal in collectors’ circles. Historically, seldom used in the production of high-end watches, its rarity and wearability makes it an especially unconventional and sought-after choice. Combine that with some of the watchmaker’s most desirable models, in a case size favoured by purists, and it’s hard to go wrong.
Four of the five watches included in the set – the Tourbillon Souverain, Chronomètre a Resonance, Octa Calendrier, Octa Automatique – are in many ways the original F.P. Journe watches. All introduced between 1999 and 2003, they formed the foundations of the brand. All of them had been discontinued when the set was released in 2015, making this a true homage to the watchmaker’s earliest pieces.
Interestingly enough, the Chronomètre Souverain was added to this set, despite having been released in 2005, later than the other models, and still being in production at the time. Though the rationale behind the inclusion of the Chronomètre Souverain has not been shared by the brand, there is room for speculation. By many accounts, this simple, time only model was the watch that Journe wanted to release first when he started his brand.
Realising that he would need to prove his worth to the world, Journe looked to produce something complex and impressive. The Tourbillon Souverain would become his first watch. A few years later, he would be in a position to design and release this time-only model. As this set clearly paid tribute to his earliest watches, perhaps François-Paul Journe felt the need to also include the watch he intended to be his first? This may be an overly romanticised view of the truth, but we certainly like the thought.
Another clear homage to his earliest pieces, and certainly the most obvious, are the warm yellow gold dials used on all the models. As discussed in our earlier articles in this series, this quintessential style comes from F.P. Journe’s first prototypes, where the sub-dial of the tourbillon was screwed directly onto the base plate of the gilded movement, later evolving into yellow gold dials used on his production watches. The tone of the dial is noticeably different to that used on his first watches, where the dial has noticeably more texture and shimmer. The text printed on this set is also blue, as opposed to the traditional black.
As is to be expected, all the pieces from the set house a rose gold movement. Interestingly enough, while all the other watches house a movement identical to their current production counterpart of the time, the Tourbillon Souverain movement is essentially unique to these pieces. The production model at the time had a deadbeat seconds, whereas early, brass movement tourbillons had the remontoire exposed on the dial.
The movement inside the steel tourbillon is a combination of the two: the base plate and bridges are made of rose gold instead of brass, but mechanically, it is identical to the first generation, brass tourbillon movement. Comparing the stainless steel set to Journe’s early pieces, the improvements in finishing across the movement, case and dial, are evident, demonstrating the technical progress made by the watchmaker.
Production was limited to just 38 sets, each of which came in a special box engraved with the name of the owner. The original retail price for the set was around $300,000.
T30 & T10
The tourbillon is a complication which has always been close to François-Paul Journe’s heart. Upon receiving his watchmaking diploma in 1976, he went to work full-time for his uncle Michel, a vintage clock restorer with a workshop in Paris. No longer a student, he was undertaking his own tasks and was expected to work to the high standards set by Michel and his demanding clients. One of these was Sir Cecil Clutton, an astute collector of many things, as well as an author of several discerning books on horology. Rather famously, Sir Clutton would often be seen with two pocket watches on him, one from Abraham-Louis Breguet made in 1823 and the other made by George Daniels for him in 1969.
Both were tourbillons of impressive quality and seeing these two timepieces next to each other, clearly had an effect on the young Journe. This was a rather uncommon complication for the time, one which few watchmakers had tackled. The impact of this experience on the young Journe was lasting. The tourbillon would become the first pocket watch, and later wristwatch, he would attempt. In many ways, masterfully executing this complication was his way of paying tribute to the watchmakers from the past he respected most, notably Breguet and Daniels.
Looking at a Daniels pocket watch and Journe’s first ever watch, side by side, the similarities are obvious. From the movement layout to the austere finishing and dramatically oversized blued screws, it becomes clear that Journe not only had great respect for the English watchmaker, but also sought to emulate his work to some extent. This should come as no surprise considering the watchmaker used The Art of Breguet by George Daniels and some tutoring from his uncle to meticulously assemble his very first watch, which he completed in 1983.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of this watch, in 2013, Journe released the Historical Anniversary Tourbillion, otherwise known as the T30. Housed in an unusual rose gold and guilloché silver case, mirroring the silver and gold case of the original, the dial is also largely the same, from the grained silver texture to the overall layout. Even the distinctive numerals used on the seconds sub-dial were recreated.
The ‘Invenit et Fecit’ signature is inscribed to the right-hand side of the two dials. A nod to signing conventions of a century ago, it replaces the “A Paris” featured on the original pocket watch. A limited series of 99 pieces, the T30 was sold directly to F.P. Journe’s most loyal clients.
The guilloché-decorated hinged caseback reveals a movement which, at first glance, appears centuries old. Manufactured from softly-grained gilt brass, the movement is further accented by highly polished and beveled edges - with bridges, plates and large blued screws reminiscent of 19th century Breguet.
Moving onto a watch which is nothing short of legendary in collector circles. In the pantheon of limited pieces from François-Paul Journe, the T10 Anniversary Tourbillon might just take the top spot. Also released in 2013, it was made in honour of the tenth anniversary of the brand’s first boutique, located in Tokyo, and the opening of their tenth boutique in Beirut. The ten pieces produced were allocated by asking every single boutique to put forward three of their most passionate collectors. From those thirty, only ten were randomly selected and allocated a piece.
Whereas the T30 was a recreation of the past, the T10 is distinctively more modern. Cased in platinum, it features a striking black and silver two-tone dial. Instead of a gilt brass movement hidden behind a hunter caseback, it has a solid rose gold movement which can be admired through a sapphire caseback.
For those familiar with the watchmaker, you will realise how unusual it is for François-Paul Journe to produce what is essentially a completely new watch, exclusively for a limited edition. Indeed, to this day, the T30 and T10 remain the only tourbillons ever produced by the watchmaker where the movement is hidden from the front of the watch. Nowadays, when tourbillons are displayed for all to see on the dial side of a piece, it is easy to forget that this was not the preferred approach until very recently. Prior to the 1990s, most tourbillons were housed in pocket watches, with the movement fully concealed, with little indication of what lay within. With the T30 and T10, Journe is paying homage not only to his first watch, but to the work and style of Daniels and Breguet, and all those who followed the same footsteps.
With the steel set and the anniversary tourbillons, we have covered pieces which pay homage to the earliest watches created by François-Paul Journe. Now, more unusually, we will look at a series of watches which pays tribute to a watch which the watchmaker never actually made. Let us explain.
The story of the Vagabondage starts in 1995, before François-Paul Journe established his own manufacture, when he was still developing watches for other brands. He was approached by a French watch collector, reported to be Jean Aube in certain auction catalogues, who asked him to create a wandering hours watch.
Since this would require the development of a new movement, which was time-consuming and expensive, Journe asked the client if he would be open to doing the watch as a series, rather than a one-off unique piece. The client was agreeable and even suggested to approach a contact of his at a rather large brand, so that the watch may reach a wider group of collectors. The brand was rumoured to be Cartier, hence the tortue shape of the case.
Journe had already completed some work for jeweller, notably by developing the calibre 045MC that would power the Tortue Monopoussoir. A reference point in the history of modern watchmaking, the calibre was produced by THA Èbauche, a collaborative movement manufacture co-founded by Journe and Pascal Courteault, and was where independent watchmakers like Denis Flageollet (founder of DeBethune) and Vianney Halter cut their teeth before establishing their own brands. With this relationship in place.
Unfortunately, the brand in question pulled their interest from the project as soon as the first prototype was completed. Fast forward a few years. Ahead of their 30th anniversary charity auction, Antiquorum approached Journe, asking him to create a special watch to be auctioned off at their anniversary sale. The watchmaker was only given six months to complete project. Constrained by this tight deadline, he would need to dig deep into his repository of abandoned ideas. As Journe himself recounts,
“It was then that I felt that this was the right time to bring my watch with the vagabond hours out from my drawer and give it to the world. Thus, was born the Vagabondage.”
Three tortue-shaped, jumping-time Vagabondage watches were created for the auction, in rose, white and yellow gold. The last two pieces are especially uncommon, as they are the only ones ever made by the manufacture in white and yellow gold, metals which Journe has continually refused to use. Each of the three of the pieces were supposed to symbolise one of the first three decades of Antiquorum’s history, then the leader in the world of watch auctions.
Rather curiously, none of these pieces or any of the Vagabondage watches which would follow featured the watchmaker’s name on the dial. While this may have been a design-led choice, Pierre Halimi, a friend of Journe’s for over 30 years and the current General Manager for the brand in North America, shares a different theory with us. According to Halimi, the watchmaker created the Vagabondage for fun. He did not feel that the watch truly bore his mark, so chose not display his name of the dial. In fact, he refers to the Vagabondages as a “bastard”, according to Halimi, on account of the fact that it combines some his aesthetic cues with those of Cartier.
In a way, these pieces were an act of quiet revenge towards the French jeweller, which had sabotaged the project ten years prior. Those close to Journe have often shared his frustration from his time creating movements for others, where the work of independents such as himself was not recognised, with the brands taking most of the credit for these creations.
The watchmaker’s revenge was delivered ten years later, after all three pieces sold successfully at Antiquorum for three times their estimate. Upon an enthusiastic public reception of the pieces, Journe decided to produce a small batch of sixty-nine Vagabondage I watches, first released in 2004, mimicking the design of the Antiquorum watches. A few years later, the Vagabondage II and II would be introduced, with increasingly intricate designs and mechanics.
This third chapter concludes our expanded series on the early life and career of François-Paul Journe. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the first two chapters yet, you can discover Chapter I here, as well as Chapter II here. We hope that this has been as enjoyable and informative for you to read, as it has been for us to put together. As we’ve come to discover, the unusual is also the most intriguing.
As mentioned, we do not consider this guide to be exhaustive or complete. Many of the unique and limited pieces created by F.P. Journe are still unknown to us or the general public, tucked away with their original owners or in private collections. If you feel comfortable sharing the existence of specific watches we may be unaware of, please do reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org. We will aim to continually build on and improve this article, whilst at the same time respecting the privacy of certain collectors.
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, Anthony Kingsley and a private collector known as doobooloo on certain forums.
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.