ThePuristS Interview FP Journe

by AlexG
(c) January 2003

François-Paul Journe

Who hasn't heard of François-Paul Journe? The man behind the Chronometre à Resonance and the Tourbillon a Remontoir d'Egalité - One of the most talented and exciting watch maker of his generation might have been a butcher if his cousin was not head of the watch making school of Marseilles, as he likes to put it! The truth is, after having been expelled from school, his parents placed him in the watchmaking program headed by his cousin. Taking consideration of his aptitudes, he continued his studies in Paris. He then worked with his uncle, a renowned restorer of antique watches who had his atelier in Paris (more on this in the interview). 

Arrangements were made to interview Mr. Journe during one of his frequent trips to Paris mid December. We met up in a hotel lobby where we chatted away for over 2 hours, Mr. Journe being very open and frank (which is something of a rarity in today's watch industry). I would like to thank Dominique Kuroyanagi for making this happen, Alberto Schileo for the photos and of course François Paul Journe for his time. The interview started as an open discussion when I spotted Mr. Journe wearing the Octa:

François-Paul Journe´s Octa

The Interview

TP: I see you're wearing the long awaited Octa Annual Calendar, its beautiful.

FP Journe: It was presented last spring but it will be available early 2003. I could have made a perpetual calendar but I didn't want to. The main reason is that I didn't want to add any pushers to the case, and anyway, I wanted a watch that is easier to "access" than the perpetual calendar.

TP: Do you work on the watches yourself?

FP Journe: No, I work on development and prototyping of the upcoming models. Once a new model is ready I work with one of my watchmakers to see how things go and to sort out any problems. Once everything is set we start the production. But you know we learn every day. I consider that a movement reaches maturity after about 5 years; for example, the Octa movement has now reached maturity, and we started working on it in 1997.

TP: Are you planning to launch a new Octa model each year?

FP Journe: It really depends, we brought out many new models rapidly to have a representation of our pieces and so that our retailers have a complete line to show. But for the next pieces I prefer to take my time.

TP: What is your yearly production?

FP Journe: About 600 pieces, made by 20 watchmakers.

TP: How do you see your company develop in the future?

FP Journe: I really want to take my time, because it is really important for me to remain independent. If we were to rapidly increase production we need huge investments that for the moment we do not have. On the other hand our current limited production may be an asset for the collectors since our watches remain rare.

TP: When do you think you will reach your critical size?

FP Journe: For the moment we are where we want to be. However we would like to be present in 50-60 sales points, each displaying 20-30 watches. In this light, I would guess that an annual production of 1500 pieces would be our goal.

TP: You would like to remain that size once you reach it?

FP Journe: Yes, for some time. Then we'll see. I want to stay at the level of demand and if tomorrow we have to make 200 watches less then its OK we can survive.

(the ateliers)

TP: Are there any special markets you would like to develop?

FP Journe: There are many! We are not present in Japan where every body starts. I went a couple of times to Tokyo and I did not find any retailer that suited me, so finally we have decided to open our own store there, hopefully next year. Our current market is divided as follows: 20% in Switzerland, 20% in Europe (not including CH), 20% in the US and 20% in Asia.

TP: Switzerland is a huge market then!

FP Journe: We have seven points of sale in Switzerland. It's the country where the most watches are sold, the taxes are lower and people come to see their bank managers, if they get good news then they celebrate by buying a new watch (laughs). More seriously, I believe that you have to be strong in your own country to be able to be strong elsewhere.

TP: How do you see the future of FP Journe?

FP Journe: Instead of increasing our production, in 3-4 years time we will create a department for custom made watches, with a workshop of 5-6 watchmakers. We would address all special requests as long as they adhere to our philosophy and design.

TP: Speaking of your independence, what made you decide to start?

FP Journe: I studied watchmaking in Marseilles (in the South East of France), then I came to Paris to work with my uncle who had an antique watch restoration workshop. I worked with him until 1985 but in 1982 I had already made my first watch (a pocket tourbillon). I had also received some orders for custom-made watches but had refused. I was still working on my first watch and did not know if it would work. Once I was satisfied with the final result I started taking orders while working part time with my uncle. After his departure in 1985 I only made watches on order.

TP: But why create your own watches instead of continuing with restoration work?

FP Journe: I don't know... it might have to do something with my genes (big smile). In fact the starting point was probably a British customer we had. He was a fascinating man, he collected watches, Bugattis and played the organ at the Notre Dame cathedral. Each time I saw him he wore a waistcoat, with a complicated Breguet pocket watch (from the great era) in one pocket and a George Daniels (George Daniels had created his first watch for him in 1969) in the other. At the time a friend of mine talked to me about tourbillons, they were very rare objects, and I had no idea where to begin and how they worked! So I read and studied a lot, and since at the time I didn't have any money I told myself that the only way to have one was to build one myself. It took me 5 years but I finally made one. In the process I made many mistakes and often had to start anew. I made everything on this watch myself apart from the main spring, the balance spring and the rubies. I even made the case but since I didn't have enough money I made it in gold and silver.

(FP Journe's first pocket watch tourbillon)

TP: Did you sell it?

FP Journe: No, I've kept it and bring it out once in a while. To continue with my story as orders started coming in, I didn't want to make the same watch twice so I added new elements each time: a "remontoir d'égalité", a retrograde perpetual calendar, a watch with sidereal time, an equation of time etc... The hardest part wasn't making the watches but figuring out where and why they didn't work. I remember that when I started making the first Pendule Sympathique for Asprey I didn't even know if it would actually work!

(pocket watch with planetarium)

(pocket watch with perpetual calendar, retrograde date display and equation of time)

TP: How come you're the only watchmaker who can make a Pendule Sympathique work?

FP Journe: I knew of Breguet's Sympathique and I told myself that it would be interesting to reinterpret the idea in a more modern manner. I proposed the idea to a jeweler friend of mine who didn't believe in the project so I proposed it to John Asprey who said OK (this was in 1987 before I started making wristwatches). I had offered to make it with a wristwatch but for historical reasons Mr. Asprey wanted a pocket watch. However, we did not want it to be a copy of a Breguet but rather a piece that would correspond to today's life style. Breguet's Sympathique needed to be rewound every day and the clock regulated the watch. However, today you need a clock with at least 8 days power reserve, the watch doesn't need to be regulated but it would need to be rewound. So that's the way we developed it.

(Pendule Sympathique for Asprey)

TP: How long did it take you to develop the Sympathique?

FP Journe: Almost 2 years

TP: How many did you make?

FP Journe: 3 for Asprey

TP: Is that when you decided to create your own brand?

FP Journe: As I said before, I don't like working twice on the same project, but I had all this research material gathered through the years and I said to myself why not work for the industry, so in 1989 with other partners we set up a movement conception company (THA). I proposed the Sympathique to Breguet but this time with a wrist watch, it was in fact the Tourbillon Souverain, but they preferred a piece from their collection (which is understandable). However, in 1991 I made the Tourbillon anyway and presented it at the AHCI booth in Basel. I must admit that it was not a success. I guess it was too soon, the market was not ready. The only person who had understood my work was Mr. Blumlein, he had told me about his interest at the Basel show and he had proposed to buy the Tourbillon Souverain for IWCs 125th anniversary, he wanted to make 125 pieces but finally due to the cost of such piece he abandoned the idea. I had made 3 pieces, one that I was wearing and 2 others for collectors. At the time everything was made of gold both the movement and the case.

TP: Apart from the Sympathique what else did you make during your stay at THA?

FP Journe: We did many things for many different clients ( note: a wink and a smile, but I could not get any more information on this). I finally left in 1994 and was wondering what I could do. I still wore my tourbillon and I saw that people were more and more interested in it. I told myself that it was time to design a complete line. One day while having lunch with some friends, I announced that I wanted to start my own brand, and on the table cloth of the pizzeria I drew 4 models: the Octa annual calendar, the Octa Chronograph, the Octa power reserve but I don't remember the 4th one. One of my friends there told me to date and sign the paper, he now has it framed and on his wall!

(Octa Chronographe)

I reworked on the tourbillon, but due to the cost factor I couldn't make the movement in gold but I did want to keep the look of the watch, that's how I got the idea for the screwed on golden dials. On the original model the dial was screwed directly on the plate. I presented the tourbillon and a prototype of the Resonance at the Basel fair in 1999. Contrary to what had happened in 1991 the Tourbillon Souverain was a huge success, so we started production at the end of 1999. At the same time I had already started working on the automatic Octa caliber. This movement was designed in fact to be sold to other brands in case my own brand didn't do too well, remember I didn't have any one backing me up.

(Tourbillon Souverain a Remontoir d'Egalité)

(Tourbillon cage)

(Chronometre à Resonance)

TP: How did you finance your debut then?

FP Journe: To start off, I manufactured the first 20 Tourbillon Souverains following a subscription, at the same time I also developed other projects for other brands which enabled me to have some cash.

TP: Being a Frenchman, why did you move to Switzerland rather than stay in Paris?

FP Journe: The problem is that all the suppliers are in Switzerland and Switzerland not being part of the EU it would have become way too complicated to deal with customs, and taxes are also very high in France so most of the French watchmakers prefer to come and work in Switzerland.

TP: Being a relatively small manufacture, do you have trouble with your suppliers?

FP Journe: Ah!! All the time, especially for the balance springs with Nivarox but things have gotten better and we are now delivered more or less on time.

TP: I have heard that its the same watchmaker who assembles the watch who is also responsible for the after sales service.

FP Journe: It's the best way to learn. The watchmaker assembles the watch from A-Z and if the watch comes back the watchmaker can see where he went wrong and thus not make the same mistake twice on the same movement, he will learn from his mistakes. However, next year we will set up a separate after sales service, which will be in charge of pieces over a year old.

TP: Are you planning on developing a basic hand wound caliber?

FP Journe: Yes, it is planned, it will be an Octa lite (laughs)! It will be a caliber with the same layout as the Octa caliber with a 6 day power reserve but without the date function. I will also be producing new calibers for the Souverain collection, but for this collection each time a new movement needs to be developed since each component is specific for the relevant movement and complication.

TP: What new Octa models are you working on?

FP Journe: An Octa Moonphase and a specially designed Octa for women with central time indication.

TP: What are the next pieces you will be presenting in the Souverain collection?

FP Journe: A new tourbillon model, which will replace the actual model at the end of 2004. It would be more comfortable for us to continue the current model, it is 4 years old and we've seen more or less all the problems that could arise but I believe that it would be a good thing to replace it even more for the collectors who would have a rare piece that will increase in value. The new tourbillon will be very different.

TP: I've heard it will be a dead seconds tourbillon

FP Journe: That's correct but I won't say more (smile). The prototype is ready, there are some things to be reworked, but it should be ready in 2004.

TP: How many Tourbillons Souverain have you manufactured up to now?

FP Journe: I don't know but once we stop the production we will publish the numbers in our catalogue. We have planned to have a catalogue that will read like a story. In the first one we presented the company's history, the next one will start where the previous left off with stories about the development of the brand and pieces not found in the previous catalogue.

TP: What is the piece with the highest production?

FP Journe: The Octa big date

(Octa Grande Date)

TP: How come you never exhibit at the Swiss watch fairs?

FP Journe: We were at Basel for 3 years and after the departure of the LMH brands (note: Lange, JLC and IWC) to Geneva, we asked to have a more "visible" setting at the fair but we were only offered settings that did not suite us and at very high prices. Since we were exhibiting at the Basel fair more for prestige than for the need to find customers (due to our low production) and having our workshops in the heart of Geneva we finally decided to exhibit our pieces in our own workshops. It's better for us, what we don't spend at Basel we can spend on communication and it's a more friendly experience having people visit us.

TP: Why do your watches exist only in platinum and red gold?

FP Journe: To start off with I don't like yellow gold and don't find white gold to be very interesting! I do like steel and in the beginning I only wanted to make watches in steel, but in the meantime everybody started doing steel so I decided to do the contrary and only make watches in platinum. I had a special order in red gold and liking the result I decided to also include this metal in my collection. With our watches, the price difference between gold and platinum is not excessive. The difference takes into account the real cost of the metal and the labor that goes into it, we don't play on the margin here, you know we sell watches not cases (big smile).

TP: Tell us more about the Resonance clock by Antide Janvier you recently acquired?

FP Journe: I did not know of this piece. When in Paris I worked on Breguet's Resonance, I did many experiences on it and even wrote an article. For one of my clients I had started a resonance pocket watch that unfortunately didn't work too well, so I put it aside telling myself I would work on it later. In fact I thought about it so much that I developed it as a wristwatch! The true difficulty of this watch is the regulation. On Breguet's clock there could be a maximum of 20 seconds difference between the two pendulums before they stopped interacting together, whereas in my watch the difference is a mere 5 seconds. The regulation is very difficult and may need to be redone due to the transport issues and the earth's gravitation depending on where you are! To come back to the Janvier clock, sometime after having done the Resonance, 2 clocks came up for sale on Antiquorum, I knew that Patek was interested in the smaller one but it was another buyer who made the prices soar. Well, it cost us more than we would have liked but we managed to pay it off in a year. Today it is in the reception room of our workshops.

(Pendule Antide Janvier)

TP: Are you going to use the Resonance principle in other models?

FP Journe: Not yet, I want to keep the aesthetics of this watch. I am working on an automatic Resonance but as of today I am not quite satisfied with it, but I will take my time.

TP: Do you wear watches of other brands?

FP Journe: Only during summers on the beach, they're usually sports watches, offered to me as presents.

TP: Well thank you for giving us your time.

FP Journe: Thank you, I really like what is done on the I sometimes want to participate, especially when there are some technical questions on my watches but I just haven't been able to yet.

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Copyright January 2003 - AlexG and - all rights reserved