Three Questions for F.P. Journe, Watchmaking’s Underground King

Amidst the hectic schedule of events that is New York’s Madison Avenue Watch Week, a time when luxury watch retailers roll out their latest upcoming releases from Baselworld and SIHH to an eager Manhattan crowd, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with François-Paul Journe, the outspoken underdog legend of Swiss horology.

Journe’s timepieces compete with the most coveted Patek Philippes and Aps, and yet he operates on a much smaller scale — last year, his shop produced only 862 watches in total. Journe may not be a household name, but he is revered in the industry, his pieces known to anyone who is truly in the know. Here, he answers three of our most pressing questions.


What plans, if any, do you have to increase production capability?

For me, I look more at how many watches can I produce to keep my staff busy and working throughout the year. It’s really about a volume of work. If I sell a higher number of the Chronometre Bleu, we could produce closer to 1000 pieces in a year. If we sold more of the more complicated Sonnerie Souvraine in a year, then our production would decrease, probably in the range of 600 pieces in a year. If we did nothing but the Chronometre Bleu we could hit 3,000, but I would never want that.


If someone came knocking with an unlimited budget and resources to see your company grow, what would you do?

I’d turn them away. Any situation like that would mean that I would have to answer to someone else, and along with any growth, I would have less an ability to direct and guide what we are doing. That’s not what I want, and that’s not what we are about. I’d much rather concentrate my efforts on continually improving rather than trying to add volume.


What new designs, techniques, or complications are you working on these days? You’ve played with the quartz movement concept, but are you moving on to other methods and materials?

I’m always working and testing various alloys, so you may see more from me in that regard. In regards to quartz, I do have a concept in mind, though it’s a bit tricky to work out. As you know, with the Elegante movement I used two separate drivers, one to run each hand. I’ve been thinking about ways to build a proper perpetual calendar based around the same principles where the watch could still go dormant when not in use, and have the ability to jump forward when picked up two, three, four years later with only minimal hand movement, and without losing track of the date. It’s a tough one, but the end result would mean a proper perpetual calendar built to our standards that could retail in the $20k ballpark instead of $100k. I love the idea of bringing that complication down to a level that would put it in reach of more collectors.


Images: F.P. Journe / Justin Mastine-Frost