Article BY PHILIPPE MIHAILOVICH.
The Nobel of Watchmaking
This year’s La Biennale Paris was honoured by the presence of the living legendary Master watchmaker and constructor, François-Paul Journe. For luxury watch enthusiasts, it was a big deal indeed. The highly respected Biennale –formally known as the Biennale des Antiquaires has been a must-attend event for art lovers from across the world for more than half a century that is quintessentially representative of the French “art de vivre”.
The Biennale, run by the France’s National Antique Syndicate (SNA) brings together nearly 400 members and has a role to ensure the protection and promotion of the antique dealer profession. It not only tends to attract a highly sophisticated clientele but also tends to serve as a guarantee that the works presented there will have a strong value in 100 years’ time. For French-born Journe -who began training at a watchmaker school on his native city Marseille at the age of fourteen and then had the good fortune to continue training at his uncle’s antique watch and clock restoring workshop in Paris’ famous Carré Rive Gauche district that houses more than 100 top art and antique dealers – the Biennale could be seen as fitting naturally with his DNA.
Before becoming a leading Swiss timepiece manufacturer in the heart of Geneva, Journe had already retraced the intellectual and philosophical paths taken by those who had conceived and crafted some of the greatest 18th century pieces and began the construction of his first tourbillon pocket-watch at the age of twenty, not having the money to purchase one. His need for independence led him to set up his craftsman’s workshop on rue de Verneuil in the Carré Rive Gauche district, where he received visits from a select circle of informed collectors who commissioned him with making some one-of-a-kind creations. He designed and crafted mysterious clocks, the “sympathique” clock, and subtle mechanisms for unique creations and received the Gaia Prize – the ‘Nobel of watchmaking’ award for special achievements in watchmaking in 1994 and is today the most awarded watchmaker at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve.
Increasing demand emanating from Switzerland led him to develop a Manufacture dedicated to building movements for various brands. He thereby placed his historical and technical knowledge as a watchmaking design-engineer in the service of industry but began dreaming about a collection of high horology watches offering the same qualities – comfort, innovations and performances – for a wider public. Journe can today be considered as the heir of famous masters of the past whose creations he had the chance to restore when he was younger. His integrity in the creation of innovative timepieces imposes him naturally as the link between the golden age of horological science and contemporary watchmaking.
Me Fecit (MEF)
In 1994, François-Paul Journe started designing his vision of contemporary watchmaking and in 1999 presented a collection of wristwatches signed F.P.Journe with the Latin wording – Invenit et Fecit – meaning “invented and made”. It thereby certifies that each of the watches carrying his name results from an entirely original conception with rigorous craftsmanship. ‘Me fecit’ is defined by Brepols Publishers as « a sign not only of burgeoning self-awareness, but also of a certain level of excellence long maintained by the medieval craft tradition, early Renaissance artists began to inscribe their paintings along with the declaration ‘Me fecit’ ».
For instance on the base of the statue of Benedict XII in Rome, one can see the incription, « Paulus de Senis me fecit ». ‘Invenit et Fecit’ is so important as a motto to FP Journe that it even takes the place traditionally given to the provenance, ‘Geneva’ under the house or creator’s name.
This author’s personal research and theories on High Luxury branding identifies the evolution from artist/creator or ‘griffe’ towards ‘maison’ and then the democratisation towards a ‘luxury brand’ business structure that is more about industrialisation than art (1).
The word maison is rarely found in brand books but it is a highly important competitive differentiator versus brands. A true maison implies that all the know-how is in the house – no sub-contracting, and often no wholesaling either, no third party. A maison will envision, invent, create, craft, construct and produce everything in-house. It will keep ‘know-how’ secrets in the house. It sell direct to customers and as such, will know its customers directly. It also entails taking full responsibility for every step of the process, no blaming of others and no hiding behind ‘fake’ brand names. The founder, owner, conceptualiser or creator’s name is the house name. The founder’s family name is its honour.
A maison is very very different to an industrialised factory. Its emphasis is more on art and craftsmanship than on commercial reproduction and sales. FP Journe has recreated and preserved exactly that model for haute horlogerie. It is no longer a one-man independent craftsperson and neither is it a global group with a massive factory that can produce hundreds, thousands or millions of pieces per year, as would an industrialised luxury watch brand such as Rolex. Normally an haute horlogerie maison depends on customers discovering it through their own channels, word of mouth or research. It depends more on editorial press than advertising and of course, if the Master Watchmaker-founder of the Maison is alive, it offers a client the chance of meeting this person directly, just as one may have had the chance to meet Picasso in his time, Patek and Philippe or Breguet – something the big heritage houses can no longer offer.
FP Journe was founded with one principle in mind: innovate and uphold, if not outrival the high standards of Haute Horology. Every effort was made to ‘verticalise’ the production in order to produce inside its walls, almost all the components necessary for the making of F.P.Journe watches. It includes the creation and production of its entire dial and watch cases which echo with the movement in perfect harmony. The modernity of machines and instruments is essential to reach the expected level of perfection, but it is also paramount to maintain craft tradition, since many operations are still done manually, with an infinite precision, tirelessly repeated until flawlessness. With its unmatched technical and watchmaker skills, Journe makes a point of honour to design and manufacture its mechanical watches one by one and in small series. In his Manufacture, François-Paul Journe is the master watchmaker and that differentiates the maison from the typical ‘luxury’ watch brands.
With a limited production of less than 900 timepieces per year, the sanctuary of the F.P.Journe Manufacture honours artisanal work. It prides itself in maintaining a genuine watchmaker’s Art. Each certified watchmaker is reacquainting with the state of the Art of haute horology, making a specific watch according to Journe’s technical sensitivity, and performing all production stages from beginning to end without anyone interfering in the process, including the delicate rating, casing-up and testing. In a never-ending
quest for perfection, at the crossroads between Arts and Haute Horology, the F.P.Journe Manufacture is a world in itself, embodying excellence, know-how and innovation. Each calibre produced in precious 18K rose Gold, a unique specificity of the brand, is entirely invented and made in the Geneva Manufacture with its’ label Invenit et Fecit as a reminder.
Journe’s creations tend to be quickly imposed with the status of World Premiere, thanks to their unique conception, their originality and technical performance. These horologic works, but also his Manufacture, embody his desire for perfection and have been honoured by the most prestigious international watch awards. This year F.P. Journe was once again rewarded for its exceptional watch creations – the Octa Lune Havana which was granted «Best of the Best 2017» by Robb Report Russia in the category Watch Best Dial.
Other than seeking to win more awards, the haute horlogerie maison has now started organising a Young Talent award in collaboration with the FHH (Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie) that will be launched during the SIHH in Geneva in January 2018, is watch partner of the salon artmonte-carlo and recently created The Prix Solo award for artgenève. Journe looking to the future has not meant a neglect of the past. The house still purchases its own rare watches from past collections and restores them as new. It should not be long before the entire world of luxury timepiece shoppers discovers this exceptional maison and this no doubt poses a major threat to the mass luxury brands that are depending more and more on their heritage stories and hiring local celebrities and internet influencers to help sell as many pieces as they can, as quickly as they can, in order to cash in on demand from those who don’t know any better. Let’s see which ones will last the test of time!