Just a few days ago in London, Swiss watchmaker F.P. Journe, in collaboration with British gun-maker Holland & Holland, unveiled two new limited edition timepieces. The independent watchmaker is known for marching to the beat of his own drum, and these new pieces are no exception. In an unexpected twist, they feature stunning Damascus steel dials, crafted from the barrels of two antique Holland & Holland shotguns, dating from 1868 and 1882 respectively. Read on for all the details.
Originally called “pattern welding”, the Damascus technique has a rich heritage, with recorded history showing that the Japanese used this technique to manufacture their swords as early as 1100AD, and the Vikings and Celts around 600 AD. A labour-intensive process, the technique involves two or more bars of different types of steel, or iron steel, being forged together into a single bar.
For this to work effectively, one bar of steel must have a lower carbon content than the other. The steel is heated, twisted and hammered as needed to meld the two bars together. The bar is then folded, hammered and forged again. This process is repeated several times, with the result being a single bar with layers of different types of steel that create wavy lines and patterns due to the difference in the chemical composition between the different types of steel used.
The use of Damascus steel to manufacture gun barrels was first recorded in India in around 1570, before slowly spreading to other parts of the world. Eventually, the technique began to be used in England to produce high-quality sporting barrels in the 1800’s. Produced entirely by hand, no two bars of Damascus steel look quite the same, making it the perfect material to use for bespoke creations.
F.P. Journe x Holland & Holland
This new collaboration between F.P. Journe and Holland & Holland, whilst unexpected, is not at all unusual. On the face of things it would seem that a Swiss watchmaker and a British gunmaker have little in common, but in reality, both manufactures employ highly specialized craftsmen and women to create exceptional objects, which take years to build by hand. These skilled professional polishers, decorators and engravers, fine wood and precious metal specialists, lacquerers, precision mechanics and watchmakers all perform their tasks tirelessly and meticulously until they attain perfection. In this instance, that perfection comes in the form of a simple, time-only watch presented in a 39mm steel case with a striking Damascus steel dial.
To create the unique dials, two antique Holland & Holland shotguns, bearing the serial numbers 1382 and 7183 and dating back to 1868 and 1882 respectively, donated their hand-crafted barrels. After being cut along their length at the Holland & Holland factory in Kensal Green, the barrels were rolled out to form flat strips before being cut being into smaller strips. Once cleaned, the strips were reduced to the required thickness and then polished. Next, the strips were dispatched to Les Cadraniers de Genève, F.P. Journe’s dial maker, where the dials were cut out. Each dial was then sent back to Holland & Holland and “browned”, a traditional gun-making technique that really brings out the stunning patterns of the Damascus steel whilst also helping to protect it. As a final step, the dials were printed with F.P. Journe’s trademark numerals and chapter ring for the minutes.
Given the use of steel in the dial, it made sense that F.P. Journe would case the watches up in steel as well. Measuring a very comfortable 39mm in diameter by 8.60mm thick, it wears well on the wrist, drawing a lot of attention despite its relatively simple appearance. Inside is the exclusive, manually-wound F.P. Journe calibre 1304, made from 18k rose gold. Beating at a frequency of 21,600vph it features two main-spring barrels in parallel and offers a power reserve of 56 hours (+/- 2 hours).
Visible through the sapphire caseback, this time-only movement boasts a very high-level of finishing – as we would expect from Journe – including a partly circular grained baseplate, polished screw-heads, chamfered slots and sunburst finishing. If you look closely, you can see also that the name ‘Holland’ has been engraved around each of the mainspring barrels, a subtle reference to the shotgun barrels the British gun maker is famed for.
In total, 66 unique pieces were made, 38 of which use the Damascus steel from the barrel of the No. 1382 shotgun, and 28 of which use the Damascus steel from the barrel of No. 7183 shotgun (it was slightly smaller, hence less available material in the dial.) The reference number for the gun barrel from which the dial was made is engraved around the edge of the caseback, along with the edition number of that specific watch (i.e. xx/38). All models are paired with a classic brown leather strap that complements the brown of the dial.
The retail price is set at CHF 45,000, which is arguably a touch high for a time-only, steel case watch but given that the dial of each model is unique and the overall concept is very cool, I am sure all available pieces will sell quickly. If you want to add one to your collection, you will need to visit either one of the Holland & Holland boutiques in London or Dallas or one of the seven F.P. Journe boutiques around the world.
Mr. Daryl Greatrex, Managing Director of Holland & Holland
Technical Specifications – F.P. Journe Chronomètre Holland & Holland
- Case: 39mm diameter x 8.60mm – stainless steel – unique Damascus steel dial made from the barrel of antique Holland & Holland shotgun – sapphire crystal both sides.
- Movement: F.P. Journe calibre 1304 – manual-wind – 3Hz frequency – 56h power reserve (+/- 2 hours) – central hours and minutes
- Strap: brown leather strap
- Reference: Limited series – No. 1382 dating to 1868 – 38 watches numbered XX/38 / No. 7183 dating to 1882 – 28 watches number XX/28.
- Price: CHF 45,000