Monochrome Watches
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François-Paul Journe “My Next Launch Will Be In 2027” And “Growth Is Totally Excluded”

In conversation with an atypical man and one of the greatest contemporary watchmakers.

| By Pascal Brandt | 7 min read |

Do you know many watchmakers who would confess that “growth is totally excluded”, that expansion does not factor in their business plan? In the hyper-competitive environment we know today, overwhelmed by an incalculable number of brands, dominated by a quartet of houses that monopolize the market and a vast majority trying to find their place there, this kind of comment is disruptive, to say the least. It is even unique in this industry. But coming from the mouth of François-Paul Journe, it is not really surprising. He does not follow trends and is not afraid to stand by this statement. We meet up with Mr Journe in his Geneva-based workshops punctuated by the invisible but constant presence of Antide Janvier and Breguet.

Waiting list: 10 years

I don’t want to grow in volume; that would simply mean that my production would have to increase and that I would have to move from Rue de l’Arquebuse (note: F.P. Journe’s headquarters in Geneva).” 

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Increasing volume is out of the question for the watchmaker, who has found the perfect spot on these premises. Implacable logic for one who specifies: “The waiting time for my customers and collectors is currently ten years. If I were to move to cope with a production increase, let’s say to double it (note: estimated production of 1,000 pieces per year), the waiting time would be reduced by just five years. What for..?”, smiles François-Paul Journe. “Our growth goes through complication. I want to move up while maintaining a solid base, without rushing and without multiplying my production.” 

The F.P. Journe manufacture Rue de l’Arquebuse, Geneva.

However, this pragmatic reasoning does not prevent the brand from reorganizing and strengthening its overall production capacities in the direction of optimization. “We are opening a new site in Meyrin, which will house the production of dials and cases. Some 80 people will be dedicated at this site to habillage, in addition to the 80 people working at Rue de l’Arquebuse, where all operations – assembly, decoration, checks – are finalized.”

It is the consequence of our work and my initial ideas: to create watches while ensuring the autonomy of our production.” This seemingly simple statement reveals the trajectory of François-Paul Journe since his beginnings. There is no need to rewrite history if not to highlight a certain idea of watchmaking inscribed in the greatest tradition without making a copy-and-paste, a desire to solve watchmaking problems that are still inviolate, to innovate as his most illustrious predecessors were able to do so. In this capacity, he has forged a reputation that makes his watches among the most sought-after today. 

Invenit et fecit: in Latin, Invented and done. Its signature sets the tone of a filiation rooted in the best tradition of watchmaking science. There is no need to repeat the entire route punctuated by a few monuments already inscribed in the history of watchmaking: Tourbillon Souverain Subscription (1999), Chronomètre à Résonance (2000), Octa Réserve de Marche (2001) and its different variations, Centigraphe Souverain, Chronomètre Optimum, to name just a few. And then, there are projects such as the piece created in collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola. This unique and resolutely innovative object, sold for a record price at Only Watch 2021, uses the fingers of an automaton hand to represent the course of time: a monument celebrating two sacred monsters.

F.P. Journe FFC Blue for Only Watch 2021
The F.P. Journe FFC Blue, made for the Only Watch Charity auction in 2021.

One calibre per year

When I started, I had no right to be wrong. I set off little by little without taking any dangerous turns.” A straight line punctuated by the creation of almost one calibre per year since the beginning, in 1999. Who says better? We’re always talking about small series which set fire to the community of amateurs and collectors, a.k.a management of allocations. “We have our network of boutiques and very few retailers. The allocation of watches is based on the wish list.”

Manufacture F.P.Journe. Geneve, Mars 2017 © Fred Merz | Lundi13

This point is related to the explosion of F.P. Journe at auction. The last Geneva sale – The Art of F.P. Journe – reached new heights; 40 pieces obtained CHF 13.7 million – US$ 15.3 million (with a retail price of CHF 2.65 million). This small world, always attentive to what their neighbour is doing or not doing, noted the absence of the Maestro in the room. Hasty conclusions were drawn…. “I did not want to be associated with this sale. I gave a few details and information, that’s all,” says François-Paul Journe. Auctions and the desirability of his creations have seen a very strong progression since the publication of his biography in 2018, when an American salesman working for FPJ “understood the brand, and started buying my watches, the ones that have been sold in Geneva. He had just created Watchbox at that time“. In 2017, an FPJ watch exceeded one million at Only Watch. 

Auctions: “I would like it to calm down” 

The dynamic crystallizing a strong interest in FPJ  accelerated during the COVID period. “Collectors got interested and orders suddenly exploded in shops. Two subscriptions sold at Phillips reached 2.5 million, followed by Box Number 1, featuring five watches. Result: 10.5 million.” Where others would only rejoice, François-Paul Journe adopts a more measured tone: “It’s a bit beyond me… I would like things to calm down a bit because speculation generates the risk of crushing the brand and my work.”

Always attentive to reasoned development and the ability to consider his work from a global perspective, “we are going to reorganize our Heritage section in a new building that we have just acquired, near the headquarters.” It marks an important step since this service (created in 2016) allows collectors to acquire a discontinued watch signed by the Maestro but serviced in his workshops. Restoration will also find its place there, as well as after-sales service. “A watch is an object that cannot become obsolete. It is considered that the average percentage of watches returning to after-sales service is 10% of the existing stock. If, for example, you have been producing 10,000 watches per year for 50 years, i.e. 500,000 watches in total, this means approximately 50,000 watches returning to after-sales service each year. This activity is growing steadily. I have to manage because soon the repairs will be superior to the manufacturing.”

F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical 

Next launch: 2027 

Awarded and recognized by the community as one of the greatest contemporary watchmakers, having built a bridge between the golden age of watchmaking science and watchmaking today, what is the next step for François-Paul Journe? What remains to be done? Where the majority would answer that watchmaking innovation is infinite, he replies: “I don’t know. Not yet. The margin for innovation has shrunk compared to a decade ago.” Difficult to hear these words from a watchmaker of this stature. “I will have something for the next Only Watch sale this year. It’s going to surprise a little, and this piece will be a teaser of what’s coming next. It announces a series and will be my launching platform. My next launch will be in 2027.” Because we told you! “We only participate in Only Watch. This is the real GPHG!”

Chanel, the inheritance…. It’s set in stone! 

He feels amused by the evolution of prices, of Haute Horlogerie, of watchmaking. “This industry lives in the governance of numbers. Watchmaking, as such, is relegated to the background. The consequence is that there comes a time when you can no longer do your job.” The opportunity is too good not to bounce on the future of F.P. Journe and the 20% stake that Chanel has taken in the company. “They are friends; they came because they love watches. It’s the complete opposite of the stock market; we share a common spirit.” Ok, and if François-Paul Journe decides to step down or hand over the company? “I am preparing the sequel. If I have a problem, Chanel will have priority in the event of a stock sale. And it’s shielded for my children.” In other words, investment funds and other predators can forget about F.P. Journe. 

And to conclude, what is François-Paul Journe’s watchmaking reference if there was only one? “Breguet and his Perpetual of 1783. There was a before and an after.” Breguet, again and again.

7 responses

  1. Does Govberg/Watchbox have any equity in the company? I’ve often wondered.

    Regarding the auctions, it’s mostly dealers in the room at any one point, so if Francois was to attend he would only get in the way of what is best left to the professionals, who do a very good job at increasing demand regardless of his aloofness.

    Barring all that, his watches are still wonderful, and it’s a well-written article. Enjoyed it.

  2. Hello, thanks for your message. Honestly I can’t say anything about Govberg being – or not – part of the bran’ds equity. Happy that you enjoyed this article ! All my best,

  3. No Watchbox doesn’t have any equity in FPJ. They tried, but didn’t succeed. But they own probably the biggest second hand inventory of FPJ’s watches in the world and have therefore a strong “interest” in keeping the resale values of FPJ’s high. On stock market or commodities you would call that “cornering the market”.

  4. Well written article. Although hyped beyond the vision, the brand has stretched the highly commercialized industry and elevated the art form. Thank you FP!

  5. FP what real class they display and love of craftsmanship. They will survive the inevitable end of this insanity current buying spree.

  6. Great article. Been trying to read it for 3 days now. BTW, I think the last word before the FFC Blue picture should be Masters vice “Monsters”.


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