The Journe Identity
What does the straight-shooting FP Journe founder and watchmaker François-paul Journe have to say about the future of his own brand? Nicolette Wong gets the story
The taciturn françois-paul Journe is famous for his exquisitely crafted watches and unvarnished opinions of the workings of the horological industry. His product-centric, savant-style handling of his own marque has spawned fans the world over, and has made him one of the most fascinating watchmakers in recent history. His views, even at age 16, were strong enough to have gotten him expelled from the Marseille Horological School, a life event that led to him apprenticing with his antique restorer uncle and further honing his craft. Journe most recently made waves in the industry for unexpectedly accepting an investment from luxury giant Chanel, which has been seriously ramping up its watchmaking efforts over the last few years. The French maison now owns 20 per cent of FP Journe. We spoke to Journe himself about the investment, the role of independent brands, and the future of his marque.
Why did you accept the investment from Chanel?
Well, I’ve received offers from various groups regularly over the past 20 years, but had never been interested until recently. I have two children—one is a historian in Paris and has no interest in watchmaking, and the other is 17 years old and dreams of playing basketball in the NBA. If anything bad happens to me, there will be plenty of predators who will descend upon them and the company. I’ve been friends with the owners of Chanel for a long time, and I know that they love watches. They were the ones who proposed the idea of the investment to me some 10 years ago, but I didn’t want it at that time. But then later I came to realise that I needed to secure the company and its future. There are a lot of people who have made lots of unnecessary comments about this partnership, and I said yes, it’s true that Chanel now owns 20 per cent. But 80 per cent isn’t theirs. They’re not interested in disrupting me from working the way I have always worked, and they don’t have the ability to do so anyway. On the plus side, they have a slew of intelligent people who can help us if we need it.
So you would not be producing anything for Chanel at all?
No, I would like to produce something for them. For example, FP Journe is co-owner of a company called Les Cadraniers de Genève. We make the most beautiful dials in the whole of Switzerland, and I would love to see them on Chanel’s haute horlogerie or jewellery watches. But of course, Chanel’s strategic planning department doesn’t wait for us; they work five or six years in advance. The next watch that they will debut at Baselworld 2019 is already complete, so that’s not my work. And if they want my advice with regards to watchmaking, sure, why not?
What will happen to the brand when you are no longer around?
Let’s take a brand like Cartier, for example. When we look at Louis Cartier’s work, we have to say that he had done some fantastic things. That’s why his brand still exists today. Let’s take Breguet. Abraham-louis Breguet has done fantastic things, and even though the Swatch Group has managed it badly, it exists today thanks to the work of Mr Breguet. Some brands such as Patek Philippe and Rolex (thanks to Hans Wilsdorf ) would never fall, because they have a creative base that’s solid. And I think that if I create a solid base, the brand will continue.
Do you consider the Élégante separate from FP Journe?
The purpose of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH) is to develop new points of sales that are not the same as FP Journe. Jewellers, for example, who want something more interesting. That’s why I don’t promote our mechanical watches at SIHH. As to why I’m there at all—my friend asked if I wanted to take over an SIHH booth. I thought it would be good for the Élégante, so I took the spot. And it amuses me to have a brand featuring quartz watches at a fair surrounded by brands peddling mechanical watches. [Laughs] At SIHH 2019, we will debut a new series of Élégante watches in titanium with an anthracite finish and studded with diamonds—it’s very beautiful.
What about the new mechanical watches for FP Journe?
We’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Tourbillon Souverain. So it’s like the Volkswagen Golf—it changes, but it still has the same name. So we have the Tourbillon Souverain that has been around since 1999, which we revamped in 2003, and now for the 20th anniversary, there will be a new one. And in 2020, for the 20th anniversary of the Chronomètre Résonance, there will be a new one as well. The year after that, there will be a new grand complication because I discontinued the Grande Sonnerie this year since I didn’t have the serious demand to do it all. And we have a grand complication that will be unveiled at the Only Watch auction, where I will deliver the prototype. I find Only Watch better than the Grand Prix d’horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). I have stopped participating in GPHG. I find that Only Watch is better because it’s not a jury who may or may not know anything about their watches that will judge you, it’s someone who pays. If they pay, it means that they believe in the product, which is better than someone who just comments.
A LIFE’S WORK FP Journe founder François-paul Journe has been characterised as one of the greatest watchmakers of modern times; despite being a small manufacture, the brand creates many of its watch components in-house (opposite)