Thirty years ago, if you were to pick someone who would rise to the top of the watchmaking world and redefine craftsmanship and luxury, Francois Paul Journe would not have been on anyone’s list. But an intense curiosity in clocks and watch design quickly developed at a young age, and with painstaking dedication to the craft, FP Journe would beat the odds and create one of the most admired, respected, and treasured brand names in the world.
FP Journe Beginnings
His troubled youth is well-documented and now the stuff of legend. Born in Marseille, France, in 1957, young Francois had difficulty with his academic life. He was not a good student and left school when he was 14 years old. With a decision that would later change the world of watches, Francois’s mother sent him to Paris to spend time with his uncle, Michel Journe. He would help his uncle and learn his business, the business of clock restoring.
In a stroke of luck that would capture young Francois’s curiosity, he became dedicated to the craft of clock repair and watchmaking. Not only would he be consumed with the craft, but he would have one of the finest teachers at his side, guiding him in his younger years. His uncle advised Journe to attend Lycee Laperrine d’ apprentissage technique, or the Laperrine School of technical training, to study horology. After two years, he rose through the ranks and was a standout student, but was expelled for various troublemaking reasons. Out of school again, young Journe didn’t search for a different field of study but dove headfirst into the watch world by leaving Marseille and moving to Paris, close to his uncle, who just happened to be opening a new workshop.
Francois finished his studies in horology at the Ecole d’horlogerie de Paris and received a diploma in 1976. Now he could join his uncle’s shop as a full-time employee and fully-immerse himself in the craft. Full-time immersion in the clock repair business would expose Francois to some of the most incredible timepieces ever created. One customer who would frequent the shop, Sir Cecil Clutton, would carry two legendary tourbillion pocket watches, a Breguet from 1923 and a George Daniels from 1969.
Dedicated to the Craft of Creating
The impression of seeing a tourbillon up close left an incredible impression on Francois. Without the funds to purchase his own tourbillon, Journe decided to purchase a copy of The Art of Breguet by George Daniels and build a tourbillon watch for himself. Francois would continue working in his uncle’s shop full-time and create his tourbillon in his spare time. Five years later, at age 25, his first hand-crafted tourbillon project was finished.
Journe would open his own shop, take on his own clients, and continue to develop new watch designs. Large established watchmaking brands would reach out to Francois and commission work, where he would design various successful models but not receive credit for their success. The large watch companies would market the watches as their own and not recognize the actual creators in any way. This was a major frustration of Journe’s, which kept him pushing forward on his quest to create.
Fanning the Flames of the FP Journe Brand
All roads would lead to the realization that Journe needed to create his own watch, designed, built, and sold by his own company. He needed to expand his operation and buy a larger building to encompass his creations, but financing was a problem. Like most great creators, Francois would realize his problem was simply an opportunity in disguise. The financing for his watchmaking would come from his customers by asking them to pay for their watch in advance. By charging in advance, Francois would offer a large discount but fund the expansion of his operations.
Not only that, but customers who waited patiently for their tourbillon watches were so enamored to finally receive them, they became the brand’s best sales agents and marketing representatives. Customers proudly showed-off their newly acquired custom-made watches to all their friends and acquaintances, expanding the Journe presence among the elite clientele.
The brand was off and running. With not only quality and craftsmanship at the forefront, ground-breaking design and incredible support from early buyers of the watches propelled F.P. Journe into hallowed territory rather quickly. In just a few years, Francois was able to discern the pricing and value for his creations in the open market, and those prices were rising faster than anticipated, and demand for his name began to soar.
The First Models
Some of the very first F.P. Journe models the company created are now legendary collector pieces in the watch world. Supply was extremely limited in the early 2000s, as the company was slowly and carefully perfecting its manufacturing process. The first generation of Tourbillon Souverain watches F.P. Journe produced from 1999 have sold at auction for over a million dollars. The F.P. Journe Astronomic Blue watch recently sold for $1.8 million at auction. In the first few years, the company only produced twenty to forty pieces of each model.
Early models of the Octa Reserve de Marche models are unthinkable of owning for most watch collectors. The F.P. Journe Chronometre a Resonance was one of the first three models produced by the company in the early 2000s and remains in incredibly high demand by collectors.
Even with demand at an all-time high, the watchmaker still only produces about 800 pieces per year. For a global brand at the forefront of an enormous industry, these are tiny production numbers. Competing brands produce ten to twenty times the number of watches per year, but the F.P. Journe name only grows stronger.
The FP Journe slogan, Invenit et Fecit, does well to summarize what the company has to offer. Latin for “He invented it and made it,” this simplistic statement captures the wishes of watch collectors and investors around the world.
How Did F.P. Journe Do It?
The watchmaker found that there existed a huge demand for something new and truly great in the luxury watch world. Why did we need another high-end watchmaker to go along with Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Omega, Breitling, and the dozens of other watchmakers selling expensive watches? It’s because F.P. Journe brought a new twist to an old, established, and sometimes stale market. Amazing designs built completely by the FP Journe company, incredible dedication to the craft of watchmaking, and minimal production numbers are a few reasons the brand soared past the competition.
But there’s more to the story. Not to be overlooked, the rouge founder, Francois-Paul Journe, has a persona that is as responsible for the brand’s success as any design found on the watch. He’s someone people can relate to and admire on a personal level. Starting from nothing and dedicating himself to greatness over a long period of time, FP Journe is the great success story. Taking on the biggest and heavily financed competitors head-on and winning the fight. Journe is the underdog you love to root for and has made it to the very top.