The following is a guest post written by OJ Whatley, CEO & Founder of WatchUWant, and is part of our new ‘WatchUWant Wednesdays’ series.
In absolute terms, F.P. Journe’s annual production ensures exceptional exclusivity regardless of model selection; the workshop’s 800-900 watch output amounts to a few hours’ work at neighboring Rolex. Of that production run, only a minority of the units will be the Chronometre Blue. But scarcity is just the beginning of the story for F.P. Journe’s most elemental masterpiece.
Consider that last advantage in context. Independent horology has been the traditional domain of true high-rollers, commissioned bespoke pieces starting in the low six-figure range, and waiting lists that span leap-year cycles. This F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu offers admission to the independent-label owners’ club, guaranteed exclusivity, and it doesn’t require its next owner to sell a kidney or endure a transplant-style wait list.
Unlike many brands bearing the names of long-deceased or dissociated watchmakers, F.P. Journe is a brand driven by the marquee man himself. From his Geneva studio, Journe personally designs each watch in his catalog. More than an aesthete, Journe has been a master watchmaker and technical innovator since long before mechanical watches became cool. The Chronometre Bleu embodies Journe’s core values as a watchmaker: respect for tradition and innovative engineering.
The Chronometre‘s traditional elements are present on two levels – the one you see, and the one you don’t. Its metallic blue dial offers a contemporary take on a color with deeply-rooted ties to high horology.
Historically a signature of royalty and accent of exceptional timepieces, the color blue is a mark of distinction in fine watchmaking. Journe’s dynamic dial appears to channel the spirit of the blue hairsprings, screws, hands, and enamel beloved of historic masters and watchmakers-to-kings including A.L. Breguet, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, and Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec.
But the visage of the Chronometre Bleu is no anachronism.
Its complex composition creates a constantly shifting impression of color that swings from iridescent to flat navy and back in split second transformations. As with his unconventional take on the blue hue, Journe’s treatment of the pocket watch-style subsidiary seconds dial elaborates upon the source material. Concentric circular guilloché and a miniature “railroad” seconds track recall François-Paul’s origins as a specialist in vintage restoration, but the calculated asymmetry of the off-center subdial is a nod to postmodern caprice and irony.
Around the periphery of the dial, full Arabic numerals in ornate heritage font combine with a full-scale “sector” minute track to acknowledge tradition, but Journe renders the printed marks in a droll off-white verging on cream. Unique tapered hands in a matching tone complete the retro-modernist fusion.
At 39mm, the size and shape of the Chronometre Bleu case are in line with tradition; however, the material selection is a radical departure. Tantalum is rarely seen in watchmaking, but the exotic metal is Journe’s choice for his “Chronometre.” Eyes closed, tantalum’s heft is virtually indistinguishable from platinum. But tantalum is far more challenging to work and finish, and the resulting scarcity of tantalum watch options makes platinum seem downright common by comparison.
As a vertically-integrated manufacture – perhaps the world’s smallest – F.P. Journe has the technical resources to bypass reticent third-party suppliers and craft tantalum cases at will. Even among the rare efforts to mint tantalum watch cases, Journe’s Chronometre Bleu is a standout for its use of polished rather than matte finish. The result is a stunning luster best described as “black chrome.”
Having built his first tourbillon while still in his 20s, F.P. Journe doesn’t settle for a pretty face. The horological virtues of the Chronometre Bleu may be teased by the name, but they only reveal themselves through the sapphire caseback. Journe’s in-house caliber 1304 is rendered entirely in 18-karat rose gold. Make no mistake; this isn’t gilt coating but a solid gold mass of 18-k plates and bridges. Each bridge bears linear côtes de Genève, and every screw is polished, immaculately slotted, and chamfered around its circumference.
Journe is determined to create a chronometer-grade movement as beautiful as it is precise, so the going train that links the balance to the spring barrels runs under the dial rather than taking the conventional path across the caseback. Consequently, the cal. 1304’s contrasting barleycorn and tight perlage finish are exposed for the owner’s admiration. The lack of visible train wheels means the balance cock and chattering escapement seem to churn in isolated perpetual motion.
The critical balance assembly is free sprung for maximum resistance to shock-induced variation. A massive balance wheel packs an exceptional 10.10 mg/cm2 moment of inertia; its robust sweeps laugh at all but major knocks. Journe laser-welds the hairspring to the collet in order to avoid accidental displacement. No detail has been overlooked in the quest for accuracy.
Twin mainspring barrels operate in parallel to promote a steady release of force rather than a vast power reserve. While the 56-hour autonomy of the cal. 1304 solidly surpasses the industry average of 42-45 hours, the goal is absolute consistency; this is one of the exceptionally rare haute horlogerie timepieces to seek and receive COSC Swiss Chronometer certification.
While common among major labels such as Rolex, Omega, and Breitling, top-tier maisons have an historic aversion to seeking this distinction. Although the official word from upper-crust PR departments ranges from “trust us” to unspoken reluctance to share billing with lower-priced products, the reality is that many fine, ultra-thin, and ultra-expensive movements may not respond well to the COSC battery.
Journe has no such anxiety, and the sonorously-named Chronometre Bleu is a prince among certificate holders.
This F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu is available from watchuwant.com with the full set of factory boxes, papers, and factory accessories. Compared to the bare handful of these built each year, even the Langes, Pateks, and Vacherons of the world appear downright common. A unique junction of modern technology and vintage sensibility, the Chronometre Bleu represents one of the most attainable points of entry to the world of independent high horology
About the Author: OJ Whatley is the CEO and Founder of Hollywood, Fla.-based pre-owned luxury watch dealer watchuwant.com. Since 2001, Whatley and watchuwant.com have examined, authenticated, bought, and sold tens of thousands of luxury watches for a global clientele.
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