By normal Swiss standards, the award-winning F.P. Journe is a relatively young company and has been described as ‘one of the most influential watchmakers of the modern era.’1 Founded in 1999, by Francois-Paul Journe, it has become a highly-respected company very quickly, with watches now commanding exceptional prices at auction. As well as being young, and still run and (mostly) owned by its founder, another unusual aspect of the firm is that every component of the watches that they create is made in house or exclusively for them. The company motto, Invenit et Fecit means just this in Latin, essentially - ‘invented it and made it.’2
Francois-Paul Journe was born in Marseille, France, in 1957. His immediate family were not watchmakers but his uncle was, and after he left school at a very young age, Joune’s mother chose to send him to stay with his uncle in Paris for the summer. The stay was a success with Journe showing much promise. His mother agreed to send him to the Laperrine School of Technical Learning in Marseille where he always achieved the best grades but his poor behaviour meant he was asked to leave.3 He completed his studies with his uncle and then stayed to work with him, where he was exposed to complicated watch movements that inspired him. He desired to own a tourbillon in particular and set about building a watch for himself to achieve this, an impressive feat for any watchmaker.4
He went on to establish his own workshop in 19855 and create pocket watches and clocks as part of prestigious commissions. He moved on to wrist watches but struggled to gain any recognition for these despite their being so technically complicated.6 In order to fund starting his own standalone wrist watch brand with its own larger manufacturing workshop, he created a subscription system by which clients would pay a proportion of the watch cost up front, which would fund the manufacture of a full run of pieces.7 In 1999, at the Basel World fair (at the time the most important trade fair for watches and jewellery in Europe) Journe showcased his watches and enjoyed steady success, even raising his prices several times after realising they were priced too low within the market.8
The market in the early years of the new millennium was one that saw several innovative and visionary independent watchmakers make their mark. Richard Mille, Parmigiani Fleurier and Jean-Claude Biver9 were a few that manufactured very complicated, technical timepieces, each with their own distinctive and unusual signature appearances. The consumers for these pieces were of course wealthy individuals, with the prices in the tens, and often hundreds, of thousands of pounds. Despite this, F.P Journe currently releases around 800 watches each year.10 Demand for his work is huge in auction world, with pieces regularly exceeding pre-sale estimates.
In May of this year, at Phillips, an F. P. Journe Chronometre Bleu sold for £73,000. At only 7 years old, it sold for 5 times its original price, a sensational increase in such a short space of time.
The Chronometre Souverain came before the Bleu and was released in 2005 to much acclaim (it was discontinued in 201511). Winner of the Best Men’s Watch category at the prestigious Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve, the watch featured a slightly simpler and perhaps more traditional-looking dial to those other watches Journe had already released. From the F.P Journe site:
“The Chronometre Souverain is a precision chronometer that was inspired by the marine chronometers of the early 19th century… With its traditional yet unexpected look, the Chronometre Souverain has become a model of reference…it is the ultimate luxury for those who are mindful of the time still to come, and intend to enjoy it thoroughly.”
In the Select Watches auction that takes place on 22nd October at L&T London, a Chronometre Souverain in platinum features at lot 135. With its clean white dial, Arabic numerals and railroad outer seconds track in black, it certainly does have a few traditional elements, or inspiration. The overall layout is familiar – a single round dial with numerals to the outside, hands to the inside, unlike his previous watches. However, the unusually-shaped hands, unexpected placement of the small seconds and the power reserve indicator and the inclusion of the company slogan are definitely not traditional.
Rarely available, only around 32 of the platinum case Chronometre Souverain wrist watches have been sold on at auction since their release in 2005. Prices have risen steadily by around £2000 pounds each year, bringing us to today’s auction guide price of £20,000-25,000. However, none have appeared at auction since 2019, until now. Lot 135 has been with the vendor after she inherited it from her father in 2020. He purchased it pre-owned in 2013 and it is possible that, retailer aside, he was only its second keeper.
We can conclude here by acknowledging that not only is this a rare and valuable watch, it is a watch with a significant place in the history of watchmaking overall. Its value goes beyond the rarity, materials and current adulation of the brand, carried as it is by F.P. Journe’s technical and creative brilliance.
Lyon & Turnbull’s watch auction and valuations department is a dynamic one with significant expertise, creating diverse watch auctions in the UK with fine, rare, modern and vintage timepieces. In line with the growth of the pre-owned watch market in recent years, we hold six specialist watch auctions in the UK each year across our Edinburgh and London salerooms.
Take the first step to selling your jewellery at auction with a free, no-obligation, sales valuation. Contact our team in Edinburgh on 0131 557 8844 and in London on 0207 930 9115.