A TimeZone Exclusive Interview
By Steve Luk
SL: How did you get interested in horology, and what prompted you to venture into haute horologerie?
FPJ: When I was admitted to the Ecole d’horlogerie in Marseille, I knew nothing about watchmaking at all. After a few months, everything seemed simple – it was pure happiness, and I realized that watchmaking was for me. After I finished school, I went to work for my uncle Michel Journe, who was restoring antique watches. I worked for a few years restoring collector’s pieces from the 16th to 18th century. Evidently, these watches were haute horlogerie and for the rest of my life I concentrated my work in this area. In 1978, at the age of twenty, I started to work on my first pocket watch, a Tourbillon.
SL: Is there any particular reason why you have to remain independent instead of working for a large manufacture? Are there any advantages to being independent?
FPJ: Besides the short period when I worked for my uncle, I was always independent. It is vital to be so when you are a creator. It seems to me that it is impossible to create if you do not have total freedom of control. To create is an irrational impulse which cannot be mixed up with an investor whose vision is always financially-oriented .
SL: What do you find to be the most difficult part of remaining independent?
FPJ: If you want to remain independent, you must do everything with your own money, which limits the number of people that can work with you. Therefore, you must do everything yourself – your days are very long. But, little by little, by reinvesting your profit, you build up a team and there are no regrets.
SL: How do you position the brand “Francois-Paul Journe” in the industry? What image do you want “FPJ” to project and be known for?
FPJ: I am not a man of marketing – I know nothing about this nonsense. However, a questionnaire Patek Philippe sent to its clients at the Basel Fair asked “What is your favorite brand after Patek Philippe?” The answer given most often was F.P. Journe. This is something that I appreciate.
SL: How big is your company in terms of the number of watchmakers and the output level?
FPJ: There are 45 at the manufacture in Geneva (below left), 12 at the dial maker, and 4 in Tokyo (below right). Our production in 2004 was approximatively 700 pieces over 9 references. This translates to about 78 watches per reference, and each reference is available in gold or platinum.
SL: Ultimately, how big would you like your firm to be? Do you want to remain as a “small” manufacture or eventually become something bigger?
FPJ: I chose to establish the Manufacture in a very nice building in the old part of Geneva. This building has a working area of about 20,000 square feet, which limits our future production to support about 60 stores around the world, that is about 25 watches per store per year, so 1,500 watches per year in total. When you choose to do excellence, it is rather difficult to do more, and the size of the building is adequate for that purpose.
SL: Given that most of your designs are unique, I assume your watchmakers require special training to assemble and fine-tune the watches. Do you provide special training to all your watchmakers? On average, how long is it before a watchmaker new to your company is able to assemble a resonnance chronometer?
FPJ: The training period for an apprentice watchmaker depends on his talent and skills. Take the Octa Reserve for example – it usually requires 3 to 8 months of training. All watchmakers begin with that watch. Then later, once they master the required skills, they work on more complex projects. As for the Resonance, assembly and regulation time is from 20 to 30 days, depending on the watchmaker.
SL: What separates you from the rest of the independent watchmakers? Do you see yourself as very different from other AHCI members?
FPJ: Compared to the other AHCI brands, there are no differences, as long as they make real quality horology. The AHCI watchmakers have different ranges of skills, but in absolute terms, they are like me: they want to exist through their passion.
SL: As for future development, do you want to remain as a creator of high-end complicated watches, or do you want to penetrate to the mass market by producing some more affordable watches, like sports watches?
FPJ: My motivation for the future remains to make quality horology. I am not trying to take some “market share” – I only care to provide total satisfaction to my customer. As for a sport watch, why not, if it is a real timing instrument, with a new approach that can be justified. But the goal will never be mass market.
SL: Thank you!
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