François-Paul Journe is one of the more successful independent watchmakers in the business. His early ventures began with collaboration with other greats in Sainte-Croix by founding THA (Techniques Horlogères Appliquées). This amazing technical powerhouse, now defunct after its purchase by and absorbed into Carl F. Bucherer in 2007, was founded with Denis Flageollet (now with De Bethune) and Vianney Halter (independent). He showed his first foray into independent watchmaking with the Tourbillon Souverain Remontoir d’Egalité in 1999. In this review, we feature the Chronomètre Optimum, also equipped with a similar remontoir d’egalité (constant force) which he patented in the Tourbillon.
The original Tourbillon Souverain Remontoir d’Egalité was interesting in its time. This was the first watch François-Paul created with his own name on the dial, and it was a technical tour de force. Made from 1999 to 2003, it had a brass movement, and a one minute tourbillon which was large, and prominently displayed. And an aperture on the dial to show the remontoir d’egalité. A world premiere in a wrist watch. The device looked like a pinion with four vanes, which jumped once a second taking 60 steps to complete one revolution. As the remontoir is discharged once every second, François-Paul later hit on the idea that he could mount a seconds hand on the pinion and create a seconds morte. Which he did in the second series of the Tourbillon Souverain Remontoir d’Egalité wihch featured his now famous rose gold movements.
This remontoir d’egalité is the basis of the Chronomètre Optimum in our review today.
F.P. Journe Chronomètre Optimum
François-Paul Journe tells of the story of the inspiration behind the watch which is fascinating. He was once asked by a friend in the late 1980s, before he had seen any success, if he had to design and build a watch for himself, what would that be. His reply was that he would make a watch which looks extremely simple on the dial side, but with exceptional chronometric performance. He would equip it with double barrels, a remontoir d’egalité, and a special escapement. But at that time he did not have the the know-how and resources to begin work. His reply resonated in his mind, and with later successes, he started on this project. He began in 2001 and it took some eleven years for this watch to be perfected so it could be introduced in 2012.
As we handled the watch, we found it to be very refined, and the design is very elegant and accomplished. This is a far cry from the initial watches by Journe: the two iconic timepieces were the Tourbillon Souverain Remontoir d’Egalité and the Chronomètre à Résonance.
The original watches had a raw, “made in a garage” look and feel which is at the same time both charming and full of character as well as being rough, and unrefined. François-Paul had set about refining the looks and finishing of his products consistently from the early days, and the watch which was presented to us was magnificent. The design DNA that had already been established in the early days were carried through.
The details well thought out, the finishing very nicely done, and the visual impact is powerful, and very beautiful. The choice of markings, subdials and colors are exceptional.
Elements which seemed tentative in the early watches, like the off-centered, bolted on subdials carrying the hour, minute and seconds hands, now look refined and harmonious. As was the rope design on the crown, which used to be a device to cut and dice one’s fingers when winding, now is elegant.
The movement: Journe Caliber 1510
The beauty is on the dial side, but the magic happens on the movement side.
As with all second generation Journe watches (first generation feature brass movements), the movement plates are in solid 18k rose gold. This gives the movement a very impressive look as it glows beautifully. The anglaged bridges and cocks gleam magnificently. The movement layout is very nice and harmonious, and is equipped with a double barrel mainspring. Gold chatons adorn 5 of the jewels and give a nice appearance.
The movement packs quite a technical punch as it features both a constant force system as well as a direct impulse escapement system.
The constant force system
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From our examination and analysis of the gear train of the Chronomètre Optimum is arranged such that the remontoir mechanism, visible in the photograph of the movement above is directly driven. The JLC Geophysic True Second also feature a remontoir, but it is not there to provide a constant force to the escapement, but to drive the seconds morte mechanism, so it can be placed out of the power flow. In the Lange 31, the remontoir is in the power flow and provides a constant force to the escapement. And as well in the Chronomètre Optimum, it can only work as a constant force system if it is in the power flow.
The system uses the increased power from twin barrels. The barrels drive the second wheel (marked 2), which in turn drives the third wheel (marked 3). The third wheel is partially hidden in the photograph above. At this stage, the movement is a regular wheel train. The third wheel’s teeth meshes with the pinion of the fourth wheel (marked 4). The is wheel carries the seconds hand, and its teeth meshes with the pinion of the star wheel (marked sw). The Star wheel is blocked by a yoke (not visible) which is connected to remontoir spring (marked s). The spring is in the power flow and is wound by the third wheel. As it is wound, it nudges one arm of the yoke. The yoke thus advances according to the power from the train, and once every second its tooth drops over one of the star wheel’s teeth, causing it to release. the star wheel jumps until the yoke catches the next tooth in line. This action causes the fourth wheel to move by one increment, creating the seconds morte.
On the dial side, this star wheel’s pinion is attached to the four vanes to use air damping to prevent the hand from jitter.
The fourth wheel’s pinion meshes with the setting wheel which also meshes with a second fourth wheel on the other side. This is seen in the diagram in the escapement section below. The setting wheel is the one in the center of the diagram, shown with its cock. The second seconds wheel then drive the escapement system.
The direct impulse escapement system
The escapement is rather special as well. Called the Echappement BHP or High-Performance Bi-axial Escapement has also been patented (patent EP11405210.3). Detailed workings are shown in the patent document attached.
The escapement is based on the echappment naturale invented by A.L. Breguet, but uses a two wheel direct impulse escapement without any oils. The direct impulse escapement starts on its own, and is claimed to be able to be operated over 50 hours without loss of amplitude.
The F.P. Journe Chronomètre Optimum has a very positive, very high quality build feel to it. The case, dial, hands are very beautifully designed, and nicely finished. On the dial side it looks like a nice, 3 hand watch, simple and refined. As François-Paul had intended it to be.
All the magic and the technical artistry happens on the movement side. The innovative use of a remontoir system to provide constant force is admirable. Though the concept is quite simple, the adjustment and attention to detail required for the remontoir to work properly requires a high level of skill and precision. The addition of a special escapement with direct impulse double wheel system which requires no lubrication makes it even more horologically spectacular.
The movement is impressive and resplendent in rose gold, and is beautifully finished. The classical finnisage and detailing is addressed par excellence. And looks magnificent.
Priced at S$125,200 in rose gold.
F.P. Journe Chronomètre Optimum Technical Specs
Manual winding / 27 turns of crown
18K rose Gold
Dimensions of the Movement
Overall diameter: 34.40 mm
Casing-up diameter: 33.60 mm
Overall height: 3.75 mm
Height of winding stem: 2.395 mm
Diameter of stem thread: S1.20 mm
Chronometric balance with inertia weight
Hair spring with Phillips curve
Mobile stud holder
Pinned GE stud
Frequency: 21,600v/h (3Hz)
Inertia: 10.10 mg x cm2
Angle of lift : 58°
Amplitude : 0h dial up : > 260°
24h dial up : > 280°
1 second remontoire at 11h, very light in Titanium and balanced
Natural dead beat second on the back of the movement
High performance Bi-axial escapement with arbor and wheels in Titanium, functioning without oil, (inspired by that of A.L.Breguet created in the XVIII Century)
2 mainspring barrels in parallel
2 position crown
Time adjustment in position 2
Off centre hours and minutes
Small second at 9h00
Power reserve at 6h00
Large dead beat second on the back
Circular graining on baseplate
Geneva waves on bridges
Polished screw heads with chamfered slots
Pegs with polished rounded ends
Platinum or 18K red Gold
Diameter : 40 or 42 mm
Total height : 10.10 mm
Dial : Gold and Silver guilloché clous de Paris
Number of parts
Movement without dial : 240
Cased up with strap : 264