Some 200 years ago Abraham-Louis Bréguet successfully patented his revolutionary mechanism, the tourbillon regulator. In a nutshell, his innovation compensated for gravitational errors in the escapement, while ensuring the constant circulation of lubrication within. The tourbillon undoubtedly enhanced the precision of mechanical timepieces and cemented Bréguet’s legacy-making him one of the most significant watchmakers ever.
Centuries later, a determined but then unknown watchmaker by the name of François-Paul Journe tackled the challenge of improving Breguet’s landmark invention, aided by a historically important book, The Art of Breguet by legendary English horologist George Daniels.
It took five arduous years for François-Paul to complete his first tourbillon pocket watch, which was entirely hand-made and featured with twin barrels along with a détent escapement – and proudly signed “F. P. Journe – à Paris” on the dial.
Upon its completion in 1983, the twenty-five-year François-Paul was fascinated with the fact that it actually functioned. He vividly recalls stopping every so often whilst walking and bringing the pocket watch up to his ear to make sure it still worked.
Today, his eponymous brand, F. P. Journe, is on its third generation of his trademark tourbillon. This article will focus on the second, and most long-lived iteration, the Tourbillon Nouveau, or “TN” for short, that produced from 2003 until 2018.
The introduction of the Tourbillon Nouveau came at a seminal moment for F.P. Journe. Between 2003 and 2004, the brand phased out brass movements in favour of an industry-first – movements entirely in 18k red gold and implemented the upgrade across all calibres then in production. It is estimated that no more than 2,200 brass movements exist for the six references produced from 1999 to 2003.
In the wake of this upgrade, most references were simply continued in the catalogue, but with the difference being a change from brass to gold for the movement. It should be noted that certain references received updated model references. All brass movements for the Chronometre a Resonance, for instance, were classified as “R” before the change, and then amended to “RN” after.
Unlike other references, the brass-movement Tourbillon Souverain (ref. T) was entirely discontinued in favour of a completely new tourbillon, the Tourbillon Nouveau (ref. TN). The newly-introduced cal. 1403 in the “TN” integrated a seconde morte, or deadbeat seconds into the constant force mechanism.
It is estimated that during its 15-year production run only about 750-850 examples of the Tourbillon Nouveau were made. We have compiled a detailed breakdown of some of the rarest examples within this particular reference.
The introduction of the 18k red gold movements was the final farewell to the iconic yellow gold dials that were synonymous with the brand’s earliest timepieces. The standard configurations offered on all F. P. Journe references from 2004 onwards were either a platinum case paired with a white gold dial, or a rose gold case paired with a rose gold dial. This was not set in stone and the brand would upon request accept orders for different configurations such as a platinum case paired with a rose gold dial or a rose gold case paired with a white gold dial.
We are of the opinion that the most common Tourbillon Nouveau model would be the platinum case paired with a white gold dial. With that being said, it is important to note that 38 mm Tourbillon Nouveaus exist. The 38 mm case size was discontinued in 2015. Apart from the case sizes, the early examples feature case production numbers, XXX-04TN we believe this was stopped towards XXX-05TN, from then onwards all cases simply feature an individual serial number (XXX-TN).
Of the original configurations, we believe that the rarest might be the rose gold case paired with a rose gold dial.
Leaving no Stone Unturned
Shortly after the introduction of the Tourbillon Nouveau, two gem-set versions were released in 2004. The first was fitted to a bracelet and as entirely set with 332 baguette-cut diamonds and 201 brilliant-cut diamonds totalling 26.04 carats. The second did not possess the gem-set bracelet and was set with stones totalling 13.18 carats. These watches were masterpieces of the gem-setter’s art – it is believed that each stone had to be individually cut to fit the case, with the side profile of the case, in particular, exemplifying the craftsmanship and meticulous work found on both references.
The last known retail price was $750’000 making this one of the most expensive F. P. Journe watches at the time.
Sincere Editions – 2004 / 2005
F. P. Journe had a unique relationship with Tay Liam Wee, then the chief executive of Sincere Watch, a Southeast Asian retailer that played a crucial role in the early days of the brand. This relationship gave rise to a series of watches with dials in precious natural materials that were exclusive to Sincere.
The earliest example of a Sincere edition was that made for the retailer’s 50th Anniversary, a Tourbillon Nouveau in rose gold paired with a black mother of pearl dial that was limited to just five examples. They were further distinguished by an engraving on the movement of the Sincere logo and “1954 – 2004”.
As indicated by this example sold by Phillips in 2021, the case number 076-04TN would suggest that the edition was made in 2004. This particular example features a single-piece mother of pearl dial, once again proving how early of an example this is. The single-piece mother of pearl dials were extremely fragile and occasionally broke during production or servicing. From 2010-11 onwards most exotic material dials were made in two parts, separated at both three and nine o’clock, reducing the risk of breakage.
In 2007 Sincere was bestowed another limited edition of 15 watches, all of which featured 40 mm platinum cases paired with black mother of pearl dials.
And it was during this period that the only double-signed F. P. Journe wristwatch with a retailer’s logo on both the dial and movement was produced, once again for Sincere – click here for more.
Anniversary Tourbillon – Tokyo Edition 2006
Apart from the LineSport, the use of titanium is rare for F. P. Journe, which was historically preferred precious metals, with one exception. Titanium cases were conceived as strictly exclusive to the Tokyo Anniversary and Boutique Limited Editions. François-Paul Journe’s affinity for his Japanese clients is well documented with the creation of 5 Anniversaire Tokyo Editions to date: Chronomètre Souverain (20 examples), Chronomètre à Résonance (12 examples), Tourbillon Souverain (20 examples), Octa Perpétuelle (99 examples) and the Centigraphe Souverain (40 examples). The Tokyo Anniversaire watches all feature Titanium cases paired with a ruthenium-coated 18k white gold dial. Interestingly, the use of the burnt orange print for the “F. P. Journe – Invenit et Fecit” emblem is also unique to the Tokyo Anniversary editions.
The Tokyo Tourbillon Nouveau was limited to 20 examples, with each boutique receiving 5 pieces, and each watch bearing the name of the city where the respective boutique was located, along with a specific serial number, i.e. “Geneva 2/5”. At the time there were only 4 boutiques, hence the limited edition of just 20 examples.
Black Label & Boutique Edition Concept 2006-2007
The concept of the Black Label and Boutique Edition collections was twofold. On the one hand, they allowed F. P. Journe Boutiques and Espaces to be differentiated from authorised retailers, and on the other, they reinforced the sense of community for F.P. Journe collectors. Elaborating on the community aspect, the Black Label watches, which had platinum cases and black lacquered dial, were only offered to current owners of F. P. Journe watches.
Both examples above were made available in 38mm and 40mm.
Pisa Edition – 2008
In order to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Orologeria Pisa, a renowned retailer found in Milan, F. P. Journe made a special series of 5 examples. The sub-dial is coated in ruthenium similar to the Chronomètre a Résonance that was well known by collectors. Our article of November 24, 2020, summarised the founding of this series:
Ineichen also unearthed the Tourbillon Souverain – Pisa Edition, which was relatively unknown until its recent discovery. Upon further investigation, Mr. Corvo, a leading retailer of Independent brands in Milan and one of the only distributors for F. P. Journe, confirmed that the Tourbillon was also strictly limited to five examples. A recent certificate from F. P. Journe reaffirms that the Tourbillon Souverain – Pisa Edition is strictly limited to five examples and was made exclusively for Pisa Orologeria.
China – 2010
Celebrating the opening of the 6th boutique in Beijing was this special edition TN. The dial is inspired by the Chinese national flag, with a red lacquered finish and a power reserve scale that is replaced by five stars. The boutique was closed several years later.
Owning both dial and case manufactures, Les Cadraniers de Genève and Boîtiers de Genève respectively, F. P. Journe has the ability to be adventurous. The in-house manufacturing capability allows the brand to essentially customise the manufacturing process and refine its methods. Jade was introduced as a dial material in 2011, with the very earliest examples featuring one-piece dials, whereas later examples had the less fragile two-piece dials. From our understanding, the jade dials were only installed in platinum cases.
The rarest examples would be 38mm or 40mm platinum cases paired with a single-piece jade dial, however, we do not know if these dials are replaced with the updated two-piece dials during service.
For A Good Cause
F. P. Journe has always been closely linked with Swiss charity Action Innocence, which focuses on protecting children. In 2015 F. P. Journe donated a pair of unique watches, a Tourbillon Nouveau and an Elegante, both with purple dials, to the charity.
According to the press image, “001-04TN” is the serial number found on the Action Innocence tourbillon, making it the first example of the model despite the 2015 date. The case was probably withheld until a fitting occasion such as this one arose.
Alternatively, this could simply be a press image and might not be the actual serial number of the watch that was donated. At the time the watch was the most expensive F. P. Journe ever sold at auction, having achieved a whopping USD770,000, largely thanks to a gracious underbidder who donated his runner-up bid to the charity anyway, as documented by our friend SJX in 2015.
Shortly after, F. P. Journe contributed another tourbillon to Only Watch 2015, this time a unique Tantalum Tourbillon. The Tourbillon was undoubtedly inspired by F. P. Journe’s bestseller, the Chronometre Bleu. This set the template for the future iterations of Only Watch editions, namely a tantalum case paired with a reflective blue dial and orange strap.
Paris Boutique – Unique
In 2017 the Paris Boutique received a Unique Piece with a Lapis Lazuli dial, a first for the tourbillon. This is arguably one of the most beautiful dials ever made by the brand due to the natural properties of the semi-precious stone.
The Hour Glass – Mr. Tay
“An example of one of the last Tourbillon Souverains produced, this execution reflects the evolution of the F.P. Journe’s brand from its founding in 1999. Though the mechanics are fundamentally identical to that in the Tourbillon Souscription of 1999, the Tourbillon Souverain has a greater degree of refinement in its finish and materials, illustrating the strides the brand has made in developing its own production capability. While the Souscription Tourbillon had its bridges and plates made of brass, this has them in solid red gold. And instead of brass as the dial, this platinum 40 mm example has Chinese Oracle Bone Script on an Adventurine stone dial produced in the dial factory co-owned by F.P. Journe.” – excerpt from The Hour Glass
Though case numbers are not always sequential, the serial number of the watch made for The Hour Glass, “750-TN”, would support the estimated production levels stated above. This watch marks only the second time that F. P. Journe used Chinese Oracle Bone Script on the dial.
The Farewell Tour
As the production of the TN was coming to a close, F. P. Journe decided to pay tribute to the Régence Circulaire motif found in early examples of the tourbillon that were made in 2001 for the International Jewellery & Watch Exhibition in Bahrain.
The inspiration for the hand-engraved pattern originates in the 18th century, which François-Paul considers the golden age of time measurement. Modeled on the geometrical patterns popular during the Regency period, the Régence Circulaire motif pays homage to the clockmakers and artisans of the 18th century in both style and execution.
A total of 20 Regency examples were made, 10 with a rose gold case paired with a hand-engraved white gold dial, and the other 10 features a 40mm rose gold case paired with a rose gold dial.
A further 10 examples with the Labyrinthe dial were made, all having a 40mm platinum case paired with a rose gold dial.
Goodbye – Ruby
And the last installment of the farewell tour for the Tourbillon Nouveau was the Coeur de Rubis that was limited to 20 examples. Each piece is essential unique due to the natural properties of the stone. According to the brand, this was the most complicated dial to produce due to the brittle nature of the stone – each dial had to be sliced and polished to a height of just 0.45mm.
Closing remarks – unearthed
We know of a yellow dial tourbillon nouveau made for Claude Sfeir and do not dismiss the possibility of their being editions we are unaware of or have never surfaced publicly.