F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance
The launch of the inaugural version of the F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance in 2000 marked a significant moment in horological history. Now, some 20 years later, the Maison is celebrating this landmark with the release of a new version of the watch. Angus Davies closely examines this tour de force.
As a young child, I remember watching a television advert for Memorex recordable cassette tapes. The advert featured Ella Fitzgerald singing. As the diva hit a particularly high note, a nearby wine glass shattered into many pieces. The purpose of the advert was to illustrate that the recording of Ms Fitzgerald, played from a Memorex cassette tape, could reproduce the glass shattering feat with impressive fidelity. However, why did the glass shatter in the first place?
Objects will vibrate at a particular frequency, known as the resonant frequency. When a sound matches the glass’s resonant frequency and the amplitude of the sound is sufficient, it will excite the particles within the glass. If the amplitude increases in magnitude, the glass will vibrate until eventually it shatters. In the context of resonance, Ella’s voice is termed an ‘exciter’ and the glass is referred to as the ‘resonator’.
In the field of horology, various luminaries have witnessed resonance and subsequently harnessed its potential.
Some of the leading lights of horology.
Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), the Dutch mathematician, astronomer and physicist invented a pendulum clock in 1656. One day, Huygens observed two pendulum clocks which were hanging from a common beam and sat atop two chairs. He noted that the clocks displayed an ‘odd sympathy’ with the pendula oscillating in perfect consonance but in opposite directions. At the time, Huygens didn’t have the mathematical means of explaining his observations.
Image – Christiaan Huygens
Antide Janvier (1751-1835) experimented with resonance, making dual pendulum clocks. As one pendulum swung it would negate the variation in rate of its counterpart and vice versa. The pendula would swing in opposite directions but in sympathy. Coincidentally, one of Janvier’s resonance clocks is now on display in F.P.Journe‘s Genevan boutique.
Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) miniaturised a pair of oscillators and positioned them in close proximity in order to utilise the phenomenon of resonance. He produced at least three pocket watches of this type. One was supplied to George IV, the King of England and a second piece was supplied to the Louis XVIII, the King of France. For many years it was believed Breguet only made two resonance watches, however, in 2012, a third piece, a ‘Montre Plate A Deux Mouvements’ came up for sale at Christie’s.
The ‘Montre Plate A Deux Mouvements’ (flat watch with two movements) housed two independent movements within an elegant case. The balance of each movement was positioned in very close proximity to its adjacent counterpart. Indeed, the compensation weights affixed to each balance where set in-board, mitigating air turbulence and allowing both balance wheels to sit very close to each other. When each balance was correctly regulated, they would oscillate synchronously, albeit each balance wheel would rotate in the opposite the direction to its counterpart.
In 2000, François-Paul Journe, a son of Marseille, dazzled the watch collecting world when he unveiled the Chronomètre a Résonance. Journe had cleverly harnessed resonance but housed it in a very wearable wristwatch format.
A 20 year journey
As many disciples of François-Paul Journe will attest, the legendary watchmaker continuously pursues advancement and is unwilling to accept the status quo. Indeed, Journe began flirting with resonance back in 1983, but after two years, he abandoned the idea because in his own words, “It didn’t work well’.
In the 1990s, Journe would returned to the idea of making a resonance watch. Thankfully, the Frenchman persevered and in 2000 he released the inaugural version of the Chronomètre a Résonance.
The initial Chronomètre a Résonance was a ‘subscription watch’ or ‘montre de souscription’, a marketing strategy first used by Abraham-Louis Breguet. This approach saw Breguet produce a prospectus and thereafter interested parties would make a down payment on the watch prior to it being made. Breguet would insist that a quarter of the price was paid at the time of order. Often when we talk of Breguet, we describe him as ‘the greatest watchmaker of all time’, a statement I wholeheartedly agree with, however, Breguet was also a consummate businessman.
Image – Chronomètre a Résonance (pre-2004)
After the first Chronomètre a Résonance, Journe went on to release several further versions of the watch; the first collection series (2001), the Ruthenium series (2001-2002), with an 18-carat rose gold movement (2005), the digital 24 hours Résonance (2010) and the analogic 24 hours Résonance (2019).
Image – Chronomètre a Résonance 2001 Ruthénium
In 2010, the F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance won the ‘Montre à Grand Complication’ at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). Ten years after producing the first model, the magnificence of Journe’s creation finally received due recognition.
Now, F.P.Journe is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chronomètre a Résonance in style with the release of the finest iteration of the model to date.
The F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance is offered in platinum and in 18-carat 6N gold, with both options available in a 40mm or 42mm case. The case material chosen determines the hue of the dial. The platinum case is paired with an 18-carat white gold dial, while the 18-carat 6N gold comes supplied with a matching dial. Irrespective of which case material is selected, the dial design remains the same.
At the centre of the dial are two independent hour and minute displays sitting side by side, beneath which are two small seconds dials. The hour and minutes are presented on whitened silver guilloché subdials embellished with clous de Paris motif. In addition, each subdial features Arabic numerals, a chemin de fer and thermally blued hands. The small seconds dials share the same design language, sans guilloché, but are presented in a smaller format. A mirror-polished frame tastefully delineates the whitened silver area from the rest of the dial.
By having two independent hour and minute displays, the wearer can display the ‘home’ time and the ‘local’ time simultaneously. Where this proves superior to a conventional GMT is that in some parts of the world, the ‘offset’ can be 30 or 45 minutes. For example, the time in Mumbai is GMT + 5:30.
In the lower portion of the display, the brand’s logo is shown. It was first used in 1999 and it fills much of the available space. While the logo is comparatively large, it does not overwhelm the horological vista but exhibits a tasteful, sophisticated appearance.
A power-reserve indicator sits on high, showing the prevailing status of the mainspring. The available energy is presented on a two-tone arcing scale and articulated with a thermally blued hand.
Unlike its forebears, this new F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance features an opening at the centre of the dial. This grants views of the differential transmitting energy from the lone barrel to both gear trains (see later).
The fact that the F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance is offered in two different case sizes that differ by just 2mm in diameter is one of many reasons why I adore this Maison. In a larger company, the ‘bean-counters’ would argue that it was unnecessary and too expensive. Phrases such as ‘economies of scale’ would pervade the boardroom. However, I would liken an F.P.Journe watch to a Savile Row suit, both are examples of no-compromise luxury, optimally sized in order to fit the wearer properly.
Irrespective of the case material selected, highly polished surfaces abound. With some watches this can feel a tad excessive and, dare I say, gaudy. However, F.P.Journe always judge every element to perfection. The case of each model looks sumptuous and yet elegantly restrained.
On former examples of the Chronomètre a Résonance, the crown was positioned between the upper lugs and was apparently difficult to manipulate. In addition, a second crown was located at 4 o’clock. The new F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance still features two crowns, albeit now they both grace the right flank of the case.
The crown at 2 o’clock adjusts the time indications and winds the mainspring. If the crown at 4 o’clock is pulled, it simultaneously resets both small seconds displays. A rope-like grip encircles both crowns, upholding the brand’s much-admired design language.
Unlike its predecessors, the F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance is equipped with one spring barrel. Sometimes, this can prove inferior to having two barrels because the energy serving the escapement can markedly wane, thereby reducing the amplitude and ultimately precision. However, the Calibre 1520 fitted to this model won’t suffer such problems as it is endowed with a Remontoir d’Egalite. Allow me to elaborate.
This movement features two gear trains, two escapements and two balances. The single barrel is connected to both gear trains via a differential. Each gear train is fitted with its own Remontoir d’Egalite. Each remontoir consists of a small spring which is wound by the mainspring. In this instance, the spring is tensioned and then relaxes every second. As the remontoir spring relaxes, it supplies a uniform dose of energy to the escapement which in turn ensures each balance wheel’s angle of rotation (amplitude) remains constant.
In the book, ‘George Daniels Watchmaking’, the late British watchmaker said, “the use of the remontoir is by far the best method of smoothing the power supply, but it is complex and costly to make. For this reason watches with remontoirs are very rare and this, combined with their attractive action, gives them a special place in the affections of the connoisseur of mechanics.”
F.P.Journe states ‘the force received by the escapements remains linear and assures isochronism throughout 28 hours’. Assuming the watch is fully wound, the movement will actually run autonomously for 42 hours. Ideally, the watch should be wound daily to ensure both escapements receive a constant force, optimising precision.
When the two balance wheels are oscillating, one acts as the exciter and the other acts as the resonator. They will continuously swap these roles with each oscillation. Despite there being no physical connection between the balance wheels when they are in motion, one transmits energy to the other and vice versa. This is the phenomenon of resonance which augments precision.
The balance wheels always oscillate in opposite directions. A key benefit of resonance is that if the wearer’s arm is subject to positional change, one balance wheel will go faster and its counterpart will go slower. The energy they both share will cause them to synchronise again, cancelling out any adverse positional influence.
In order for resonance to work within Journe’s watch, the two balance wheels have to be close to each other. In addition, Journe ensures the balances are regulated in six positions and ‘the difference of the frequency from one to the other’ doesn’t exceed 5 seconds. If the frequency of each balance was vastly different they would not oscillate in sympathy ie there would be no prospect of resonance.
Monsieur Journe has equipped the Calibre 1520 with two free-sprung balances. These take longer to regulate than an index-adjusted balance but offer superior precision and will allow the hairspring to breathe more concentrically. The moment of inertia is adjusted using c-shaped masellotes which are located in-board, mitigating air turbulence. Furthermore, by using masellotes instead of timing screws, there are no projections beyond the rim of each balance wheel, allowing both balance wheels to be positioned closer to each other.
Lastly, beyond its incredible chronometric performance, the Calibre 1520 has been refined to the nth degree. The movement is made of 18-carat rose gold. This noble metal is very soft, requiring absolute concentration on the part of the watchmaker. Indeed, one absentminded slip of the hand could easily scar the movement. The rationale for using gold is that it is the least reactive metal, hence no unsightly patination will occur with the onset of years. The bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève motif, parts of the main plate are embellished with perlage, the pegs feature polished ends and the screw heads are polished, bevelled and feature chamfered slots. Put simply, the finissage is beyond reproach.
When summarising the F.P.Journe Chronomètre a Résonance, a hierarchical approach seems appropriate.
Firstly, this model has all of the necessary prerequisites for a superb watch. The dial is legible, the case is available in two sizes, proffering an optimum wrist-fit for most aspiring wearers, the movement promises high-levels of precision and the watch is achingly gorgeous. In addition, this timepiece also offers the convenience of displaying the home time and local time simultaneously, even when the offset is 30 or 45 minutes.
On a higher level, this exemplar of haute horlogerie is incredibly refined. The guilloché dials, the thermally blued screws and the mirror-polished brightwork on the dial all exude sophistication. The smoothly contoured case, polished to a resplendent, blemish-free standard is eminently elegant. But, most noticeably, the movement finishing is of the highest order. Perlage, anglage, mirror-polishing, polished pegs, Geneva stripes and ultra-refined screw heads all vie for the affections of a purist’s heart.
However, what differentiates this watch from many of its high-end contemporaries can best be described as its ‘technical virtuosity’.
Journe has fitted two remontoirs, one for each gear train, sending a constant force to each respective escapement. This feature ensures the amplitude for 28 hours remains constant, enhancing precision. Most watchmakers would not attempt such complexity, but there are few watchmakers like Monsieur Journe.
By studying the work of historical figures such as Huygens, Janvier and Breguet, François-Paul Journe has gained a thorough understanding of resonance. Perhaps more pertinently, he has appraised the work of the past and refined it for use today, namely within a wristwatch.
When I was a child, I was unable to compute why a wine glass would shatter merely with the sound of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice. Today, I am able to understand the physics at the heart of this spectacle. Now, I am trying to understand how Journe’s mind works such is the magnitude of his creativity. Perhaps I will gain greater insight into this brilliant mind, the mind of the finest living watchmaker, when I am bit older.
- Model: F.P. Journe Chronomètre a Résonance
- Case: 18K rose gold (6N) / platinum; diameter 42mm; height 11mm; sapphire crystal to front and rear
- Functions: Hours and minutes (two independent displays); small seconds (two independent displays); power reserve indicator
- Movement: Calibre 1520; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz); 62 jewels; power reserve 42 hours; 378 movement components.
- 18K rose gold (6N) price: £93,600 including taxes (RRP as at 30.4.2020)
- Platinum price: £97,000 including taxes (RRP as at 30.4.2020)
- 18 rose gold (6N) – diameter 40mm
- Platinum – diameter 40mm