Collectors in search of F.P.Journe watches

In recent years, F.P.Journe timepieces have been fetching phenomenal prices at auction. There are several reasons for this, according to Aurel Bacs, the famous watch auctioneer. The explanations are both macroeconomic, but mostly related to the master watchmaker himself, to his consistency, to the complexity and rarity of his timepieces, to the timelessness of his style, and to their price, among other reasons. There are no hidden marketing costs at F.P.Journe. Isabelle Cerboneschi

Watch auctions generate approximately 500 million euros per year. The sector has exploded in the last twenty years and watches put up for auction are doing phenomenally well. But not just any watches.

Some major watch brands, such as Patek Philippe, or Rolex, have been auction successes for decades. But there is a name that has been emerging for a few years: F.P.Journe. On November 9, 2019, the prototype of the Astronomic Blue watch in tantalum, which the master watchmaker had developed specifically for Only Watch, was auctioned for the sum of CHF 1,800,000. In June 2020, Phillips sold a Souscription No. 14 Resonance Chronometer with a unique platinum and rose gold case for CHF 1,040,000 and a Souscription No. 14 Sovereign Tourbillon for CHF 1,400,000. These two subscription (pre-financed) pieces were among the first produced by François-Paul Journe and belonged to jeweler Lorenz Baümer, a collector and friend of the watchmaker.

When asked how he feels when he sees the price of his watches soar at auction, François-Paul Journe replies, “Two things: I’m pleased because what I do is recognized at its true value. But at the same time, I don’t really like speculation. In our stores, we make sure that our watches are acquired by collectors and not by speculators.” How do you recognize them? “When a customer we don’t know is interested in one of our watches, we take their name, address and phone number, because we don’t usually have the merchandise in the store. But sometimes second hand dealers send us fake customers. And to prevent this from happening to a retailer, we do not entrust them with the right to sell pieces priced over 250,000 francs. “

François-Paul Journe is one of the greatest master watchmakers of this century and part of the last one. He began modestly, but because he goes beyond what others might consider a form of perfection, he has succeeded over the decades in imposing his name at the top of the watchmaking hierarchy. He is difficult to follow in his quest for the absolute, and sometimes hermetic when he embarks on projects that can last six years or more. He makes rare timepieces with equally rare complications that are increasingly sought after on the market, and therefore at auction. And since he only produces only 900 watches a year, the demand cannot be met.

This is actually one of the reasons why he had created the Patrimoine department in 2016. “The idea came to me by chance,” confides François-Paul Journe. “A client was looking for a particular model and did not want to buy it at a public sale, nor on the internet. He asked us to buy it for him, to restore it and to give him a guarantee.”  The heritage department was born. François-Paul Journe only buys watches that are no longer in production. They are being reviewed and checked in his workshops and sold as new in his boutiques, with a certificate of authenticity and a three-year warranty. “The first year, we made a turnover of 1.7 million. It’s not a profit, because it’s a service and the margin is very small, but it’s good for both our image and for our customers, who are happy to be able to acquire a watch in perfect condition, almost as if it had just come out of the watch factory. I used to buy them at Christie’s, at Sotheby’s, but because of the increase in prices, it has become difficult, if not impossible. I tried to buy two watches at Artcurial recently, but I could not. One of them was a gold calendar from 2003-2004, which went up for auction at 188,000 euros. At the time I had sold it for 35,000 francs! “The master watchmaker has therefore had to diversify his sources and buys back certain models from customers who offer them through his boutiques.

When you know the man behind all these movements, it brings a depth to the timepiece, and the collector feels confident,
Aurel Bacs, senior watch auctioneer, Phillips

When Aurel Bacs, the renowned senior consultant watch auctioneer at Phillips, is asked how he analyzes the growing collector interest in FP Journe watches, he says there is not just one reason, but several. “What is surprising is that the last two records – the Chronomètre à Résonance sold for CHF 1,040,000 and the Tourbillon Souverain for CHF 1,400,000 – were set between two lockdowns in the summer of 2020. As it happens, 2020 was our best year. The success of FP Journe watches is linked to the state of the world: with the pandemic, many people have been thinking about how they want to invest their money. In many countries, banks are charging negative interest rates. People with personal wealth realized that certain pleasures were no longer accessible, like going to a beach in the Caribbean, for example. They have realized that there are other pleasures that can be enjoyed at home, such as a good bottle of wine, a piece of art, or a fine watch. I also see a growing interest from customers for very high quality timepieces, timeless, with content, a story, and behind which one perceives the watchmaker. When you know the man behind the movement, it brings depth to the timepiece, and the collector feels confident. F.P.Journe meets all these criteria.”

Another factor in favor of F.P.Journe watches is their price. The watchmaker does not sign multi-million dollar contracts with sports or entertainment ambassadors. He does not spend astronomical sums on advertising campaigns. “When you buy an F.P.Journe timepiece for 100,000 francs, you are buying a watch that is really worth 100,000 francs,” says Aurel Bacs. “François-Paul Journe is an authentic watchmaker. He was inspired by the fine watchmaking of the 17th century, but he has a unique style, which he has imposed since his first watch. He has never tried to please the Russians or the Chinese. He does not try to please, in fact: he makes watches according to his taste. His range of models is limited. He has never participated in the race for large diameters. His watches are timeless and the price is not exaggerated. Unlike other brands, it has kept its feet on the ground. So, if we summarize, his watches are rare, exclusive, the prices are attractive, from a macro-economic point of view, there has been the pandemic, negative interest rates, some get richer than before, others less. F.P.Journe watches are perfectly positioned to meet the needs of the times. “

The quotation of a watch sold at auction is a guarantee of confidence in a brand. The latter defines its prices unilaterally: the customer is free to accept it or not. But during an auction, the amount no longer depends on the watchmaker, but on the real demand. The price obtained becomes the market value. “Moreover, a product sold at auction for an amount much lower than the public price is terrible for a brand,” says Aurel Bacs. He and his colleagues have seen timepieces that did not even reach a quarter of the asking price in the boutique…

Which F.P.Journe model would Aurel Bacs recommend to a collector? “If he can afford it, I would tell him to buy the top of the top. At F.P.Journe, these are prototypes from the late 1990s or 2000s, which fetch between several hundred thousand francs and more than a million. But if it’s a watch that the person is going to wear, I would say the Octa Chrono. It’s an automatic model, it has a date, a very useful function when you have to date and sign a document, and the chronograph is an interesting mechanism. This timepiece has a discreet look, a classic shape, and for someone who is not a billionaire, it remains affordable. Do you know of any other smart F.P.Journe watch that is worth a few tens of thousands of francs? My job is not to give investment advice, but to help a person find THE watch, the one that gives him an emotion in the morning when he puts it on his wrist. And that is priceless. ”

Although he is wary of speculators, François-Paul Journe will participate in the biennial Only Watch charity auction on November 6, 2021, which will take place at Christie’s, at the Hôtel des Bergues, in Geneva. “We will be offering the prototype of a new watch that will be launched this year. But I can’t unveil it yet because the sales catalog is not yet published.” This model will undoubtedly set a new record. This will make François-Paul Journe very happy, because whoever buys it, the money will go to the Monegasque Association against Myopathies. A cause that is dear to him.