In-Depth: F.P.Journe Celebrates 20 Years Of The Octa, Part One
Vintage & Auctions

In-Depth: F.P.Journe Celebrates 20 Years Of The Octa, Part One

The brand has launched a 20th anniversary, limited-edition Octa that pays tribute to earlier models of the automatic timepiece and has held a retrospective exhibition tracing the evolution of this Journe fan favorite.

By Steven Rogers

It has been 20 years since F.P.Journe launched the first production version of the Octa, an ingeniously conceived, automatic movement that has formed the bedrock of – and lent its name to – one of the brand’s most popular and enduring collections.

François-Paul Journe and his team have been celebrating this milestone over the past month by not only launching a 20th anniversary, limited-edition Octa that pays homage to earlier editions, but by also putting on an exhibition at the Journe manufacture in central Geneva showcasing the evolution of the Octa collection over the past two decades.

Rewind to the Turn of the Millennium

At the turn of the millennium, François-Paul Journe, the watchmaker, had spent the previous two decades developing complicated watch and clock movements for big brands, either on his own or as a part of a joint venture.

Under his own name, he had also been making small-series and pièce unique pocket watches, then wristwatches, by hand for an exclusive circle of collectors, featuring chronometry-enhancing mechanisms like the chain-and-fusee, remontoir, detent escapement, and, of course, tourbillon.

When Journe finally took the plunge and started the F.P. Journe brand in 1999, he did so by pre-selling a 20-piece “subscription” series of his Tourbillon Souverain featuring a tourbillon escapement and remontoir d’égalité.

A year later, he made the Sonnerie Souveraine unique piece and launched the Chronomètre à Résonance, the first time the phenomenon of natural resonance had been applied to a wristwatch to provide a more stable rate of oscillation.

A Versatile, Adaptable Automatic movement

While these first models of the F.P.Journe brand were complicated, hand-wound pieces, the next one would be different: A versatile, adaptable automatic movement. It would be the Octa.

Journe had known for some time that if he were ever to start his own brand, in addition to offering the complicated and the complex-to-make, he would also need to provide a simpler and more practical option, not just for the sake of widening his client base, but also to keep his production processes rational.

As early as 1994, during a dinner with friends at the Paris bistro La Dédicace, Journe disclosed his intention to start a full-on watch brand bearing his own name and even supported his declaration by sketching on the paper tablecloth four ideas for the watches his company would make. At least three of the watch faces he drew that evening were unmistakably the inspiration for the early Octa models.

Touch of Genius

Fast forward to 2001, and Journe launched the Octa Automatique featuring the 1300 caliber with finely finished rhodium-treated brass bridges and mainplate (now highly desirable collectibles), plus a 22K rose gold winding rotor. Journe’s design was nothing short of genius, for in creating this one movement, he was able to accomplish several goals.

First, he wanted to offer clients the practicality of owning a self-winding watch because he felt collectors should have at least one in their collection. Besides, it was something some collectors explicitly told him they wanted.

Second, he wanted the movement to have ample autonomy. That meant when the owner took off the watch for an extended period of time – like over a long weekend or during the working week, for example – the watch would still be running when they put it back on again.

And third, he wanted a movement that would act as a base on which he could easily integrate different complications over time. It would give clients variety and choice while allowing Journe to keep production costs reasonable by reusing the same 38mm platinum case – made at the time by Elinor in Paris – for each model.

Finding the Answers

Journe managed to obtain the long power reserve he was looking for by working with a supplier to develop a one-meter long, 1mm thick mainspring that delivered consistent power and could be used with his existing 10.1mm balance wheel.

While the actual power reserve was an enormous 160 hours, the watchmaker preferred to state it as 120 hours – still very impressive – since that was the period over which stable chronometric performance could be assured.

To allow for the integration of complications over time without changing the size of the movement, Journe ensured he could use both sides of the mainplate. He accomplished this by leaving a 1mm space on the dial-side and by off-centering the bidirectional winding rotor, which would allow an adaptable pivot to run through the back of the movement unhindered.

The result: Between 2001 and 2003, F.P.Journe was able to launch four Octa variants, each featuring a big date plus one of four complications – a power reserve indicator (2001), a chronograph (2002), an annual calendar (2003), and a moonphase (2003), each one characterized by an eye-catching, grained yellow-gold dial complemented by a silver hour-minute sub-dial and small seconds featuring guilloche motif, and flame-blued hands.

While the same brass movement would feature in the 2004 Octa Zodiaque limited edition – which was a twist on the calendar complication – the Zodiaque differed from the first Octa models in that its gold dial was slate grey and its 40mm case.

The Octa Automatique 20th Anniversary Limited Edition

As a tribute to those 2001-2003 models, F.P.Journe has launched a limited edition Octa in a platinum case that features a rhodium-treated brass movement and satin-finished dial in yellow gold, recalling those dials produced back in the day when François-Paul Journe himself finished them by hand. The dial layout also remains strikingly similar to the first models with a power reserve indicator, big date, and off-centered hour-minute sub-dial with small seconds.

However, some subtle changes have been made. The power reserve indicator has been moved down slightly to leave more space for an enlarged date, while the numerals of the hour-minute sub-dial are also bigger. And like the Octa Zodiaque, the case is 40mm in diameter instead of the original’s 38mm.

The movement retains the same 120-hour chronometric power reserve but now features unidirectional winding that was introduced in 2007 (more on the switch from bidirectional to unidirectional in Part Two). And small cut-outs in the bridges reveal more of the gears and moving parts.

Certain to whet the appetite of those collectors hankering for a slice of Journe from yesteryear, this 99-piece limited edition is available at the ten F.P.Journe Boutiques and Espaces around the globe and priced at CHF 56,000 excluding taxes.

You can check out more details about this piece on the F.P Journe website.

Stay Tuned: There’s More to Come!

Stay tuned to Watchonista because we will be returning soon with more in-the-metal pictures from F.P.Journe’s “20 Years of Octa” exhibition, including the ruthenium-treated limited editions from 2003, which marked the beginning of the switch to a 40mm Octa case size. Plus, references from 2006-onwards when the Octa began to feature movement plates and bridges in 18K rose gold.

(Photography by Pierre Vogel)

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