You Asked: Why Are F.P. Journe Prices Soaring?
We spoke to watch industry experts Paul Boutros, William Massena, and Richard Lopez to find out what’s going on.
Amidst all of the upheaval of 2020, watch auctions continued apace. While the “power” brands maintained their high prices, F.P. Journe joined the ranks as a big player. There’s no doubt that Journe is an outstanding watchmaker creating exceptional pieces. But why the sudden rise? And why now, when the world has been turned upside down? I asked the experts: Paul Boutros - Head of Watches, Americas at Phillips, William Massena - F.P. Journe collector, former CEO of Antiquorum, and founder of Massena LAB, and Richard Lopez - Senior Vice President, Senior Watch Specialist, and Head of Online Sales at Sotheby’s New York. Here’s what they had to say.
Why are F.P. Journe timepieces garnering more attention at auction?
William Massena: F.P. Journe is in a unique position in the world of high-end watchmaking. It is certainly one of the largest independent brands still owned by its founder, a watchmaker but also one of the smallest and youngest manufacturers in the world. After about 20 years of business, and maybe close to 10,000 watches sold, it is about time that F.P. Journe received well-deserved recognition among collectors at auction and in the marketplace.
Paul Boutros: In recent years, there has been growing interest in watches made by independent brands, with collectors appreciating their relative rarity, limited quantity production, high quality, ability to directly interact with the watchmaker, and their hand-crafted nature.
Founded in 1999, F.P. Journe is one of the more established independent brands, and his watches stand out for their unique aesthetic and well-balanced proportions. Most of all, Mr. Journe designs and manufactures his watches in-house (the brand doesn’t just finish existing calibers from other manufacturers) with a focus on timekeeping precision.
Richard Lopez: F.P. Journe is a breath of fresh air. I think more people have become aware and understanding of this unique brand through social media. A collector I know owns 100 pieces. For years he was able to enjoy wearing them without the brand being recognized. That’s certainly changed now.
To what do you attribute the rise in gavel prices for Journe timepieces? Has the increase been gradual or swift in the last couple of years?
Paul Boutros: More and more collectors want what others cannot get. The rise in prices seen over the past few years for Journe’s watches can be attributed to simple economic factors – far more demand than supply. Every year we see growth in new collectors entering the market, and we continue to see established collectors expanding their aperture to include independent brands such as F.P. Journe.
His production of watches each year has and continues to be intrinsically limited. So, with rising demand and limited supply, prices on the secondary market have risen, most especially over the past 18 months.
William Massena: Unfortunately, the prices of F.P. Journe timepieces at auction have gone up exponentially in the last two years. The F.P. Journe auction market is very new and therefore very enthusiastic, and while pricing has been volatile, I believe that with maturity, the market will find a certain equilibrium.
F.P. Journe watches have finally been noticed by a larger audience; this has created higher demand. And the brand has kept its low production numbers. At the same time, scholarly interest has increased around Mr. Journe’s early watches, which were made between 1999 and 2004 (the “brass period” when F.P. Journe was manufacturing his movements in brass rather than gold). All of these factors are reflected in the auction prices.
Richard Lopez: It’s a supply and demand issue. We have not had one Journe watch that did not exceed the estimate. During the pandemic, collectors have had more time and are looking from home. They’re researching things they may not have before.
Why are F.P. Journe timepieces so special and desirable?
William Massena: It is a combination of a few factors: F.P. Journe has been making some unique complications such as his signature timepiece, the Chronomètre À Résonance, which has been a best-seller for about 20 years. Further, his interpretation of classic complications such as the tourbillon is very distinctive and much appreciated.
Paul Boutros: There are several important factors contributing to the strong desirability and appeal for Journe’s timepieces:
1. Journe has a design language and aesthetic that are strong and entirely original. The size of the brand’s watches, along with their superb proportions and balance, fit a wide variety of wrist sizes, making them appeal to collectors around the world.
2. Journe designs and manufactures the movements for all his watches in-house. Very few independent brands do so.
3. Journe’s innovations have pushed the state-of-the-art in watchmaking. Serious collectors appreciate the fundamental focus on timekeeping accuracy and precision across his models.
4. He offers a comprehensive and diverse product line, including time-only watches, split seconds chronographs, and highly complicated watches with chiming and astronomical complications.
5. Journe’s models and full product line has smartly and coherently evolved. For example, the Résonance has iterated over four generations since launching in 2000. Each new version offers a major aesthetic difference or significant improvement that builds on the watchmaking excellence of the prior-generation model.
Richard Lopez: F.P. Journe’s new-age design and distinctive dials separate his watches from the rest of the pack. They’re so special and unique, and they offer talking points versus Patek Philippe sports models, which are also in high demand right now. People in the 30- to 40-year age range are buying Journe watches, while we skew older for other ultra-high-end timepieces.
Is the fact that François-Paul Journe is a living watchmaker influence the value of his watches?
Richard Lopez: I believe so. Mr. Journe is very visible. He does a lot of talks that are fascinating for both collectors and aficionados. Having a face behind the watch is great. We don’t have that as compared to other brands.
Paul Boutros: The fact that Mr. Journe is a living watchmaker and that collectors can speak with and interact directly with him attracts people to the brand – raising interest and demand for his watches in general.
William Massena: I would respond with another question: What do you think would be the effect on the auction price of F.P. Journe watches if he was no longer living? George Daniels watches have gained a tremendous increase in value since his passing in 2011. What about famous artists such as Picasso or Andy Warhol? I will let you draw your own conclusions.
Why would a serious watch collector choose to buy a Journe timepiece over another watch in the same price range, at auction or retail?
William Massena: The motivation should always remain the same, whether you are a dilettante or a serious collector: Buy with your heart, and only if you can afford it. Any other motive, especially a speculative one, will come back to haunt you.
I have been in this market for nearly 30 years, and trends and hype have come and gone. If you like an F.P. Journe today, you will most likely enjoy it and appreciate it more tomorrow, regardless of what you paid then and what it is worth now.
Paul Boutros: Collecting is a matter of personal taste – some will prefer to purchase a Journe, some will choose a different brand, while others will buy Journe and other brands at similar price ranges. It really depends on a buyer’s sensibilities and budget!
Richard Lopez: Most serious watch collectors already have Rolexes and Patek Philippes in their collections. They have well-rounded collections, and now they’re looking for something different. They see that they’re very well-made with great designs and they’re buying the watches for investment value.
I just bought the élégante model from a retailer, which was very exciting. I don’t know when I might have another opportunity to buy a Journe. I put a photo of my watch on Instagram and someone messaged me offering twice the price I paid for it. Of course, I didn’t sell it.
Where Will Journe Prices Go From Here?
Richard Lopez: I want to see what 2021 brings. I believe Journe is going to continue to be strong at auction. Getting collectors to part with their Journes is the problem.
(Photography by Watchonista)