A Pilgrimage: An Exclusive Tour Of The F.P.Journe Manufactures in Geneva
Watchmaker F.P.Journe always pushes boundaries in design, materials and complications to advance the art of fine watchmaking. Skilled artisans manually craft each timepiece, infusing a sense of rarity and mechanical artistry into every creation. A visit to the workshops? Well count me in, along with a stop at the recently opened F.P.Journe Le Restaurant, a new destination for watch aficionados visiting Geneva that addresses their urgent appetites outside of timepieces.
For this watch lover and writer from Silicon Valley, California, the chance to visit the workshops of renowned independent watchmaker François-Paul Journe was a horological dream fulfilled. Across three dedicated manufactures—one each for movements, dials, and cases—that is where nothing short of magic happens. While his main facility resides in central Geneva, the dial and case factories lie in the suburb of Meyrin. Having just moved into the new location in June 2023, the brand-new Meyrin site housing dial and case construction proved an particularly enlightening experience.
Meet and Greet
While touring the facilities, I crossed paths with many Montres Journe craftspeople, from watchmakers to dial and case artisans. It become clear how F.P.Journe timepieces have been so coveted—each piece passes through countless skilled hands, honing mastery through years at their craft.
We passed by François-Paul’s personal office, situated alongside the watchmakers in the main manufacture. His workspace contains a well-equipped bench signaling recent use—he clearly remains a watchmaker at heart, in fact prototyping all new movements himself. François-Paul favors proximity with the team assembling his creations.
He is also is the sole designer at the company. His creative process typically begins with the dial, followed by the movement and case. The direct ownership of manufacturing facilities has empowered François-Paul to pursue and bring his vision for both product and aesthetics to fruition—a truly remarkable feat.
Dialed In: Les Cadraniers de Genève (CDG)
As early as 1999, Journe foresaw a supply-side shortage of high-end dials. Seizing an opportunity presented by available dial artisans, he co-founded a new dial maker, the Cadraniers de Genève (CDG). Today, under full Journe ownership, CDG stands as a key supplier of high-end dials, catering not only to F.P.Journe but also to other prestigious brands and independent watchmakers.
The CDG facility spans dial design to production with 30+ artisans specializing in over 20 disciplines—from pad printing to enamel mastery. We first passed the Technical Office and Developments were we witnessed dial experts using large-display computers to bring unique designs to life.
The Mechanics department introduced us to two entirely new procedures: checking the flatness of raw dials by subjecting them to stringent requirements, and recognizing that each raw dial requires a well-designed support base to endure the testing. Absolute flatness is imperative to accommodate subsequent additions of components and to maintain a perfect appearance.
In the Appliqué department, we observed the crafting of appliqués for the Divine model. These appliqués encompass the numerals 1 to 12 in various sizes, the frame for the date window, the moon phase frame, and the distinctive seconds ring frame. The appliqués underwent a meticulous polishing process to ensure they achieve the highest possible level of visual refinement.
In the Pad Printing room, a highly seasoned technician, with over 40 years of expertise, carefully transfer-printed dial details for the Quantième Perpétuel model. A mold specifically crafted for text or symbols is filled with ink, and a soft plastic ball, guided by the skilled hand, delicately pressed the ink figures onto the dial.
The Assembly Workshop is a pivotal space where the final composition of the dials take place. We were fortunate to witness the concluding stages of affixing appliqués to the Chronomètre Souverain dials. The numerals, each of distinct size, were meticulously added individually. Finally, in the Enamel department, we witnessed a bastion of traditional techniques, up to coveted grand feu enameling.
On The Case: Les Boîtiers de Genève (BDG)
Mr. Journe’s strategic thinking also led to the gradual takeover of a French case supplier, now named the Boîtiers de Genève (BDG) and co-located with CDG in Meyrin. This ownership provides the flexibility to explore unconventional materials, including tantalum, while maintaining a relentless focus on manufacturing and design excellence. Unlike CDG, BDG is dedicated exclusively to crafting cases for F.P.Journe.
We toured BDG’s specialized workshops dedicated to crafting watch cases, boasting state-of-the-art CNC machines, together with sandblasting and micro-blasting areas, laser-engraving stations, a ceramics workshop, a polishing department, and an assembly room.
The creation of a watch case, at a high view, comprises three primary steps: First, precious metals such as gold, titanium, and tantalum are selected; these components undergo CNC machine processes (various milling and drilling techniques to transform them into the desired shapes, automated, but under a human’s watchful eye); and finally a series of polishing and finishing operations to achieve a smooth and lustrous surface. Hand-finishing assumes a crucial role in the overall manufacturing process, encompassing hand polishing, soldering, and a subsequent stage of hand finishing using spinning wheels to attain the ultimate mirror finish.
The most memorable operation we got to see was in the Welding room during an open-flame soldering process; an example of some client repair work. That workbench setup evoked old school traditional methods, passed down through generations.
Finally, we explored the Galvanoplastie room where a technician was engaged in coloring the exterior of the Élégante model. Galvanoplasty, or electroplating, is a technique wherein a thin layer of metal is deposited onto an object's surface using an electric current.
The Main Manufacture: Old Town Geneva
Montres Journe is situated close to the Old Town of Geneva, alongside its primary facility for movement production, final assembly, and quality assurance. Upon entering the main manufacture, our attention was immediately drawn to an impressive array of CNC machines dedicated to movement production. This facility allows F.P.Journe to produce nearly all movement components in-house, ranging from the main plates to the tiniest gears.
In the movement finishing workshop here, we observed skilled artisans engrossed in their meticulous craft, first hand. Exquisite movement decorations, beloved by collectors, are the result of slow and delicate hand work. Achieving the highest quality in movement finishing demands exceptional skills and patience. The nearby QA department conducts automated tests to assess timing accuracy and other specifications of the finished movements.
Our tour concluded with a visit to the watchmaker's workshops, the highlight of any manufacture visit. Each watchmaker assumes complete responsibility for a single movement from its start to completion. Notably, each movement undergoes assembly twice—initially to ensure its functionality and subsequently after all parts have been thoroughly cleaned. In a particular workshop, one master watchmaker was serenely engaged in crafting the most intricate pieces, prompting us to hold our breath in an effort not to disturb his focused work.
A Well-Earned Feast: F.P. Journe Le Restaurant
In November, Mr. Journe and renowned chef Dominique Gauthier unveiled this new culinary gem. It has swiftly become a must-visit destination for watch collectors and enthusiasts exploring Geneva. For Journe, the goal was two-fold: to provide a relaxing venue for watch collectors to gather and socialize, and to introduce more individuals to the exquisite world of F.P.Journe timepieces (can the path to future watch fans’ hearts be their stomachs?).
François-Paul personally curated the restaurant's decor, infusing it with a horological theme throughout, with plenty of watch-referencing details. Our table was named in honor of J. Harrison, an English carpenter and clockmaker renowned for inventing the marine chronometer. Even our knife for the meal was adorned with movement parts, and the menu featured meals named after F.P. Journe models such as Élégante, Souverain, and Astronomic.
We happened to enjoy a prawn appetizer, a choice of beef or fish for the main course, and a delightful dessert. It was a truly fantastic meal, and I wholeheartedly recommend the restaurant to any watch enthusiasts visiting Geneva. As an added bonus—wink, wink— the restaurant is conveniently located just steps away from the F.P.Journe Boutique in Geneva.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)