F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu
Watch reviewed is part of a private collection
Chronometry: why do we care? Since the dawn of humanity, we have tried to measure time in some way or another. Different cultures in different periods used differing periods and standards. As civilisation developed, the accuracy of these measurements became increasingly critical. Like nearly all great inventions, mankind’s desire to explore and conquer led to the development of the world’s first marine chronometers. In 1761, John Harrison, determined to solve the longitude problem, created the H4, a portable timekeeper with a high-beat balance and a temperature compensated spring: features that have been present in nearly all chronometers since.
During the conception of the Chronometre Souverain (the basis of the Chronometre Bleu), Francois-Paul Journe envisioned an uncomplicated wristwatch that would pay homage to the marine chronometers of the past. While many other manufacturers use multiple barrels for a more extended power reserve, the barrels in the Calibre 1304 are operated in parallel to provide linear and stable torque with the goal of improving timekeeping accuracy. Furthermore, a free sprung balance with four opposing weights oscillating at 21,600 BPH is used to further this effect.
Legend has it that the Chronometre Bleu was conceived during a visit to Beijing by Francois-Paul Journe. Unusually for Beijing, the skies were miraculously clear and blue that day, and led to Journe commenting that he had not yet made a blue-dialled watch. This source of inspiration is strongly evident throughout the dial design and construction.
The term ‘entry-level’ often conjures up images of simple, bare-bone timepieces, lacking the finesse of their more expensive relatives. This is not the case with the Chronometre Bleu, which is why the watch has become such a cult piece amongst enthusiasts.
Of the current regular FP Journe line-up, Chronometre Bleu arguably features the most complex dial. A hair-thin blue chrome base is coated with multiple layers of lacquer before applying the markers. It is easy for small impurities to be caught between the coats, resulting in around 80% of dials manufactured ending up in the graveyard.
Looking beyond the complexity of production and the high failure rate, the dial itself is a morphing beauty under all conditions. Combined with a sapphire sans the usual anti-reflective coating, the dial appears to change colours under different lighting. In darker indoor environments, the dial retains a deep solid blue, with only the guilloche sub seconds dial breaking up the continuity. Under intense direct sunlight, the dial becomes more reflective, and a sky-blue emerges; the paired blue crocodile strap also morphs into a greyish blue. Occasionally the applied numerals surprise by leaving shadows, giving the notion that they are levitating, not unlike clouds in the sky.
Paired with the magical dial, and continuing with the sky-theme, are the cream-coloured hands. The lacquered hands are delicately brittle; small unique marks are visible on the underside, left behind by the watchmaker’s tools during assembly.
On the reverse, a sapphire case back allows the wearer to view the architecturally beautiful movement. Mysteriously, there appears to be no direct link between the barrels, and the escape wheel, creating the illusion that the escapement is “floating”. As with all FP Journes, the crown is slightly slim. An array of finishes is applied to the solid 18K gold movement: the bevelled bridges are adorned with Cotes de Geneve, the base plate features barley corn guilloche for the majority, while the areas underneath the balance are finished with perlage. Screws are also mirror polished for extra effect.
Unusually, the case and pin buckle of the Chronometre Bleu are made of tantalum, a precious element that exudes a dark blue-grey colour and often used in electronic capacitors. With a Mohs hardness equivalent to jade and harder than pure titanium, tantalum is able to withstand much more of the knocks and bumps of daily wear. The double-sided alligator strap sits flat on the wrist, with a rubber backed version available for the summer months.
The problem with it is...
To be honest, not much. The Chronometre Bleu is a tough watch to fault. The movement within could well be considered as a distillation of a long lineage of marine chronometry know-how, while its design is a sophisticated modern wristwatch, understated enough to suit a variety of occasions. It surpasses most precious metal dress watches in its versatility, and should be considered more than a mere alternative to its obvious competitors within its price range.
Would we own one?
Overwhelmingly, yes. The simplest designs are often the hardest to finesse, because there is so little to distract the audience and therefore requires extra attention and care in ensuring faultless delivery. And the Chronometre Bleu certainly delivers. The dial’s sky theme, with the seemingly floating markers on that exquisite blue dial goes to show that a watch does not - and perhaps, should not - need to rely on complications to justify its price. Even on my small wrist, it wears discreetly and elegantly; the story of its conception only adds to its appeal.
It’s a no-brainer for me. It’s such a versatile watch and realistically it’s quite difficult to compare with anything else. No other watch in this class offers the case material. With the solid gold movement, you are able to have a watch with the heft of gold or platinum but with the durability and assurance of steel.
Absolutely yes. At this price point and for the level of finishing and uniqueness you get from all aspects of the watch (Case, Dial, Movement), there is simply nothing else like it in the market. The Tantalum is an added bonus being visually low key but offering that significant 'heft' solid gold watches exhibit.