Every watchmaker interested in precision has to deal with the same four major issues. If all four of these issues could be resolved, one would obtain the perfect watch. But like the Perpetual Movement or the Fountain of Youth, this quest for the Holy Grail is not achievable in our lifetime. But this does not mean that we should not attempt to get closer to it.
Attaining that perfection is Francois-Paul Journe’s obsession, and what makes him return to his workbench day in and day out.
The issues in question are plainly illustrated in the conception and making of the F.P. Journe Chronomètre Optimum. (Note: there is a reason that it is called the “optimum” – Journe is a man of few but highly selective words).
The Chronomètre Optimum symbolizes the very essence of precision for a wristwatch. It is probably the most complicated three-handed (four-handed if you count the power-reserve indicator) watch ever.
It addresses the aforementioned four major issues of a mechanical watch’s precision:
1. The linear delivery of power. Like the Chronomètre Souverain (see “Power or Precision? An Insider’s Look at F.P. Journe, Part 1”), the Chronomètre Optimum has two barrels to insure the stability of the driving force.
2. The regulating of power delivery. The Chronomètre Optimum is outfitted with a Remontoire d’Egalité (constant-force remontoire, Patent EP1528443.A1; (see “Who Needs Constant Force? An Insider’s look at F.P. Journe, Part 2”). Additionally, for the first time, the Remontoir is made of titanium for greater efficiency due to its lightness. As we have seen in the past few years, many watch companies are introducing constant-force devices. Be wary of their marketing claims. If the system to regulate the delivery of power is too heavy, it creates too much friction and thus makes it counterproductive. The heavier it is, the more power it needs to counteract the added friction, creating an unsolvable cycle. This is why Journe’s is super light.
3. The issue with lubricants. This is 2015, not 1801! Whereas Abraham-Louis Breguet was constantly struggling to find the best lubricants of his time (including animal grease and even fish oil), today’s synthetic lubricants offer a great longevity and are immune to drastic changes in temperature. There are two main parts that need to be lubricated in a timepiece: the pivots of the gear train and the regulating organs. At 21,600 vph, the lubricants used for the regulating organs are going over more than four years before drying up, therefore creating more friction and leading to a loss of amplitude, thus losing in accuracy. This is usually the time to have your timepiece serviced. So the problem becomes the deterioration of lubricants, not the use of them!
One way to deal with this issue is to avoid using lubricants altogether.
Journe says, “The use of silicium is the wrong answer to the right question.” Silicium (silicon) creates virtually no friction and hence does not need lubricants. But silicium is extremely fragile, and would need to be replaced at each overhaul. This, as long as it is available. If not, there will be no way to replace that part, and the movement will end up in the garbage. “My watchmaking philosophy is to make watches that will still work in 200 years,” Journe says. “Those made 200 years ago are still in working order today if they have been maintained regularly. It is for this reason that I only use solid materials that have proven their worth rather than modern materials that will probably be unable to be repaired in a few decades.”
By patenting a brand new escapement system (the EBHP High-Performance Bi-axial Escapement), Journe was able to avoid the use of lubricants.
EBHP is the only direct impulse escapement to start up on its own. And not only does it function without lubricants, it also has a far greater output than do the majority of escapements: 50 hours without loss of amplitude. Many dual-wheel escapements have been created in the past, the most efficient being A-L Breguet’s “natural” escapement.
4. The “heartbeat” of a movement. The Chronometre Optimum is fitted with a spiral with Phillips curve, insuring better equilibrium.
The two different second hands show the two different outputs of the mechanism. One from the escapement and the other from the Remontoir d’Egalité.
Variations in some of the watches from the Souveraine collection:
– The Chronomètre à Résonance achieves a constant rate when it is exposed to the movement of the wrist. This watch is very accurate because its rate is not affected when the watch is worn.
– The Tourbillon Souverain: the classic tourbillon is not generally an ideal watch in terms of accuracy, but combined with a constant force remontoire, its stability is guaranteed.
– The Chronomètre Souverain: has the same accuracy as the Chronomètre à Résonance but does not cancel out the effects of a moving wrist.
With these four issues addressed, Journe was able to test the watch in two ways. The obvious test was to add lubricants to the bi-axial escapement to see if the watch would function better. It did not. The second was to test the amplitude which continued to have a far greater output than the majority of escapements: 50 hours!
Francois-Paul Journe is far from claiming that he has found the Holy Grail. But the quest for it is a reward in itself. If, one day, you happen to visit the F.P. Journe Manufacture in Switzerland and ask to see where the boss works, you will be taken not to an office, but to his watchmaker’s workbench.
Read also our previous insider’s look:
“Power or Precision?” An Insider’s look at F.P. Journe – Part 1
“Who needs Constant Force?” Private talk with F.P. Journe-Part 2
Is Your Wristwatch a “Wrist” Watch? An Insider’s Look at F.P.Journe – Part 3