THE IMMORTALS – The F.P.Journe Chronometre Bleu is a retro-futuristic classic

THE IMMORTALS – The F.P.Journe Chronometre Bleu is a retro-futuristic classic

D.C. Hannay

In a space where so much history has gone before, it’s nigh impossible to create a timepiece that’s totally unique. For example, just about any dive watch you can name shares at least some DNA with the Rolex Submariner or Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms. It’s called classic rock for a reason, and for every Omega Speedmaster, Cartier Tank, or Patek Philippe Nautilus, there are thousands of also-rans. If a brand does manage to come up with a truly original design, chances are pretty high that the result will have collectors asking “why?”. The unattractive, ill-conceived, or just plain uninspired outpace the genuine smashes by a wide margin, so when a design comes along that really changes the game, people tend to take notice. And apart from having a case, a strap, and hands, F.P.Journe did just that with the Chronometre Bleu.

F.P.Journe Chronometre Bleu

The Bleu is, in my view, a high-end dress watch built from a decidedly tool-like material, with a personality that manages to look forward and backward simultaneously. There really is nothing I can think of quite like it. François-Paul Journe’s output has always been both meticulous and idiosyncratic, and of all his designs, the manually wound Bleu has resonated the most with the public. When it made its bow in 2009, it was the entry-level model in the line at just under US$20,000, a more attainable Chronometre Souverain, minus the power reserve and precious metal case. But it also pushed the brand toward the future with its bold look and innovative use of fully polished tantalum as a dress watch case material. Tantalum is heavy (like really heavy), comparable in weight to platinum, and notoriously difficult to work with. It isn’t often employed in watch construction, but the payoff is extreme hardness and wear-resistance, not to mention the uniquely blue cast of the metal. While overbuilt to the extreme, the case itself is a note-perfect size for a modern dress watch, at 39mm in diameter, with a trim case thickness of 8.3mm.

If there’s an element of the watch that might be viewed as a callback, you could argue that the graphic elements of the dial recall a pocket watch, with antique-looking cream coloured tapered hands and Arabic numerals, a railroad-style minute track, and a small seconds subdial. But the lacquered and polished mirror-chrome blue finish pushes aside pure design nostalgia, hurtling straight into tomorrow. Aesthetically, the Chronometre Bleu reminds me of Ridley Scott’s retro-futuristic masterpiece Blade Runner, or the criminally underappreciated Brazil from director Terry Gilliam. Both films’ production designs manage the worldbuilding of a future, shot through the archaic lens of the past, and the Bleu pulls off the same feat, a mash-up of traditional craft with avant-garde materials and finish. The Bleu would look perfectly at home as a prop in either film.

F.P.Journe Chronometre Bleu

Moving around the back, the exquisitely crafted and decorated manually-wound calibre 1304 movement is as peerless as you’d expect from Journe, with nearly the entirety of its construction in solid 18ct rose gold. Of note, twin barrels ensure that greater accuracy is maintained throughout the duration of its 56-hour power reserve. Testing goes well beyond COSC standards, nearly unheard of among high horology/low production timepieces.

Invenit et Fecit, which translates to “Invented and Made” adorns every F.P.Journe timepiece, his personal credo that states his creations are truly original and meticulously built. While still fiercely independent, it’s worth noting that Chanel acquired a 20% stake in the company in 2018, but it appears that nothing has changed in regard to the quality of their output. Exclusivity is assured, with annual total production for the house hovering around 1,000 watches per year, of which the Chronometre Bleu makes up a fraction of that number. Current retail has climbed to CHF 35,800, but good luck in finding one for less than six figures, such is their demand on the secondary market. As one of an elite strata of Swiss manufactures, the originality, craftsmanship, and rarity of Journe’s timepieces guarantee that the market’s continued hunger for them won’t be waning anytime soon.