Watch collecting is no longer only about "modern" vs. "vintage" - the "Indies" have broken up these classic categories and established a niche. F.P. Journe has been for over 20 years a pillar of this genre and a frontrunner in design and technology. So let's have a closer look at the design language and the auction results. We can see that F.P. Journe is on par with the overall indie-wave. Only halfway into the auction season we can only speculate what we will see further but Independent Watchmaking and the icons of this modern genre seem to fair quite well. Overall, prices seem to not have peaked yet.
May 24, 2022
Rise of the Indies - F.P. Journe
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
Here, I summarize the results from: Bonhams NY (April 14th, 2022), Christie's Geneva (May 9th, 2022), Monaco Legend Group (April 23rd & 24th, 2022), Phillips Geneva (May 7th & 8th, 2022), & Sotheby's HK (April 26th, 2022) and Geneva (May 10th, 2022).
- And more Auction World content [here]
In classic watch collecting terms people used to speak about two major branches: vintage vs. contemporary. Over the last decade or so this narrow definition has started to break up ... mainly driven by the extravagant and bold designs and technological marvels of several independent watchmakers (the Indies) with timepieces that look like nothing else you'd typically see. Brands and people like Kari Voutilainen, Roger Dubuis, George Daniels, Max Busser, Christian Kling and many more play by their own rules and hardly follow the established paths of the - mainly Swiss - watch industry.
The classic Journe design language... offset dial, hands and the credo "Invenit et Fecit" - invented and made ... Photo a 2006 Platinum Tourbillon Souverain, sold for 327,600CHF over 2x its low estimate at Phillips Geneva Lot 207
If you are into independent watchmaking there is one major player that you can't leave out of this list: F.P. Journe. The brand - established in the 1990s by Francois-Paul Journe - combines a clean and distinctive yet very elegant design language while at the same time being at the frontier of what's possible mechanically.
"The link between the golden age of horological science and contemporary watchmaking." - Francois-Paul Journe
I want to give you one example why independent watchmaking in general and F.P. Journe in particular are such an important cornerstone of the modern watch world. In 2000 F.P. Journe pioneered the use of coupled oscillators implemented with two escape wheels in a wristwatch[2-3] - the concept of Resonance. This novelty adds precision as the two escape wheels start to regulate each other. Ingenious, but also research that is rarely risked by larger watch brands or conglomerates.
See it like this - Independent watchmaking, as any type of Haute Horologie, is a bit like what motor-racing is to the car industry: You won't find everything you see on an F1 Mercedes in your road car, but the technological advances very often transform into developments accustomed to the mass-market improving the experience for many.
The magic of the Resonance Movement - two escape wheels spinning away in harmony ... This is a stunning (1/10) 2006 Chronometre a Resonance, sold for 441,000CHF - over 4x its low estimate. Photo Phillips Geneva Lot 228
By now F.P. Journe has become a major success story - countless horology awards dating back to the early 2000s, boutiques in ten cities world wide and watches selling for a premium on the secondary market and at auction. By now it has become an imminent fact that "Indies" are a strong collecting market with F.P. Journe as one of their frontrunners.
But before we dig deeper into the performance of the brand in the ongoing spring auction season let's have a closer look at the design with its Journe-esque details. We can take all key design-elements and put them into perspective of the vintage market to find out more about the general vibe of the brand. It has just been established in 1999 but what about the design roots? What era of vintage watches might these pieces best represent?
Figure 1. Vintage Vibe - based on 20 key design details (hands, dial, materials, etc.) - of the F.P. Journe pieces sold at auction this season, color-coded by the most common collections and models.
Here, we are looking at the watches sold so far at the major auctions this season - whereas only Phillips Geneva and Sotheby's Hong Kong & Geneva did offer F.P. Journe pieces thus far (n=30). Interestingly, these state-of-the-art modern timepieces, none of which older than the millennium, have a very distinct Mid-Century vibe: Throughout all collections these pieces ooze the 1950s.
Might that be one factor of their success? The symbiosis of cutting-edge watchmaking with the clear lines resembling The era of dress watch design. Personally, the most interesting design details are the ones that I typically do not quantify in my framework. The inimitable dauphine-like hands and the offset "sub-dial" at 3o'clock indicating the time, and a one-of-kind dial finishing... All adds up to a very recognizable design identity.
Figure 2. Distribution of realized prices (left) and price-to-estimate ratio (right) of the F.P. Journe watches sold during the 2022 Spring auctions season. Photo of a very early 1999 Tourbillon Souveraine from the upcoming Phillips New York auction Lot 116
So yes, individuality comes at a certain price. Independent watchmaking is no exception to this rule. To get your hands on one of these auction highlights you'd have to pay above 50,000EUR ... up to ~16x of that. As a reference, A Collected Man in 2020 sold off two "pre-souscription" (pre-pre-production) Chronometre Resonance (760,000$) and Tourbillon Souveraine (820,000$) from 1999[5-7].
None of these earliest examples has been auctioned off this season but the top results do already play in the same ball-park - Intriguingly, an early "souscription" F.P. Journe Octa (2003) achieved a recognizable 504,000CHF. To further see in which direction the F.P. Journe results are heading we can take another look at the hammer-prices in relation to their respective low-estimates*. This gives us a hint about how much the pieces exceeded the experts' expectations.
"Souscription" = you pay up front so the watchmaker can manufacture your piece... and if your watchmaker turns out to be quite successful such an early "confidence" piece might also sell for a premium. But ultimately, who with enough pocket money wouldn't want such a cool Octa Calendrier? The colors, the textures, the layout - everything detail in sync. Photo Phillips Geneva Lot 298
The median F.P. Journe result does indeed go far beyond expectations - the average watch hammers for 121% over the low-estimate. That sounds a lot but let's put this into perspective... the average watch hammers "only" 50% above estimate yet the average "Indie" actually goes for 135% above expectation** - #riseOfTheIndies
Another highlight of the upcoming auction at Christie's in Hong Kong on May 24th - an outstanding 2007 Grand and Petite Sonnerie Minute Repeater in steel, peak-level indie watch collecting. Photo Christie's HK Lot 2383
F.P. Journe is thus on par with the overall Indie-wave we see happening. We are still only halfway into the season and can only speculate what we will see further but Independent Watchmaking and the icons of this modern genre seem to fair quite well. Prices are still reaching for the sky. But let's find out how high we can actually go and what the next big thing might be in the future?
* There are certainly problems with only looking at the estimate: Some auction houses are more prone to set the estimates low to foster a bidding war versus other houses sticking more closely to the actual value for example. Let's keep that flagged in the back of our heads when discussing trends based on estimates. Here, we particularly focus on the 'Low Estimates' as they have some binding implications: the reserve (minimum price) has to be below or equal to the low estimate.
** One example of typically low estimates ("teaser-estimates") is Phillips (as they say the market and not the expert shall set the price), I thus weighed the price-to-estimate ratio within and outside the Phillips auction and report this weighted mean of both.
 F.P. Journe - Invenit et Fecit;
 Story of F.P. Journe - Chapter 1: The Early Days; A Collected Man;
 Story of F.P. Journe - Chapter 2: A Collectors Guide; A Collected Man;
 Significant Watches Podcast
 F.P. Journe Pre-Souscription Resonance; A Collected Man;
 Two very early F.P. Journe wristwatches; A Collected Man;
 Two Ultra-Rare F.P. Journe Watches Can Be Yours for $1.6 Million; Martin Lerma, Robb Report;
 Interview: Aurel Bacs ueber seinen Werdegang, Auktionen und den aktuellen Uhrenmarkt; Uhrtalk;
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