The F.P. Journe Classique FFC, announced at Watches & Wonders 2023, is the latest chapter in a saga that stretches over a decade. It’s a story that began with a dinner conversation between François-Paul Journe and famed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and has culminated in one of the most extraordinary watchmaking achievements of the year.
Describing the F.F.C. as a “digital” watch doesn’t truly capture its unique essence. This is not a digital watch as contemporary terminology understands it; rather, it’s digital in the way the ancients counted time on their fingers. Abandoning traditional hour hands, the F.F.C. utilizes a manually engraved gauntlet that represents a hand with five digits. These digits configure in twelve distinct positions to indicate the hours, each finger aligning perfectly every hour.
What drives this elegant complexity? The Octa 1300 in-house movement, is complemented by a mechanism known as “remontoir d’égalité.” This ingenious concept, likened to mechanisms used to move colossal hands on building-sized clocks, ensures the accuracy of the display without compromising the watch’s overall power reserve. To maintain a perfect symmetry, minutes are represented on a rotating ring moving counterclockwise, avoiding the unsightliness of protruding components.
The conception of this timepiece is as fascinating as its engineering. The journey began in 2009 when Eleanor Coppola, the wife of Francis Ford, gifted her husband an F.P. Journe watch. Smitten with the design, Coppola invited Journe to his Napa winery, where the filmmaker inquired if the watchmaker had ever considered displaying hours as the ancients did, by counting them on fingers.
This inquiry sent Journe into a creative spiral, spending four years pondering the possibility, seven years in development, and over a year perfecting it after its prototype debut at Only Watch 2021, where it fetched $4.5 million USD. This twelve-year expedition, spurred by a simple question, changed the horological landscape, introducing a watch like no other.
Witnessing the F.F.C. in motion is an enthralling experience. The fingers of the watch don’t fold like a human hand but retract into the palm, the curve of the knuckles mimicking a natural curl. The thumb’s extension and retraction enhance the realism, creating a spectacle that’s surreal yet natural. All these marvels are encased in a modest 42mm diameter and 10.7 mm-thick case. The titanium hand, reminiscent of a prosthetic crafted by the 16th-century royal surgeon and father of modern surgery, Ambroise Paré, demands 16 hours of exact engraving. This link to a historical figure revered as a “French genius” adds a layer of cultural significance, connecting the watch to a lineage of innovation and artistry.
From its inception at a dinner table to its meticulous engineering and final execution, the F.F.C. symbolizes a fusion of art, technology, tradition, and contemporary brilliance. As we ponder the future of horology, the F.F.C. reminds us that the past holds the keys to innovation and that a single idea, nurtured over the years and executed with passion, can redefine an entire industry. Twelve years after that fateful dinner, we’re left with more than a timepiece; we have a piece of art, a marvel of engineering, and a story that continues to inspire.