(Image above courtesy of @onion_horology. Used with permission.)
I met Max Busser (yes, the MB of MB&F) at an event in April 2015. A truly warm and unassuming person, he was quite happy to chat with me about Francois-Paul Journe.
“It had to be FP Journe”, said Max, when I remarked that I liked how he kick-started the Harry Winston Opus collection by collaborating with Journe. “I knew that if I didn’t get him back then, I’d never be able to get him.”
Thereafter, I mentioned that I was contemplating adding a Chronometre Bleu to my collection.
To which he enthusiastically replied, “I think the Chronometre Bleu is one of his three best watches… he’s crazy… the most affordable watch is one of his best three.”
Well, that did it. Any doubts I might have had flew out the window.
The case, crown, buckle, and even the tongue of the buckle are all made of tantalum. I believe this is the only serially-produced watch with the above-mentioned parts made of this material. What makes tantalum so special? It is a dense greyish-blue metal with an extremely high melting point (higher than platinum, which is already not easy to handle). It has the heft of platinum and the scratch resistance of titanium, so you get the best of both worlds.
The high melting point of tantalum makes it very difficult to work with but FP Journe went one better – the Chronometre Bleu’s tantalum is polished! Imagine the effort which goes into producing that shine. My timepiece was delayed because (according to my authorised dealer and other collectors) the Manufacture was in the midst of developing a new case-making machine after I placed my order. Hence my timepiece had one of the first cases from the new machine, which is… a useless but interesting fact.
The Chronometre Bleu comes with a dark blue alligator strap that goes perfectly with the dial, case and buckle. It sits on the wrist comfortably, thanks to the 39mm case diameter and curved lugs. A minor caveat about the buckle – its edges are not rounded. While the angular look suits the timepiece, sharp tantalum is no laughing matter. A friend of mine actually cut himself while fiddling with his.
The first thing you will notice about the mirrored dial is the different shade of blue it produces at every angle. The Manufacture achieves this fascinating effect by applying 7 layers of lacquer. This is a challenging process because each layer needs to be dry before the next is applied but if any dirt accumulates before a layer is dry, the dial is discarded. I understand that when the timepiece was launched in 2009, the failure rate for the Chronometre Bleu dials was 80% but this has improved over the years – it now hovers at 60%. Which is still madness, I think – which other watchmaker out there happily discards more than half the number of dials as part of the quality control process?
But hard work does pay. This has to be one of the most beautiful and intriguing dials ever made. The shades of blue range from light blue to grey to dark blue to black. The guilloche small-seconds sub-dial however remains resolutely blue regardless of how the Chronometre Bleu is tilted, which serves as a perfect foil to the rest of the dial.
Applied hour markers generally give a timepiece a more luxurious, high-end vibe but here the use of printed arabic numerals makes sense. The layered dial is already a work of art in itself, so why distract with raised markers? The use of printed numerals also results in a captivating, perhaps unintended, effect – at certain angles the numerals appear to float. Seriously, just take a closer look at the image above.
The calibre 1304, first seen in the Chronometre Souverain, is of a rather unusual architecture. There is a large plate for the keyless works and the twin barrels, another for the gear train and escape wheel, and finally a balance cock for the balance assembly. What is amazing is that the various components seem unconnected. FP Journe achieves this by hiding a number of components (most noticeably the gear train) between the base plate and the dial. This results in a clean, uncluttered movement design.
FP Journe watches are foremost about good timekeeping. The Chronometre Bleu boasts two mainspring barrels working in parallel with the objective of achieving stability of rate, rather than a prolonged power reserve. That said, the 56-hour power reserve provided by the twin barrels is still longer than that provided by your average single-barrel modern manual winding movement.
As with nearly all watches from the Manufacture, most of the movement is constructed in solid 18k rose gold and finished beautifully. The plates are adorned with Geneva stripes and most of the base plate features barleycorn guilloche except for the portion below the escapement, which is instead decorated with perlage. This makes for a nice variety of finishes, not often seen on a single movement.
Drill down to the finer details, and the Chronometre Bleu does not disappoint. All edges are bevelled and polished, although there are no interior angles in this movement for the aficionados. The countersinks for rubies and screws are also polished, and the screw heads in particular are flat-polished.
All in all a captivating movement, one which engages from both a technical and aesthetic standpoint. My only criticism, and a minor one, is that the movement may appear to be too gold. Stare at it through a loupe for long periods and you realise that you can have too much of a good thing. Sure, the barrels, screws and rubies help to break the monotony but at times the rose gold overwhelms.
The FP Journe Chronometre Bleu is one compelling package. It wears comfortably, with the tantalum case commanding an authoritative heft. The dial is spellbinding, as is the unconventional and well-decorated movement.
Add in the exclusivity factor – the Manufacture only churns out 1,200 timepieces a year – and you realise that this timepiece is quite, quite special.
THE FINAL TICK
In the course of our conversation, I told Max that I was drawn to the LM101, which would probably be my first MB&F purchase.
Max said, “What I love about the LM101 is that for everyone who buys it, it’s either their first MB&F or their first watch from an independent watchmaker.”
“But I guess that won’t be the case for you”, he added laughing.
And indeed it wasn’t.
Note: Yes, the Chronometre Bleu was my grail watch for sometime – it certainly ticked all the boxes in my earlier post. I have since sold it to partially fund two other watches, but still maintain that the Chronometre Bleu punches way above its weight and gives excellent value at its price.
© 2016 Ticking Notes. All rights reserved.
Acquired – July 2015
Divested – June 2016
Case diameter – 39mm
Case thickness – 8.6mm
Case material – Tantalum
Dial – Chrome Blue
Hands – Cream-coloured steel
Indices – Cream printed
Calibre – 1304
Movement parts – 129
Jewels – 22
Movement diameter – 30.4mm
Movement thickness – 3.75mm
Frequency – 3Hz (21,600 vph)
Power reserve – 56 hours