A couple of years back, as a twenty-five-year-old, my roommate and girlfriend would often catch me, alone, in my bedroom, in front of my laptop watching one video almost on loop. I was never quite sure how to explain it. I would quickly fumble around trying to close the screen before they could see what it was I was watching. It was the early stages of my watch obsession. And I was totally hooked on Three on Three.
The episode about manually-wound dress watches is the particular one that I couldn’t stop watching and that would be responsible for countless sleepless nights. Confused and frustrated, I just couldn’t make my mind up on which one of the three I’d go for (If I had the cash – which I absolutely didn’t). I loved the Lange Saxonia for its simplicity, the Vacheron Patrimony Traditionnelle for its pedigree, and the F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu for its enchanting dial. To this day, I still don’t know which I’d spring for. But that period was especially memorable, as it was my first encounter with F.P. Journe.
Today, the contemporary independent watchmaker unveiled a partnership with century-old British gunmaker Holland & Holland, and the result is something special. Most of this collaboration manifests in the dial. It was the discovery of two antique, Damascus steel Holland & Holland guns that presented an opportunity. Both are over 100 years old, with each barrel registered by hand in the company’s archives. When the conversation began between F.P. Journe and Holland & Holland, it quickly became apparent that the barrels would make sensational dials. Barrel No. 1382, dating back to 1868, would go on to produce 38 dials, while barrel No. 7183, dating to 1882 (which was slightly smaller) would go on to produce 28 dials.
To produce the dials, the gun barrels were first cut along their entire length at the Holland & Holland factory and rolled out to form flat strips. These were cut to into smaller strips, which could then be cleaned, polished and reduced to the required thickness. The material was then sent to F.P. Journe’s own dial maker, Les Cadraniers de Genève, where the dials were cut out. They were sent back to Holland & Holland and “browned,” a traditional gun-making technique that helps protect the steel and highlights the mesmerizing patterns created during the original manufacture of the barrels. Each dial has a unique steel pattern and Journe’s signature printed numerals.
Damascus steel is produced by taking two or more types of steel, or iron steel (one having less carbon content than the other) and forging them together into a single bar. This process involves heating, twisting, and hammering the bar, and then folding, hammering, and forging it again. The process is then repeated and produces this hypnotic pattern (visible due to the difference in chemical composition between the different bars used and quite similar to how almond milk looks when added to coffee – give it a go). The Japanese have manufactured swords using Damascus steel since 1100 AD, and the Vikings and Celts before them at around 600 AD. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that the technique was used in England to produce gun barrels.
The Chronomètre Holland & Holland is a time-only dress watch, in a 39mm steel case (that’s just 8.60 mm, no less). The movement is quintessential Journe, rendered in solid 18k rose gold, with an additional Holland & Holland engraving along the contours of the barrels. The manually-wound caliber 1304 has a free-sprung balance and 56 hours of power reserve, perfect for the weekend shoot. Each movement references the barrel number from which the dial was born and then the edition number, since only 66 total watches are being produced. The Chronomètre Holland & Holland is priced at 45,000 CHF (approximately $46,100 at time of publishing).