Incorporating bits of cars, aircraft or other items into watches, particularly with a historical component, is now a familiar practice. Thanks to ArtyA, you can even buy a timepiece with actual bullets — albeit small ones — in its structure. For F.P. Journe and Holland & Holland, any such union involving the former integrating material from the latter’s barrels into a wristwatch had to take it to another level. After all, we are talking about the spiritual heir to Breguet and one of world’s finest gun makers, and their shared regard for excellence and beauty.
Unveiled to the world on 12 October was the fruit of this collaboration, a limited edition, time-only masterpiece with a dial that honours a special skill identified with gun-making. The project was triggered by the discovery of two antique and rare Damascus steel Holland & Holland guns, each over 100 years old, and said to be the fruits of know-how that “has been since forgotten.”
Their rarity and antiquity appealed to F.P. Journe, who recognised in these guns a material unlike any to have been used in a modern timepiece. His idea was to adapt the material to a unique watch series, while the idea appealed to Holland & Holland: Allowing two of their museum barrels to be used to make haute horology timepieces. Turning to the company’s archives, the two barrels were registered in the company’s books with barrel No. 1382, dating to 1868, and barrel No. 7183, dating to 1882. The former would yield 38 dials, while the latter would produce 28.
What makes them so special is the inherent beauty found in their construction, thanks to the use of Damascus steel. The technique, once called “pattern welding”, employs bars of two or more different types of steel, varying in carbon content, which are forged together into a single bar. As this was achieved by heating, twisting and hammering as needed, and then folding the bar, hammering and forging it again, the resultant bar showed its layers of steel as wavy lines or other patterns according to the method of manufacture and the chemical composition of the types of steel used in the making.
First used in sword making, by various cultures including the Vikings, the Celts and the Japanese, the technique was applied to guns by the 16th century. It reached England in the early-1800s, having emigrated via the Ottoman Empire, Hungary, Spain and Belgium.
To produce the dials for the Journe watches, the gun barrels were first cut along their entire length at the Holland & Holland factory and rolled out to form flat strips, cut again and then cleaned and polished. The material was then sent to F.P.Journe’s own dial makers, Les Cadraniers de Genève where the dials were cut out.
Back in England, Holland & Holland “browned” them, using a traditional gun-making technique that helps protect the steel. This also highlights the patterns created during the original manufacture of the Damascus barrels. As the fortunate owners of the watches will discover, each dial thus has a unique pattern.
Unusually for an F.P. Journe watch, the 39mm cases are also steel, each containing the completely in-house, hand-wound Calibre 1304, coincidentally manually wound by 38 turns. The movement is made in rose gold with Holland & Holland engraving, and the indications are central hours and minutes only. The power reserve is 56 hours, with two mainspring barrels in parallel.
A model of simplicity, the time-only F.P. Journe and Holland & Holland wristwatch exudes the values and aesthetic markers of both houses. But this does, however, raise a question: Is Journe-plus-Holland & Holland double- or triple-barrelled?