By Rebecca Doulton in Madrid
It came as quite a surprise when independent watchmaker François-Paul Journe unveiled his first collection for women and an even bigger surprise to discover the unusual electromechanical movement that allows the watches to catnap when not in use. Renowned for his high-end mechanical men's watches, this incursion into two new terrains calls for some elucidation.
Admittedly, in 2014, many watch brands exhibiting their novelties at the SIHH were out to court women. Even the male-oriented avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille devoted half his collection to women. However, the move into a feminine collection took Mr Journe many years of deliberation. His client's wives had been asking him to produce a line of watches for them and, after 20 years, the time was ripe to create a watch that was different and comfortable to wear, and that suited their needs and desires. "I therefore created this long-lasting watch especially for them," he explains. "Today the Élégante features the only electromechanical movement conceived and created for the luxury market."
To describe this as a simple quartz watch is a mistake. With so many luxury women's watches on the market powered by quartz, Mr Journe insisted there had to be a 'concept' behind the movement. And so the idea to create a watch that could be stopped and started again with maximum energy conservation as an objective was born.
The extraordinary function of the Élégante collection is its ability to go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity, economising its power supply. If worn, the watch offers up to 10 years of uninterrupted life - and 18 years of life in standby mode - before having to change the battery.
Eight years of research and development went into this complex movement, which combines the best of the mechanical and electronic worlds: all the 126 mechanical elements of the Caliber 1210 were manufactured in-house by F.P. Journe, whilst the electronic components - the motion detector and microprocessor - were developed by a Swiss engineer and made entirely in Switzerland.
The appealing 'tortue' or turtle-shaped case frames a clean, classical dial with hours, minutes and a small seconds counter at 6 o'clock. Looking closely at the dial you will notice a semi-circular insertion just over the 4 o'clock numeral, which contains a motion sensor. If the sensor detects inactivity for more than 30 minutes, it sends the watch to sleep. The moment the watch is picked up again, a microprocessor on the back of the watch - which has been keeping perfect time during the watch's slumber - resets the exact time, the hands taking the shortest path, moving either clockwise or counterclockwise, to save energy.
In keeping with the prestige of the brand, the reverse of the watch is beautifully finished and on full display. The integrated circuit - in a sense the watch's brain - incorporates the high-performance electronic components, and a small gold heart points to the location of the microprocessor, which symbolises the heart of the watch.
The combination of rubber straps and inserts on the bezel, combined with the brilliant row of diamonds on either side of the case, gives the watch a fun, contemporary twist. The titanium version of the Élégante is presented with seven coloured rubber straps (including bubblegum pink, baby blue and khaki) and boasts a stunning luminescent dial that lights up the darkest corners. The red gold model comes with a chocolate rubber strap and the platinum model with a dark blue rubber strap. For an extra sprinkling of luxury, a pavé-set dial and bezel can be requested.
Delivery will start in 2014. Prices start at 10,800 CHF for a titanium model without diamonds, 14,000 CHF for titanium with diamonds, 25,000 CHF for platinum and 219,000 CHF for the pavé-set model.