Review: F.P. Journe Chronomètre À Résonance
Ever been lying in bed, sick, staring up at the ceiling? You notice all sorts of things. Perhaps there’s a cobweb blowing about, or a crack in the corner that looks like a cat. For Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, he noticed something strange: the two pendulum clocks on his wall, regardless of how they were set, would always sync up with each other. There are two mysteries to be solved here: the first is why Huygens had two clocks in his bedroom in the first place, and the second is why the pendulums kept syncing up. The first remains a mystery and always will, but the second? It took 350 years, but the answer was finally found—and F.P. Journe has used that answer to make its watches even more impressive.
To call Christiaan Huygens merely a scientist is to do the man a disservice. It would be like calling Leonardo DaVinci an artist or Neil Armstrong a pilot. No—he, like these other men, was so much more than that. He had the kind of mind that could be applied to almost any problem and come out on top.
His CV is ridiculous: he established the standard formula for centripetal force, he created the first theory on the behaviour of light as a wave, he invented the magic lantern—the first image projector—discovered Saturn’s moon Titan and built the first pendulum-driven clock.
But he was also a troublemaker. The very first thing he published was a scathing condemnation of Thomas Hobbes, the father of modern political philosophy, criticising the errors he believed Hobbes had made in his mathematics. Despite his mentor’s caution, Huygens’ arrogance earned him a reputation amongst the scientific community almost immediately.
His brain was both a blessing and curse; it constantly itched with questions, buzzed with the need for answers. The scientific truth was like a drug to him, such that even in a time of bed-ridden sickness, he could not help himself but ponder the ways of the world. And so he noticed the tick-tock of his pendulum clocks—both of his making, of course—and how the pendulums would fall into sync, time and time again.
Most people would be intrigued by this phenomenon—if they had even noticed it at all—and would have perhaps paid it just a little mind, but not Huygens. For him, this scientific puzzle that he called, “An odd kind of sympathy,” became an obsession. His first hypothesis was based around the interference of the air between the pendulums, but it was disproved by experimentation which demonstrated that both in-phase synchronisation—when the pendulums swing in the same direction—and anti-phase synchronisation—where the pendulums swing in the opposite direction—were both possible.
Despite continued experimentation, despite his obsession, Huygens never found the answer. Science had not progressed far enough to examine the experiment in sufficient detail to discover what was really going on, but that didn’t stop him having one final guess: that some kind of resonant movement was occurring in the beam the two clocks were fastened upon. Some 350 years later, scientists Henrique Oliveira and Luís Melo were to discover just how accurate Huygens’ guess really was.
In 1983, watchmaker François-Paul Journe had an idea. Although the principal of resonant synchronisation was not fully understood, it was a well-established and repeatable behaviour that carried some benefits that Journe imagined could be of use. He knew that if he could build a movement with two balance wheels running in anti-phase synchronicity, he could create a self-regulating timekeeper.
The theory was this: if a sudden movement caused one balance to slow, the other would speed up, and resonant synchronisation would bring the two back to the average, righting the beat and maintaining accuracy. The theory was sound, but in practice—not so much. Despite years of trying, Journe could not master Huygens’ “odd kind of sympathy.”
Oliveira and Melo, on the other hand, were having a bit more success. What they’d discovered was that sound waves from each oscillation were pulsing back and forth along the beam holding the two clocks, interfering with the neighbouring pendulum. The cycles of these sound pulses coincided with the deviations measured in the pendulums, little nudges that gradually shifted the speed of the swing until the clocks fell into sync. Huygens’ guess, it turned out, was right.
It was these sound pulses that François-Paul Journe would finally harness within the F.P. Journe Chronomètre À Résonance in 1999. With the balance wheels beating in an anti-phase arrangement, the pulses cancel each other out. This means that, if the watch is moved, instead of both balances speeding up or slowing down, one accelerates and the other decelerates. The pulses become uneven, the faster ones from the faster balance slowed by the slower ones from the slower balance, and vice versa, until equilibrium is achieved once more.
The calibre 1499.3 does this with two completely independent movements—separate escapements, mainsprings everything—with a hinge on one of the balance cocks to fine-tune the resonance between the pair. Think of it like a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. If one balance wheel is like the sound the headphones is looking to eliminate, the other is the anti-phase sound the headphones broadcast to cancel it with, neutralising the differences.
And F.P. Journe has not only managed to harness this effect to the benefit of accuracy, but of practicality as well. The crown at the top winds both movements at the same time, and can independently adjust each display to whatever time you like. That means the 24-hour display on the left can be used as home time and the 12-hour display on the right as local. For real accuracy nerds, the crown at four o’clock pulls out to reset the running seconds.
If Christiaan Huygens had been alive today, perhaps his sick day would have been preoccupied with trash telly and the internet. Thankfully it wasn’t, because over 350 years later it means we not only have the F.P. Journe Chronomètre À Résonance, but also a greater understanding of the physical properties of our expansive universe. And the watch is a demonstration not only of mechanical excellence, but also of the many mysteries still left to be solved in this world and beyond—I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to finding out what those answers are.
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