Diagnostics and Repair of the Repeater Part in an F.P. Journe Watch – an exclusive Swiss brand
A watch most worthy of review, this wonderful timepiece was recently brought in for repair. Everything about this watch is exceptional – the unique mechanics, its appearance, the ergonomics on the hand.
François-Paul Journe is one of the mist talented contemporary independent watchmakers – the words “Invenit et Fecit” on the watch face below his initials means “invented and made”; he is a craftsman who designs outstanding movements in his own recognisable noble style.
The main problem here is that the repeater won’t start. There aren’t any issues with progression, but the repeater has stopped beating time, and nothing happens when the slider is cocked. The part is of course very rare and not industry standard, and there is no documentation for it. But to transport it to Switzerland for an official service is too far and would take too long, so we will service it here instead. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience when it comes to repeaters, so this won’t be too much of a problem to solve.
The repeater hammers, power reserve indicator, and small second hand are visible on the laconic dial.
The mechanism is visible through the caseback. The catalogues say that the boards and bridges look are made of solid gold – let’s try them out and see. Two barrels provide a 56-hour reserve.
The case is very thin – it’s hard to believe that such a complex minute repeater could be encased in such a small shell.
Firstly, it is vital to know how to disassemble this watch – there is no information about it on the internet. There are no screws visible on the cover, only the recesses for the key. The lid does not need to be unscrewed; it is simply removed. This system is called a bayonet, and it is very unusual for modern watches – it was more commonly used in the 1940’s – 1960’s.
The bayonet cover is designed to save on the thickness of the case. The main body is machined from stainless-steel. If it were made from gold, the thin pieces would easily crumple from the strain.
After examining the mechanism, we can conclude that there are no problems on the reverse side, but we still need to remove the balance bridge.
The boards do appear to be made out of gold, and the removed balance bridge is quite heavy. All the surfaces have been finished with Geneva wave and perlage polishes. The anchor wheel, shockproof device is all as usual. The pallet fork is chamfered.
We now move on to the front of the watch, to the complex repeater system under the dial. We need to consider how the repeater control works, and to check if it has experienced a sudden breakdown, by disassembling the slider for cocking the combat spring. To save on thickness, the slider is designed to be thin, in the form of a flat ring inserted into the groove between the bezel and the base of the case.
The repeater cocking slider is traditionally located on the sidewall.
The front welt (left) is held on four legs and fastened with nuts. The thin elastic band protects against dust, but the watch has no real waterproofing.
The most interesting thing under the dial is the system of combs and snails of the repeater part. The design by François-Paul Journe appears completely unique and totally unusual.
One of Journe’s patented inventions is the gong configuration. At the bottom of the picture there is a wide steel arch – this is the gong. Then, at the top left, a polished hammer is visible, made of strong, hardened steel.
The base of the gong is fixed to three large cogs, so that the acoustics from the gong resonator are transmitted reliably through the board to the body of the mechanism. A thin neck extends from the leg and continues in a wide plate to the gong itself. The hammer strikes the thin part right at the base, causing vibrations. Mass and length determine the frequencies of vibration and harmony – one gong sounds in a high tone, while the second tone is slightly lower. Everything is fixed very securely so that the hammer does not ring the gong accidentally.
Finally, we reach the repeater system and run a diagnostics test. When attempting to cock the repeater lever, nothing happens; the combs do not fall to the central snail, and the chimes won’t start up. They are being blocked by an ‘all or nothing’ device, which prevents the chimes from beating off time when the slider is not fully cocked.
A problem with very early repeaters was that the slider could be released before it was fully cocked, causing the repeater to only chime part of its sequence. Around 1820 the French watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet invented the reliable ‘all or nothing’ mechanism which prevented this problem, making watch repeaters considerably more reliable and popular.
See the video – we cocked the lever, but the comb refuses to reset and the repeater remains silent.
Dried grease and a weakened screw on the axle caused the ‘all or nothing’ lever to stick, so we clean the leaves by carefully disassembling the parts, rinsing them, and then slowly piecing them back together using White Molykote grease. Before disassembling it is good practice to take a photo of the mechanism so that later on you don’t confuse any screws! Everything must be returned to its original place.
The solution to our problem was really fairly simple, and no special repairs were needed. We tested the repeater in a few different positions to check that it worked properly.
Finally, the sound of the repeater can be heard! It is curious that the sound of the gongs without a body is practically inaudible – there wasn’t really any point in recording the video. Gongs only act as a resonator, transmitting vibrations to the main body of the watch.
The sound is quiet compared to the noise of old repeaters. After the repair the watch is tested for several days.
Fortunately, everything has worked out with very little effort involved – the watch works almost like its new and will only need to be serviced after about 2 – 3 years.