FFC, switching to digital time.

In anticipation of the production of a small series of a timepiece inspired by the FFC Blue prototype, a unique piece for Only Watch 2021, it seems useful to revisit its genesis and its unique way of reading the time, made possible by a hand whose fingers come to life as the hours pass.

The story of how the FFC Blue was created is like a fairy tale and for this reason deserves to be told again for those who do not know it. It began in 2009 when mrs. Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, gave her illustrious filmmaker husband the Chronomètre à Résonance, which she found chic and elegant. Delighted with the gift, he immediately sent an invitation to its creator to come and meet him at his “inglenook” winery in the Napa Valley. When they met in 2012, they discussed the different principles of representing the passing of time and the filmmaker asked if a watchmaker had ever considered displaying the hours in the way the ancients used to give them, by counting them on their fingers. The idea of ticking the 12 digits of the hours with 5 fingers had appealed to François-Paul who, in 2014, wanted to take up the challenge of inventing an animated hand capable of displaying it in the same way. His motivation led him to start prototyping the FFC Blue watch the same year, which was supposed to go on sale at only watch 2021.

History in motion.
 
After having found, with Francis Ford Coppola, how to present the 12 digits of the hours with a single hand and 5 fingers, François-Paul set out to design a mechanism capable of adequately transcribing these digits into digital signs. To avoid falling into naturalism, this artist, who is known to have a passion for history, like one of his sons who today is a professional historian, chose to draw his inspiration from a drawing of a prosthesis made by the famous french barber-surgeon Ambroise Paré (1509/1510-1590).

For those not familiar with him, he is the one to whom we owe, thanks to his competence and understanding of the human body, undeniable progress in medicine. The mechanised hand found on the front of the FFC Blue is inspired by the one developed by this renaissance physician.
 
Initially thought in bronze by its inventor, the final hand for the watch was made of engraved titanium, used to reduce the weight of the moving components so as to not affect the energy consumption of the caliber, the octa 1300.3 launched by the manufacture F.P.Journe in 2001. As François-Paul points out, “The most important thing in watchmaking is what is least visible. In this case, it was a matter of getting five fingers to move with the least amount of effort”.

Managing the available energy.
 
In order to use only the energy coming from the barrel, which ensures a power reserve of 5 days for the piece, the choice was made to install a “Remontoir d’Égalité” between the primary gear train and the display, as is done in the clocks of buildings when the hands to be moved are long and heavy. Every hour, and for 40 minutes, the “Remontoir d’Égalité”, formed by a spring blade enclosed in a kind of barrel, a trigger and a sort of anchor mounted on one side on a wheel with an eccentric in its center, is rewound by the movement.

On the hour, the mechanism described by François-Paul as a sort of escapement acting once an hour, is released so that the energy accumulated from the main barrel can, through the intermediary of this tangentially acting fork, set in motion the series of 10 cams whose purpose is to control the movement of the fingers of the hand. Placed on the left side and visible between the rotating minute ring mounted on a large extra-flat ball bearing with a fixed cursor placed at noon, they make one revolution in 12 hours, each one activating a series of springs and toggles acting on the rise and fall of the 4 fingers, but also the translation of the thumb. The shape of the cams, associated with the teeth of each one, acts on the fingers which are mounted on a steel sling, and which move then, practically without friction, like a loom shuttle. Thanks to this ingenious system, the energy required to operate one finger, four fingers between 5 and 6 o’clock as well as between 9 and 10 o’clock, is always the same and calibrated so that it is done in complete safety and, above all, without affecting the chronometry of the regulating group.

Reinventing how time is displayed.
 
By means of miniaturisation work pushed to the extreme and seven years of incessant labor spent making the whole thing reliable, the master, supported by the skills gathered within his manufacture, has managed to integrate all the components of the automatic caliber and this astonishing anthropomorphic mobile into a case measuring 42 mm in diameter and only 10.7 mm thick. As a result, despite the complexity of the whole, this watch is no thicker than another model equipped with the same movement. To achieve this exploit, François-Paul eliminated the dial and replaced the minute hand, which was impossible to use in the traditional way, with a rotating ring mounted on a large extra-flat ball bearing, as he did for the perpetual calendar of the Astronomic Souveraine. This modification made it possible to gain the few millimetres necessary for the placement of the articulated hand sculpted by a master engraver. So, in the end, what does this high-flying timepiece bring to the table besides its original display? It proves that the best way to make a complicated watch is to think about how to save energy to make it work without having to add any. As François-Paul says, the watchmaker must have a light hand when designing a movement.

In the end, the octa caliber is perfect for this approach because it has a constant and linear force and torque for 5 days. By optimising the friction and using only the smoothest part of the spring, we find a very linear torque that allows adding functions without being afraid that everything will stop. Here’s the proof!

Available in: Spiga