By Suzanne Wong
There are certain things that identify a genuine watch enthusiast. Some might think a quick glance wristward is all it takes to flag a member of this tribe, but that is too wide a filter to be useful. After all, lots of people buy watches, and even more people choose to wear them. There is the ability to casually drop phrases such as “polished internal angles” or “manufacture based caliber with Dubois-Dépraz module” into conversation, or the facile, usually superfluous scattering of reference numbers.
The Tourbillon Souverain was launched in 1999, a year of great significance for F.P. Journe enthusiasts, because it was also the year that the celebrated Souveraine collection was created. At the time, it was the only commercially available wristwatch with a tourbillon and remontoire.
But that is mere jargon — anyone can digest a glossary and appear watch-savvy (I know I did when I first started out). To identify a genuine watch enthusiast, you need access to the true shibboleths, the stuff that gets you admitted to the horological Holy of Holies, the signifiers that go deeper than knowledge and into the realms of belief.
Two iterations of the Chronomètre à Résonance.
I don’t say this lightly. Watchmaking has its own dogma, and its key article of faith dictates that in‑house expertise reigns supreme. “In‑house” has been thrown around with appalling profligacy, but let’s be clear: there’s in-house and there’s in‑house. Just because a company is able to do something on its own doesn’t mean it’s good at it. Logically speaking, you should only do something if you can do it better than anything else you can get out there. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Which brings us to F.P. Journe. The company motto is the Latin phrase “Invenit et Fecit” (invented and made), referring to the in-house design, construction and production of all
its watches. To ardent disciples of fine watchmaking, the name “F.P. Journe” is a clarion call to exalt the values of mechanical ingenuity, high performance and design excellence at the highest levels. What uniquely distinguishes an F.P. Journe timepiece, however, is not its technical mastery nor its chronometric prowess, although these are undeniably present. In fact, it’s not the presence of anything, but the absence of something that defines an F.P. Journe watch: the absence of compromise.
The Chronomètre Souverain has hours, minutes, small seconds and power reserve — just the essentials, all killer, no filler. The two barrels with low-torque mainsprings provide 56 hours of power reserve, which drive a free-sprung balance beating at 3Hz (21,600vph). The “Chronomètre” part of its name refers not only to the extreme precision of its timekeeping, but also to the visual inspiration taken from traditional marine chronometers. The double barrel is one such feature, an indication of the extreme care needed to stabilise the regulating organ at sea.
Novitiates of haute horlogerie may not pick up on this. It’s far easier to spot something that’s there rather than something that isn’t. For example, what there is (or isn’t) in the taut balance of the dial elements. The process of uniting dial design with movement construction is like trying to build two ends of a bridge at the same time and getting them to meet in the middle. The problems that arise from this method usually stem from the fact that most watchmakers still see design as a discrete stage in the creative process rather than an underlying element. Most of the time, the external components — case, pushers, crown, dial; call these the “user interface”, if you will — are positioned almost entirely in service to the movement. Things are located where their respective wheels and levers need them to be, and it’s not always to the overall aesthetic benefit of the watch. At F.P. Journe, the philosophy behind each timepiece is that design takes precedence, because it is the aspect of the watch that is the most directly relevant to the wearer. You’ll be hard‑pressed to find an F.P. Journe watch that isn’t visually balanced with strong symmetries, because these watches go back to the etymological root of the word “design”, which has little to do with aesthetics and everything to do with purpose and intention.
There are no accidents when it comes to an F.P. Journe watch; everything is done deliberately. In the Octa collection, all watches share the same self-winding base movement, but there are variations in the indication of hours and minutes — some models have central hours and minutes while others have off-centered indications. In most cases, you would assume the movement was built to have the time indication in one particular place, and subsequently extra offset wheels were fitted to the movement when it was decided to position the hours and minutes indication elsewhere on the dial. Not with the Octa caliber 1300.3, which was designed from the very beginning to have two possible locations for the time indication, so that a wide variety of additional complications and displays could be accommodated.
Speak with admirers of F.P. Journe and you’ll realize they share a sensitivity that relates not just to what a watch is, but also to what it isn’t. It’s this sensitivity that defines the genuine watch enthusiast, and it is the key to identifying this elusive individual. Of course, by the time you’re familiar enough with this sensitivity to see it in others, you will no longer need to know how to identify a genuine watch enthusiast, because you will already be one yourself.
The object of the Chronomètre Optimum is to provide optimal chronometry in a wristwatch, and it does so by addressing a number of key points. The first is variable mainspring torque. If you have a mainspring that gives off a whole bunch of energy at first and then drastically falters at the end, you’re going to have problems towards the latter half of your power reserve. Even if you have a perfectly isochronous balance, which maintains a constant period of oscillation despite amplitude fluctuations, the fact is that a wristwatch is continually moving around and the balance is always on the receiving end of some uncalled-for interference.
The Chronomètre Optimum has two low-power mainspring barrels in parallel, which goes some way towards flattening the mainspring torque curve. Going one step further, the caliber 1510 also has a remontoir d’égalité to aid in the delivery of a constant level of torque to the escapement. This isn’t just any old remontoire: it’s a one-second spring remontoire that re-arms itself every second so perfectly that even packets of energy can be transmitted to the balance. This, thanks to the precisely geared and tensioned system, also conveniently provides a sharp and instantaneous dead-seconds indication.
Now we come to the special double direct impulse escapement, which could have been problematic, but isn’t in this case, since the one-second remontoire takes care of all variable torque issues. Unlike a regular anchor escapement, the unlocking and impulse points are separated here, allowing for a freer oscillation for the benefit of overall chronometric performance.
There’s a long tradition behind the wandering hour. Supposedly it originated with some 17th-century pope (it’s always some pope)’ who wanted a night clock he could read in the dark, because who wants a night clock that can only be read in the day? He commissioned a backlit wandering-hour clock, and the rest is (literally) history.
Jumping-time indications, especially when there’s more than one disc involved, are notoriously energy-hungry. The good news is, there’s a remontoire, and that solves the matter for the Vagabondage. Extra loads on the system come once every 10 seconds, when an additional seconds disc jumps, and on the hour, when the digital hour disc jumps. The latter load is not so much of a problem, as the secondary power reservoir that is the remontoire only services the balance and the jumping seconds, while the hours disc and minute hand obtain energy from further up the gear train.
The Vagabondage III was a world’s first when it debuted in 2017, and it’s still very much a world’s only, since no one else has attempted jumping digital seconds.
The flat tortue case sets it apart from the rest of the F.P. Journe collection, but the style of the numerals,
the hands and — for those who look a little closer — the remontoire, are immediate markers of provenance, even without any branding on the watch dial.
The entire Octa collection is built on a single self-winding movement. That’s pretty terrific to me, especially when you consider the range of functions expressed in the full collection, and that all the individual calibers have the exact