FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain
Watch reviewed is part of a private collection.
Spanning a variety of complications, metals and colours, F.P. Journe has one of the most diverse range of models amongst independent watchmaking brands. While the models on offer come and go, the Tourbillon Souverain has remained a staple in the lineup. It has evolved over the years, from the original production series (T) to the current Tourbillon Nouveau series (TN). Without going into the detailed history of the Tourbillon Souverain, or the manufacture, we take a look at an early variant of the watch from a design and technical perspective.
To many, the Tourbillon Souverain is the emblematic Journe model. Being the first wristwatch to be released from the atelier, it laid out the stylistic elements that would become a hallmark and template for almost all of Journe’s complicated pieces.
On the right is an offset subdial with staggered hours and minutes display. A pair of blued, duck-bill shaped hands sit upon a barleycorn-finished surface. The entire module is screwed on with a steel frame. On the left (where Journe would normally place his complication) is a similarly sized aperture displaying the lyre-shaped tourbillon cage.
At six o'clock is a window conveying the Remontoir d’Égalité, a small mechanical device that evens out the power delivery to the escapement (and thus, theoretically, improving the timekeeping accuracy of the watch). The best way to envisage how the remontoire works is to think of a miniaturised water wheel in action, with the water being the flow of energy from the mainspring. In this early model, the remontoire ticks once a second, and thus can be thought of as an unmarked seconds counter. In later models, a sub-second hand would be bolted on, forming a natural deadbeat seconds.
Like Kari Voutilainen and his Comblemine workshop, F.P. Journe’s watches now source their dials directly from his own manufacture. This has allowed Journe to release all manners of dial configurations and colours, finished to precise requirements. However, to collectors, the appeal of these early Tourbillon Souverains is the handmade dial. Appearing frosted in nature, these gold dials age beautifully, and under some lighting conditions are almost of a deep bronze colour. Its colour and consistency are non-homogenous, with darker patches in certain areas; characteristic of its handmade nature, and not seen in iterations since.
On the wrist, at 38mm, the Tourbillon Souverain (then large for its era) sits well on most wrists. Its curved lugs and slim profile are consistent with the sizing of the rest of the F.P. Journe range. This is, perhaps, one reason the watch is so coveted and appreciated by collectors. In a world where brands churn out watches with multiple and gyroscopic tourbillons, the Tourbillon Souverain is quite wearable and discrete in its technical brilliance.
The problem with it is....
The rear of the watch is rather plain, with simple Cotes de Geneve applied throughout. Only the winding mechanism and the long remontoire spring are visible. Being an early piece, the movement is made of rhodium-plated brass, not the solid 18k rose gold that the brand is now known for. This, whilst attractive to collectors, lacks the lustre of the more recent pieces.
To some, the rough finishing and inconsistency of components fit throughout the watch may be slightly off-putting. However, this gives the watch a more handmade and unique character befitting of an independent watchmaker.
Would we own one?
Unequivocally yes. This watch symbolises the Journe aesthetic. It is interesting mechanically and aesthetically, and the size just perfect. The early gold dial is, honestly, the most desirable to me, for the imperfections make it so special. Seeing it change colour in different lighting is reminiscent of the Chronomètre Bleu, but in a different manner. There is just something so satisfying when it sits on the wrist and you stare at that Journe aesthetic, with the Remontoire ticking away. If I could only own one Journe, it would be hard pick between this and an early Resonance.
It would have to be a resounding yes. The Tourbillon Souverain is one of the very few pieces featuring an ‘open heart’ (tourbillon or otherwise) I actually enjoy the look of. The tourbillon aperture is clearly designed to be part of the watch, rather than as a lazy afterthought, and gives excellent dial balance. The complexity this early dial is so mesmerising, I’d never tire of looking at it.