F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Watch Hands-On: The Cleverest Chronograph?

F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Watch Hands-On: The Cleverest Chronograph?

F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Watch Hands On: The Cleverest Chronograph?   hands on

I neither understood or appreciated the F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine (which they also sometimes spell as “Souverain”) watch when it first came about in about 2007. I was still relatively new to the world of ultra high-end watches, and lacked an ability to appreciate the weird from the truly wonderful. Years later, as my tastes and knowledge have matured, I can look back at items such as the inventive Centigraphe and have a much better sense of enjoyment for what Mr. Journe developed as his own take on the traditional chronograph.

While “chronograph” means “time writer,” “centigraphe” means “100 writer.” That is because the Centigraphe is a chronograph that measures down to 1/100th of a second, and at the time in 2007 that was a big deal for a mechanical watch. Since then, TAG Heuer and other brands have matched or bested that with interesting systems, but I think that for daily wear, it is hard to beat the Centigraphe. One of the reasons is the way it works. F.P. Journe didn’t develop a high-beat balance wheel system to get that level of accuracy. In fact the Centigraphe operates not at 4, but at 3Hz. So how does it measure down to 1/100th of a second?

F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Watch Hands On: The Cleverest Chronograph?   hands on

Let’s put that into context. The TAG Heuer Mikograph (hands-on here) contains two balance wheels. One is for the time and operates normally, but the one for the chronograph operates as an intense 360,000 bph. That is compared to the 21,600 bph in the Centigraphe. So how is it that F.P. Journe is able to achieve this level of precision without more beats per second? The answer is really about clever gearing and a patented system that connects the chronograph directly to the escapement.

In fact, one of the major benefits of the Centigraphe is that the chronograph system is separated from the system that tells the time. This is the same concept as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre that splits the movement between time-telling and other complications. The idea is to reduce the burden on the movement so as not to effect amplitude in a way that will reduce timing accuracy. To put it plainly, if the chronograph is activated it draws power from the mainspring more or less directly and does not dilute the flow of power to the mechanism in charge of telling the time. To do so would interrupt the amplitude of the movement thereby altering the accuracy of the movement.

F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Watch Hands On: The Cleverest Chronograph?   hands on

Speaking of the movement, it is the in-house made F.P. Journe Caliber 1506. Built on a solid gold movement plate it is hand-assembled and has 80 hours of power reserve without the chronograph running, and 24 hours of power reserve with it running. The chronograph is also unique because rather than having two pushers to start/stop and reset the chronograph, it has a unique rocker switch. The differences between the Centigraphe and traditional chronograph watches do not stop there. The real indicator that something is different in this watch is on the dial.

F.P. Journe offers the Centigraphe in a few case and dial colors. Here you have a particularly handsome version with a black dial and white subdials. If you look closely, you’ll realize that the chronograph subdials are placed on a single white gold plate that sits over the base dial. The three subdials are each used for the chronograph and it measures up to 10 minutes in total. Each of the subdials includes both information for reading the elapsed time (in red) as well as for the tachymeter scale (that allows you to measure objects traveling up to 36,000 kilometers per hour).

F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Watch Hands On: The Cleverest Chronograph?   hands on

12 comments
WillyChu
WillyChu

For you chronograph experts, I'm having trouble understanding the design of the "classic" three dial chronograph (such as a Rolex, not this watch under review). If the large central second hand is used to record seconds, why is one of the subdials also a seconds counter? Is this not redundant? Then the minute subdial usually goes from 0-30 secs, so you have to look at the position of the hour subdial hand to see if it's really 0-29 or is it actually 30-59 and you have to add 30. I guess the ticks on small subdial that went from 0-60 would be hard to see, but still, not the most convenient for quick reading.

My idea would be to do away with the redundant seconds subdial, keeping the hour subdial. For the other two, one subdial would go from 0-5; this would be the "tens" of minutes dial. The other would go from 0-9 and would read the single minutes. For example, if the one on the left pointed to 4 and the one on the right pointed to 8, it would be 48 minutes. Easy. Dumb idea?

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

Beautiful exercise in engineering and manufacture...but...bloody well ridiculous.

srvlf
srvlf

This is a beautiful watch but well out of my price range.  I love chronographs (in fact I only own chronographs), and now better appreciate what they have done with this movement.  However, the ten minute timing limit will be a little tough to live with if you use the chronograph (that's why you'd buy this watch I assume).  The difference between 35 minutes and 45 minutes won't be apparent unless you remember when you started it.  And for that amount of money, it could be a deal-breaker.  

emenezes
emenezes

From afar, it looks quite nice, but, on close examination, the details mar the dial.  I'm not sure that the tachometer scale helps, but having legends for both major and minor marks overwhelms the sub-dials.  But the worst offender to me is the plate joining the sub-dials, having the looks of a poorly finished design.  Finally, the time hands could share somewhat in the style of the chronograph hands.  Overall, not very satisfying.


PS: the prettiest view of this watch is from the back; what a beautiful movement!

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

It's innovative and distinctive, though I don't like this particular colour scheme.  If the chronograph reaches the ten minute limit, does it stop, or just keep going?  If it continues around, it would make the ten-minute limit much more easy to live with.

floriancourtial
floriancourtial

A really beautiful watch !


PS. There are some mistakes at the end of the article "  This Cenigraphe Souveraine " and " It only takes a momement to learn, ".

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

Very cool. I have commented on this watch in the past, maybe not here, but I am immediately reminded of what is/was a silly comment, and that is the sub-dial layout immediately reminds me of a quartz watch. Save for I guess this watch, subdials in this configuration for a chronograph are always quartz, as evidenced by countless Tissot, Swatch, and many other brands interpretations.


I'm not a fan of the palette used here - black dial on gold case with brown strap and red accents? Puke. I think there is also a white metal iteration that meets my eye in a better place. 

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

@WillyChu  On a standard chronograph configuration, the central seconds hand measures the chronograph seconds, and the seconds sub dial counts the time-telling seconds - they are separate events, not redundant. I think what you are seeing a lot of is people that wear a chronograph and always have the chrono running, so it looks redundant. 


Time telling and chronograph functions are not related, other than that they are housed in the same watch. The minute sub-dial does not related to the hour hand for time telling. If the chronograph also counts hours, then it has it's own hand or subdial, not related to the time telling hour hand. 

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

@emenezes  While I would be lying to say that I am a big fan of them, I do know that those hands are iconic to PF wristwatches. Save the T30 tourbillon, I don't think they've ever made a watch that didn't use them. 


Again, I don;t know that I particularly like them, but I do enjoy that they help identify the brand, give it a personality - like that crown design they use as well. Slap me away at 3am and show me those elements, and it's easy to identify the brand. 

WillyChu
WillyChu

@SuperStrapper @WillyChu  Thanks for the clarification.  So when the chronograph timer is not running, the central second hand is stationary?  (Sorry, I have not played with a chronograph)


Regarding the subdials, I was referring to the difficulty in reading elapsed time on a single 0-30 minute dial (not time telling).  The same dial has to double for elapsed times of 0-29 minutes and 30-59 minutes.  You have to determine if the hour subdial hand is in the first half or the second half of the current elapsed hour to interpret how many minutes have elapsed.


In the review watch this is even more complicated, as the seconds subdial only goes from 0-20.  If the timer hand stops on 5, for example, this could be 5 seconds, 25 seconds, or 45 seconds of elapsed time.  You have to determine which "third of the minute" the elapsed minutes hand is within and do some mental calculation to get the answer.  That's why I was suggesting an easier way of representing elapsed time.

emenezes
emenezes

@SuperStrapper Fine, then style the chronograph hands to be reminiscent of the time hands.  As is, it's too busy a design with disjoint parts that make a Frankenstein whole.

tempocalypse
tempocalypse

@WillyChu @SuperStrapper There are some chronographs such as caliber 9300 based Omegas and some IWCs that use a single register for both elapsed hours and minutes. You simply read it off as you would the main time on a watch face. 


The downside is legibility. You now have 60 even tinier marks to read the minutes from inside the small subdial rather than 30 marks.

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