November 23, 2019
When discussing grand complication timepieces, most of the brands that come up are some of the oldest and most historic names in modern watchmaking: Patek Phillipe, Breguet, and Vacheron Constantin, to name a few. One of the handful of marques to build a grand complication in this day and age, however, is far younger than these timeless nameplates. F.P. Journe is only 20 years old, having been founded in 1999, but in that time has produced watches that regularly compete with these titans of horology. The brand’s latest project, the Astronomic Souveraine, is one of its most ambitious endeavors to date. Based on its Only Watch 2019 prototype, the Astronomic Blue, the Astronomic Souveraine is a true grand complication. It combines 18 functions and complications into a package no larger than many three-hand timepieces. Even more surprisingly, the design of this complex timepiece began as a simple rough sketch from founder François-Paul Journe’s teenage son Charles in 2004.
Young Charles Journe’s most innovative idea, a curved aperture displaying the passage of the sun across the sky, spans proudly from 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock on the dial. By connecting the full annual calendar complication to this display via a pair of metal shutters, this aperture accurately displays sunrise and sunset each day. Beyond this innovative display, the white gold dial of the Astronomic Souveraine is a symphony of diverse displays and functions including central minutes, a mean time hours and second time zone indicator in the 3 o’clock subdial, a topographically accurate moonphase indicator at 5 o’clock, a power-reserve indicator at 6 o’clock, a dead-beat seconds indicator at 7 o’clock, and a subdial for sidereal hours and minutes(used for tracking the movement of the stars) at 9 o’clock. While this is a massive array of information on a single dial, F.P. Journe manages to maintain visual balance and harmony throughout.
Things are equally complex around back, where a broad sapphire display window gives a view of the 18-karat rose gold Calibre 1619 manufacture movement. At the center of this display is a hand displaying the complex equation of time, while at the 10 o’clock mark a pointer displays the annual calendar date, month, and zodiac alignment. Additional complications include a tourbillon escapement with a remontoir d’égalité for perfect isochronism and a minute repeater.
Beyond the 18 different functions and complications, the Calibre 1619 hand-wound movement powering the F.P Journe Astronomic Souveraine is impressive in its own right. Power is provided via a double mainspring barrel to a heavily decorated movement featuring circular wave finishing on its bridges, an engine turned baseplate, and polished and chamfered screws. All functions and complications are fully adjustable via the crown. Power reserve capacity for all these complications sits at a very functional 40 hours thanks to the double mainspring barrel. Perhaps most impressive of all is the Calibre 1619’s packaging. F.P. Journe has combined 758 individual movement components and true grand complication functionality to remarkably small overall dimensions.
Because of this compact design, the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine has a case diameter of 44 millimeters and a total height of only 13.8 millimeters. While this is on the large side for a modern timepiece, this is still within the realm of wearability and far smaller than many contemporary grand complication designs. Equally unusual for a grand complication is the choice of case material. While many watches in this category opt for exotic or precious metals, the classically simple case of the Astronomic Souveraine is made from stainless steel, allowing the case to visually fade into the background to cede center stage to the artistry of the dial and movement.
F.P. Journe pairs the Astronomic Souveraine with an equally classical black crocodile leather strap, maintaining a timeless dressy look without upstaging the rest of the watch.
While not strictly a limited edition, F.P Journe expects to produce no more than four or five Astronomic Souveraine models each year. Due to the handbuilt and incredibly labor-intensive nature of each of these timepieces, pricing for the Astronomic Souveraine is made available upon request. More information is available on the brand’s website.