F.P. Journe’s Chronomètre Souverain is renowned for its rarity and collectibility, but how well does it function as a timekeeper? WatchTime puts the watch through its paces in this exclusive test from the WatchTime archives; Nik Schölzel provides the original photography.
The watch world first began to take notice of François-Paul Journe in 1986, when he joined the Academy of Independent Creative Watchmakers (AHCI). After several years of crafting unconventional timepieces for an elite and well-heeled clientele in his shop on the outskirts of Paris, the French-born watchmaking prodigy set up shop on the rue de l’Arquebuse in Geneva, where he founded his brand, F. P. Journe Invenit et Fecit. The small company produces only about 800 watches each year, but its list of admirers has grown so large that the entire annual production is usually sold out a full year in advance.
Known for their very high technical standards and a distinctive, signature “Journe look,” F.P. Journe watches have inspired a number of imitators. Journe himself, regarded throughout the watch business as an individualist, designs them in the reverse direction of most other watchmakers: he plans the dial of a new model and then begins work on the movement that will support that watch’s desired displays.
The Chronomètre Souverain (“sovereign” in French), which is featured in this test, is considered F.P. Journe’s entry-level watch — if one that sells for slightly less than $30,000 can truly be considered as such — and is produced in very limited quantities. A typical example of the now-familiar Journe design style, its exclusive, hand-wound movement is not only very interesting technically, but also gorgeously decorated and finished. Journe makes the watch in two different case diameters, 38 mm and 40 mm (the size of our tested model), even though the latter size is now regarded by many watch connoisseurs as the new minimum.
The dial of the Chronomètre Souverain is cleanly designed: not at all overloaded and thus excellently legible, despite the fact that the sapphire crystal has no nonreflective treatment. The lengths of the blued steel hands that indicate the hours and minutes are just right. Their color — the result of meticulous heating to exactly the right temperature — contrasts distinctly with the dial’s white background. The off-center subdial for the seconds counterbalances the power-reserve display, making for good visual harmony.
The small crown adds to the elegant design. Its fine knurling ensures that it can be manipulated precisely and easily. If you allow your Chronomètre Souverain to run down and stop — that is, if the 56-hour power reserve becomes empty — then you’ll need to wind the crown for 38 full rotations before its two parallel-switched barrels are fully replenished. Fortunately, for most watch aficionados, winding a watch like this is a delightful way to spend one’s time.
The watch has an unconventional power-reserve display: rather than starting at the numeral “56” at the top when the watch is fully wound and moving down to the “0” at the bottom as it runs down, the hand starts at the “0” when the reserve is full and moves toward the “56” as it empties, requiring the wearer to do a bit of mental arithmetic.
The case is impeccably crafted, with meticulous attention to details, such as the handsome lettering and numbering around the periphery of the back, which surrounds a pane of sapphire and is affixed to the case by six screws. This watch is also delightful to the touch.
The clearly structured movement is as beautiful as the dial. Looking through the watch’s transparent back, you’ll notice that the caliber amply fills the case; there is no bulky movement-holder ring filling up unused space, as happens often with watches made by brands that have jumped on the big-diameter bandwagon but continue to use smaller calibers. The Chronomètre Souverain is powered by manufacture Caliber 1304, whose plate and bridges are crafted from 18k gold. Some of them are embellished with circular graining, others with sunburst or wave patterns. The heads of the screws have been polished flat; their edges and slits are neatly beveled. The screw balance of the 15-toothed, index-free, straight-line Swiss lever escapement oscillates at an ideal pace of 21,600 vph. Gain or loss can be adjusted by changing the balance’s moment of inertia: to do this, a watchmaker turns the four eccentric screws, one on each of the balance’s four spokes. The flat, coiled spring inside the balance is made of thermally treated Nivarox-Anachron alloy. The balance’s moment of inertia is 10.10 mg x cm2; its lift angle is 52 degrees. The connection between the escapement and the gear train is hidden; only the two barrels and their peripheries are visible.
We were somewhat surprised by the difference between the rate results measured in our wrist test and those determined by a Witschi electronic timing machine. The Chronomètre Souverain ran slightly fast (gaining one to two seconds per day) on the wrist, but the electronic device showed gains of as much as 4.5 seconds per day. The fine adjustment seems to have been quite good, as evidenced by the fact that the watch’s rate was nearly as good after it had been running for approximately 26 hours as it was when the watch was fully wound. Even with its “tank” nearly empty, it continued to keep time with more than acceptable accuracy. Basically, if you leave the Chronomètre Souverain on its own over the weekend, you won’t need to reset it Monday morning. A bit of manual winding will prepare it — and you — to start the new week.
+ Fine manufacture caliber
+ Exclusivity thanks to small number of watches produced
+ Meticulous craftsmanship in every detail
– High price
Manufacturer: Montre Journe SA, 17, rue de l’Arquebuse, CH-1204 Geneva, Switzerland
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, power-reserve display
Movement: F. P. Journe Caliber 1304; diameter = 30.4 mm, height = 3.75 mm; 22 jewels; linear Swiss lever escapement with 15 teeth; screw balance with four weights; Nivarox-Anachron balance spring; 21,600 vph; mobile balance-spring stud; fine adjustment without index system by changing the inertia on the balance’s rim; two barrels; 56-hour power reserve (± 2 hours); no stop-seconds function; 164 components
Case: Massive, tripartite, 40-mm rose-gold case; sapphire crystal in back, held in place by six screws; sapphire crystals (not nonreflective) in front and in back; water-resistant to 3 ATM
Strap and clasp: Crocodile-skin strap with 18k-gold pronged buckle
(Deviations in seconds per day, fully wound and after 26 hours of running time)
Dial up +2/+2
Dial down +6/+6
Crown up +6/+4
Crown down +4/+3
Crown left +2/+1
Crown right +7/+7
Greatest deviation: 5/6
Average deviation: +4.5 /+3.8
Flat positions 319°/305°
Hanging positions 294°/280°
Dimensions: Diameter = 40 mm, height = 8.6 mm, weight = 79 grams
Variations: platinum case ($34,460); 38-mm, rose gold case ($27,830); 38-mm, platinum case ($33,370)
Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): Slightly upholstered, very beautifully crafted crocodile strap with “F. P. Journe” name engraved in its 18k-gold buckle. 10
Operation (5): The crown is quite small, but nonetheless easy to grip between the fingertips, so the time can be easily set. 4
Case (10): Six screws affix the back to the perfectly crafted gold case; the back boasts beautiful engravings and a viewing window made of sapphire. 10
Design (15): Journe’s timeless, no-frills style is frequently copied by this brand’s competitors. 14
Legibility (5): The legibility is good in daylight thanks to the high contrast between the hands and the dial, but the watch is dark when the lights go out. 4
Wearing comfort (10): This elegant and lightweight 40-mm watch fits perfectly around the wrist. 10
Movement (20): Meticulous and elaborate embellishments on the surfaces and attractively designed bridges distinguish the hand-wound, double-barreled manufacture Caliber 1304. 17
Rate results (10): Good adjustment in the “plus” range in all positions and under all winding conditions; the rate results were better on the wrist than on the electronic timing machine. 8
Overall value (15): This Geneva-made alternative to the established upper-class manufacturers is expensive, but its exclusivity helps justify the cost. 12
TOTAL: 89 POINTS
This article was originally posted on August 12, 2012, and has been updated.