FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical
The FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical is a new timepiece from the renowned practitioner of high-end watchmaking. It marks the 20th anniversary of the Tourbillon Souverain, the Maison’s first serially produced wristwatch.
This detailed review of the FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical includes live images, specification details and pricing.
My 20 year-old son is home from university. He is handsome, slim and youth is his ally. He possesses latent talent and his future is bright. Conversely, I have entered my autumnal season. My middle-aged years gather around my waist and my hair recedes with the passing of each day.
Deeply immersed in a midlife crisis, I repeatedly muse about my potential legacy. After I have shuffled off this mortal coil, how will I be remembered? I suspect my children will reminisce about ‘Dad’ and his obsession with watches, but in 100 years time my existence will have vanished into the ether.
My point is that we only remember exceptional individuals. Some people gain notoriety for misdeeds, while others enjoy fame for the positive contribution they have made to society.
As a self-confessed horophile, my hero is, without question, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747 – 1823), the greatest watchmaker of all time. Born in Neuchâtel, Breguet spent most of his life in Paris where he enjoyed the patronage of wealthy clients. He was prolific.
His ingenuity led to numerous inventions, many of which continue to be used today. The Breguet overcoil, the pare-chute, sympathique clock and the legendary tourbillon are just a few of his ground-breaking innovations. It must be remembered that when Breguet made his highly precise marine chronometers for the navy, there were no CAD systems or CNC machines. Calculations were made on paper and infinitesimal parts were crafted by hand. Despite his passing in the 19th century, his legacy continues to shine brightly.
A son of Marseilles
Breguet’s work had a profound influence on François-Paul Journe. This son of Marseilles moved to Paris in his formative years, spending time working at his uncle’s workshop. His uncle, Michel, was renowned for his expertise at restoring clocks. It was spending time under the tutelage of his uncle, that Journe’s knowledge grew.
In 1983, Journe completed his first watch. Typical of the Frenchman his inaugural timepiece was a tourbillon pocket watch, a complex undertaking for any watchmaker but especially for a 20 year-old. However, this was a foretaste of Journe’s predilection for technical challenges. The watch was entirely crafted by hand and took five years to complete.
Journe created his first tourbillon wristwatch, the Tourbillon Souverain, in 1991. The watch incorporated a remontoire and dead-beat seconds. The movement and gear trains were made of 18-carat gold and the watch was housed in a 38mm platinum case. Interestingly, this was a souscription watch, another idea conceived by Breguet, where customers were able to reserve a watch by making a down payment. The watch was limited to just 20 examples and these were promptly purchased by discerning collectors, some of which were friends of Journe.
The first serially produced wristwatch made by the eponymous firm, F.P. Journe
At Baselworld 1999, F.P. Journe launched its first serially produced wristwatch, again called the Tourbillon Souverain. It was endowed with the hand-wound Calibre 1498. It featured a remontoire, deadbeat seconds and power reserve. Again, the watch was housed in a 38mm platinum case, however, on this occasion the movement was rhodium-plated brass.
At the heart of F.P. Journe’s paradigm is a passion for innovation. In 2003, the Maison unveiled a new Tourbillon Souverain, endowed with a natural deadbeat second. The watch featured an exquisitely appointed 18-carat rose gold movement.
Now, some 20 years since the release of the serially produced Tourbillon Souverain, the high-end watch company has revealed a new version of the watch, but with an interesting twist. The FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical, as the name implies, features a vertical tourbillon. In addition, it includes a remontoir d’égalité and deadbeat seconds. Moreover, as I will go on to explain, this new watch upholds Journe’s reputation for horological fastidiousness.
A sea of gold would seduce even the coldest heart. However, this golden vista is not a dial but the reverse of the base plate. The surface of the ‘dial’ is decorated with Clous de Paris guilloché. The hours, minutes and seconds are proclaimed on a pane of grand feu enamel, framed with gold. The hours and minutes, at first glance, appear discrete from the small seconds display, however, both indications are conjoined using one piece of enamel.
The hours and minutes display is a paragon of lucidity. Hour and minute values are separated with a chemin de fer. Where Breguet conceived his eponymous ‘Breguet hands’, Journe has produced his own teardrop hands. The small seconds employ Arabic numerals, neat strokes and a chemin de fer to facilitate read-off. The small seconds hand advances to an andante beat, courtesy of the deadbeat seconds (seconde morte). The blue hands and dial detail provide a notable contrast with the white, enamel backdrop.
At 7 o’clock, an aperture reveals the rementoir d’égalité (see later) and grants the wearer front to back views.
A large aperture plays host to the vertical tourbillon cage. Unusually, the cage does not perform one revolution per minute as is the norm, but rotates briskly, spinning 360° every 30 seconds. The frenetic pace of the tourbillon adds to the visual spectacle. There is a profusion of space around the tourbillon. This allows the whirlwind to pirouette centre-stage in awe-inspiring isolation. Once again, Journe delivers an amazing visual spectacle. The aforementioned aperture is endowed with a mirror-polished ring which reflects the tourbillon cage and ensnares ambient light, showcasing the whirlwind in flight. Interestingly, when viewed from some angles, the reflected image of the vertical tourbillon resembles its horizontal sibling. A second reflector is positioned on the movement side of the watch, augmenting the illumination of the tourbillon cage.
Breguet’s tourbillon (patented in 1801) was designed to counter gravity’s negative influence on the regulating organ. This know-how was intended for use within a pocket watch. The pocket watch was typically worn in a waistcoat pocket and held in a vertical position. When the owner retired to bed, the watch would usually be placed in a night stand. This would hold the watch in a vertical position, ensuring the precision of the timepiece was maintained.
With the FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical, the tourbillon remains in an upright position at all times. This ensures the amplitude of the balance remains constant.
If the watch strap is fitted with a pin buckle it will usually be laid flat when not in use whereas if it is fitted with a deployant, it will normally be placed on its side. When a watch is fitted with a horizontal tourbillon, both of these scenarios will result in a significant loss of amplitude. By employing a vertical tourbillon, the amplitude will remain undiminished, irrespective of whether the watch is placed on its side or caseback down. It is this obsessive eye for detail which differentiates Journe from his contemporaries.
Positioned in the upper portion of the dial is a power-reserve indicator. The state of wind is shown on an arcing scale, expressed in hours. A svelte, blued hand imparts meaning with laser-like precision. The fulcrum of this hand sits upon a flush-fitting panel. Removing this panel allows the watchmaker to readily access the power-reserve mechanism.
The dial features two brushed, golden cartouches. Black text conveys the Maison’s name and strapline as well as the watch’s coveted complications. The scale of the text successfully combines lucidity and tasteful restraint.
The FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical is available with a platinum or 18-carat 6N gold case. Personally, I prefer the gold case as it sits in beauteous concert with the dial. Journe is the only person I know who uses the ultra-reddish 6N gold and I don’t know why it has not been used more widely because it is gorgeous.
18-carat 6N gold
Tracing the contours of the case with an extended index finger, one notices that the lugs are positioned towards the centre line of the case. In addition, they are comparatively short, arcing sharply downwards. The resultant aesthetic is not only highly attractive but confers exalted levels of comfort.
The more you study this case, the more details can be seen. Prior to the lugs assuming their downward trajectory, there is a small step in the edge of the caseband. I know it is not accidental, it’s creation heightens manufacturing costs, however, no doubt Journe has his reasons. My reason for pointing this out, is that nothing is done in haste. Everything is the consequence of protracted consideration.
Measuring 42mm in diameter, the FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical is not ungainly. However, traditionalists may have noticed that this latest watch is larger than its predecessors, typically housed in 38mm cases. While Journe has clearly subscribed to changing tastes, his new watch remains timeless.
And then there is the crown. Seldom does a winding crown deserve comment, however, Journe simply makes the most beautiful crowns. They do not protrude unduly, assuming comparatively slender proportions, however, they are sufficiently wide to facilitate manipulation. A rope-like grip encircles the crown proffering functionality and an abundance of aesthetic allure. Two small indentations grace the vertical flank of the crown. I do not know the reason for this latter detail, however, I suspect it will be a question I will ask the great man in due course.
The FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical is a technical tour de force. I have already discussed the rationale for the vertical tourbillon at length and now wish to focus upon the watch’s constant force device, the remontoir d’egalité. With a conventional hand-wound movement, the power held within the mainspring diminishes, causing the amplitude of the balance wheel to drop, impairing accuracy. The purpose of a constant force device is to ensure that the amplitude of the balance remains unaffected by the changing supply of energy. The fitment of a remontoir d’egalité is consistent with Journe’s inherent need for exactitude.
While the Calibre 1519 has a frequency of 3Hz, the second hand does not disclose this. Indeed, the hand advances in one-second integers. The dead-beat seconds (seconde morte) marches to a slow, metronomic pace. Each second is discrete, encouraging the observer to dwell and reflect. While its appearance may appear simple, its complexity cannot be overstated. The ‘natural deadbeat seconds’ device is mounted on one of the wheels of the constant-force device. Unlike some deadbeat seconds systems, Journe asserts his device, ‘cannot in any way affect the precision of the watch.’
Since 2003, serially produced Tourbillon Souverain watches have been fitted with a solid gold movement. It is rare to use this noble metal for making movements as it is incredibly soft. Any lack of concentration on the part of the watchmaker can result in a wayward tool marring the movement surface. There is no margin for inattention. A benefit of a gold movement is that it is the most non-reactive metal, meaning it won’t corrode or tarnish.
The baseplate of the Calibre 1519 is adorned with circular Côtes de Genève. Peerless anglage abounds. The screw heads are polished and bevelled. In addition, the pegs have polished rounded ends. The jewel sinks gleam resplendently, the transmission wheel features a sunburst motif and the wheels are circular grained.
The balance has a frequency of 21,600 VpH (3Hz) and the movement contains 32 jewels. The power reserve is sufficient to deliver 80 hours (± 2hours) autonomous operation. The balance spring is endowed with a Philips overcoil, ensuring the hairspring breathes concentrically.
François-Paul Journe is a man blessed with colossal talent. His ingenuity and technical prowess distinguish him as exceptional. What differentiates his work is an unwillingness to accept the status quo. His ingenuity has led him to produce the Optimum Chronometer, with its revolutionary escapement, the peerless Grande Sonnerie Souveraine and, lastly, his legendary resonance watches, inspired by the work of Antide Janvier.
However, despite his obsessive interest with the engineering of watch movements, he is also an aesthete. This is manifest with each watch that bears his name on its dial. Indeed, his empathy for tasteful design is apparent when perusing the assembled objets d’art within his Genevan boutique.
The face of the FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical is blessed with a gold complexion, free of blemishes. The indications prove simple to understand. The gleaming mirror-polished aperture for the tourbillon augments the lure of the whirlwind. Journe looks beyond the functional purpose of the vertical tourbillon, cleverly enticing the wearer closer and beguiling the unsuspecting with a cocktail of rapid revolutions and shimmering reflections.
Journe’s Tourbillon Souverain of 1999 remains a matchless exemplar of haute horlogerie. Cleverly, he looked at the way his watch was positioned when not affixed to the wrist. His vertical tourbillon ensures that irrespective of whether the watch is laid down on its caseback or on its side, the amplitude will not fluctuate.
When I am asked to specify the the greatest names in watchmaking, I invariably reel off the following names: Harrison, Breguet, Berthoud, and Daniels. Each of these prominent figures has influenced Journe to a greater or lesser extent. However, based on his work to date, his status justifies inclusion with the aforementioned quartet. Undoubtedly his body of work will be his lasting legacy. My only question is ‘What more can we expect from Journe in the coming years?’
- Model: FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical
- Case: Platinum or 18-carat 6N gold; diameter 42mm; height 13.6mm; sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; power-reserve indicator; vertical tourbillon
- Movement: Calibre 1519; hand-wound movement; 32 jewels; power reserve = 80 hours (± 2 hours)
- Price – platinum case: CHF 248,500 including taxes (RRP as at 15.4.2019)
- Price – 18-carat 6N gold case: CHF 244,500 including taxes (RRP as at 15.4.2019)