When people ask me about brands to take a close look at, those whose watches might increase in value, or simply those that interest serious watch lovers who are more interested in product than brand names… my response regularly includes F.P. Journe. Today, I am going to review the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain, one of the brand’s more iconic, as well as popular watches. The F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain isn’t F.P. Journe’s least expensive model, but I do count it among one of the “entryways” to the brand, as well as a staple product for those looking to own just one good example of a timepiece from Mr. Francois-Paul’s workshops.
Let it be said again that F.P. Journe still produces under 1000 timepieces per year. In fact, the figure is actually probably closer to 800 pieces per year – and this is for a brand with almost a dozen boutiques around the world (in addition to some authorized dealers). Keeping good timepieces in stock for the various F.P. Journe stores around the world is indeed a challenge. Nevertheless, any challenges involved in getting the F.P. Journe watch of your choice is probably worth it.
Some people enjoy F.P. Journe as a brand because of their connection to the man himself, and others simply feel inspired by the products. While I know Francois-Paul and am certainly friendly with him, I can’t say that he is someone I know well. Even though I have great admiration and respect for his work, I tend to not probe into the veil of privacy that I sense he enjoys and which allows him to focus on his work. You get the idea that while Mr. Journe is certainly a fond consumer of the pleasures of life and leisure, he is least comfortable when speaking about himself.
The watch industry is a lot like the entertainment industry when company leaders need to be personalities and faces for entire companies in addition to what they produce. F.P. Journe the man does this best when simply explaining his products and proceeding to his next creation rather than building elaborate yarns about what his work means or is all about. To put it simply, he lives watch making, he loves classic watch making, and he loves nice, albeit practical things. Those are the inspirations behind his watches.
I think the element of preferring practicality is what draws me most to the brand. The fact that I’ve found most F.P. Journe watches to be comfortable, legible, and beautiful creates a sense of positive esteem for the the brand as a whole as opposed to individual models. I tend to mainly judge timepieces individually without making sweeping judgements about a brand, but with F.P. Journe I’ve had enough positive experiences to know that if F.P. Journe decides something is ready for retail sale, its probably earned his own seal of approval a number of times over (and that’s good enough for me).
With that said, I still look carefully at each new F.P. Journe watch I put on my wrist and continue to discover a variety of ways the brand can surprise me. Anyhow, that’s really a larger discussion about a brand I am fond of, and I should get back to the timepiece at at hand, the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain.
A watch like this really epitomizes the design DNA that F.P. Journe has created for his brand with his distinctive style of hands as, dial, case, crown, and numeral design. As of 2015, the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain is available in a variety of styles with different dials and case materials. With that said, each is immediately recognizable for what it is. There are also variations to the watch which add complications, and the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain is the most simple. If you wanted to step it up just a bit, then you could opt for the Octa Automatique Reserve watch which adds an automatic movement and a big date indicator to an otherwise pretty similar design.
I’ve tried to understand the source of the “Souverain” name, and from what I recall, it is a term that Francois-Paul himself simply liked and also liked how it sounded. With that said, the Souverain collection is inspired by 19th century pocket watches in wrist watch form, with F.P. Journe’s own sense of style. The reason this model is called the Chronometre Souverain is because it is apparently inspired by old marine chronometer clocks whose purpose was to be accurate. F.P. Journe is sort of obsessed with accuracy (a trait I really hope most watchmakers harbor), and the in-house made calibre 1304 is one of many of his attempts at creating a very reliable and accurate mechanical movement.
The Calibre 1304 movement is rendered in 18k pink gold (a rare thing even among other luxury watches) and is a beautiful site to behold through the sapphire crystal exhibition caseback on the rear of the watch. The movement contains two mainspring barrels with a total power reserve of 56 hours, and it operates at a frequency of 21,600 (3Hz). My understanding is that while F.P. Journe movements aren’t COSC Chronometer certified, the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain certainly performs within COSC Chronometer standards.
On the dial, the Calibre 1304 offers the time with subsidiary seconds dial and a power reserve indicator. The layout is attractively balanced even though it is asymmetrical. In my opinion, it is a great-looking as well as wonderful to read dial. Here, you have one of the traditional F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain dials with the blued hands, but more recently, F.P. Journe has been producing in-house made gold dials which add an interesting look which you should also consider if you like the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain collection.
There is a quirk to the movement which is amusing to talk about. It isn’t a mistake, per se, but one of those horological oddities that really doesn’t make sense at first. Also, you’ll only know what I am talking about if you actually wear and use the watch. The power reserve indicator seems to go backwards. What does that mean? Well usually a power reserve indicator on a watch today moves “up” as it is wound. When numerals are on a power reserve scale the more you wind the watch the more the hand moves from “0” to a higher number. So if you compare the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain to most other watches with power reserve indicators today, you’d expect it to be at “0” when empty, and at “56” when full. However, the exact opposite is true. Why is that?
Apparently, this is another vestige of something old that F.P. Journe wanted to put into the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain – apparently borrowed again from marine chronometer clocks. There, the purpose of the power reserve indicator is not to indicate how many hours of power remain, but rather how many hours since you last wound the movement. There are reasons for this that I am not going to get into here, but suffice it to say that this is the reason why the power reserve indicator on the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain acts the way it does – and that doesn’t even apply to all F.P. Journe watches with power reserve indicators!
Winding the watch with F.P. Journe’s distinctive “flat crown” is a pleasure, and the overall wearing comfort of this 40mm wide case is really outstanding. It feels so much like a welcome wrist companion sitting on the wrist with its slim 8.6mm thick case. F.P. Journe offers the Chronometre watch in either 18k red gold or platinum, with two dial styles for each, as well as a bracelet option (which is rather nice actually). While most people would agree the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain is a dress watch, I don’t think that is what Mr. Journe has in mind. While I wouldn’t call it a sporty timepiece, this is very much at timepiece that can be worn casually – assuming you do classy Euro-casual.
While a lot of people enter the F.P. Journe brand with a Chronometre Bleu, I sort of feel that something like the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain is a better “first Journe” option, simply because it more epitomizes the brand, Mr. Journe’s values, as well as offers the most wearing versatility. The Chronometre Bleu with its tantalum case and metallic blue dial is an amazing timepiece, but its lack of power reserve indicator and seriously blue theme make it a bit less versatile than the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain, in my personal opinion.
Attached to the finely made gold or platinum case is a fitted alligator strap that allows the watch to be worn snugly, but not too tightly. F.P. Journe opts for a traditional strap buckle, which I think is the right option for getting the right fit on the wrist. While there are certainly more complicated F.P. Journe timepieces, there are few that match the simple elegance, grace, and well-realized composure of the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain. It is a hard timepiece to pass up if you are keen on entering the brand which speaks so well us to watch lovers who have been around the block and are looking for what really works in a high-end Swiss watch.
The F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain watch in 18k red gold with the “CS Traditional Dial” is priced at $31,000. In platinum, it would be $37,600. With the new gold dial, the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain in 18k red gold is $32,200 and $38,800 in platinum. fpjourne.com
>Brand: F.P. Journe
>Model: Chronometre Souverain
>Price: $31,000 (as tested)
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: I’d really want someone to discover the brand for themselves rather than me recommend it to them, but if I needed to, it would be someone frustrated with the smoke and mirrors marketing of the luxury watch world looking for an approachable brand that seems to make a lot of sense.
>Best characteristic of watch: Extremely well considered timepiece with beautiful elements from all angles and a lot of lasting power.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Design is the right amount of quirky for me, but not everyone will love it – which is perhaps a good thing. It is easy to wish it was more accessibly-priced.