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 for sale 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.