F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine: Reigniting Zest

Passion can be like the waves of the ocean: rising and falling, ebbing and flowing as excitement grows and then fades over time, repeating from month to month, year to year. Anyone that has a variety of hobbies or interests probably knows what I am referring to. No matter how passionate you are about something, your energy cannot be maintained at the same levels indefinitely.

As teenager, in springtime I was hyper focused on baseball: it was the only thing that I cared about for half the year. But come fall, I had moved on and was anxious for the snow to start falling so I could hit the hills on my snowboard, spending the next six months thinking about nothing but my winter hobby.

As I got older, I lost that winter excitement as college and my professional life replaced my “winter hobby.” But recently that excitement has returned, yet again culminating in a longer cycle of rising, falling, and rising. This has happened for many of my interests, even watches. Now, I wouldn’t say I’d stopped being passionate about watches, but there was a period of about two years after college where they fell off my radar for the most part as I charged into adulthood.

My interest in watches remains strong as a general rule, but it waxes and wanes for specific brands, styles, or simply what my focus is tuned to in the moment. The most recent example is F.P. Journe, a brand that has historically been one of my absolute favorite classic independents. For whatever reason (likely the fact that it’s now been almost two years since I’ve been to Switzerland thanks to COVID-19), F.P. Journe faded from focus for a while and only recently has my passion reignited for the incredible horology created under that relatively small roof in Geneva.

The watch that did it? The F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine, a monster of a watch that debuted with a prototype for Only Watch 2019.

F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

The production version was released shortly after the Only Watch auction of early November 2019, but since I was unable to make it to Switzerland all year, the Astronomic Souveraine faded from my radar.

Only very recently was it pulled front and center and my passion for both F.P. Journe and that watch burns anew. So here’s why the Astronomic Souveraine is one of the most awesomazing pieces to come out in 2019 – and perhaps 2020 as well.

F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

The Astronomic Souveraine is at its core an astronomical grand complication, and like most F.P. Journe pieces it is incredibly well suited to any wrist and supremely easy to use because all the functions are set and adjusted by the crown.

Just to rattle off the features before we dive in, the Astronomic features a tourbillon with remontoir d’égalité in addition to a minute repeater, so we are off to a good start.

Additionally, it displays sidereal time, an equation of time, a second time zone, moon phases, annual calendar, zodiac calendar, sunrise/sunset display, dead beat seconds, and the ever-useful power reserve. That’s an incredible total of 18 indications and complications, all set and adjusted using only the crown. That is F.P. Journe’s philosophy of usable horology.

Back of the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

What makes the Astronomic Souveraine most useful is that everything isn’t crammed into one dial: display types are varied so the aesthetic isn’t a “junk drawer of complications” but offers the pleasing appearance of a very functional watch.

In fact, unless they were very into watches, the average person wouldn’t look at the Astronomic Souveraine and immediately think it was super complicated. The rear of the watch definitely gives this away, but the dial follows a very standard F.P. Journe layout that belies the true complexity underneath and offers excellent legibility and ease of use.

I must point out this all comes at a cost of 889,000 Swiss francs, so it’s not the average person’s everyday watch, but functionally it dang well could be. This explains why Journe is so incredibly popular: his watches are works of engineering magic, and yet most would gladly wear them daily because they are designed in such a way that they work so well as a functional watch. I know I will never own a Astronomic Souveraine, but if I did I could truly see it becoming a daily wearer – it is just that good as a watch.

F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

But what makes the Astronomic Souveraine worth much more than your average Submariner is the reason that it keeps me up at night: the mechanics. I’ve said many times that I am way more into watchmaking than watches, and F.P. Journe is one of the main reasons for this.

The face of the Astronomic Souveraine is absolutely gorgeous, but the movement is what intrigues and fascinates me the most. When you consider that Journe released the Répétition Souveraine, a minute repeater only 8.8 mm thin, and other audacious models like the Sonnerie Souveraine, you might see the Astronomic Souveraine as “simply” the latest iteration of jaw-dropping micro-engineering to get your pulse pounding. And it is that but much more besides.

Simple design, smart engineering

The approach Journe takes to developing mechanisms is a bit different than that of others: there’s a real focus on making movements that are easy to use and, to put it bluntly, sort of foolproof.

Now an engineer can never underestimate the ingenuity of a complete fool (as stated by Douglas Adams), but you should try to design things so that it is difficult or impossible to operate it in the wrong way, thus causing a failure.

A side view of the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

The Astronomic Souveraine is designed to be completely set and adjusted via the crown, which means that there is only one point of contact with the movement, eliminating the ability to try and adjust two things at once and possibly damaging tiny components.

It also means that you can only adjust one thing at a time and will be blocked in instances where simultaneous adjustments might cause damage, and that means less complexity as well. For a movement made up of 758 components, there’s a lot of room for possible error if it wasn’t engineered well.

This is also where smart engineering connects to smart design because layouts determine how things are connected and what is necessary for creating a new indication. The best place to see this in action is with the annual and zodiac calendars and the equation of time display on the back of the Astronomic Souveraine.

Back of the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

There are many ways you could display all of this information, but the Astronomic Souveraine uses a large ring sporting 366 marks for the typical 365 days plus leap day in February. The months are listed just inside the day marks, while around the perimeter is the zodiac calendar. That’s three indications with just a single stationary pointer and one rotating ring.

Back of the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

A second pointer indicates the equation of time calculation of minutes ahead or behind civil mean time on a small plate, all driven by a gently shaped cam wheel. This display helps simplify the mechanism as it reduces the need for separate gear trains or mechanical assemblies for displays on different parts of the dial. It also makes for a lovely and droolworthy mechanical display on the rear for those who love mechanisms as much as I do.

Sunrise, sunset, you bet

Most of the minute repeater mechanism is sandwiched underneath the upper movement plate holding the mechanisms for sunrise/sunset, moon phase, time displays, and most of the setting mechanisms, while the repeater governor is visible on the rear of the movement next to the tourbillon.

Lessons learned from the Répétition Souveraine and Sonnerie Souveraine on thin yet supremely reliable striking mechanisms keep the movement relatively slim.

This is important as there are a lot of mechanics to squeeze in, which is accomplished with grace and seeming ease. The setting mechanism is a multilink design using different directions of rotation to change the movement of the lever linkage that activates either the sidereal time at 9 o’clock or the moon phase on the bottom edge of the regular time dial.

Dial of the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

What is even more impressive is the sunrise/sunset display, which is tied to both the running time and the calendar mechanism. A ring with four suns and four sets of stars rotates around the dial (visible in an arced window at 12 o’clock) over four days to show the day/night cycle and indicate the changing sunrise and sunset times throughout the year.

That is accomplished via two fireman’s ax-shaped leaves fixed to the end of levers driven by the calendar mechanism on the rear of the watch. Throughout the year, the two levers slowly move back and forth to widen or constrict the opening, which relates to longer and shorter days.

Since there is no direct hour notation, however, it doesn’t provide the exact time of sunrise and sunset, but it relates to the time displayed to provide a rough guide. The object of this display is clearly more aesthetic than scientific in accuracy, but I will let that slide for the pure coolness of the mechanism.

This matches with the coolness of the overall aesthetic in my book, providing a lot of useful information as well as more poetic displays that have little bearing on our lives but are incredibly fun to know.

That really is the success of many of F.P. Journe’s pieces: how they fit into the desires of different watch collectors. Whether it be pure classic style, independent watchmaking awesomeness, horological bravado, avant-garde chutzpah, or simply a desire to own a piece of watchmaking history, an F.P. Journe has something for pretty much everyone.

And with the Astronomic Souveraine, the same goes for the indications: there is something to make everyone happy. I remember both being extremely excited when the watch first debuted as a prototype for Only Watch and a bit concerned in case it never materialized into a full model.

F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine

It’s clear now that fear was unfounded, so I simply have to maintain my zeal until whenever I can return to Geneva to finally see the Astronomic Souveraine in person. I hope that happens within the next 12 months, but unfortunately future travel is still an unknown.

Until then, however, I will be happy that my passion returned when I rediscovered the Astronomic Souveraine through the fog of 2020 and look forward to more great things in the future.

And since F.P. Journe builds watches so well, I’ll try my best to break this down!

  • Wowza Factor * 9.87 If you only consider the number of features in this watch, that is enough to almost max out this scale!
  • Late Night Lust Appeal * 100.1» 981.645m/s2 I feel like this watch with all its astronomical indications deserves to just break the threshold of 100 times earth’s gravity acceleration because this watch is, drum roll please, out of this world! Thank you, I’ll be here all week, tip your waiter.
  • M.G.R. * 70.4 What an incredibly strong movement on this bad boy, enough to break the 70 mark for an incredibly geeky movement!
  • Added-Functionitis * Severe It would take less time to list the complications it doesn’t have than the ones it does, so let’s just say you definitely need a double dose of prescription strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the astronomical swelling!
  • Ouch Outline * 12.04 The empty despair of knowing the world will move on without you! Some days you have thoughts that really wreck you, and when you combine that with thoughts on mortality, it can get serious really quickly. But we all must face our ultimate demise, and I know I would feel better contemplating nonexistence while wearing the Astronomic Souveraine!
  • Mermaid Moment * one day/night cycle! It is highly unlikely that you wouldn’t fall head over heels instantly with this watch, but after one day of watching that sun make its little journey, even the hardest hearted couldn’t hold out!
  • Awesome Total * 816 First take the number of components in the incredible movement (758) and then add the number of hours of power reserve (40) and the total number of indications and complications (18) for an cosmic awesome total!

For more information, please visit fpjourne.com/en/collection/classique-collection/astronomic-souveraine.

Quick Facts F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine
Case: 44 x 13.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Caliber 1619 with red gold plates and bridges, 60-second tourbillon and remontoir d’égalité, free-sprung balance, 40-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, (dead beat) seconds; power reserve, second time zone, moon phase, sunrise/sunset, sidereal time, minute repeater; equation of time (on back), zodiac calendar (on back), annual calendar (on back)
Limitation: by production
Price: 889,000 Swiss francs

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