An encounter with the Astronomic Souveraine and a conversation with Francois-Paul Journe.

Sep 07, 2020,13:14 PM
 






Last week, during the salon at Montres Journe in Geneva, I was so lucky to finally see the Astronomic Souveraine. I have been wanting to see it for ages,  but circumstances have kept me out of reach. This high-end watch, has been building up in my mind with a mixture of anticipation, high expectations  and also questions about its concept. And so, it was a great pleasure to finally encounter this watch and form my own impressions. I also got the opportunity  to learn a bit more about its conception process, as shared in this post.


For those of you who are not familiar with the watch, here is a link to an old article, from when the watch was first revealed to the world.

www.watchprosite.com

The Astronomic Souveraine was then offered to the market in mid November 2019. Here is a link to the press release, brochure and data spec sheet.

www.watchprosite.com  


In this post, I take the liberty of not explaining all the functions and technical parts again. I assume you already know the watch. If not, I recommend the two links above for background and introduction.

The Astronomic Souveraine had a sort of unusual entry into this world! It has been over a year since the watch appeared before the world and took everybody with storm. 

At this point, it was presented as an encased prototype (in a tantalum case and with a mirror blue dial) being offered for sale, in the month of July, at the ONLY WATCH 2019. It then traveled the world with the other watches for ONLY WATCH, too much Accolade by the watch fans and press. The watch finally hammered at the ONLY WATCH auction in November 2019 at a staggering 1.8 million CHF.






In mid-November, just after the fantastic auction result, a press release was sent out by Montres Journe, introducing the final production version of theAstronomic Souveraine. Here it was explained how an idea for a watch with an astronomic complication has been inspired by a sketch made by FPs son Charles.

A lot of questions have been raised about this watch! Why did FPJ even want to make a watch with so many complications? All his former work has been one movement – one complication! 

FPJ has always been vocal against these multiple complications. In their nature, stacking up complications is counterproductive to his overall ideal of making the best possible performing watches in terms of chronometry. Some have asked why  exactly did he choose these complications? Why not more, why not less? The presentation did not say much about this, and it has been discussed among enthusiasts.

However, what is essential to understand with this watch, when one assesses it, is its background and conception.

The Astronomic Souverain did not begin its life on a white sheet of paper. 

It did not begin as concept to build the most complex, the most complicated, the biggest or whatever one can come up with to draw attention. Rather, it builds more organically from several inspirations. A sketch by his son, his own former work, which again was inspired by other great watchmakers - and probably other sources. 

It is more like a redesign or metamorphosis. Similar to when Paul Gaugin's Spirit of the Dead Walking” takes its inspiration by Édouard Manet's “Olympia” or when Akira Kurosawa rewrites Shakespeare’s  “Hamlet”  that becomes his film classic ”The Bad Sleep Well”. Art history, architecture and the horological world is full of these important metamorphosis or “redesigns”. Or as one of my favorite quotes go:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

― T.S. Eliot,   The Sacred Wood .


It is a lineage of  a kind of metamorphosis of watches that can be traced back to Breguet over George Daniels to early F.P. Journe. Transformed into a contemporary astronomic wristwatch in the interpretation of Francois Paul Journe.



A conversation with Francois-Paul Journe

The story about its conception of the Chronometre Astronomic have been told several times before. However, with some variations.

Here is an extract from a conversation with F.P. taking place last weekend. In this part he is telling about the conception of the Astronomic Souverain:

(His words were spoken in French and then translated live. The translation has been edited for understanding. August 2020)

“….The project for the  Astronomic Souverain started somewhere else. In 2006 I was thinking about a small astronomical complication. It was supposed to be with an automatic movement. I worked approximately 6 years trying to design the dial, but I could not come to a satisfying solution.”   (As many will know, FPJ always starts by designing the dial.)

“In 2012 or 2013, I still hadn’t found the watch I wanted to make. I decided to change the entire project and build a real Astronomic Watch to take the place of the Grande Sonnerie, which at this time had been in existence for some years.

I then thought of an astronomic pocket watch I had made for a client in Paris in 1986 or 1987.”


The watch FPJ is talking about was his 6th pocket watch. An Astronomic Planetary pocket watch, Commissioned by Jean-Pierre Rochefort and completed in 1987. The watch holds a detent and remontoire tourbillion. It displays average and sideral time, equation of time and power reserve. Full calendar with 3 dimensions planetary; earth, moon, sun.  This watch was inspired by George Daniels “Space Traveller”. According to watch journalist SJX, if you go back further, the “Space traveller” was developed from and inspired by several pocket watches by Breguet. So, there is a clear lineage back to some of those watch makers FPJ claim as his biggest inspirations.





“It was by then, only a thread of an idea, but I decided this piece would be the starting point to develop the new astronomic watch to take the place of the Grande Sonnerie.

I started by taking the dial with the three subdials, and sidereal time, I decided this would be my starting point. I felt I was on to something and I got it excited about the project.

Then I began to develop the movement. First in sketches and then the technical department tested it in 3d in computer simulations.  The first real trial with the prototype and with all its complications was around 2018. Then the prototype was made for only watch and sold at auction .” (in mid 2019)

“There are currently two pieces in existence. This one and one in the States, just to show to costumers, but none have been delivered yet. Now, in the watchmaker’s atelier, two watchmakers have started two pieces and adapting to the new movement. These two are assigned to two clients outside Switzerland who are unable to travel.” (due to Covid-19) “We are working to make these two perfects in terms of regulating, tuning them and adjusting final details. They are set up with working dials, but once the regulation is perfect, and tuned we will fit them with the real dials. Once they receive them – they will get something perfect.”

….

For me, the mechanics do not have priority over the design. In my approach the mechanical side need to adapt to the design.

I have been asked how many complications, why this one and that one? It is not about of how many complications. It’s not the issue. It is a question of doing the most beautiful one. That is all that matters, and I do not want to destroy my design with something that is not useful. Because in the end it has to be something useful!”

….







Equilibrium

I think, FPJ indirectly tell us what he has been aiming for. Beauty and aesthetics have the highest priority, they are the drivers and the aim,  but must remain within the frame or border of a watch that is also wearable and legible. What he describes as “..it has to be something useful”. I think this is core to understanding his design ideals. He does not have the ambition of making the most spectacular, technical watch. Record breaking is not his pursuit. Rather he is searching for a kind of equilibrium, between beauty, functionality, technicality and never forget chronometry.




First encounter

The watch was handed to me and was perhaps smaller that I had imagined (feared) and not as heavy.  

By no means is it small, but the “feel” is that it is a very reasonable size for a contemporary wristwatch – especially considering that it boasts 18 complications .

If you are used to modern FPJ watches, you will also be used to some heft from the gold movements and the Pt cases. 

This case dimensions is a 44mm case with a thickness of 13.8 mm. However, this piece has a steel case to help the improve the sound of the minute repeater. When you turn it over you will see it has a lot of void or empty space in the movement. These two factors significantly help reducing the weight and the feel of balance on the wrist. 

My primary concern  - if the watch was wearable - was put to shame. It is! It is not a “tuna can”, and it is not out of balance.

Its one of those things I come to really appreciate about FPJ. His watches are always wearable,. They are elegant on the wrist. In fact, this quality has changed my taste in watches, so I am now very avert to thick or unbalanced watches.





Too thick?




No! - The case is not too thick at 13.8 mm.


It’s an impressive and overwhelming watch to strap on! 
What struck me immediately was the dial that has a sense of balance and complexity at the same time. The clear symmetric composition and, importantly, the big polished frame gives the dial some calm and legibility. The eye quickly orientates itself on the dial and finds rest within the frame. 

Intuitively, you will not immediately know how to read all the information of the dial. E.g.  the time display is regulator style. Hours are on the  display to the right,minutes are the big hand placed at the centre. If you have other FPJ pieces without the center hands, you will intuitively look to the right to read the time. Your eye will then look for the big minute hand. It takes a little getting used to, as we also know it from the Patek 5235. This is something you will learn through living with the watch.

The main dial is a real treat in colors, materials, surfaces coming together.


The time display is regulator style. The right dial displays the hour and a second timezone while the minutehand is placed in the center. It takes I a bit to adjust to this regulator style display.


The moon display made from a saphire glass disk with a NASA image of the moon.






Notice how the frames of the sunrise/sunset display at the top of the dial have moved to an asymmetric position as the days are now getting shorter. 
For a Scandinavian, like me, I absolutely love this complication. We live for the long summer days and suffer through the short winter days. I would love to have this complication in a watch. The display is highly original and is inspired from a sketch Charles - “Francois-Paul’s son did, when he was a Child. FP then adopted the idea and it finally came to fruitation in the Astronomic.


When you turn the watch over, you will see the second dial of the watch as a ring inside the edge of the case. This opens a huge aperture to the movement and creates a lovely flat frame for a very deep and 3-dimensional movement.





The back dial displays an annual calendar and the snall dial displays "equation of time".





The Astronomic Souveraine do not have individual numbers but rather names. As you can see, this one is baptized Galileo Galilei and in the US is the “N. Copernic” which was the one you can see in the press release. Currently, these are the only two finished pieces in addition to the Prototype.




The aperture displays the Tourbillon held by a beautifully finished steel bridge, the Remontour dÉgalite, the governor spinning as the Minute repeater is activated.




The watch has an amazing quality in the way it plays with light and reflections when you move it around in the soft, overcast Geneva daylight. Still the Taupe grey keeps on the dial keeps it calm and is the perfect base color for the many things going on.

In writing this, I wanted to try to not only praise the watch, but also mention what I did not like so much. However, that is just very difficult at this point. The impact this watch has emotionally, is massive. It has been a WOW-moment spend time with it. 

Honestly, I had expected I would be impressed on an intellectual level, but I would find the watch unwearable and not my taste, as I tend to favor simple watches that are  well executed. I have never been a fan of the multiple complication watches that have been considered the epitome for the past 25 years.  Most often they are impossible to read and the cases are too thick – in general, that is, However, all that is just put aside in this instance. I AM IN LOVE!

...

Later, the same night as we were having dinner, FPJ  was wearing the watch, I couldn’t help notice how the watch also has an ability to just blends in. You don’t necessarily think that the guy over there is wearing a million dollar watch. It looks natural on the wrist. It both has a huge presence and the ability to blend in. I love that quality in a watch. I took that as the final impression of what a great achievement this watch is.



More posts: ChronometreCollection VilleretGeorge DanielsMetamorphosisSouverainSouveraine

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Comments: view entire thread

 

Thans for a terrific review my friend, it must have been quite a moment to see this watch in the metal (and on FPJ's wrist! :-)

 
 By: FabR : September 7th, 2020-13:26
Horological/scientific achievements of this level make our hobby so interesting and fascinating! Cheers.

A hige pleasure, Dear Fab

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-15:34
I hope you are keeping well. This was an unforgettable experience. To get to fiddle with a watch of this caliber is extraordinary. Best Christian

Fantastic report...

 
 By: mdg : September 7th, 2020-13:30
...a small thing but I wish 'ASTRONOMIC' were significantly smaller or absent on the dial.

Thank you so much

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-15:36
I don’t disagree however it is still better than the text on the “Grande ect Petite Sonnerie” ;-)

I have an issue with most manufacturers...

 
 By: mdg : September 7th, 2020-16:05
...not just FPJ when it comes to text/graphic design elements on watches.

I Think it’s a part of his signature style to use lots of text.

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-21:35
It is on the dials, on the cases and the has been from the very beginning. Greubel Forsey do it as well, although in a different style. I think it’s something you either like or not, which is totally fair 😊

It's part 'like it or not' and part...

 
 By: mdg : September 8th, 2020-08:55
...is it done well? Some of the kerning (space between letters) is atrocious. Hire a real graphic designer and do it right if you're going to do it... They're his watches, he can do what he likes, I am just asking for competence in a field in which he is ... 

Thank you for the fantastic report! A tour de force indeed ...

 
 By: als1678 : September 7th, 2020-13:49
Was the prototype finished? Did you have a chance to hear the repeater?

A real pleasure

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-15:37
The movement on the prototype was made of brass and not finished. This piece it was 18 kt amd very nicely finished.

That's quite some "few words"

 
 By: dnlmpg : September 7th, 2020-15:09
Now I'll do a double take when people are described as person "with few words". Just kidding. Great read, great review, thanks for this.

Haha, my pleasure!

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-15:31
You are quite right. I just changed title ;-)

A superlative review Christian!

 
 By: sham1 : September 7th, 2020-18:44
What a watch!

Thank you so much my dear friend 😊

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-21:38
Yes, it’s really something! I hope you are keeping well!

Yes I am thank you

 
 By: sham1 : September 8th, 2020-00:20
and trying very hard to discipline myself not to buy a watch (any watch!)

Oh boy - I have been there so often. And then...

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 8th, 2020-00:44
However it does make sense as collector strategy. Eventually you will fail but buy less 😁😎

Wow. Not much else to say...

 
 By: Sgfortino : September 7th, 2020-18:45
...but, what an amazing piece of art. From the front you wouldn’t even know what lies beneath but when you flip it over...speechless. Great write up and thanks for sharing.

One question though...

 
 By: Sgfortino : September 7th, 2020-18:48
Is there a reason FPJ decided to do the time in a regulator style rather than just embed hours and minutes all within the right sub-dial like many of his other pieces?

Yes, That a great question. There is probably more than one reason..

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-23:10
One is that he remains true to redesigning his astronomic watch from 1987. The other reason could be that a regulator time display comes from the scientific side of horology, where you can get a very accurate reading of your Chronometer. So I think he wan... 

That makes sense.

 
 By: Sgfortino : September 8th, 2020-05:15
Thanks for your insight!

. [nt]

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 9th, 2020-11:44

Thank you so much for your kind words 😃 Yes, very good point you make!

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 7th, 2020-22:59
And probably the same impression I got during the dinner, as I got to see the watch worn out in the wild.

It was my pleasure. I’m glad you liked it 😃

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 8th, 2020-05:28
More coming in the pipeline 👍

Excellent write-up Christian!

 
 By: Noak(marc.gmt8) : September 8th, 2020-04:52
I enjoyed reading every bit of it. What you have done here, by delving into the history, design considerations, the finer details and lovely photos, bridges the gap between watchmaker and watch lovers. Not every watchmaker provides a detailed backstory fo... 

Wow, Noak - thank you so much for your very kind comments.

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 8th, 2020-06:48
It was truly a pleasure (even if it took some time to do) I feel this watch deserves the extra attantion and it becomes so much more interesting to deeper one goes. Im just so glad that you liked it. kindest regards Christian

Nice job, Christian!

 
 By: TheMadDruid : September 8th, 2020-07:30
And I'm very happy you got to wear it. Before I go off rereading all the other articles I've seen on this piece can you remind me/us what the two sundials on the left of the dial are doing? I'm referring to the 24 hour dial and the register partially unde... 

Thank you, Mike 😊 it was a great experience.

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 8th, 2020-07:45
The big dial to the left displays the sidereal time. 24 hours and minutes. The smal disk below is the seconds display. It spins and animates the dial a little bit. Quite nice!

Thanks!

 
 By: TheMadDruid : September 8th, 2020-08:50
I would love to see this.

Great review, thanks! [nt]

 
 By: Skyrider01 : September 8th, 2020-11:00

A wonderful review of an impressive piece of engineering.

 
 By: mrds : September 8th, 2020-13:11
Your admiration and attraction to this watch transpires from every line, and this alone is testament to the Astronomic. The best watches give us these emotions. Because they are not telling us the time, they touch us they same way good pieces of art does.... 

Dear Daniel, thank you for your very warm words.

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 8th, 2020-18:43
It really means a lot that you liked it and it made sense I admit I was taken by storm. Much more than I had anticipated, as this type of watch is in a category I don’t personally follow. I think the strength of the front dial is that he didn’t overplay i... 

Truly a pleasure, dear friend!

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 8th, 2020-18:45
I’m very happy to know you liked it 🙏 Christian

Amazing review C! [nt]

 
 By: cmmnsens : September 10th, 2020-15:27

Thank you so much, dear friend.

 
 By: ChristianDK : September 11th, 2020-00:46
Great to see again dear A😄