The F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine is a complicated watch initially unveiled in 2019 as the Astronomic Blue, a one-of-a-kind (prototype) watch created for the biannual Only Watch auction fundraiser supporting muscular dystrophy research. This remarkable timepiece crafted in tantalum with a striking blue dial fetched a staggering CHF 1.8 million. Later that year, F.P. Journe announced limited quantities of a steel-cased production model, which closely resembled the Only Watch version, albeit with some differences in dial colours, design, and movement decoration. Let us share our recent encounter with this extraordinary horological creation.
The Astronomic Souveraine is a true grand complication, boasting an array of 18 functions and complications. Among its impressive features are a minute repeater, moon phase display, sidereal time indication, day and night indicator, sunrise and sunset indications, power reserve indicator, annual calendar, and equation of time. All of these complex mechanisms are enclosed within a round case that measures 44mm in diameter and 13.7mm in thickness. It seems large but remains highly wearable and smaller than other grand complication timepieces of our time. For comparison, take the self-winding Code 11.59 Universelle from AP, which offers 40 functions and complications, including Grande and Petite Sonnerie, and measures 42mm x 15.55mm. And this watch is a miniaturised tour de force…
The Astronomic Souveraine’s classical case design, expertly crafted from stainless steel, enhances the performance of the minute repeater, which can be activated using the lever on the upper left side of the watch. With three possible positions, the crown sets all the watch’s functions, presenting a user-friendly solution with no inset pushers. However, it’s essential to acquaint oneself with the manual to fully appreciate the Astronomic Souveraine, as the watch doesn’t possess the intuitive design of an iPhone. Caution and adherence to the instructions are advised when making adjustments.
While the dial showcases a plethora of indications, it sticks to the characteristic F.P. Journe design principles – intelligent layout and meticulous order. The most important functions are displayed on the front, with some on the back too. A central blued steel hand and the chapter ring handle the minutes. Positioned on the left side, a 24-hour sub-dial presents sidereal time – a measurement based on the Earth’s rotation relative to the stars, resulting in a daily loss of approximately four minutes compared to our solar time. On the right side, a 12-hour display reveals solar hours (the minutes hand is central, like those found on a regulator watch) and the hours of a second time zone indicated by an additional hand. Please note that the meantime gilt hand remains concealed beneath the second time zone hour hand (as in our photos) when this travelling function isn’t in use.
The sidereal time and solar hour sub-dials boast whitened silver surfaces adorned with a Clous de Paris pattern. Positioned on the lower right, an aperture showcases the moon phase with a painstakingly realistic representation of the Moon. This window is counterbalanced by a similar aperture on the left, revealing a running dead-beat seconds disc. These two sub-dials, moon phase and running seconds, are affixed to the main dial using a signature FPJ design feature – an elegant screwed steel ring. As the manually wound Astronomic Souveraine offers a power reserve of around 40 hours, a helpful indicator resides at 6 o’clock.
Completing the dial’s symmetrical arrangement is an aperture at 12 o’clock, displaying the sunrise and sunset times. The sliding shutters on either end of the aperture offer insights into the remaining daytime and the timing of the impending sunrise or sunset. However, it’s worth noting that different locations, even within the same time zone, may experience varying sunrise/sunset times. For precise information, consulting an appropriate app or specifying your preferred location when ordering the Astronomic Souveraine is recommended; you will get a more or less accurate reading for your hometown.
Unlike its early predecessor, the Astronomic Blue model, this Astronomic Souveraine’s dial no longer marks the presence of the tourbillon and minute repeater functions at the bottom. Instead, the Galileo Galilei edition showcases the F.P. Journe Invenit et Fecit logo at the bottom and the model name Astronomic above the centre of the dial.
The back of the Astronomic Souveraine displays the annual calendar on the moving outer ring with zodiacs, date and month sections, and the equation of time via the centrally mounted hand. Also seen is part of the highly complex 758-component manually wound calibre 1619 in 18k rose gold, with its share of polished steel components for contrast. The movement is decorated with circular waves on the bridges, the baseplate is circular-grained, and the polished screw heads with chamfered slots add to the beauty of the movement presentation. For technical features, note the remontoir d’égalité and 60 seconds tourbillon that work to deliver exceptional chronometric performance, a pursuit F.P. Journe prioritises with each timepiece.
The caseback of the Astronomic Souveraine holds both visual allure and practical significance for operating the watch. The setting process commences with the calendar, requiring the wearer to face the caseback initially. However, before proceeding to set the date by pulling the crown out to position 2 and turning it clockwise, it is crucial to ensure that the sun is visible. Setting the date should not be performed between 10 at night and 4 in the morning. The same guideline applies to adjusting the moon phase, accomplished in the same crown position but with anti-clockwise turns. Following the sequence, one should adjust the calendar and then the time (crown position 3, anti-clockwise turns) and subsequently adjust the moon phase. Thankfully, the other indications will synchronise taking the proper positions, including the sunrise and sunset times, equation of time, and sidereal hours, depending on the hour and date.
Given its numerous enchanting yet not – by modern standards – entirely practical complications, the F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine, beginning with its Only Watch prototype, incorporates a convenient feature: an easy strap change mechanism. The watch has a black alligator strap, which complements the overall aesthetic impeccably; it is hard to imagine anything else.
Astronomic Souveraine is undoubtedly a collector’s timepiece, but it also wears comfortably, commanding attention wherever it goes. If you have the means (about one million), making space for the Astronomic Souveraine in your collection would be worth considering. However, for this money, it would be nice to have built-in safety features for accidental violation of the adjustment rules, and a self-winding system, perhaps with a micro-rotor. And maybe different colours for the solar time hour hands, distinguishing the second time zone hand. But these will be very practical additions, and F.P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine is only partially about it.
For more information, please visit www.fpjourne.com.