Every watch that F. P. Journe makes is special. They are some of the finest watches in the world, crafted by hand, with many so exceedingly limited that even those who have the means are unable to get their hands on them. To find one that exceeds that exceptional baseline is something altogether rarer. The particular F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency considered herein is one such piece. Produced in 2001, the circumstances of its rarity may be somewhat grim but there is no denying its extraordinary beauty.
The history of the F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency is the history of F. P. Journe. François-Paul Journe’s first timepiece was an audacious tourbillon pocket watch he made in 1983, but he soon realized that wristwatches would be the key to his success. In 1991 he made himself the very first Tourbillon Souverain (though it wasn’t called that at the time), a relatively rough looking predecessor of the now classic model, featuring a tourbillon linked to a remontoire. After co-founding a movement workshop with Vianney Halter and Denis Flageollet, and then leading his own complications workshop that did work for other brands, Journe sought to formally and firmly establish his own manufactory.
Money not appearing out of nowhere, he looked to his original creation to finance the endeavor. He borrowed from Antoine-Louis Breguet’s souscription model, wherein buyers deposit 50% of the cost and later receive one of the first production models. He produced 20 souscription pieces, all with brass movements. Since its introduction in 1999, the Tourbillon Souverain has remained a mainstay in the brand’s catalog and is currently in its fourth generation featuring the updated 1403 caliber. However, it’s the brass 1498 models that are more sought after, better representing the foundation of the now legendary brand. Among the least common of all Tourbillon Souverain pieces are a set of Regency models featuring ornate hand-engraved dials, three completed in rose gold, and just one—by a tragic twist of fate—in platinum. This is the F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency in platinum, an unintended piece unique.
The 38mm case is made of solid 950 platinum and features Journe’s classic three-piece design. Polished throughout, the convex bezel and caseback each have slight lips that protrude almost imperceptibly beyond the smooth caseband. The 20mm lugs have an assertive curve—almost 90 degrees—that make the 8.8mm-thick case wear perfectly. At 3 o’clock, a pull-out crown featuring Journe’s signature double dimple and Cordes de Marseille design offers a very modest 30m of water resistance. The screwed-down caseback features a sapphire display for the movement and is engraved with all the expected text, including the serial number and the year of the case’s manufacture (a feature discontinued in 2005). While the case is an exercise in elegant restraint, the strap and buckle do not escape Journe’s pursuit of perfection, either. The strap is made of grey alligator, including the backing, which gives it greater durability, and features a branded platinum tang buckle. With lug holes situated close to the case to facilitate the best wear possible, Journe uses curved spring bars with quick-release tabs, making safe strap changes easy should the owner desire.
The 18k white gold dial of the F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency steals the show, as it should. While the apertures for the tourbillon and remontoire may draw the eye at a glance, it’s the diamond-pattern background that holds one’s gaze. Inspired by Régence and Louis XVI furniture styles popular during the 1700s, with specific reference to clocks of the latter style, the dial is done completely by hand by a single master engraver. With no machine assistance, each dial takes two days to complete. The master engraver who made these early Regency pieces passed away after only completing one of a planned two dials for the platinum cases; there is no other F. P. Journe watch with this dial pattern in a 38mm platinum case.
As far as the dial layout, at 9 o’clock is the eponymous tourbillon, a one-minute mechanism carrying the balance and eliminating errors of position, mounted to a pronounced bridge, with a polished cage that points to the seconds track that surrounds its aperture. At 6 o’clock is a smaller opening showing the remontoire in action via a small rotating baton. (The remontoire is not part of the escapement, but acts as an intermediary, charging and releasing an impulse every second. This ensures constant force being transmitted from the mainspring to the balance, and allows for exceptional accuracy. Coupled with the tourbillon, it accounts for two of the primary issues in maintaining isochronism: positional variance and drive force variance.)
At 12 o’clock there is a horizontally-oriented power reserve indicator, which has a scale that emerges from the text banner, which reads “Remontoir d’egalite,” calling attention to Journe’s novel pairing of the remontoire with the tourbillon. Similarly, a banner at 6 o’clock displays the Journe name and motto. Rounding out the dial, though paradoxically the least impressive but most important part of the watch is the time display itself, located at 3 o’clock and creating symmetry with the tourbillon aperture. The date is displayed by blued hands in Journe’s teardrop style against a silver subdial with a guilloche center. The subdial features printed black hour and minute numerals in Journe’s in-house font, with a track between the two.
The F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency is powered by the incredible Calibre 1498. Based on Journe’s personal timepiece and finalized in 1998 for the debut Tourbillon Souscription series, the movement is defined by its unique combination of a tourbillon and a remontoire. The movement is crafted of rhodium-plated brass—only 2000 of the brass movements were made, across all models, between 2001 and 2004. The most intriguing parts of the movement are seen from the dial side—the tourbillon and remontoire—but the movement side has plenty to offer the discerning eye. With Côtes de Genève striping on the base plate, circular stripes on the bridges, with polished and beveled screws and polished pegs.
The monometallic balance features four arms and four timing weights, with a self-compensating free sprung flat balance spring. The constant force remontoire features an 18K gold wheel and blade spring (visible through a slender aperture in the movement) and is controlled by a spinning vane that’s armed once a second by the force of the mainspring, ensuring a steady flow of power to the balance. The visible wheels are satinized, while the design of click and clickspring take their inspiration from pocket watch movements. The 191-component movement features 25 jewels, anti-shock protection, and a 42-hour power reserve and beats at 21,600 vph.
Versus the Competition
With a watch as rare and superb as the Regency, there is almost no point in looking for comparables: never mind how unique the piece is—no one else does what Journe does. Here we are, though, so let’s give it a go. The easiest route is simply opting for another Journe, and if you’re doing that, you may as well go big. The F. P. Journe Astronomic Souveraine has 18 functions and complications, including a tourbillon, a minute repeater, equation of time, and annual calendar. It is Journe’s most complicated timepiece and generated 10 new patents, but more impressively, every function is set by the 3 o’clock crown.
A more straightforward execution of the tourbillon—the go-to “look what we can do” mechanism for any brand looking to prove its mettle—one may be best served by the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon. In a clean platinum case just like the Journe Regency, the 1815 Tourbillon is as simple and refined as a tourbillon can get, with a full bridge over the 6 o’clock aperture and an incredibly simple dial.
For my part, I’ve always loved the idea of concealing the tourbillon. Especially with more traditional tourbillons, doing so is an exercise in restraining one’s ego, and it’s not every brand that is willing to do so. Leave it to Patek Philippe, king of aesthetic restraint and traditional design value, to deliver such a watch. The Patek Philippe 5101R 10 Day Tourbillon is presented in a wonderful stepped Art Deco case. On the wrist, the tourbillon is evidenced only by text in the seconds subdial: “Tourbillon.”
There is so much to appreciate in the F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency that it demands an owner of the very highest class. An appreciation not just for the horological prowess of Journe, but for the rare arts like engraving. Also a respect for what this watch represents: the last piece completed by an incredible artisan. There is, I think, a solemnity to this watch that requires the owner to wear it not just as a celebration of the watch itself, but of the craftsmen behind its production.
From a brand that has made rarity commonplace, this particular F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Regency exceeds the norm by being not just a piece unique, but an unplanned piece unique. This is a watch of circumstance, and while the circumstance may be unfortunate, the result is unquestionably stunning: not only is some of the finest hand-engraving in haute horlogerie on display, but the watch has features the most important caliber ever produced by Journe, and perhaps one of the most important calibers produced by anyone in the last 30 years.