F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III

A Fitting Finale: The F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

F.P. Journe is a watchmaking enigma. He’s simultaneously a great representation of classic watchmaking while also being aggressively innovative. However, instead of relying on new high-tech materials like silicon or carbon fiber, he innovates with good old-fashioned engineering know-how utilizing traditional watchmaking skills to create mechanical timepieces previously thought impossible. One of the best examples of this old-world innovation is this Vagabondage III. It’s one of Journe’s most original timepieces, and it introduced the world to the jumping seconds complication giving us a glimpse of how mechanical watches may have evolved had the digital age never arrived.

F.P. Journe Vagabondage III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

History

The Vagabondage III is like its name implies the third version of the Vagabondage series. The series was introduced in 2006 with the Vagabondage I, which was produced in extremely limited numbers—just three unique examples—to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the auction house Antiquorum. The watches stirred up so much interest they inspired Journe to create two more versions of the Vagabondage. The Vagabondage II line consisted of 79 platinum examples—10 of which were diamond-encrusted—and 68 red gold examples. Finally we have the Vagabondage III, consisting of 69 pieces in platinum and 68 in red gold. 

F.P. Journe Vagabondage III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

All three of the Vagabondage series were produced in very limited numbers and shared the same tortue case style, as well as unique digital time displays. While all the Vagabondage watches take an original approach to telling the time, in 2017, the Vagabondage III introduced the watch world to a complication that some thought was impossible, the jumping seconds complication. The watch displays the seconds digitally on two separate disks with constantly updating numerals. This is something that’s super easy to display on quartz watches but is extremely energy-intense and unprecedented on a mechanical watch. Being the most original and advanced of the series, the Vagabondage III is fittingly the last version that will be produced.

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Design Details

This Vagabondage III is a very distinct watch that has a few key stand-out traits. One is the tortue case shape which is not really square or cushion-shaped but somewhere in between. This style is now more commonplace in the Journe collection because of the Élégante, but when it was introduced with the Vagabondage series, it stood out from the rest of Journe’s watches. The case is crisp and well finished with a flat brushed face and polished and beveled lugs and mid-case. It’s also deceptively large. In fact, it’s one of the brand’s largest watches, measuring 37.6mm x 45.2mm (including lugs). However, while this is a larger watch, its size does get offset a bit by the watch’s 7.8mm thickness, and it should slide under a dress cuff easily. 

F.P. Journe Vagabondage III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Another key detail is the smoked sapphire skeleton dial with its digital time display. The mostly see-through dial has a slight tint to it which adds a nice touch of character and is shaped to match the case. It also offers a unique way to read the time with its jumping hour and seconds display. On the left-hand side of the dial, where nine o’clock would traditionally be, you’ll find a trapezoidal-shaped aperture that displays the hour. Then at six, you’ll see two matching windows that display the seconds. There is also a traditional minute hand at the center that points to numerals and railroad track at the border, and in the top right corner is a power reserve display. 

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III
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Now, in photos this watch doesn’t stand out much, especially when compared to its Vagabondage siblings. However, in-person or video it is something to behold. The seconds indication jumps, well, every second, and despite intellectually understanding that, it still leaves just about anyone with an understanding of mechanical watchmaking somewhat dumbfounded. I found myself thinking it was always about to stop, as though it were something that should only be activated temporarily. Alas, it does not. It’s truly one of the coolest complications I’ve ever witnessed, and would make for an amazing conversation starter among watch nerds and civilians alike.

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Another interesting thing I noticed about this watch was just how recognizable it is. Despite having a novel case shape, unique time display, and no F.P. Journe branding on the dial, it is still so obviously a Journe creation. F.P. Journe’s design language is so distinct and original that even when he decides to go in a completely different direction, you can still (figuratively) see his fingerprints all over it. I consider this a huge strong suit of the brand, and I think it’s something that really flies under the radar. 

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Inner Workings

Powering the Vagabondage III is the 18k rose gold, manually wound, F.P. Journe caliber 1514, which, as I’ve already stated, is notable for being the first movement to have a jumping seconds complication. If you are familiar with the jumping hour or minutes complication, you’ll know those are very energy-hungry complications. Well, jumping seconds increases this need by sixtyfold. But F.P. Journe is never one to shy away from a challenge. 

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

To make this possible, Journe put two springs instead of the standard one in the barrel, which improved the power reserve, and then he adapted his remontoir d’égalité—which is normally used to provide constant force to the escapement—to release its stored energy once every second, thus changing the numeral. In a typical movement fitted with two mainspring barrels, brands are able to achieve a power reserve that can last several days, or even a week, however it’s a completely different story here. All of that power is bled out by the jumping seconds discs, and even with the paired barrels, the Vagabondage III has to be wound every 30-32 hours. It’s also worth noting that its caliber is exceptionally well finished and gorgeous to look at, but considering the watch is from F.P. Journe, that’s effectively implied. 

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Versus the Competition

While there aren’t really any other watches with this jumping seconds display, there are plenty of other interesting mechanical digital watches that I would consider peers to the Vagabondage III. For example, the Vagabondage II. This Vagabondage II is a rose gold example that offers a bit more warmth and gives the timepiece an almost vintage vibe. You still get a digital display, but with hours and minutes. The seconds are in a small subdial at six o’clock. I think this makes for a great alternative to the series III not just because of its warmer visual appearance but also because I could see the jumping seconds being too busy for some. A dial with large, constantly moving numerals could be a bit much. This Vagabondage two offers a more subdued version of that with the same great overall design. 

F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Another option is this white gold A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk. Again this watch displays digital hours and minutes with a standard seconds sub-dial but with a much more traditional design. The round case shape and rectangular lugs are classic Lange allowing the watch to fly under the radar a bit. It measures 41.9mm in diameter by 12.9mm thick and has an extremely well-finished in-house movement. This is one of those watches where the caseback is arguably more attractive than the dial, and the dial is objectively gorgeous. In fact, Lange is one of the few brands that gives Journe a run for its money in terms of movement finishing. If you like the digital display but aren’t sold on the unique Journe aesthetic, this Lange offers a more classic look that will never go out of style.

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Personality

This Vagabondage III is a truly original timepiece that will surely grab attention wherever it goes. It’s the perfect watch for a Journe collector who is also a social butterfly, someone who loves striking up a conversation with a stranger at a moment’s notice. Take this watch and go forth to spread the gospel of F.P. Journe.

F-P-Journe-Vagabondage-III
F.P. Journe Vagabondage III

Final Thoughts

This Vagabondage III is the perfect finale for a fantastic series of watches. It feels like the perfect version that Journe must have always known he was working towards. It’s a watch that challenges the status quo while still managing to be delightfully traditional, and it fully encompasses the brand’s spirit.

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