A Closer Look (Up!) At The F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tourbillon Souverain, François-Paul Journe, the only watch designer with their manufacture still based in Geneva, launches a new version of his masterly creation, this time with a uniquely positioned vertical tourbillon.
Fascinated since birth with precision and high-end mechanical watchmaking, François-Paul Journe has continuously strived to surprise fans and delight collectors with watches featuring unusual tourbillon regulators. A true connoisseur of the sophisticated mechanism developed and perfected by Abraham Louis Breguet in 1801, Journe acquired a full understanding of the principle while still very young, producing his first tourbillon in a pocket watch when he was barely 20 years old. He went on to repeat the feat in 1991, but this time the tourbillon was inside a wristwatch. He then bcontinued his innovation by making a tourbillon coupled with a constant-force style device in 1999. The first 20 pieces of the Tourbillon Souverain, as it was known, marked the beginning of a whole new journey for the unusual timepiece. Ever since then, the rebellious artist has regularly redesigned and engineered the remontoir d’égalité (to give its accurate name), revising and adapting it to his changing visions and fancies.
Long live the dead second!
In 2003, the second generation of the Tourbillon Souverain came into being, this time with a natural dead seconds marker and a calibre crafted in 18K solid rose gold. Combining the magic of the fluidly rotating tourbillon and the staccato progression of the dead seconds, this reference of fine chronometry to made its mark on an entire industry. With this particular watch, François-Paul Journe laid the foundations for what has become a monument of traditional watchmaking design that is widely acclaimed by professionals in the industry.
Nonetheless, Journe has always been keenly aware that the profession is rapidly changing and that, to stay ahead in this cutting-edge sector, a watchmaker needs to perpetually keep his nose to the grindstone. Thus, to ensure this skilled craft lives on and continues to shine through in each of the brand's creations, and to celebrate the milestone 20th anniversary of the icon this year, the brand was eager to add a new generation of exceptional timepieces to the Tourbillon Souverain line launched in 1999.
Verticality as the source of gravity
When the great Abraham-Louis Breguet developed the tourbillon regulator, his goal was to manage to get the mechanical assembly comprised of the balance wheel and hairspring to complete a revolution (freely rotate around its axis) at a steady rate. The reasoning behind this was to prevent the residual unbalance from generating balancing defects by distributing frictions on all parts of the circumference of a circle held vertically, the position in which a pocket watch functions. By proceeding in this way, Breguet succeeded in canceling out the effects of gravity on the component. Journe's exploration of contemporary fashion led him to reconsider the design of his new Tourbillon.
As Journe said: "I adopted a vertical design for my tourbillon so that it could function permanently in a flat or inclined position and thus offer the same scope and possibilities of adjustment, whether the watch was placed flat or on its side, in other words, whether a bracelet secured it with deployant buckle or a simple leather strap fitted with an ardillon buckle."
Clearly, the constant movements of the balance wheel in all directions throughout the day when the watch is worn on the wrist, helps in part to compensate for the balancing defects in the regulating organ. But it is when the watch is set down for the night (which stable position it occupies for about one third of the 24-hour day) that the watch is challenged to its full potential in terms of accuracy.
The prime importance of balance
The so-called remontoir d’égalité transmits a constant force to the tourbillon by regulating that emanating from the barrel via the wheel train. In doing so, it ensures that the regulating organ contained within the tourbillon, which in this case makes one revolution every 30 seconds, continues to oscillate with virtually the same amplitude. In order for the precision regulator to fulfill its task, the tourbillon, when the watch is set down, would ideally need to be in a position where it could avoid the effects of peripheral friction arising from a change in orientation.
This might appear to be a trivial detail, but when the classic tourbillon is located in the axis of the bottom plate, there is no friction between the two balance pivots and the jewel bearings when the watch is flat, but there is friction when the watch is on its side. In the case of the vertical tourbillon, there is friction with the pivots in the same balance wheel, whether the timepiece is set down flat on a table or placed on its side due to the presence of the deployant buckle. This constant state of friction ensures that the watchmaker tasked with the fine-tuning of the piece can achieve consistency in the oscillation rate of the balance wheel, whether the piece is flat or on its side, a necessary requirement if the high chronometric quality is to be targeted.
The aesthetics of mechanics
To give this 42 mm diameter piece (available in platinum or 18K 6N rose gold) its eye-catching aesthetics, François-Paul Journe decided to opt for the gravé-remplis and guilloche procedures for the 4N rose gold bridges, gaining a few tenths of a millimeter in overall thickness in the process. Such attention to detail lends even higher desirability to this monument of watchmaking design. Furthermore, the aesthetics are shaped by the mechanical balance and symmetry achieved by the arrangement of features on the 3 o'clock - 6 o'clock axis of the Grand Feu enamel time-telling dial on an 18K White gold base and the openwork structure. The openworking, in effect, gives the appearance that the vertical tourbillon is suspended in mid-air between the front and back crystals.
However, for François-Paul, harmony is a basic premise from the start since everything, especially accuracy, relies on balance. After all, the tourbillon was designed to correct the issue of imbalance. The piece is fitted with a simple, uncluttered hand-wound calibre that offers its owner, a full 80 hours of power reserve, the chance to reflect on what a great privilege it is to possess such a rare and exquisite watch…
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)