Billed as the first sonnerie timepiece an eight-year-old child can operate without it breaking (such watches are notoriously fragile; they can get damaged if an adult with the intellect of an eight-year-old adjusts the time while the sonnerie is chiming) is F.P. Journe’s Sonnerie Souveraine. Its maker, Francois-Paul Journe, says he started work on this piece in 2000 after having received requests for a sonnerie from special clients. He managed to bring out the first examples only in 2006 — the result of his quest to make sure the watch is safe from its user.
That same year the Sonnerie Souveraine promptly won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie’s Aiguille d’Or prize, and was also named Watch of the Year at the Grand Prize of Japan. To think F.P. Journe took another year to refine the watch and ensure no eight-year-old adult could actually break it.
Now, after a dozen-year concerto, the Sonnerie Souveraine is set to make its finale at the end of 2018. To mark this milestone, F.P. Journe recorded the watch’s chimes to guarantee its sonorous notes are properly captured should an example of the watch not surface in the future. This recording is now posted on www.fpjourne.com, and the watchmaker hypes the move as “an horological world premiere.” To get the full experience, it also encourages listeners to wear headphones as they listen to the chimes.
Why the watchmaker is proud of this development is simple; this was no recording done in just any studio. For the effort, F.P. Journe turned to the anechoic chamber of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, recognized as one of the planet’s best scientific research institutions and universities. This anechoic chamber is free from any echo or reflection of electromagnetic waves, which may distort sound recordings. Its walls and floor are covered entirely with glass wool dihedral that’s a meter thick, completely absorbing sound. As a result, recording the Sonnerie Souveraine’s notes there guaranteed the reproduced sounds are crisp and utterly faithful to the original performance.
As if using an anechoic room wasn’t enough, F.P. Journe also employed a method known as “binaural,” which relies on two microphones arranged in a way that it records sounds in 3-D. For the binaural recording of the Sonnerie Souveraine, F.P. Journe says it “used artificial ears with microphones,” as well as a selection of components shaped and proportioned correctly in order to get a reproduction that sounds “as close as possible to a human experience.”
F.P. Journe having gone all this trouble is only fitting—its Sonnerie Souveraine is truly special, having been fitted with a Grande Sonnerie and a Petite Sonnerie, as well as a Minute Repeater. To recall, a grand sonnerie complication strikes the hour and the quarter hours constantly. The petite sonnerie function basically does the same; the difference is it does not strike the hour at the quarters, only during the full hour. A minute repeater chimes the hour and minutes, but the function has to be activated by the watch’s wearer. The same functions hold true in the Sonnerie Souveraine while allowing its user to select between grand and petite sonneries—plus a Silence setting for occasions during which a chiming watch, however sonorous its sound, is not deemed appropriate.
In most other instances though, the sound emitted by the Sonnerie Souveraine — a result of F.P. Journe’s meticulous work; it opted for a steel case, for example, as the material produces better acoustics — is, simply, music to the ears. Luckily, it has been properly recorded.