Introducing Parmigiani Fleurier Watches
Turn the clock back to 1996: a British pop band by the name of the Spice Girls bursts onto the scene with their debut single, “Wannabe”. On the big screen, Messrs Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum star in Independence Day, the year’s highest grossing film. Meanwhile, in the sleepy valleys of Switzerland, a relatively unknown watch restorer named Mr Michel Parmigiani decides to stop repairing other people’s work and start making his own.
The wider world wouldn’t have known his name at the time, but Mr Parmigiani had a lot of insider collateral. His workshop in Couvet in Val-de-Travers, Switzerland, had been around since the late 1970s. The man himself was well respected, having completed restorations for the Patek Philippe Museum and the Kremlin Museums, made unique pieces for collectors, and even supplied minute repeaters and perpetual calendars to Vacheron Constantin.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Mr Parmigiani was in a position to create models under his own name, and for that, he required help. With investment from the Sandoz Foundation, a Swiss investment foundation founded by sculptor and painter Mr Edouard-Marcel Sandoz, Mr Parmigiani was able to set up his own brand in Fleurier, a nearby watchmaking town in the Swiss Alps whose economy had been hit hard by the quartz crisis.
Mr Parmigiani’s concept for his new brand was to use the past to create a vision of the future. Essentially, he wanted to create watches that adhered to the highest fine watchmaking principles, but looked like nothing else. For his out-there Toric Capitole, with its wandering hours and minutes on a track, he took inspiration from a 19th-century Perrin Frères pocket watch, while the telescopic hands on its Ovale Pantographe were lifted from an oval pocketwatch created in 1800 by English watchmakers Vardon & Stedman.
Even one of his simpler designs, the Toric Automatic Chronometer, features an array of dizzingly intricate metalwork, from the “grain de riz” guilloche pattern to Parmigiani’s signature bezel with alternating gadroons and knurling – terms we’ll explain later.
The movements, too, are exquisitely finished, and the watches in the collection bearing the moniker Qualité Fleurier have passed arguably the most stringent certification process in the world. The Fondation Qualité Fleurier requires that timepieces submitted for testing are entirely designed, produced and assembled in Switzerland, made only from traditional materials and are powered by a COSC-certified chronometer. It’s a standard that only two other watchmakers – Bovet and Chopard – have achieved.
The root of Parmigiani Fleurier’s success is not just the watchmaking talent of its founder, but the generous patronage of the Sandoz Foundation, under which the brand has grown into a serious player in the Swiss watch market. Between 2000 and 2005, Sandoz went on a major spending spree, buying up companies such as gear maker Atokalpa, which allowed Parmigiani to make its own oscillator, a watchmaking feat mastered by very few companies even now. Sandoz also owns a high-end case maker Les Artisans Boîtiers, Elwin, which makes its screws and pins, and Quadrance and Habillage, which makes the dials. Vaucher, which became a separate company in 2003, makes the movements. This network means that Parmigiani Fleurier is one of the few brands with the capacity to produce virtually all the components in its timepieces in-house. Not bad for a wet-behind-the-ears, 23-year-old brand.
Parmigiani pieces are now available on MR PORTER. Below, we break down the designs and characteristics that make each one unique and, in our opinion, uniquely wearable.
Three collections to know
Parmigiani doesn’t really do sporty in the traditional sense, but the Kalpa Kalpagraphe collection is a nod towards a more relaxed aesthetic. The starting point for the first Kalpa was ergonomics. Mr Parmigiani wanted a watch that was comfortable on the wrist and fitted its contours perfectly, which meant no straight lines or flat surfaces. Form followed function and this iconic design was born. In a small concession to sports watch conventions, it has a chronograph, while the instantly recognisable tonneau-shaped case and signature teardrop lugs give the case the appearance of a muscular supercar as seen from above. You’re never going to go jogging in it, but if you want a bit of luxe with your sport, then the Kalpagraphe is ideal.
Sitting somewhere between the refined lines of the Toric and the sportier mood of the Kalpagraphe is the Tonda collection. The name is derived from the Italian word for “round” and it is probably Parmigiani Fleurier’s most diverse range. The case is always circular, but the brand uses that as a jumping-off point for experimentation, hence why the retro-inspired Tonda 1950, named after the year of Mr Parmigiani’s birth, can sit alongside the bold, architectural form of the Tonda Métrographe. Unshackled by the self-imposed constraints of the other collections – be it ergonomics or history – the Tonda range is where every man will find his perfect Parmigiani.
Inspired by the patterns on the base of Greek columns, the Toric was the first watch produced by Parmigiani Fleurier. Its calling card is the case, which features gadroons, a type of inverted fluting, alternated with knurling, a pattern made by hand-rolling a toothed wheel into the metal. Remarkably, the same artisan has been creating that pattern on every watch since it was first made in 1996. With its clean dials, save for the unusual date window at six o’clock, legible numerals and javelin-shaped hands, which feel like an update of Breguet’s famous examples, the Toric is the brand’s most classic-looking collection. It’s an elegant day-to-dress collection with delight in the detail, and looks best when emerging from the cuff of a well-pressed dress shirt.