The art of watchmaking
Parmigiani Fleurier balances premium technical expertise with an eye for style to create watches that stand the test of time
A Parmigiani Fleurier watch is an elegant piece of mechanical art into which years of knowledge and experience have been poured. Parmigiani Fleurier was founded in 1996 by Michel Parmigiani, who spent the previous two decades perfecting his craft by restoring some of the watchmaking world’s oldest and finest timepieces. Now, Michel designs his own watches using all the skill, mastery and understanding he acquired during this long apprenticeship. Fans include Prince Charles, whose 18-carat gold automatic Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Chronograph can often be glimpsed glinting beneath his cuff.
“With his restoration work, Michel was giving a second life to an object that somebody else created, and he had to master all the techniques of different watch and clockmakers through different eras,” explains Guido Terreni, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier. “This requires incredible knowledge and skill. There is a combination of knowledge and expertise, but also a humility and lack of ego as you are at the service of the timepiece’s history.”
Parmigiani Fleurier was formed with the support of Sandoz Foundation, the pharmaceutical giant whose vast Maurice-Yves Sandoz Collection Michel had been restoring. His vision was to create a high-end brand, designing elegant timepieces that respected the history of mechanical art. From the beginning, the company went in the direction of a classic style. Michel’s first watch was the Toric QP Retrograde, with a bezel featuring alternating gadroons and knurling – intricacies that became one of the brand’s aesthetic signatures. Parmigiani Fleurier watches have developed alongside fashions that welcome a less formal approach, while retaining a sense of elegance, comfort and understated luxury.
Recent creations include the ultra-thin Tonda 1950, which was presented to mark Michel Parmigiani’s 60th birthday, and the Ovale Pantographe pocket watch with telescopic hands. The company produces fabulous table clocks and the Tonda Chronor Anniversaire is its first integrated chronograph. “The latest evolution of the brand is the Tonda PF, which expresses our style for a contemporary audience,” says Guido. “It conveys the brand in a subtle way; elegant without showing off. There is a place for understatement as well as informality, so you showcase knowledge of the craft, not your purchasing power.”
To enhance its technical capabilities, the company has acquired several specialist businesses including Atokalpa, which produces components such as balance wheels and springs, pallet forks and escapement wheels, and Elwin, experts in precision bar turning. These businesses supply other leading Swiss watchmakers, sharing expertise for the benefit of the whole industry. This fits the vision of Parmigiani Fleurier’s founder, who entered the watch business in the 1970s at the height of the quartz crisis, determined to support a craft that was at its most vulnerable. Now, fine watches are once more celebrated as works of art and masterpieces of engineering thanks to the work of people like Michel.
“We are a brand that can express itself at the highest level,” says Guido. “For us, human value is extremely important. You need the modesty to understand that creating something beautiful that will endure requires patience, skill and time. We call our artisans the golden hands – ‘les mains d’or’. These are people at the top of their expertise. But we put the customer at the centre. We know our customers are highly educated about watchmaking and are looking for something special. We bring them discretion and excellence in our quest for a style that is very pure and creates a long-lasting design.”