The Brand That Came in From the Cold
Parmigiani’s approach may have grated with some, but its latest offerings and a planned Mayfair outlet hint at a change of attitude, says James Gurney
PARMIGIANI HAS NEVER been an easy buy — there’s nothing average about the Fleurier company. Michel Parmigiani’s background is as an authority on the restoration of Breguet clocks, the horological equivalent of an All Souls fellowship.
Exceptionally high standards and design from principle rather than whim are the order of the day, despite strenuous efforts to put the company on a more hard-nosed commercial footing: Parmigiani enjoys the almost limitless backing of the Sandoz Foundation, so business pressures have had to be built in artificially.
This particular atmosphere and the very low production numbers have meant that Parmigiani has never been a favourite of the big retail operations, instead relying on serious and knowledgeable sales staff, people who expect a direct call from their clients if everything is not just so. This is the thinking behind its decision to open its first London stand-alone store, not on Bond Street but on Mount Street, Mayfair’s quieter and, dare one say it, slightly superior thoroughfare.
According to Jean-Marc Jacot, CEO of Parmigiani, the store will be as much a conversation piece, a salon, as a retail outlet. As well as the obligatory watchmaker on-site (a good thing as watchmakers nearly always tell you what they think), the store will have room for clocks and watches from the collection, pieces that are not expected to be sold overnight.
There will also be room to show off the brand’s curious obsessions — it has been a sponsor of the Montreux Jazz Festival since for ever and is an active sponsor of Swiss athletes, including Olympic triathlon gold medallist Nicola Spirig. Jacot says the boutique (as he calls it) is there for collectors to discover who the company is and that retail is almost secondary.
So, having fought your way past the resident jazzers, what might you find there? The answer is as eclectic a collection as it is possible to imagine. Pièces Uniques are still an important part of the Fleurier manufacturer’s identity and typically are multi-complication watches combining tourbillon, minute repetition and calendar function.
If you’re ever going to have the chance of seeing one without spending several hundred thousand pounds, the Mount Street store is the likely venue.
Modernity meets tradition in Parmigiani’s Fifteen-Day Table Clock. Below: The Tonda 1950 special edition with its ‘Cotes de Geneve’ decoration
MORE PROSAIC, AND winning a good deal of praise from the industry, is the Tonda collection. Built around a case design distinctive for its curved flanks, the Tonda covers the range from simple and retro to quite daring medium complications.
The Tonda 1950 is a 39mm extra-flat dress watch made in white or rose gold, 7.80mm high. There are slimmer mechanical watches, but these tend to sacrifice finish and texture in slimming down; not so the Tonda 1950. It has applied hour markers matching the case colour sitting on a dial that has a deep lustre, and there is also a recessed small seconds sub-dial positioned at the six o’clock position — the effect being to make the whole thing look deeper than it is. There is also a limited-edition titanium version with a grill dial that gives a very different feel to the watch.
The extra-flat self-winding calibre PF700 inside is one of seventeen (at the last count) in-house calibres that Parmigiani produces and is a barely credible 2.6mm thick! Despite the movement’s slim dimensions the standard of finish is extremely high. with ‘Côte de Genève’ decorated bridges that are bevelled by hand, as are the wheels and plate edges. To save space the movement is wound by an off-centre micro-rotor.
More complex is the Quantième Annuel (annual calendar — the watch accounts for differing months but not leap days). The PF339 is as neat and uncluttered as a watch that delivers so much information can be (it even has a moonphase), its party trick being the date hand’s jump back instantaneously at end of the month. The day of the week is at nine o’clock and the month three o’clock.
EVEN MORE COMPLEX, and something of a rarity by the top Swiss watch houses, is the Fifteen-Day Table Clock shown earlier this year. Very severe and plain in its lines, it has some serious horological interest, including a new power reserve mounted on the barrel and a constant force escapement which ensures the system runs evenly however wound or unwound the mainspring is. Add to that the rather amazing Bugatti collection and you have a watch house seriously worth investing time in getting to know.