Parmigiani Fleurier has a much shorter history than the majority of the Swiss watch industry. However, its strategically executed 19 years has pushed it to the forefront of Haute Horlogerie. One can immediately see why when walking through their five factories: Quadrance et Habillage (dials), Les Artisans Boîtiers (cases), Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier (movements), Atokalpa (escapements), Elwin (screws). At any given workstation, one may find movement components for Corum, dials for A. Lange & Sohne, rotors for Patek Philippe, bracelets and cases for brands like Audemars Piguet and MB&F, and many many more.
But how did such a young company develop such a strong reputation in such a short time? How do they have contracts with the best in the business? The answer is the Sandoz Family Foundation (SFF). A young watchmaker and restoration expert, named Michel Parmigiani, was under their employ for a number of years. He was responsible for maintaining the most impressive collection of automatons in the world. When SFF set their sights on the watch industry, they did what any multi-billion dollar company would do. They went out and bought five major manufacturing companies and all of their contracts. As such, overnight, they acquired hundreds of years of experience and and an incredible reputation.
The purchase of the five factories removed Parmigiani Fleurier from spending years on research and development. In addition, it allowed the company to reduce the financial struggle of building a brand by profiting from industry contracts. In the last 19 years, the brand has been able to focus on growth and to produce the finest caliber of watches on the planet. A perfect example of this is the Parmigiani Fleurier Ovale Pantographe.
While every aspect of this elegantly unique timepiece is a work of art, one is first drawn to the complication. According the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a pantograph is an instrument for copying something (as a map) on a predetermined scale consisting of four light rigid bars jointed in parallelogram form.
One can already see the inspiration for this complication. However, it wasn’t until 1997 when an oval pocket watch created by the English jewelers Vardon and Stedman landed in the restoration workshop at Parmigiani.
This pocket watch had hands that extended and contracted to follow the contours of the case using the simple idea of a pantograph. When Parmigiani adopted the design, it took the artistry to the next level.
From the rendering one can see the true ingenuity that went in to this simple, yet elegant, design. A single minute hand was replaced by 31 individual components working together in a complex mechanical system. Manufacturing these hands presented almost insurmountable design challenges. Aluminum was thrown out because its strength to weight ratio was too small. In addition, due to its softer nature, aluminum galls, reducing the lifespan of the constantly moving mechanisms. As such, the majority of the hand assembly is made of light, strong titanium, which resists galling. As well, these hands needed such precision that it took over a year of testing to develop a laser cutting technique that employed the use of water and nitrogen to achieve an accuracy of 2 to 4 microns. When put into practice, this hand set is a marvel of engineering and an artful masterpiece.
You truly have to see this watch to appreciate the perfectly measured movements of these delicate hands.
Furthermore, the assembly of these components requires the utmost skill. These hands are held together with tiny delicate titanium rivets. An expert has to install these rivets—an expert who knows the pressure, sensation, and sound of the rivet “popping” into place. Too much pressure, and the seats for the rivet may be damaged or, at the very least, it may cause too much friction for the hands to move. Hours of work goes into a single hand, and we haven’t even begun to discuss the movement or the case. So let’s begin.
Taking a step back from the illustrious pantograph hands, we can finally see the whole picture. Every aspect of this watch was meticulously contemplated. What amazes me is the illusion of simplicity. This is very hard to capture in a unique complication. Even more so when you remove contrasting finishes, dial textures, and intricate bracelets. The 18k white gold case, though simple in appearance, is a balancing act of curved and straight edges. Rounded shapes often give off a feminine energy. The elliptical shape of the Ovale was widened near the ends to add a masculine air to the case, though it complicated the design of the hands and movement. Amazingly, it takes over four hours for a skilled craftsman in Le Les Artisans Boîtiers to polish this stunning case.
The stark white lacquered dial is the perfect lustrous canvas to provide a sharp contrast for the brilliant blue accents. The Arabic 3, 6, 9, and 12, along with the indices, are all applied through a transfer process, similar to lithography. One of my favorite aspects of dial design, Parmigiani is heralded for its precision when it comes to this art form.
The purest white chases the Cobalt blue power reserve away, as the main spring’s 8-day charge is diminished. The name “Parmigiani Fleurier” traces the edge of this complication. Beneath the elegantly executed date window, at 6 o’clock, the word “Hebdomadaire” appears. Directly translated from French, this means “weekly.” Fitting, considering one must only wind the watch once a week.
While the dial and hands are riveting (pardon the pun), a sapphire crystal on the case-back offers a window into the true heart of this timepiece. The PF111 movement is a wonder to behold. Perfectly finished and hand-beveled bridges dotted with red jewels hold the meticulously manufactured movement components together allowing them to keep flawless time. The Hebdomadaire movement is finished and assembled by hand at the Vaucher manufacturing facility. To maintain the 8-day power reserve, this hand-wound movement requires 227 components, including 28 jewels and 2 coupled barrels in series.
However, it is only when the movement is placed inside the case and breathes life into this work of art, that we can truly appreciate the delicate balance of art and mechanical genius. The case embraces the supple Indigo Blue Hermès Alligator strap with their iconic teardrop lugs. Yes, you read that correctly, Hermès leather.
Though Parmigiani has only been in existence for 19 years, they have such an incredible reputation that they are able to partner with the best-of-the-best. These partnerships include Hermès Leather, Bugatti, and Pershing Yachts. In addition to its product partners, Parmigiani Fleurier sponsors a rowing team, Brazil’s soccer team, and events like the International Hot Air Balloon Festival held in the Pays d'Enhaut region in Switzerland, and the Montreux Jazz Festival, Lake Geneva, Switzerland.
When speaking about high-end watches, Parmigiani is often left out of all but the most avid watch collectors’ conversations. Those who understand the industry, and the true rarity of an entirely verticalized watch company, will continue to marvel at the work Michel Parmigiani produces. The Pantographe is the perfect example of the brand’s prowess and ingenuity.