One of the smallest yet most respected names in watchmaking, Parmigiani Fleurier is one that every worthy watch collector should keep within their radar.
There are several towns in Switzerland that are synonymous with watchmaking, mainly located in the Jura mountains. Places like Vallée de Joux, La Chaux-de-fonds, Le Locle, Le Brassus and Le Sentier are homes to some of the oldest and most renowned watch brands.
Though not as widely known as the abovementioned towns, the once sleepy village of Fleurier in Vals-de-Travers, Neuchatel, is home to only a handful of names – Parmigiani Fleurier, Bovet, Chopard and renowned movement maker Vaucher, each one of them much revered in their own right.
Founded in 1996 by master watchmaker and restoration specialist, Michel Parmigiani, Parmigiani Fleurier is a relatively new brand. Yet it is no less respected in the watch industry and by discerning connoisseurs.
“It is a rare joy to restore a horological work of art. To free it from the ravages of time and of men is to reinstate it within a temporal truth so essential to our memory.”
Mr Parmigiani began his career in 1976, during the quartz crisis. His workshop, Mesure et art du temps, specialised in the restoration of antique horological objects. For much of the 1980s, Mr Parmigiani restored clocks from the Collection Edouard and Maurice Sandoz under the Sandoz Family Foundation, owner of some of the most important horological collections in the world.
In 1996, the humble gentleman launched his independent watch brand, Parmigiani Fleurier, with support from the Sandoz Family Foundation. He went on to realise his dream of creating timepieces, inspired by the art of traditional watchmaking techniques and beautifully made with a contemporary touch.
“When I was little my father would say to me: ‘If you learn to look, art will reveal itself’, and it has always stayed with me. Art is all around us; it is in nature, in the harmony of its proportions and in the attention paid to each detail. A world of wonders is unveiled to those who have learned how to look.”
Constantly reminded of what his father taught him, Mr Parmigiani is deeply inspired by the harmonious proportions based on the golden ratio. Stemming from nature, the golden ratio is also known as the Fibonacci sequence, and is possibly the closest scientific definition of what beauty is.
Even if one does not know about the golden ratio, the human mind is somehow programmed to recognise it subconsciously. Every watch that Mr Parmigiani created is built upon the principle of the golden ratio – for example, reflected in details as small as the lugs of every Parmigiani Fleurier watch.
His first creation for the brand, the Toric, was designed based on the mathematical formula of the golden ratio. Understated, simple yet captivating, it is one of the best representations of what the brand embodies, and its alternating gadroons and knurling details would become hallmarks of Parmigiani Fleurier creations.
Subsequently, the Kalpa, Tonda, Ovale and Bugatti collections were presented. Remarkable creations include the award-winning Type 370 Bugatti watch (2004) that featured the world’s first transversal mechanical movement, as well as the enchanting Ovale Pantographe (2016) which was inspired by an English pocket watch from 1800, with telescoping hour and minute hands resembling a pantograph.
When it comes to the manufacturing of its timepieces, Parmigiani Fleurier may be one of the smaller watch brands around. Yet is a prime example of a brand that is truly vertically integrated. It is one of the few that is able to manufacture all of components required for watchmaking, including hairsprings, screws, pinions, dials and cases.
Over the years, Parmigiani Fleurier has acquired watch gear maker Atokalpa, bar turning specialist Elwin, movement manufacturer Vaucher, dial specialist Quadrance et Habillage, and case maker Les Artisans Boîtiers, giving it industrial independence. These manufacturers also supply to some of the biggest names in the industry and have collectively elevated the town of Fleurier to become one of the most important places in the Swiss watchmaking industry.
Michel Parmigiani maintains an active role in the brand, and continues to share his passion for watchmaking and restoration with the younger generations. Currently, the brand makes around five to six thousand watches each year, and is headed by CEO, Guido Terreni.