Parmigiani Fleurier: An interview with Michel Parmigiani
Parmigiani Fleurier is a shining example of fine watchmaking and its eponymous founder, Michel Parmigiani, has a wealth of knowledge relating to both historical and modern mechanical timepieces.
I have met Michel Parmigiani on previous occasions, however, in this instance, I was afforded the opportunity to formerly interview Mr Parmigiani to discuss the history of his company, its models of today and its plans for the future.
The venue for this fascinating rendezvous was the brand’s boutique in London, L’Atelier, 97 Mount Street, Mayfair.
Angus Davies (AD): I have met your daughter, Annelaure, previously. Do you have any children working in the business? Do you anticipate the Parmigiani name will be perpetuated by your children?
Michel Parmigiani (MP): My youngest daughter, Léa, is working for the company as an intern. She is a clothes designer and is fascinated by trends, fashion and design. She is working in the design department.
My eldest daughter, Annelaure, also works in this industry. She has studied hand engraving, gemmology and watchmaking. She works on bespoke commissions.
This area, succession planning, is important for the company to maintain stability and continue the message and philosophy of Parmigiani Fleurier.
AD: A large area of the business is restoration work. How does this influence the modern-day watches you make?
MP: The restoration of a piece is a lot of work, necessitating passion and much effort. It requires the restorer to learn the need to observe. Restoration is about respecting the creation and not imposing one’s own personality on the item. However, there has always been a parallel between restoration and creation.
You create by being inspired and gaining know-how from a historical piece. Restorations provide endless inspiration for new creations. A new creation will not be the same. It won’t have the same mechanism but it will provide the inspiration, helping the individual to create a new timepiece. An example of this is a pocket watch conceived by Stedman and Vardon of London, circa 1790. This watch, with its telescopic hands, provided the inspiration for the highly successful Ovale Pantographe.
AD: The Chronor was incredibly impressive and in my opinion the finest chronograph ever. Have you something equally ground-breaking in the pipeline?
MP: There are some projects which are being worked on. These will take a long time to bring to fruition.
There will be a chronograph which will be the house chronograph, housed within a typical Parmigiani Fleurier case. This will give the maison even more credibility. It is a big adventure to create a chronograph.
The chronograph movement will be fully integrated with a column-wheel and vertical coupling and will not be a modular type chronograph.
We started this journey with the Chronor but we will look to create simpler chronographs. However, these movements will be used solely within Parmigiani Fleurier watches and not supplied to other companies.
AD: How important is it to make Parmigiani Fleurier watches in the Val de Travers?
MP: I was born in the Val de Travers. I studied in the Val de Travers when the watchmaking school existed. I have always been fascinated by watchmaking.
In 1975, when I left watchmaking school, I found the industry was in crisis owing to the advent of quartz movements. Piaget was the only company within the region to survive. The pressure on the watchmaking industry at this time was unbearable.
When I started it was virtually impossible. My focus was on restorations and I hoped that watchmaking within the region would not totally disappear from view.
I found it fascinating working on mechanical timepieces which were 300 years old and this provided the inspiration to create objects that would last.
Today, my objective is to create watches within the Val de Travers region, a place I feel a strong connection with. I want to create timepieces for passionate people. I want my watches to be restored in 500 years time. Indeed, this is quite viable, as today, watch cases are dust proof and water proof, hence there is less likelihood of damage to the movement. The movement is better protected today than on watches dating back 200 – 300 years ago.
We finish our movement components not merely for aesthetic reasons but to ensure they will last longer. Our treatment processes ensure enhanced longevity.
But to summarise, crafting watches in the Val de Travers is of vital importance to me and the culture of Parmigiani Fleurier.
Parmigiani Fleurier is not the largest watch company in existence, its exacting standards of production preclude this from happening. However, in terms of the watchmaking practised by the maison, it is certainly one of the greatest watch companies in existence.
Part of the secret to the success of Parmigiani Fleurier can be attributed to the company’s fastidious and sympathetic restoration of historical mechanical timepieces. Moreover, these horological antiquities provide the very inspiration for modern-day watches, both in terms of design and mechanical virtue. Thanks to its watchmaking competence, incredible creativity and a speed of action, Parmigiani Fleurier has been able to develop more than 30 in-house movements in 20 years.
This year the company returns to its roots, releasing a new interpretation of the Toric Chronomètre, a timepiece which was one of the first watches created by this impressive maison. It shows that the prowess of the original design, penned some 20 years ago, has a lasting eye-appeal and remains relevant to today’s audience.
It is clear that this beacon of haute horlogerie is determined to continue to improve its product offering with new innovations and perpetuate its name with a new generation of Parmigiani children bringing their own skills and talents to the organisation.
Lastly, Michel Parmigiani stated he wants to make watches for passionate people, however, it is clear that Mr Parmigiani is passionate about his company and the products it makes. Indeed, it is this passion which sates the desires of fortunate watch connoisseurs, familiar with two initials which denote excellence, PF.