Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir
The Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir represents a new chapter in the brand’s history. This latest addition to the company’s collection exhibits a contemporary, youthful appearance while upholding the Swiss marque’s reputation for traditional craftsmanship. During this feature Angus Davies also looks at the costlier Kalpagraphe Chronometre and explains the reasons for its comparatively higher sales price.
Those individuals who possess a comprehensive knowledge of watchmaking are likely to speak of Parmigiani Fleurier in reverential tones. The prestigious firm owns several factories making everything from screws and hairsprings to movements and dials. In fact, with the exception of rubies, sapphire crystals and straps, every component within a Parmigiani Fleurier watch is made in-house. I can’t think of many other companies which are able to match this degree of vertical integration.
This independence is accompanied with an overriding obsession for quality. Each watch bearing the PF logo is refined to the highest order and is worthy of the appellation, ‘haute horlogerie’. Such is the technical prowess of Parmigiani Fleurier’s various companies that it is entrusted to make parts for several other brands. For example, Vaucher, a subsidiary of Parmigiani Fleurier, is a movement specialist supplying high-end calibres to an array of watch brands.
At the heart of the Parmigiani Fleurier culture is an extraordinary obsession with horological rectitude, where each component and every watch exhibits extraordinary virtue. The Maison finishes components to a peerless standard. Bridges feature Côtes de Genève and hand levelling, while mainplates are adorned with perlage, sometimes in two sizes. The finishing is not restricted to those components in view, but also parts hidden from prying eyes. The rationale for taking these additional steps is that polishing surfaces improves corrosion resistance, enhancing the longevity of parts.
This obsession with longevity can be traced to the brand’s vast experience restoring automata, clocks and watches. This area of expertise has led to the Swiss marque spending much time considering how components will last in the long term. Indeed, I have spoken to Michel Parmigiani, the founder of the company, on several occasions and I recall him once saying, “I want my watches to be restored in 500 years time.” The validity of this statement is evident when looking at one of the brand’s models at close quarters.
In March 2018, Davide Traxler was appointed Chief Commercial Officer before assuming the role of CEO a few months later. Since his arrival, Parmigiani Fleurier has unveiled several new models as well as updating some of the brand’s stalwarts such as the Tonda 1950. Certainly from a personal perspective, I feel the company’s product offering has become even more appealing during the reign of Mr Traxler.
Recently, Parmigiani Fleurier unveiled some new models which exhibit a more contemporary, youthful character.
Kalpagraphe Chronometre – SIHH 2019
The Kalpagraphe Chronometre was launched at SIHH 2019. The model is housed in a tonneau case, a classical shape the Maison has offered for a number of years. However, in this instance the housing is formed of micro-blasted titanium, imbuing the watch with a high quotient of modernity.
At first glance, the recommended retail price of CHF 39,500 may seem a lot for a chronograph. However, this watch is not a simple chronograph, but a horological tour de force. Allow me to elaborate.
When machining Grade 5 Titanium using CNC, the lightweight metal causes CNC tools to degrade very quickly. This necessitates stopping the machine and replacing the tools. Both the downtime and the expense of purchasing replacement tools increases production costs. While a CNC machine can be left running unattended for most tasks, machining titanium requires an eagle-eyed operator to be present at all times. This is because fine chips of titanium can ignite, creating a fire hazard. Needless to say, this additional safeguard also heightens production costs.
Despite the material cost of Grade 5 Titanium being less than gold, the cost of machining the noble metal is significantly lower. Quite simply, the price differential between a Grade 5 Titanium case and its 18-carat gold counterpart is relatively small.
The appeal of the Grade 5 Titanium transcends its grey, sultry appearance. The titanium alloy is incredibly light, very strong and hypoallergenic.
While some chronographs are modular, comprising of a base movement and chronograph module, the Kalpagraphe Chronometre is fully integrated. Its Calibre PF362 movement was designed from the outset to be a chronograph. Moreover, it features a column-wheel and vertical coupling. This exalted specification delivers a creamy-smooth push-piece action. When the chronograph is actuated, the central chronograph seconds hand leaves the starting gates without the merest hint of hesitation or wobble. Furthermore, a fully integrated chronograph is less likely to cause ‘drag’, a scenario when the timekeeping of the watch is adversely affected by the chronograph running.
The COSC-certified Calibre PF362 is shaped to fit the tonneau-shaped case as watchmaking etiquette dictates. Housing a round movement within a tonneau case is a cheaper approach. However, in this instance Parmigiani Fleurier has clearly chosen to indulge the desires of purists.
Unusually, the movement has a frequency of 36,000 vph (5Hz), supplanting the ubiquitous 4Hz movement. A high balance frequency aids precision, mitigates the influence of shocks and is less prone to positional errors.
Unlike most movements which are fitted with an index-adjusted balance (raquette), the Calibre PF362 is fitted with a variable inertia balance. This latter option is preferable as the balance delivers superior precision and is less influenced by the position of the wearer’s wrist. In addition, any shocks are less likely to influence the rate.
Parimigiani Fleurier is synonymous with high-end finishing and the Kalpagraphe Chronometre upholds this reputation. In this instance, the oscillating weight is made of platinum, presented in a black hue and adorned with grain d’orge motif. The oscillating weight runs in a channel, termed a ‘trottoir’, which mitigates the height of the movement. Indeed, considering the complexity of the Calibre PF362 its height of 7mm is very impressive.
Based on its plethora of attributes the price of the Kalpagraphe Chronometre, no longer seems excessive. Indeed, it actually represents incredible value.
Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir – September 2019
Later in 2019, the Maison from the Val de Travers unveiled a new model, the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir. Again, modernity is manifest, courtesy of a steel case treated with ADLC. The golden accents and high-gloss surfaces are intended to ensnare young hearts and because the watch is limited to just 99 pieces, a high degree of exclusivity is assured.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir is offered for the comparatively affordable sum of CHF 19,000. While I never expected this recent model to match the rarefied heights of the aforementioned Kalpagraphe Chronometre, I was keen to see whether this more accessible watch lived up to the venerated brand’s legendary standards.
Devotees of Parmigiani Fleurier, of which I am one, will immediately recognise the Delta-shaped hour and minute hands. However, in this instance, the golden hands are openworked, augmenting the sense of modernity.
A small seconds display sits adjacent the crown at 3 o’clock. With the exception of the lone seconds hand, this indication eschews gold, differentiating it from the chronograph registers.
A 12-hour chronograph register is located in the lower portion of the dial, positioned above 6 o’clock. The snailed hour track on this display is presented in a sumptuous shade of gold, matching the associated hand. This register is significantly larger than its neighbouring subdials and yet every element seems to coexist happily. A 30-minute chronograph register is positioned at 9 o’clock and shares the same design as the larger 12-hour chronograph register.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir is fitted with a grey sapphire dial, granting subtle views of the date disc, albeit the intensity of these views does increase in certain light conditions. Positioned below noon, an arc-shaped aperture reveals three values, with the current date presented centre stage. A curved cartouche sits in a prominent position at the top of the dial, again depicted in golden tones.
The svelte central chronograph seconds hand has a crescent-shaped counterweight and efficiently converses with the crisp markings located on the minuterie.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir measures 44.45mm x 39.2mm with a thickness of 12.8mm. This provides a neater physique than the aforementioned Kalpagraphe Chronometre which measures 48.2mm x 40.4mm and has a thickness 14.1mm. While the Kalpagraphe Chronometre sits comfortably on my oversized wrist, I suspect the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir will suit a greater number of would-be wearers.
The steel case of the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir will also prove much cheaper to produce, a factor which is clearly reflected with the lower selling price. However, at this juncture, I should stress while this watch does not match the exalted specification of the Kalpagraphe Chronometre it remains a paragon of virtue. It is beautifully executed and employs the finest materials. For example, the case is treated with ADLC, conferring a superior finish to PVD. The ADLC (Amorphous Diamond-like Carbon) is impressively wear resistant and, when appraising the case at close quarters, the surface proves glossy, blemish-free and supremely smooth. Indeed, its quality is palpable, readily evident with the briefest touch.
Parmigiani Fleurier has matched the golden dial details with a crown and pushers formed of 18-carat rose gold. The juxtaposition of the black case and the adjacent gold components, mimics the contrasting appearance of night and day. The two disparate elements happily coalesce and proffer an abundance of eye-appeal.
A circular pane of sapphire crystal reveals the circular Calibre PF334 in all its splendid glory. Four golden screws grace the caseback with one positioned in each corner.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir is presented on a black rubber strap paired with an 18-carat rose gold pin buckle.
Unlike the tonneau-shaped Calibre PF362, the Calibre PF334 within the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir is circular. This may irritate those purists seeking a tonneau-shaped movement, however, there is a reasonable counter argument. The Calibre PF334 can be employed in other models, including circular watches such as the brand’s Toric models. This provides economies of scale, allowing the brand to offer a sublime watch for a significantly lower price point.
The Calibre PF334 is of modular construction (ie it is a combination of a base movement and chronograph module). While the movement within the Kalpagraphe Chronometre is technically superior, I found the pushpiece feel of the Calibre PF334 to be very agreeable. Moreover, I repeatedly actuated the chronograph and could not discern any hesitation on the part of the central chronograph seconds hand.
Unlike the Kalpagraphe Chronometre, the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir eschews a variable inertia balance, employing an index-adjusted balance instead. In addition, the balance has a frequency of 4Hz, typical of most modern-day watches. The movement is comprised of 303 components, including 68 jewels, and has a power reserve of 50 hours.
Although the specification of the Calibre PF334 doesn’t match the prodigious heights of the Calibre PF362, it remains a highly refined movement. It features Côtes de Genève motif, exquisite anglage and a circular grained plate. The oscillating weight is formed of 18-carat solid gold and is embellished with Grain d’Orge guilloché.
In a perfect world, I would travel to Fleurier and commission a pièce unique endowed with numerous complications, enamelling and guilloché. Such is the horological virtuosity of Parmigiani Fleurier, it is more than capable of indulging my brief. Unfortunately, like most watch buyers, I lack the pecuniary means to acquire such a bespoke timepiece.
However, whether a watch is bespoke or ‘off the peg’, the purchaser of a Parmigiani Fleurier timepiece can always be assured of peerless finishing irrespective of price. Fastidiousness is at the heart of the brand’s paradigm, ensuring impressive longevity. Parts are polished to mitigate corrosion, guaranteeing each movement will retain its showroom-fresh appearance for many years to come. Moreover, a Parmigiani Fleurier watch is designed to facilitate restoration at some point in the distant future. Indeed, it is the Maison’s experience restoring priceless automata, clocks and watches that influences its present-day production techniques.
Throughout this article I have compared the Kalpagraphe Chronometre and the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir. The former watch attracts a higher price tag, however, this is justified. The luxury watch firm has infused each square millimetre of the Kalpagraphe Chronometre with a myriad of smile-inducing refinements. While at first glance, the price of this watch may seem excessive, a quick appraisal of its composition dispels such ideas. The Kalpagraphe Chronometre is exceptional and actually represents incredible value for money.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir attracts a lower price for the aforementioned reasons, however, it remains an exemplar of high-end watchmaking, encompassing the finest materials and harnessing the brand’s legendary watchmaking prowess. Quite simply, the Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir makes a compelling case for acquisition.
Parmigiani Fleurier continues to make classical watches, distilled to an elevated degree. However, since Davide Traxler has joined the Swiss firm, the product portfolio has been enlarged to encompass some contemporary designs. This approach, along with some very keen pricing should make the firm more relevant to younger buyers. Furthermore, this strategy indulges consumers with greater choice, something every horophile should applaud.
With Watches & Wonders just around the corner, I now eagerly await the next instalment from Parmigiani Fleurier.
- Model: Parmigiani Fleurier Kalpagraphe Noir
- Reference: PFC128-0243200-X01401
- Case: Stainless steel with ADLC treatment; dimensions 44.45mm x 39.2mm; height 12.8mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback
- Functions: hours; minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph
- Movement: Calibre PF334; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 68 jewels; power reserve 50 hours; 303 components
- Strap: Black rubber strap paired with an 18-carat rose gold pin buckle
- Price: CHF 19,000 including Swiss VAT (RRP 9.2.2020)