Master watchmaker Michel Parmigiani turns 70 years old in 2020, looking back on a lifetime of impactful contributions to modern horology — from preserving and passing on the skills of his forebears to a new generation of watchmakers, to restoring and revitalizing the historical watchmaking traditions of the Swiss Jura town of Fleurier. Parmigiani Fleurier, the Maison he founded in 1996, commemorates this milestone with the introduction of the Toric Heritage, a limited-edition timepiece with DNA derived from the first wristwatch that Michel Parmigiani ever designed.
Born in 1950 in the Swiss canton of Neuchatel, Michel Parmigiani grew up with an avid devotion to both watchmaking and architecture, two disciplines that combine technicality and artistry. Horology would ultimately win out as the young man’s chosen career path. Studying and honing his skills at the Val-de-Travers watchmaking school at La Chaux-de-Fonds Technicum in Switzerland, Michel began a career in timepiece restoration, a field reserved only for the most highly skilled horological craftsmen.
In 1976, the watch industry’s Quartz Crisis was in full swing, threatening to consign the mechanical watches and clocks, so beloved by Michel Parmigiani, to the dustbin of history. Always the iconoclast, Michel nevertheless swam against the encroaching tide of inexpensive battery-powered timepieces from Asia, establishing his own restoration workshop. His bold move bore fruit as an elite list of haute horlogerie clients made him their go-to restorer for the most difficult jobs, such as salvaging priceless mechanical marvels from the Patek Philippe museum and bringing legendary pieces, like Breguet’s Sympathique Clock back to life.
In restoring such timekeepers, Michel was putting into practice the accumulated knowledge and savoir-faire of hundreds of years of mechanical watchmaking, while at the same time gaining admiration for the uncompromising craftsmanship and devotion to detail of those watchmakers who came before him — many of them tracing their lineage to the Swiss town of Fleurier where he had set up shop.
“I remember feeling a bit like a pariah, starting this adventure against all advice,” Michel recalls of those early days. “Restoring antique timepieces saved me from nihilism. Working, as I was during this period, on so many wonders from times gone by, made the idea that traditional watchmaking might disappear absolutely unthinkable to me. Restoration gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my watchmaking dreams, despite the naysayers.”
Among the clients who came to Michel for restoration and maintenance was Switzerland’s Sandoz Family Foundation, which owned a significant collection of historical automata and clocks. As Michel’s tremendous talent and boundless creativity became clear, the Foundation encouraged him to create his own watch brand with their full support. This was the beginning of Parmigiani Fleurier, which launched in 1996. In the ensuing years, both the brand and its industrial independence have grown exponentially.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Watchmaking Hub now encompasses five specialized Swiss firms that ensure that each step of every Parmigiani Fleurier timepiece’s creation is executed in-house. Each of the five factories also produces parts for other haute horlogerie clients, including La Montre Hermès, the watchmaking division of the celebrated French leather goods house, which is a co-owner of the Vaucher movement manufacturer.
But it is only Parmigiani Fleurier who avails itself of all five companies for the entire watchmaking process. As one of the very few living watchmakers still leading and creatively guiding the watch brand they founded, Michel continues to follow trails blazed by the likes of Abraham-Louis Breguet and other pioneers of horology. Meticulous control of every step of production, from design to final assembly, ensures that the timepieces that bear his name are truly the product of his values and vision.
The Toric Heritage: Vast technical and aesthetic choices are available to those who plumb the mysterious depths of these often-unique masterpieces and Parmigiani Fleurier draws inspiration from this almost inexhaustible source of tried-and-tested methods and retains this knowledge for its creations.
The Toric is the very first wristwatch case designed by Michel Parmigiani and pays homage to the essence of watchmaking in its purest form: exceptional engineering; a movement, developed, produced and decorated with the greatest care to create the perfect celebration of time. Appropriately, the timepiece chosen to commemorate Michel’s milestone 70th birthday hails from that family, which was revived and elegantly redesigned in 2017.
When Michel Parmigiani designs a watch, he starts with the profile. By doing this, the essential design elements of the brand are respected in a harmonious way and each new watch respects, honors and perpetuates the brand identity. The harmonious curves of the Toric Heritage case, as all other Parmigiani Fleurier timepieces, are inspired by the Golden Ratio and its links to the famous Fibonacci sequence. Mysteriously harmonious as well as rigorously mathematical, the Golden Ratio is often seen in art such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and Mondrian’s “Composition in Red, Yellow, and Blue,” and in iconic architecture such as Egypt’s Great Pyramids.
Its case, in polished steel, takes its inspiration from ancient Greek columns and from a pointed shell Michel found on a beach in Malaysia, with hand-done knurling and doubly alternating gadroons embellishing its curved contours, creating an optical illusion of great delicacy. Every aspect of the watch design is rooted in this ancient rule- the relationship between the hands, the fluted angles in the crown, the length to width ratios, the rate of curvature of the lugs as they taper away from the case, even the case-back design and placement of the sapphire crystal.
“When I was little, my father would say to me: ‘If you learn to look, art will reveal itself.’ The expression has always stayed with me. Art is everywhere around us in nature. It is there in the tiniest of details and in the magnificent structures built by our ancestors.”
Also taking inspiration from his lifetime devotion to architectural principles is the blue dial, adorned with a radiating Grain d’Orge guilloché. This organic pattern, derived from the sprouting of barley, is inspired by one of the many examples of the presence in the natural world of the Fibonacci sequence, the scientific and mathematical principle devised by Italian Leonardo Fibonacci, which maintains elegant balance in nature much as the Golden Ratio determines the proportions of everything from atoms to celestial bodies.
Displaying the time on the vibrant dial are the open-worked javelin hands that are emblematic of the Toric collection and inspired by the Greek goddess Athena’s spear. The applied hour numerals, in a lilting, graceful Hindu-Arabic font, are white gold and coated in rhodium. The date is indicated in a curved aperture at 6 o’clock. History, art and nature permeate this Toric Heritage timepiece.
Also attesting to Michel Parmigiani’s dedication to both artistry and precision is the movement, the COSC-certified Parmigiani Fleurier in-house Caliber PF441. It meets the most stringent standards for accuracy and reliability partly in thanks to its use of variable inertia balance which ensures long term stability, greater shock resistance, and much less sensitivity to the watch wearing position for optimal isochronism. This robust constancy is reinforced by the double barrel which allows for a more stable and linear distribution of energy than with the single barrel generally found at the heart of a traditional watch mechanism. This impressive movement results in a 55-hour power reserve beating at a brisk 28,800-vph frequency.
Its haute horlogerie decorations include Côtes de Genève stripes, polished angles, circular-graining, spiral-wound, and circular-graining on the plates alone. Additionally, all seven bridges (Timer, combined, gear, balance, intermediate, anchor and date bridges) are hand beveled. Finally, the solid rose gold oscillating weight features the same Grain d’Orge guilloché engraving seen on the dial.
The self-winding caliber, and the watch that it brings to life, are the product of the five expert ateliers that form the Parmigiani Fleurier Watchmaking Hub. From the screws to the mainspring to the dial and case, every element of a Parmigiani Fleurier timepiece springs to life from this collective of companies. The principle also applies to the Abyss Blue alligator strap, exclusively sourced from Hermès, a longtime partner of Parmigiani Fleurier.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Heritage is a limited edition of 70 pieces, each one a ticking tribute to Michel Parmigiani and his inestimable impact on the watch industry, which continues unabated, through the 21st Century and into the master watchmaker’s 71st year and beyond.