Parmigiani raises the performance bar in mechanical watchmaking with the Qualité Fleurier certification.
When brands talk about quality in watchmaking, they tend to rely on vague terms and ambiguous concepts that aren’t defined by any objective standards. Over the years, various watch certifications have endeavored to quantify quality, but none satisfied Michel Parmigiani, the founder of Parmigiani Fleurier.
Determined to find a better way, he helped spearhead an effort to create a certification program that would be open to all watches made in Switzerland, and would establish clear and rigorous guidelines for both aesthetics and performance.
“In 2002, I wanted to forge a uniform definition of the terms ‘high-end’ and ‘prestige’ watchmaking because it felt like the haute horlogerie standard was slowly going astray. This would have been damaging for the whole trade,” Parmigiani explains.
To address this, Parmigiani began discussing the idea with his friend Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who is the owner of Chopard, which is another luxury watch manufacture located in the village of Fleurier. “We asked: What is horological quality? What does the final customer expect? What conflicts may arise between the quest for quality and the requirements entailed by series production? Finally, how could this quality be certified in a manner that is credible for clients? These questions led us to defining the broad outlines of the QualitÃ© Fleurier certification,” he says.
It also led to the creation of the Fleurier Quality Foundation (FQF). This organization, which operates independently from the participating brands, has managed the process of earning the Qualité Fleurier certification from the very start.
The objective, Parmigiani says, was to take a more holistic approach to watch certification. “Our goal was to create the first certification that tested the watch as a whole, not only the movement — as is the case of the Geneva Seal. The focus was on every single component. Their aesthetics. How do they all interacted within the caliber? And, finally, how accurate is the watch over time when it’s worn? The result is the most stringent watchmaking certification in the world, even though this wasn’t what we set out to do, per se. All we wanted was to make sure that every aspect of the watch was tested.”
The Qualité Fleurier seal guarantees that a watch exhibits a high level of technical and aesthetic craftsmanship. To earn this prestigious distinction, every watch must meet five criteria.
The first relates to the watch’s provenance. Since 2012, the FQF has required all watches be designed, produced, assembled and tested entirely in Switzerland. This benchmark exceeds the requirements needed to earn the “Swiss Made” label. Some in the watch industry have criticized recent changes made to this well-known classification, which now only requires that 60% of a watch be made in Switzerland.
Parmigiani says limiting Qualité Fleurier certification to watches made 100% in Switzerland was an important distinction. “Switzerland has the oldest watchmaking tradition and know-how in the world. This goes to say that the quality of manufacturing is quite probably the finest and the most reliable that can be. Hence, the decision was made to tolerate no exception in the provenance of each component.”
AESTHETICS AND ACCURACY
Two key Qualité Fleurier requirements focus on the watch movement’s look and performance. Beginning with physical appearance, a caliber must be decorated by hand or with mechanical assistance, like the engine turning machine used to create guilloché. Next, movement components that can be seen when the caliber is assembled must be beveled, polished and — where possible — feature straight graining. Finally, the movement must be constructed using only precious and non-precious metals, high-tech ceramics, and other avant-garde materials; plastics are absolutely forbidden.
To guarantee a high-level of accuracy, the watch must be certified as a chronometer by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC). For more than 40 years, this independent Swiss organization has evaluated mechanical and quartz watch movements for their timekeeping precision.
COSC testing lasts about two weeks. During that time, an uncased watch movement’s performance is recorded in five different positions and at three different temperatures. To earn an official chronometer certificate, a mechanical caliber’s daily timekeeping rate must be accurate to within -4 seconds and +6 seconds per day.
After successful chronometer certification, the movement is cased up before undergoing the Chronofiable test, a thorough assessment of how watch performance is impacted when exposed to real-world situations.
Administered by an independent laboratory, the Chronofiable test includes exposure to water and magnetism, as well as a series of impacts that replicate normal shocks and knocks. Watches also undergo an aging cycle that’s comparable to being worn on the wrist for six months. In addition, Chronofiable evaluation includes push-and-pull tests on the stem and pushers to measure their resilience.
The final stage of Qualité Fleurier certification is the most demanding, and probably the most interesting to observe. It’s called the Fleuritest, which is a computer-controlled robot that’s programmed to mimic the kinds of three-dimensional movements a watch experiences in a typical day on the wrist. The machine was created specifically for the Qualité Fleurier certification and is the only one of its kind being used in the watchmaking world.
“After we had established that testing watches in real-life conditions was a crucial part of the process, we set out to find engineers who would develop the Fleuritest machine. It took two years of R&D before we finished the machine in 2004,”Parmigiani says.
For the test, a completed watch spends 24 hours on the Fleuritest simulator as it recreates physical actions — like getting dressed and opening doors — as well as periods of low-impact movement like working at a desk. To pass the Fleuritest, the watch’s timekeeping rate must be accurate to within 0 to +5 seconds each day.
Since 2013, the Fleuritest machine has been open to any brand that wishes to test the accuracy of its watches without having to go through the other criteria of the full certification process. Parmigiani says, “This means that the quest for quality that lies at the heart of the Qualité Fleurier project can shine further than ever.”
Parmigiani Fleurier only releases a few Qualité Fleurier-certified watches each year. Each one represents the pinnacle of mechanical horology and emphatically underscores the company’s determination to continue pushing the boundaries of excellence in watchmaking.
Click here to view the Parmigiani Fleurier collection online at Cellini Jewelers.