Parmigiani Fleurier watches are manufactured by Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier (“VMF”), both of which are owned by the Sandoz Family Foundation.
From the outset, VMF was keen to point out just how transparent they are in terms of production numbers. The first Parmigiani piece was numbered 1950, the year in which their founder, Michel Parmigiani, was born, and each piece created after that is numbered consecutively. They currently produce around 3,000 pieces per year and, whilst clearly this is a business and therefore financial considerations are important, currently do not believe production will expand to much more than 4,000 a year. Given the numbers behemoths of the industry such as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe make, such an attitude is commendable.
It is also important to realise that, like Bovet (and their manufacturer Dimier) for example, Parmigiani with VMF is one of the few manufacturers that creates all their components, other than the main spring. This means when you buy one of their watches, it really is one of theirs, not a hotch potch of pieces from other companies assembled by them. What is also key is it uses precious metal to create parts of the movement, including the baseplate. Initially the idea came from a good client who queried why, if they were buying a gold watch, why what really mattered was not also in that material; after all, it’s what’s inside that counts! And so Parmigiani went to work, illustrating the flexibility of a smaller manufacturer to take on its client’s feedback compared to much larger, commercial operations.
Adding to this, the important details such as hand finishing have not been lost; just one of their guilloché’d dials takes an entire day to make and, depending on the model, this single component can attribute to up to one tenth of the cost of the watch. Just think about that.
The Bugatti watch
Whilst there I was fortunate to view the design of the movement for the brand’s Bugatti timepiece, a collaboration that came about as a result of Michel Parmigiani’s visit to the Bugatti factory in 2004. Having approached them requesting to view their facilities they started talking and, as a result, the Parmigiani Bugatti was born; a truly exceptional timepiece. As an evolution of this watch, Parmigiani created a spectacular version cased in sapphire crystal, which was showcased at SIHH 2019.
Parmigiani’s Jewel – Restoration
The facilities were, of course, incredible, but the real highlight was visiting what I consider to be the jewel in Parmigiani’s crown, their restoration centre. They are one of the few company’s that restore your timepiece, regardless of the brand. Given their roots this is perhaps unsurprising, but it was fantastic to hear they have stayed true to them. What it also meant was I was able to witness something truly magical.
I was shown an automaton from the early 19th century; a cigarette holder which, when wound and a button clicked, transformed into a thing of precise, delicate beauty. Just watch the video below. I would defy anyone to not be astounded by the craftsmanship, whether it had been manufactured in 2019, let alone in the early 1800’s.
Lastly, before making our way to the Parmigiani house to sit down and examine their newest creations, I was shown the maison’s latest 2,400,000 CHF automaton, the Hippologia. This “takes the form of the noble Arabian thoroughbred, the desert horse prized for its courage and endurance… a solid gold statue of a mare running with her foal. Silent yet larger than life, they move inside an oval glass cabinet representing the desert and its dunes, created by glassware specialist Lalique.” A breathtakingly elegant piece of horological art that, in their words will at some day, “be given to a royal family…” When they finally decide to give this beautiful piece of engineering away, whoever receives it will be truly honoured.
I cannot extend sufficient gratitude to Parmigiani Fleurier for their hospitality and to Pietro of The Limited Edition for organising the visit. Make sure you check out his website and, if you decide to purchase one of the beautiful watches he sells, please do mention The Peaked Lapel!