MICHEL PARMI­GIANI

World of Watches (Singapore) - - Re­ports -

Cir­cum­stances can rarely be dic­tated, but one can cer­tainly re­act to them ap­pro­pri­ately. When Michel Parmi­giani com­pleted his watch­mak­ing train­ing at the La Chaux-de­fonds Tech­nicum, the Quartz Cri­sis was just be­gin­ning. The 1970s still saw his ca­reer pro­gress­ing in leaps and bounds though, with stints at var­i­ous tech­ni­cal de­part­ments and a grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion in restora­tion work. De­spite the dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment, Parmi­giani took a risk and went solo at the peak of the cri­sis in 1976, and was ap­pointed the of­fi­cial re­storer for the San­doz Fam­ily Foun­da­tion’s col­lec­tion of vin­tage time­pieces in 1980. Th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences cul­mi­nated in the found­ing of his own brand two decades ago, and con­tinue to in­flu­ence Parmi­giani and his de­ci­sions as the helms­man of Parmi­giani Fleurier to­day. Do not be mis­taken though, for all of Parmi­giani’s ground­ing in restora­tion work and tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing, the man­u­fac­ture is no stranger to cut­ting-edge de­signs and tech­nol­ogy. Just look at its var­i­ous avant-garde Bu­gatti time­pieces, or its en­tirely new Sen­fine es­cape­ment that’s still un­der de­vel­op­ment.

NAT­U­RAL SE­LEC­TION

“Look­ing back, the Quartz Cri­sis was like a fil­ter – the as­pects of tra­di­tional me­chan­i­cal watch­mak­ing that made it through that pe­riod emerged with much more pres­tige than be­fore, as per­cep­tions to­wards the in­dus­try changed. The magic about me­chan­i­cal move­ments be­came stronger, and for the in­dus­try, it felt like some­one had over­come a great chal­lenge and emerged… en­no­bled. That hap­pens in any in­dus­try when­ever there is a shake-up, as only the cream of the crop sur­vives. Be­fore that? Things were go­ing too well, and the qual­ity of watch­mak­ing suf­fered.”

ON BE­ING A CON­TRAR­IAN

“The most ex­cit­ing pe­riod of my ca­reer started in 1975, when I set out on my solo watch­mak­ing ca­reer. I was walk­ing far off the beaten track, con­sid­er­ing how the en­tire in­dus­try was be­ing rocked by the Quartz Cri­sis, and ev­ery­one around me was telling me not to strike out on my own, as most peo­ple didn’t be­lieve in the fu­ture of me­chan­i­cal watch­mak­ing then. I had, how­ever, been do­ing restora­tion work, and it gave me the courage to go ahead with my plans. I was sure that the me­chan­i­cal won­ders I had en­coun­tered wouldn’t sim­ply dis­ap­pear or be­come ir­rel­e­vant just be­cause of the quartz move­ment. Luck­ily, I was right.”

THE HOME RUN

“Two things stand out to me as I look back at my ca­reer. The first is found­ing this watch brand 20 years ago, with my name on it. The sec­ond isn’t de­fined by a sin­gle mo­ment, but con­cerns how I have worked over the years to de­fine what Parmi­giani Fleurier stands for when it comes to watch­mak­ing. Noth­ing has been com­pro­mised in all th­ese years, and this was some­thing that I learnt from my restora­tion work. I’m proud to say that I have kept to a stan­dard for ev­ery sin­gle time­piece bear­ing my name that will, hope­fully, be the bench­mark for watch­mak­ing in the years and decades to come.”

HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED

“Thirty years ago, there was much more at­ten­tion paid to fin­ish­ing a move­ment, right down to its tini­est de­tails. That’s some­thing that’s be­come quite rare in the in­dus­try to­day. I’m try­ing to sus­tain this be­cause I be­lieve that a watch is as much a dec­o­ra­tive ob­ject as it is a time-telling one. We must never lose sight of this. Any­one can check the time with his phone, but the beauty of watch­mak­ing lies in its de­tails.”

MAIN­TAIN­ING FOR­WARD MO­MEN­TUM

“It’s very im­por­tant for a watch man­u­fac­ture to main­tain tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment, what­ever the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. The pro­duc­tion phase of a watch – whether to in­tro­duce a new model or com­pli­ca­tion – is greatly in­flu­enced by the econ­omy, but R&D must be con­sis­tent be­cause things can­not hap­pen overnight if the mar­ket were to sud­denly be­come favourable. The in­te­grated chrono­graph that we pre­sented this year, for ex­am­ple, took eight years to de­velop. Look at how the econ­omy has changed greatly, and so many times at that, in this pe­riod. We are look­ing at very dif­fer­ent time frames, and it has served us well to keep our ef­forts con­sis­tent.”

The Tonda Chronor An­niver­saire has an in-house in­te­grated split-sec­onds chrono­graph move­ment

The new Sen­fine move­ment with an ul­tra-high fre­quency, low am­pli­tude bal­ance, and a 45-day power re­serve that’s still in­creas­ing

Parmi­giani Fleurier still main­tains a work­shop with three watch­mak­ers solely de­voted to restora­tion work

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