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The Wonderful new Tonda PF Range has made Parmigiani Cool For the First Time
June 16, 2023 admin

ABOVE: The former president of Bulgari Horlogerie has successfully turned sales around for Parmigiani Fleurier since he took over in 2021.

Legacy is everything in the world of watches. Just look at the world’s most coveted sportswatches – the Submariner by Rolex, the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet, and the Nautilus by Patek Philippe – they were all created more than 50 years ago and even if they’ve evolved over the years, they’ve all, without exception, kept faithful to their original forms. Countless brands have tried to take a page from this playbook over the years, but, Guido Terreni, the CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier has reminded us that not only is brand legacy as important as product legacy but it’s still possible to make an iconic watch in the social age. And that’s exactly what he has done with the Tonda PF.

Parmigiani was founded in 1996 by Michel Parmigiani, who himself had been in the business of restoring watches and clocks for more than two decades prior. “The Parmigiani brand starts first and foremost with Michel Parmigiani,” Terreni tells us during an exclusive interview on the side-lines of the latest Watches & Wonders fair in March. “Being a world-class restorationist is a big deal not just culturally, because you must know everything, but from a craft perspective too, because you must master the many different techniques of each era. That gave the Parmigiani brand a deep, deep knowledge. But there’s another, equally important aspect to Michel’s restoration work: all this know-how needed to remain invisible, as it had to remain hidden behind someone’s else’s creation. I believe it is these two founding values – know-how and humility – that make Parmigiani Fleurier what it is today.”

Unfortunately, even if the brand boasted some of the industry’s greatest watchmaking know-how – and an enviable level of vertical integration (as, rather unusually, Parmigiani makes every component in-house, meaning everything from its own cases, movements, hands, and dials, to gears, hairsprings and escapements, right down to the screws that hold each watch together) – they never had a wildly popular model. This lack of desirability, according to Terreni, was the consequence of some historically confusing design. So, Terreni’s first move when he joined in January 2021, was to distil the brand back to its essence. “When you’re in the middle of an unprecedented moment [many countries around the world were going into a second lockdown], you aren’t thinking ‘how can I add 20 per cent?’ Rather, you have time to ponder over much more profound matters. For example, I asked the design team what they thought the design codes of the brand were and they came back to me after two days to talk about movements. It was clear there was a conflict between technical watchmaking and aesthetic brand-building, and I needed to merge the two.”

ABOVE: Like Parmigiani itself, the complexity of this year’s Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante is downplayed. Using a rattrapante hand, which is something you’d normally associate with chronographs, the wearer can set the indicator in one minute or five minute increments using the pushers on the left. Then, when they don’t need a reminder, they just press the gold button on the right and the gold hand disappears behind the regular minute hand. Smart, right? And the joy won’t fade, as Terreni affirms, “We are cool today but I believe we can remain cool 20 years from now and that comes from the purity of the idea first and foremost.”

Terreni, who had previously been at the helm of Bulgari when they launched the very successful Octo Finissimo, is clearly not someone who lacks conviction and he decided there and then to cancel Parmigiani’s entire product pipeline and re-focus the company’s energies into a single product. It would be a sportswatch with an integrated bracelet but one that marked multiple changes. First and foremost, the name Parmigiani was to be removed from the dial. Instead, Terreni wanted the brand to use an emblem that Michel Parmigiani would use as a seal. Why? Because apparently Terreni knew he was appealing to a discrete customer, and he also admits to having always thought that “a black horse on a yellow background is more evocative than spelling it out.” As he puts it, “You don’t need to write Ferrari on a Ferrari.”

In the end the watch that he created – the Tonda PF – is as gorgeous as it is understated. But it’s a steel integrated bracelet sportswatch with a guilloché dial, what’s the big deal, you might ask? The answer is it’s all about the details. First and foremost, the proportions are spot on. There are no visible screws on the bezel, instead, it’s been beautifully hand knurled. The guilloché mico-engraving on the dial is so small it’s actually more of a texture than a pattern. The dials come in Corbusier-esque colours that are restrained but never simple, and they feature two levels to them with the outermost edge featuring a minute scale that’s sunken a step below the guilloché level. The sapphire glass has an anti-reflective treatment on both sides. The lugs have a fabulous tear-drop shape to them, and the bracelet is remarkably comfortable.

“Luxury is becoming more mainstream for the simple fact that it’s getting bigger and bigger,” continues Terreni. “As a result, there’s a convergence of tastes on fewer brands and fewer products, and this creates a counter trend of people who are on the edge of luxury, on the edge of watchmaking, who say ‘I want something anti-mainstream, I want something that nobody else wants, I want something that speaks to me’ and that’s what the Tonda PF represents.”

And, though it started as a single watch model in 2021, the Tonda PF now has a range, and Parmigiani has bestowed upon it a uniquely characterful take on all the classics: there’s a GMT with a rattrapante hand (rather than a swivelling bezel), a chronograph, an annual calendar, a flying tourbillon and, this year, they revealed a “scuba or submariner” with, yes, you guessed it, a rattrapante hand, rather than a swivelling bezel (as shown above).

“How do I interest an edgy client?” adds Terreni rhetorically. “The answer is by surprising them every year with something unexpected but consistent. Our sales today cannot be compared to what they were in 2020,” he concludes. “Most of our customers are new to the brand and the age of those customers has been reduced enormously to primarily 30s and 40s. We are achieving that through a style that is fresh, even to those with cultivated tastes.”