Michel Parmigiani began his career in watchmaking in the 1970s—not exactly an ideal time for the Swiss watch industry. The “Quartz Crisis“ was in full swing in 1976, as he completed seven years of watchmaking study in Fleurier, Switzerland. So Parmigiani purveyed his passion for watchmaking into a flourishing business of restoration, focusing on special timepieces including automatons, minute repeaters, and antique pieces. “The understanding of watchmaking heritage allowed me to discover wonderful objects especially in the restoration of those pieces,” says Parmigiani, founder and president of Parmigiani Fleurier. Repairing antique pieces “… is a great experience that gives you the understanding of the savoir faire [of the early years of watchmaking], and it is a lesson of humility to look at what was made then and what is done now, especially when you consider the tools that were available.”
Says Parmigiani, “Only if you take the time to dissect and examine these pieces can you understand the technique and learn from them. The technique was beautiful. There was perfect coherence of what is inside and what is outside. The beauty of both. That is what was spectacular. Movements were engraved and decorated even though nobody ever saw them, they were [completely] hidden. It’s a love of what is inside and out. Which is not always in line with profit and the bottom line … People come to the factory and ask, why do you decorate the back of the dial? Because we have to.”
Parmigiani’s restoration claim to fame? A Breguet Pendule Sympathique tabletop clock that Sotheby’s had declared unrepairable. The clock was comprised of a master table clock with a pocket watch on top that was removable. The owner could take the pocket watch with him during the day and then place it on the clock, where it would be automatically synchronized with the clock’s time (if necessary) and rewound. “You put the pocket watch on top of the clock and the watch is wound and reset by the clock,” Parmigiani explains. “Mechanically, the watch gets the rewinding and resetting if needed. The two are in communication sympathetically. It took one year and over 2000 hours to repair, and Sotheby’s came and they couldn’t believe I had done it.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Parmigiani is celebrating 20 years at the helm of his eponymous manufacture. He was originally making pieces privately for certain brands and for private clients with high complications. That’s when the president of the Sandoz foundation, Pierre Landolt—already a customer for restoration—approached Parmigiani about starting his own brand.
Michel Parmigiani has created no less than 33 proprietary movements since opening his doors, and he shows no signs of slowing down. For this year’s 20th anniversary, Parmigiani has created his first-ever integrated chronograph movement. The Tonda Chronor Anniversaire’s movement, crafted in 18-karat rose gold, features Michel Parmigiani’s signature on the barrel. Bravo.—Hyla Bauer