We take a closer look at Parmigiani, a premium watch brand which flies under the radar despite some impressive endorsements...
It might not quite have the historical longevity or the global recognition of some of its watchmaking contemporaries but make no mistake, Parmigiani Fleurier is rightly regarded as one of the finest luxury watch brands in the market today. And while the company deliberately keeps a low profile, some of the names they supply are very well-known indeed.Founded in 1996 by Michel Parmigiani, the company’s origins stem back to the 1970s, when Michel began restoring antique watches amid the quartz crisis.
The beauty of the brand lies in its niche qualities, so owning one is a bit like being a member of an exclusive club. It’s a little-known brand among the general public, but for watch afficionados, it’s something of a well-kept (and jealously-guarded) secret.
Michel was originally a widely appreciated watch restorer: so much so that he gained several high-quality clients – including Patek Philippe – who would specifically request Parmigiani’s services.
One other of these important clients was the Sandoz Family Foundation (a pharmaceutical firm in Switzerland) which would go on to become an important business partner for Parmigiani Fleurier throughout the next 40 years.
Parmigiani worked with the Sandoz Family Foundation in the 1980s and was helped by the foundation to secure the finances to formally set up Parmigiani Fleurier watches. Since then, the trajectory for Parmigiani Fleurier has gone only one way: upwards.
Independence as a watch brand
Three years after the company was founded, Parmigiani Fleurier launched its first watch as an independent brand: the highly decorative multi-step bezel Toric QP Retrograde. This was quickly followed by the somewhat unorthodox Kalpa Hebdomadaire, with a shaped movement. Because is what Parmigiani is all about: pushing new boundaries.
Although Parmigiani Fleurier is still a relatively small watchmaker, it benefitted from a number of acquisitions that helped establish it at the cutting-edge of technology, thanks to investment from the Sandoz Family Foundation, starting in 2000.
In the last 20 years, the company has acquired watch movement gear firm MBBS (renaming it Atokalpa), case makers Les Artisans Boitiers, bar tuning machine manufacturers Elwins, movement makers Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, as well as dial makers Quadrance et Habillage.
These formidable acquisitions have made Parmigiani Fleurier the company it is today: a technical tour de force. Without this important business expansion, it is likely that the brand would not have been able to stick to its modus operandi of today – which is producing up to 90% of all its products in-house.
‘Swiss watchmaking’ as a concept is often a bit of a myth, but Parmigiani is one of the very few that has remained true to that ideal. Only the crystals and Hermes straps aren’t made in-house. Parmigiani Fleurier’s business structure is often likened to Rolex, but on a much smaller and bespoke scale, so it’s easy to see why this way of production is working so successfully for them.
The royal seal of approval
And in terms of marketing and sales for the Swiss watchmaking manufacturer, there can be no bigger client and endorsement than a bone fide British Royal Family member. When HRH Prince Charles attended the wedding of his son Prince Harry to Meghan Markle in 2018, he was spotted wearing a rare Parmigiani Fleurier watch that appears to have been purchased from close to the Parmigiani headquarters in the Prattigau region of Switzerland.
The Toric watch he wore, an elegant 39mm in diameter, features three sub dials, blue hands, and a date window as well as a trademark ridged double bezel. It was most likely bought from the Maissen Klosters AG boutique – a skiing resort that Charles was known to hang out in – which is an official seller of Parmigiani Fleurier watches. Although the model HRH Prince Charles wore is no longer available, there are plenty of other stunning Torics to choose from.
Although Parmigiani Fleurier has its roots very much linked to the vintage and antique watch style, the company recognises the need to adapt to the modern market and is developing an array of simpler, commercially-driven models – for instance the motorsport inspired Bugatti timepiece – to appeal to a different type of watch customer.
Among its collections are the Toric and Kalpa range, which continue to prove the most popular timepieces within the Parmigiani Fleurier brand. There’s also the Tonda, with its integrated chronograph movement, as well as a number of sought-after limited editions, with a series of eye-catching complications.
The price isn’t quite ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’ territory, but it’s reassuringly expensive, while still representing a lot of value if you consider the complexity of engineering that has gone into each piece.
And while other brands such as Patek Philippe, Rolex or Blancpain may have much bigger followings, it’s perhaps the real watch enthusiast who appreciates the true marvel of Parmigiani Fleurier – where timeless design meets state-of-the-art know-how. As Michel Parmigiani himself said: “The permanence of my creations continues to be my greatest dream.”
Where to find them
You have to seek out a Parmigiani, just as it should be. But one excellent place to look is the Kendal-based Remontoire 68 firm, owned by Stephen Lee. Stephen represents a number of luxury brands, but it’s clear that Parmigiani is especially close to his heart. “They’re just phenomenally made watches; absolutely extraordinary for their innovation and attention to detail,” is how he sums it up. “They keep a low profile, but that’s the way they like it. The fact that they’re supplying some of the very top names and companies in the world of watchmaking just underlines their stellar reputation.”
Michel Parmigiani, now in his 70s, is still at the helm of the company that bears his name, his passion and enthusiasm entirely undiminished. Stephen has actually met him, describing him as an “incredible person.”
But the best way to find out more is to look at these stunning watches yourself. We’ll be featuring extra content about them in the coming months, but in the meantime, be sure to check out the Parmigiani website and Remontoire 68.