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With its reimagined Kalpa collection, Parmigiani Fleurier introduces a new generation of collectors to an old standby of Hollywood’s leading men: the tonneau-shaped dress watch.
It is rarely absent from any list of the greatest films ever made, but Casablanca seems to possess few of the qualities considered mandatory in any modern production. The budget was minimal, the sets sparse. There is physical violence and passion, yet the quantities of both can seem sub-theraputic to any viewer raised on the bikinis-and-explosions style known—in its most enthusiastic excesses—as “Bay-hem” after the director who perfected it.
What, then, is the secret of Casablanca’s enduring appeal? Only this: glamour, in its purest form. We see it in the peerless, refined beauty of Ingrid Bergman, in a Morocco rendered alternately as unspeakably vital and irredeemably louche. Most of all, we see it in the world-weary Arctic cool of Humphrey Bogart’s idealist turned restaurateur, the man who “stuck his neck out for nobody”—until, that is, the right (or wrong, depending on your viewpoint) somebody walked into his gin joint. Not a gentleman in the traditional sense of the term, he nonetheless is to the manor born in shawl collars, Burberry coat, and carelessly tilted fedora. On his wrist, a tonneau-shaped wristwatch with no pretense of sport or military use, and an unashamed focus on form over function.
Our decidedly glamour-free current era, in which volume serves in place of virtue everywhere from Hollywood to Instagram, has been decidedly unkind to the dress watch in general, and the tonneau-shaped dress watch in particular. If there are any expatriate-owned bars placed daringly at the crossroads of violently-contested war zones nowadays, their owners are probably wearing chunky dive watches or aviation-themed behemoths. Not to say there isn’t a market for a watch that remixes Hollywood glamour with haute horlogerie; it simply means that any potential player in that market will have to clear a higher bar than the ones that guard entrances elsewhere.
Enter Parmigiani Fleurier, a Swiss outfit that finds itself in dire need of an unmet challenge. No stranger to the timekeeping equivalent of Bay-hem—the most outlandish watchmakers often source components from Parmigiani’s five distinct factories and workshops—the company, and its founder, Michel Parmigiani, are equally versed in the rarer art of the non-sporting men’s watch. Having accomplished everything from a sub-four-millimeter self-winding tourbillon to pantograph-articulation hands, Mr. Parmigiani has set his sights on something at once simple and murderously difficult: re-engineering the tonneau for modern wear.
Two decades after the debut of his first shaped movement, the award-winning PF110, we have the new Kalpa collection. It consists of four pieces: the Hebdomadaire, the Qualité Fleurier, the Chronor, and the Chronomètre. Each casts a tonneau shadow befitting Bogart and his contemporaries, introducing the subtle felicities of a curved rectilinear case to a generation rarely exposed to anything beyond the dull, heavy pressure of the bathysphere-thick diver.
“I set out,” says Mr. Parmigiani, “with the ambition to create a watch that was comfortable and ergonomic for all wrists… I wanted to create a piece whose dimensions were as universal as possible. I was also keen that the watch should be felt comfortably when the opposite hand was placed on the wrist… You can hardly feel the watch, yet it’s most certainly there!”
To that end, there is hardly a straight line to be found on the timepiece, with the lugs emerging almost organically as ovalized protrusions at each corner, and bending to follow the contours of a human wrist. As a result, the Kalpa makes a notable amount of contact with the wearer’s body. All the better to lighten the weight from cases rendered in precious rose and red gold. For the flagship Kalpa Chronor, mass does increase, albeit courtesy of the world’s first solid-gold integrated self-winding chronograph movement. As with each of the four Kalpa models, the caliber itself mimics the shape and proportions of the enclosing case. Here, Mr. Parmigiani does not mince words: “When you consider the horological masterpieces of the past, you never find any discordance between a movement and its case.”
Manual-wind enthusiasts and long-term fans of the brand will adore the radical Hebdomadaire, with its power-reserve indicator occupying a sort of alcove above an oval inset dial. Meanwhile, the Qualité Fleurier offers a self-winding mechanism and the collection’s subtle visual presentation, its time-and-date-only dial and Hermès alligator strap a lesson in striking restraint. Both are sized at approximately 42 x 32 mm, while the Chronomètre is larger, at 48 x 40 mm. The latter is perhaps at once the most conventional-looking piece in the lineup and the most handsome. It nestles a 36,000 vph column-wheel chronograph movement (code name PF362) behind a deep sapphire-blue face, with luminescent hands and a three-numeral date indicator. The modest water-resistance rating of 30 meters, a deliberate choice by Mr. Parmigiani, is sure to bring smiles to the faces of cognoscenti, as will the heavily engraved 22-karat rotor, shining brilliantly through the sapphire backing.
Parmigiani Fleurier is venerated as being a complete manufacture, among the few to spring from the imagination of a single man in recent times. So the introduction of four mechanically diverse watches at the same time amounts to nothing less than a tour de force—particularly given the intense challenges involved in creating a solid-gold movement to modern standards of durability and accuracy. At the same time, an extremely limited scope of production (the Chronor is limited to 50 pieces, and the entire Kalpa remains statistically nonexistent when considered against traditional, mainstream luxury watchmakers) will restrict the possibility of ownership to those customers who possess the nontrivial quantities of both liquidity and perspicacity. The man in the street might scoff at the lack of a rotating bezel or crown guard. But those who know—will know.
In a perfectly romantic world, these four Kalpa models would easily and naturally make their way to the ones who know, to adorn their wrists as they pursue affairs of the heart or participate in matters of international intrigue. But progress must be recognized. Keeping pace in the era of liquid-crystal afflictions, Parmigiani has also created a KALPA smartphone application, which promises an immersive, augmented-reality retail experience. The prospective buyer can “unlock the mysteries” of the new pieces by scanning photographs that appear on the Parmigiani website. It’s a neat trick, but if you can manage it, try meeting the collection in person. Because if the new Kalpa watches disappear from boutiques and you haven’t tried one, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
About the photographer:Junichi Ito was born and raised in Tokyo. Based in New York since 2005, he has photographed major commercial campaigns for Armani, Barneys, Estée Lauder, Moët & Chandon, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret. He has also shot original editorial content for Allure, Fast Company, Real Simple, Vogue Japan, and Wallpaper. His Instagram is a must-follow.
The backstory is the stuff of horological legend. In the mid 1970s, as the Swiss watch industry teetered on the brink of collapse, Michel Parmigiani decided that somebody should be protecting the country’s old-world relics. The finicky pocket watches and fragile objéts d’art seemed particularly precious and vulnerable. So he opened a workshop in Fleurier, Switzerland, and he started fixing them.
The move proved cathartic—“Restoring antique timepieces saved me from nihilism,” Parmigiani says—and it allowed him to amass a singular wealth of knowledge. Partial backing from the Sandoz Family Foundation, an artistic-leaning venture capitalist outfit, turned Parmigiani’s once-modest operation into a full-blown manufacture, dubbed Parmigiani Fleurier, in 1996. The brand’s first in-house movement was rolled out two years later.
Known as PF110, the inaugural calibre was a manual-winding marvel, brimming with artisan details and boasting an epic eight-day power reserve. Watch nerds swooned. Collectors did the same when the movement debuted inside Parmigiani Fleurier’s flagship wristwatch, the Kalpa, in 2001.
This year, that iconic piece will enjoy a renaissance of sorts, as the company introduces three new creations under the Kapla banner. Each offers a clever reimagining of the original watch’s signature styling, incorporating the classic tonneau-shaped case and teardrop-shaped lugs. The Kalpa Hebdomadaire even uses an updated version of that original PF110 movement, making it a surefire hit with brand devotees.
On the eve of its premiere, we sat down with Michel Parmigiani to discuss the virtues of independence, finding inspiration in Southeast Asia, and the future of his namesake manufacture.
You’ve spent your life making and restoring luxury watches. What keeps you going?
Curiosity. Curiosity, and the desire to discover this noble work.
Why is it noble?
It’s a vocation that requires mastery of your own hands, mastery of your actions. And before you can do that, you must first master your mind. It is a life discipline, similar to that of a surgeon. One must learn how to use tools, while maintaining complete control over them.
I’ve read that you initially wanted to be an architect. Is this true?
Architecture has always captivated me—building houses and bridges, the ability to measure and produce a certain form. It is a source of inexhaustible inspiration, and horology is very similar. At first, I really hesitated between these two professions. But there was a watchmaking school fifteen minutes from my place in Fleurier. So I enrolled there.
You launched your brand in 1996. The watch world was a very different place then—we barely had the internet. What’s different now?
The simple parts of watchmaking have become industrialized, and computers certainly help us achieve more, and more rapidly. But in the end, a fine luxury watch must still be made by hand. Take our 1950 Tourbillon, for example. Its creation requires a very high-end process that we’ve been developing for twenty years. You need both machines and experienced watchmakers to deliver it. There is no other way to compose this work of art but by patience and experience.
Why did you choose the Toric Memory Time as your debut watch?
Before we launched, I was walking on a beach in Malaysia and picked up a shell with a striking shape. It was thick in front, but if you turned it just forty-five degrees, it gave the impression of being very thin. I said to myself, When I launch my first watch, I’m going to capture this optical illusion. Toric Memory Time also displays a second time zone for travelers. For the launch, it was important to demonstrate my know-how, my savoir faire. This watch is particularly complex, and I’ve been developing different models of it ever since.
Back in 2011, you created a movement based on the Hijri Calendar, which tracks the lunar cycles of the Islamic year. Why did that interest you?
The moon has great importance in our lives, and we don’t pay much attention to it. So I wanted to create a perpetual lunar calendar, which meant I had to be able to measure it. The lunar year is faster than the solar year, with difference of about eleven days. It’s not religious symbolism. It’s a scientific instrument that depicts the lunar cycle in mechanical form. When you look at it, you can see the days, months, and years of the moon.
This took years to develop. Did your colleagues call you crazy?
I’ve always been considered crazy for doing this job in the first place! When I started in watchmaking, the industry was in a quartz crisis. But, for me, it is very important to develop new projects and new ways of thinking—which allows the industry to evolve.
You also spent a great deal of time restoring a 200-year-old gold-and-pearl pistol that fires a chirping mechanical bird. Why?
It wasn’t working. Before launching my brand, I was known for restoring old timepieces, including pocket watches. When you see what has been created in the past, it’s very humbling. As for the pistol, and it took a year and a half to restore. I ended up restoring three of them for our collection.
The world’s top watchmakers enlist your company—which employs roughly 400 watchmakers, in five separate manufacturing houses—to make parts for their products. How do you explain what sets you apart?
We’re masters of the tools we use. We’re nimble, efficient, and a hundred percent Swiss-made. Not many houses can say that.
How do you see Parmigiani Fleurier evolving?
We don’t plan to buy anything, or expand. We just want to make beautiful mechanical watches and remain independent. Over the past twenty years, we’ve invested in a strong staff that has truly mastered the tourbillon and chronograph. Of course, we won’t stop there. For me, it’s simple: I want to break the rules and making something you cannot find anywhere else.
Behind the scenes at one of the year’s finest collector events.
On Thursday, November 30th, Watch Journal celebrated Parmigiani Fleurier with an exclusive collector dinner taking place at the glamorous La Cava restaurant located at Faena Hotel Miami Beach.
Hosted by Ruggero Mango, the General Manager of Parmigiani Americas, and Stephen Watson, Editor-in-Chief of Watch Journal, the intimate dinner party brought together an elite group of watch experts and aficionados to view highlights from the recent Parmigiani collections.
“During the SIHH watch fair in Geneva, Michel Parmigiani always reveals something special he’s been working on, a heavily jeweled table clock or a magically animated automaton, and you realize what a rare and special brand Parmigiani is,” says Watson.
The warm Florida evening brought about a relaxed, tropical vibe, as Ruggero Mango made everyone feel at home by welcoming the guests to become part of the extended Parmigiani family.
On hand to view these special pieces: Prince Percia Piétrolungo, CEO of OWN Realty/OWN Financial; Jack Yeaton, CEO of the Yeaton Group; and collectors Matt Goren, Pat Gibson, David Hayes, and John Scarlatos.