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.