December 2022 20 Min Read

A Collector’s Guide: Early Parmigiani Fleurier

By Kwan Ann Tan

Straddling the borders of independent and larger-scale watchmaking, Parmigiani Fleurier has often been overlooked, and is only discussed in select collecting circles. Officially created by Michel Parmigiani in 1996, the brand itself is young, and in its earliest days held a strong connection to traditional watchmaking, backed by Parmigiani’s work in restoration before beginning his own brand.

The earliest pieces produced by Parmigiani Fleurier are characterised by elegant styling, influenced by various concepts introduced during the Hellenistic period, such as the golden ratio and Greek columns. Through the generous backing of the Sandoz Family Foundation in a form of a patron-artist relationship, Parmigiani Fleurier were able to create a clear, coherent aesthetic that stayed true to their artistic spirit without compromise.

Over the years, Parmigiani Fleurier watches have been a steady presence on the scene, due to factors such as the fact that King Charles III has been seen wearing an early automatic Toric Chronograph, which he purchased between the late 1990s and the early 2000s at the Klosters resort in Switzerland. The popularity of the current Parmigiani Fleurier catalogue has also increased interest in the brand’s earlier offerings, broadening collectors’ appreciation for these characterful watches.

Michel Parmigiani when we caught him at the 2022 Geneva Watch Days.

Michel Parmigiani when we caught up with him at Watches and Wonders 2022.

Even today, however, Parmigiani’s earliest pieces, such as those created between the period of 1996 to the early 2000s, remain elusive and difficult to find, with few coming up for auction or sold publicly. In this collector’s guide, we piece together a picture of the beginnings of the Parmigiani Fleurier manufacture, explore the rarely seen watches of the early collections, and find out why collectors appreciate these pieces.

Parmigiani’s Roots

Michel Parmigiani was born in Couvet, a village in the canton of Neuchâtel, on 2nd December 1950. His family had Italian origins, which made it difficult for them to integrate fully into the village, even though Parmigiani was born and raised in Switzerland.

In an interview with Peter Speake for The Naked Watchmaker, Parmigiani says that his childhood was carefree. “I was in my own world, completely immersed in nature and everything around me,” he says. “I loved going to the forest and the marsh near my house.”

A very young Michel Parmigiani using a watchmaker’s bow lathe, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

A very young Michel Parmigiani using a watchmaker’s bow lathe, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

Even from a young age, he knew that he wanted to work with his hands and to design things. When the time came for him to decide what path he was going to go down, he was at first torn between becoming an architect or a watchmaker, eventually settling for the latter. This was unsurprising, given the region’s deep roots in horology. Parmigiani went on to study at the Val-de-Travers school of watchmaking, then at La-Chaux-de-Fonds Technicum, specialising in restoration.

Restoration and Heritage

Parmigiani’s entrepreneurial spirit and strong connection to traditional watchmaking was clear from the beginning. After completing his watchmaking education, he worked at a small workshop, then remained in Couvet to open an independent restoration workshop in 1976 when he was just 26. Parmigiani has spoken in previous interviews about how friends and family once attempted to dissuade him from going down this path, but he was determined to follow his passion. When we asked him about this obsession with older clocks, he answered: “I chose to specialise in restoration because I have a particular attachment to old things that tell stories. Restoration is the art of knowing how to preserve something and make a piece of art last. In a way, you become a witness to the history of the object. It is a work close to archaeology, as similarly we are there to restore authenticity and knowledge.”

Parmigiani adjusting a pocket watch with a peg wood tool, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

Parmigiani adjusting a pocket watch with a peg wood tool, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

He also began creating unique pieces for clients. Since then, the Parmigiani restoration workshop has long been known as a training ground for some of the most celebrated independent watchmakers today, including the likes of Kari Voutilainen, Stepan Sarpaneva, Denis Flageollet, and Raúl Pagès. The workshop has successfully restored various significant pieces which are exhibited at museums and archives such as the Patek Philippe Museum, the Musée d’Horlogerie du Locle, the Maurice-Yves Sandoz Collection, and the Moscow Kremlin Museums.

Among these important pieces include the Breguet Pendule Sympathique, which they restored in 1990. While Sotheby’s claimed that this clock could not be repaired, it took around a year and more than 2,000 hours of work to restore this table clock and pocket watch set to working order. The Pendule Sympathique would go on to be purchased and exhibited by the Patek Philippe Museum.

Parmigiani recalls this project fondly, as one of the most complicated he has ever completed: “This piece was in very bad condition when it was sold at auction to a rich collector from Basel. Sotheby's said that this piece was unsalvageable, but it found a buyer. Luckily for me, this collector knew when he bought it that he was going to entrust it to me for restoration. This collector had a lot of confidence in me, and he then entrusted me with other restoration projects such as the exceptional Magician pocket watch which is still on display at the Patek Philippe Museum today, as is the Sympathy Clock.

The fully restored Breguet Pendule Sympathique, courtesy of Swiss Watches Magazine.

The fully restored Breguet Pendule Sympathique, courtesy of Swiss
Watches Magazine

“This experience taught me that I prefer to deal with connoisseurs because connoisseurs bring knowledge, unlike experts who bring a science and their science is not always exact because if it were, I would never have been able to restore these so-called destroyed objects.”

Another timepiece purchased in 1997, an oval-shaped pocket watch made by Vardon and Stedman in 1800, was restored and would later form the basis for the calibre PF111 found in Parmigiani Fleurier’s Ovale Pantographe in 2016. The work was not just confined to clocks and watches, but also included automatons such as the Yusupov Fabergé Egg and the Frères Rochat Singing Bird Pistols.

Sarpaneva, a Finnish independent watchmaker who is known for his experimental work and unusual aesthetics, was employed at the restoration workshop between the years of 1997 to 1999, eventually starting his own eponymous brand in 2003. He describes how small the team there actually was: “There were only two departments within the workshop. In addition to the restoration department, which had [about] four people in there, I worked in the ‘pièces uniques and private label’ department, where we created unique and complicated pieces for other watch brands. When I joined at first, Kari [Voutilainen] was already working there, with another guy, but he left, and in the end, it was only me and Kari.”

“We did a minute repeater based on the old vintage movement, which we modified to have a better calendar module on top of it. It was a lot of work, maybe way too much work. We also made quite modern watches, using new movements that we built things around. So, we didn’t only modify old movements to become a modern movement, but we also did things like hand-shaping the bridges, so it was almost like making the same watch twice.”

Sarpaneva acknowledges the effect that learning these techniques have had on his own work: “When I was there, it was more like learning the old-school way of how things were made. I needed it. It was important, because otherwise you can’t do anything if you don’t have the skills to build and make parts and if you don’t understand how things are made.”

We also spoke to young independent watchmaker Raúl Pagès, whose work includes the Régulateur à détente RP1. He first joined the Parmigiani restoration workshop in 2006, at the age of 22, and spent six years there until he started his own brand in 2012. Joining the workshop at a slightly later date, his account demonstrates the shift between Parmigiani Fleurier’s priorities, as work under their own name had begun by then. “In 2006, there were about 35 employees at Parmigiani and two of us were working in the restoration workshop,” he says. “In the same atelier, a third watchmaker was working on unique Parmigiani pieces. The atmosphere was very exhilarating. We were all passionate about watchmaking and the technical discussions we had were super interesting.”

Pagès has much to say about his time there and shared with us a few of the projects that he worked on. “I really discovered the world of automata when I had the opportunity to restore the Frog automaton which is part of the private side of the Sandoz Collection. It is now exhibited in the temporary exhibition of the MIH International watchmaking museum of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which runs until the 3rd December 2023. The ingenuity and mechanical simplicity of reproducing the animal's movements fascinated me.”

When asked how working specifically in restoration has aided his current watchmaking work, Pagès noted: “The restoration workshop was very important for Michel Parmigiani. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to him on a regular basis about all the different projects. It was very interesting for me to see how he could be inspired by antique watchmaking in order to develop some unique pieces for his brand.”

“I had the chance to work on some of the most valued horological masterpieces and I think that having seen, understood, and assembled all these pieces has inevitably influenced my vision of watchmaking. I was able to discover a lot of mechanisms or different movement finishes. I try to keep in mind all this information so that I can reinterpret it in my own way in my creations. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to gather this knowledge from past horological masters like Breguet, Berthoud, Maillardet, and Jacquet-Droz.”

As the reputation of his restoration workshop began to climb, Parmigiani worked with various organisations to restore pieces in their collections. The workshop’s responsibilities continued to grow and eventually, in 1980, they were commissioned to maintain the Maurice-Yves Sandoz collection, which consisted of watches, clocks, and automatons. Through this work, Parmigiani eventually met Pierre Landolt, the president of the Sandoz Family Foundation. Through this partnership, Parmigiani was the person that the foundation turned to when they decided to venture into watchmaking.

The Beginnings of Parmigiani Fleurier

Although his restoration workshop was doing well, Michel Parmigiani finally had the support and resources he needed to create his own watches. We get the sense that this was a long-held dream for him. He explains the philosophy behind his desire to start Parmigiani Fleurier: “When we restore, we are the witnesses of a history that does not belong to us. The fact that I wanted to create my own watches was also my desire to create my own stories. When we create something, it means that we are creating a thread between the object and the human being. My common thread was excellence. Whether through restoration or through my creations, I was always looking to achieve a form of excellence in the mechanical art of watchmaking, but at the same time bringing a touch of contemporaneity to it.”

The Parmigiani Fleurier maison, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

The Parmigiani Fleurier workshop, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

Parmigiani Fleurier began operations in 1996. The name of the brand combines Parmigiani’s surname with Fleurier, a municipality in the district of Val-de-Travers, where the manufacture is located to this day. With the resources afforded by the Sandoz Family Foundation – in a relationship that was not entirely unlike the medieval and early modern patronage system – Parmigiani Fleurier began to expand their capacities in the early 2000s. This took the form of acquisitions of key part-making businesses which were instrumental in allowing the young brand to explore its identity, giving them greater creative freedom over the watches they created.

Parmigiani explains the reasoning behind this need to expand and acquire these businesses. “[We acquired them] because we wanted to be free to impose our quality criteria,” he says. “Typically, at the time, we were facing a shortage in mechanical components due to the Quartz Crisis. Suppliers wanted to liquidate their components quickly so as not to lose money and obviously the quality suffered the consequences. We wanted to be free to pursue our own actions, our own needs, and our own creations.”

The headquarters of Manufacture Vaucher Fleurier, which supplies many other brands in addition to Parmigiani Fleurier, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

The headquarters of Manufacture Vaucher Fleurier, which supplies many other brands in addition to Parmigiani Fleurier, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

Under the umbrella of the Manufacture Vaucher Fleurier, the Parmigiani Group first acquired Les Artisans du Boîters (previously known as Bruno Affolter SA) in 2000, which made cases. In 2001, they acquired Atokalpa, which produced components of the escapements and micro-mechanical requirements; and Elwin, which fulfilled the manufacture’s metal-turning requirements in addition to producing parts such as screws, pinions, and wheels. Later, in 2003, there was a reshuffle, which caused a split that separated Parmigiani Fleurier the brand from Manufacture Vaucher Fleurier, although the latter still supplied the former. In 2005, the manufacture would go on to acquire Quadrance et Habillage to create high-end dials.

In addition to Parmigiani Fleurier, the Manufacture Vaucher Fleurier has supplied a large number of clients over the years in various capacities, which include names such as Hermès, Richard Mille, Patek Philippe, IWC, Zenith, and Audemars Piguet, among others.

The Collections

When the brand first began production, the 1996 and 1997 catalogues mainly focused on table clocks and pocket watches, while the 1998 catalogue was the first to only include wristwatches. These were then swiftly followed by more complicated watches during their transitional period between the years 2000 and 2003. Each of these watches was available in platinum, yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold, with the main dial colours in grey, black, silver, and rose gold. Early on, Parmigiani Fleurier also began making ladies’ versions of their watches, in smaller sizes and usually with diamond-set bezels. It is important to note that from the beginning, Parmigiani put an emphasis on creating women’s watches that were on par with their men’s watches, using mechanical, rather than quartz movements for these watches.

Across all the collections, however, we see that the Parmigiani Fleurier designs have been heavily inspired by classical architecture, in keeping with Parmigiani’s roots in restoration. These include concepts such as the golden spiral and designs inspired by Greek ionic columns or toric shapes, drawing upon a deep knowledge of mathematical concepts and Greco-Roman design. Javelin-style hour and minute hands are also a shared trait across early Parmigiani Fleurier watches, in addition to the crescent moon-shaped counterbalance on the seconds hand. While some movements were created by the brand later on, the first watches were initially built off high-quality, older ébauches, which were modified, assembled, and finished in house.

Parmigiani acknowledges this influence in his work and tells us more about his fascination with these mathematical theorems that have created the cases that continue to captivate collectors today. “I have always been passionate about architecture,” he says. “I hesitated for a long time between studying architecture or watchmaking. In the end, watchmaking took over, but architecture has never really left me. In Roman architecture especially, I found a deeper source of inspiration that spoke to me naturally and with which many parallels with nature could be made. The golden ratio has never left me since I first encountered it through the book Que sais-je?, which I discovered by chance in a library. The Fibonacci sequence is fascinating and all around us.

Sketches and notes for a pocketwatch that demonstrate the influence of the Fibonacci sequence on Parmigiani’s work, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

Sketches and notes for a pocketwatch that demonstrate the influence of the Fibonacci sequence on Parmigiani’s work, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

“I only applied principles that have existed since the dawn of time to contemporary pieces. I have encountered many challenges; I always do. Whether they are technical, material or temporal, we always have them and that’s what makes this job so exciting.”

American architect Louis Kahn, commenting on his own influences and style, once said: “Greek architecture taught me that the column is where the light is not, and the space between is where the light is. It is a matter of no-light, light, no-light, light. A column and a column bring light between them. To make a column which grows out of the wall, and which makes its own rhythm of no-light, light, no-light, light: that is the marvel of the artist.”

We can see that a similar principle has been applied within Parmigiani Fleurier’s designs with their stepped bezels. These are decorated with knurling around the bezel, giving the impression that we are looking at a cross-section of a column, with its fluted body. When the light falls across the watch, then, it creates a rhythm of its own through these details.

Up close with the details of the unusual double-stepped bezel found on the Memory Time, the first watch created by the brand.

Up close with the details of the unusual double-stepped bezel found on the Memory Time, the first watch created by the brand.

Rosneathian, a private collector who has owned some of the earlier pieces from Parmigiani Fleurier, notes: “Early Parmigiani Fleurier watches were designed and built to be works of art with little or no regard for market signals. They were conceived by an artist who, in the early days, did not have to worry as much about commercial viability as other independent watchmakers.”

To a large extent, this is true – Parmigiani Fleurier emerged with its dress-style watches during a period when collectors and the market were looking for sleek, modern integrated sports watches, or when independents were looking to apply their own flair to traditional aesthetics. These watches were distinctly classical – almost bordering on baroque – with their highly-stylised cases, yet the playfulness in the design and placement of their complications cannot be denied.

The Toric

The Toric collection is inspired by classical architecture, in addition to the work of Abraham-Louis Breguet, and was first featured in the 1998 catalogue. Shared features among pieces in the Toric collection include double-stepped or single-stepped bezels and knurling, all rendered in minute detail. Other than that, all pieces found within the 1998 catalogue also feature javelin-shaped hands. Additionally, within this early catalogue, we can see that some watches are accompanied by a beads-of-rice bracelet with a similar knurled, rope-like detailing to the bezel on the sides of the bracelet, which rarely appear on the market.

The classically styled silhouette of the Memory Time and a glimpse of its discreet second timezone complication.

The Memory Time was the first watch created by Parmigiani Fleurier. Previously seen on the wrist of Michel Parmigiani himself, the Memory Time features an unusual jump-hour display that allows the watch to incorporate a discreet GMT complication, giving the wearer the option to include an alternative time zone at the 12 o’clock position. The watch is largely grouped under the reference C00800.

In an interview with Watch Journal, Michel Parmigiani recounts the inspiration behind the piece. “Before we launched, I was walking on a beach in Malaysia and picked up a shell with a striking shape,” he says. “It was thick in front, but if you turned it just 45 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 travellers. 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.”

The Memory Time makes use of the calibre PF132, which is based off the Lemania 8813 with an added GMT function. The earliest pieces created in 1996 have skeletonised rotors, while later pieces in the series have solid rotors. It is believed that these Memory Time pieces were produced up until 2001, before they transitioned into the more modern Memory Time GMT.

The skeletonised rotor typically found on only the earliest examples of the Memory Time, in contrast with the solid rotor found on later examples.

In addition to the typical metals the watch comes in, such as platinum, white gold, and yellow gold, there is a surprising variation in dial colours and combinations that we will see across nearly all these collections. The earliest pieces typically feature a combination of grey dials with silvered chapter rings, or silvered dials with corresponding chapter rings. Later on, in 2001, we see an example of a white-gold case with a diamond-set bezel, suggesting that there is more variety in dial and case configurations than we might expect despite these few available examples of the watch.

Additionally, the placement of the second time zone at 12 o’clock is especially unusual and rarely seen, displaying the second hour. This is set through the crown, with the jump hour changing when the minute hand passes between 10 and 2 o’clock, which must be repeated until the desired time zone is selected. Understated and classical in style, the Memory Time set the tone for the other watches within the 1998 catalogue, such as the Toric Automatic or the Toric Classic series, which included both stone and plain dials.

“In Roman architecture especially, I found a deeper source of inspiration that spoke to me naturally and with which many parallels with nature could be made.”

Michel Parmigiani

The Toric Automatique has a simple dial, with only a silvered chapter ring with the index markers, and a date aperture. The simplicity of the dial only draws attention to the construction of the watch itself and highlights the key features of these early Parmigiani watches. This model appears in platinum, in addition to white, yellow, and pink gold, with the platinum and white-gold versions appearing least frequently. In terms of dial configuration, grey and silvered base dials continued to be used widely across the series, with the chapter ring and hands in colours corresponding to the case metal.

However, there are certain outliers, including one example we have come across with rose-gold hands that do not match its white-gold case, and another appearing up for auction with a black base dial and pink-gold chapter ring. These slight variants demonstrate a culture of flexibility that has been lost to the modern world, with watchmakers having a more relaxed relationship to their clients and being more willing to make small changes upon request.

A Toric Automatique with an unusual white gold case and rose-gold hands configuration.

The Toric Classic series was produced in the late 1990s to early 2000s and takes a more abstract approach by not including any index markers on the dial, keeping the watch purely minimalistic with just the hands on the face, a date aperture, and two screws in place of the 12 and 9 o’clock indicators. These were produced with slate or eggshell-coloured dials and are decorated with “barleycorn” guilloché patterns.

The stones used in the stone-dial pieces of the Toric Classic include onyx, lapis lazuli, and mother of pearl. It is believed that only 30 pieces were made for the watches for each respective stone dial, making them a truly unusual find. These pieces may be inspired by Piaget watches, as Michel Parmigiani is known to have had some dealings with them at the time. Notably, in the image below, the onyx-dial Toric Classic depicted in the catalogue has “Parmigiani Fleurier” printed on the dial, while the physical watch has the brand name on a cartouche under the hands.

A rarely-seen Toric Classic with an onyx dial.

He mentions that these stone dials were particularly challenging to work with, and he was lucky to come across someone who was able to work with him to help achieve his vision. “At the time of the launch of the Parmigiani Fleurier brand, I thought that we would not be able to present our collection. I did not have any dial makers yet... I did not interest many people. So what was I to do?” he says. “I started to make dials. I worked tirelessly but the result was there. It's funny: the one dial I couldn't do because it was onyx – well, I found one supplier who was able to do it. We had a lucky star with us.”

Another rarely seen, yet ambitious piece is the Toric Minute Repeater, which has been found in white and yellow gold, with black and silvered dials respectively. A unique piece, the “Egypta”, is made in the style of these minute repeaters, without numerals and a mesmerising feathered guilloche pattern found on both the dial and movement of the piece.

By keeping these first offerings simple, Michel Parmigiani was able to first establish his aesthetic principles before moving on to explore and further develop the complicated watches which would also bear these distinctive design properties.

The Ionica

While many believe that the Kalpa was Parmigiani Fleurier’s first tonneau-shaped watch, this is a common misconception. A rare piece that is hardly seen publicly or on social media, the Ionica 8-Day was released in 1999, and is the baroque-styled predecessor of the Kalpa, which was released in 2001 and replaced the knurled bezel with a smooth case. Like the Toric, the Ionica is similarly inspired by classical architecture, with a combination of knurled bezels and gadroons fitted to a tonneau case.

Early sketches of the Ionica 8-Day, courtesy of Parmigiani Fleurier.

The Ionica pieces are most commonly fitted with black dials; silvered dials are seen more rarely. We have also spotted at least two examples featuring a pink-gold case and pink mother-of-pearl dial. The watch was fitted with the calibre PF110, Parmigiani’s first true in-house mechanical movement. At the time, few brands were creating movements from scratch, and often repurposed their round calibres for their shaped cases. The PF110 stands out because it was an in-house created, shaped movement that fit snugly into its case.

This movement continues to be used in watches from Parmigiani Fleurier today – as well as by brands such as Piaget and Tiffany – and has experienced several forms across its lifetime. Laurens, a private collector also known as @awatchcritic on Instagram, notes that the PF100 was modified several times. “In 1999 the caliber was modified to add a jump-hour complication to go in the 50-piece limited Piaget Emperador 8 Jour, either by Parmigiani Fleurier for Piaget, or by Piaget themselves,” he says. “It seems this was built around the date complication that the PF110 has, but was omitted or rather replaced by the jumping-hour mechanism in the Piaget. Parmigiani had just launched his own watch with the PF110, the Ionica, in the same year.

The PF110 movement found in the Ionica alongside the limited-edition Piaget Emperador.

“It seems Parmigiani kept this as an in-house movement only after the very limited collaborations with Piaget and Tiffany (which both modified the bridges and used the same jump hour mechanism developed originally for the Piaget). The Tiffany model, I believe, is made technically by Vaucher (recognised by the star symbol) as this was already 2005 and Vaucher split as a standalone manufacture from Parmigiani Fleurier in 2003.”

In 2004, the PF110 would then be used as the base for the PF500, which built a tourbillon complication onto the calibre. In 2011, the PF110 was once again modified and put in the Ovale Pantographe, turning into the PF 111, which added a module that allowed for the retracting hands on the pantograph model.

The Transitional Period

Rosneathian goes on to note that when it comes to early Parmigiani watches, getting a sense of their scale is not only interesting but important for collectors looking to add rare pieces to their collections. “In the years 1998 and 1999, between 800 to 900 watches were produced by the brand, with the intention of scaling upwards to 1,200 in the year 2000 with the introduction of the Basica line,” he says.

We begin to see a shift in how these watches are presented, retaining certain features that distinguished the earlier pieces while making a move towards the future. As seen from above in Rosneathian’s statement, there was a shift within the manufacture itself which would gradually allow Parmigiani Fleurier to evolve to where it is today, scaling upwards to allow for increased production and allowing the manufacture to flourish. The watches of the early 2000s are noteworthy representatives of the shift, as we see Parmigiani Fleurier introducing more complications and, in some cases, a more experimental, less classical aesthetic.

We can see an example of this in the Toric Memory Time GMT, released in the early 2000s, which bears several marked changes from the original. While the stepped and knurled bezel remain, the hands begin to evolve towards the hollow delta-shape that would be used by later chronographs produced in 2004 and 2005 and in a modified, slimmer shape across more modern Tonda watches. To date, less than five examples of this watch have surfaced.

A marriage of modern and classical, the Memory Time GMT has incredibly stylised, delta-shaped hands.

Released at a similar time to the updated Toric Memory Time GMT was the Toric Tourbillon, which was the first tourbillon released by the young brand. Rather unusually, the movement is inverted, with beautiful finishing displayed across the open-worked dial that showcases the tourbillon cage. While we see the knurled bezel and javelin hands retained, the dial is noticeably more unconventional and subverts what we might expect with a traditional tourbillon – which also allows the complication to shine.

The Toric Tourbillon was only ever produced in pink gold and platinum, with no white or yellow gold models available. While most feature the typical style of striped movement finishing on the dial-side, there are of course, a few outliers. Much like the earlier Memory Time, an example of the Toric Tourbillon can be seen with a diamond-set bezel, while another unique piece features an engraved finishing that was supposedly made to special order.

The pink gold and platinum versions of the Toric Tourbillon. Check out this rose gold Toric Tourbillon here.

The Toric Tourbillon watch is an excellent demonstration of Parmigiani Fleurier’s dependence on significant movements, as the PF280 it is powered by makes use of a Girard-Perregaux “Three Bridges” 9900 ébauche. Initially created for pocket watches, this movement has a historic lineage that stretches back to the 19th century, when it won first place in the 1867 and 1889 Paris World Exhibitions as well as the Neuchatêl Observatory Prize in 1911 – one of the most prestigious competitions to determine the accuracy of certain timepieces.

Another example from this transitional period is the Toric Chronograph, from the early 2000s, which recognisably makes use of the Zenith “El Primero” movement, with a date disc seen placed between the one and two markers. These continued to be produced in very traditional metals and configurations, found in platinum, yellow, and white gold, with white or black dials. An update to the watch was done in 2005, which retained the knurled bezel style but swapped out the hands for more modern, delta-shaped and lume-filled ones as opposed to the javelin-shaped hands.

A platinum Toric Tourbillon alongside a limited edition Toric Chronograph Rattrapante with light blue accents.

Additionally, there were also several limited-edition chronographs created by the brand, in the form of the Toric Rattrapante Chronograph. This latter watch is a similarly complicated piece that demonstrates Parmigiani’s more updated look, with various metals and some experimental colours. These were produced between 1999 and 2000 and were limited to 10 pieces in each configuration. One of our favourites is perhaps the edition featuring a white gold case and contrasting salmon dial, with an applied Breguet numeral at 12 o’clock.

In keeping with Parmigiani Fleurier’s use of older movements, this piece makes use of the Venus 179, which was first introduced in the 1940s, and remained in production for close to two decades, before being phased out. In the process of production, Parmigiani Fleurier even added two jewels and Incabloc shock protection to the base movement, to improve its reliability and function.

The salmon dial limited edition Toric Chronograph Rattrapante and the movement that runs it, based on the Venus 179.

The earliest Toric Quantième Perpétuel Rétrograde was released in the late 1990s, around 1999. While the series has continued through the years, our focus will be on the earliest two generations. The main difference between these generations is the placement of the day and date, which are separated, in the style of many older Breguet pieces. Additionally, the earlier generations still possess the double-stepped bezel, while later generations only have a single-stepped bezel. Within the first generation, we see that the day and date apertures are placed on the chapter ring, on either side of the dates, as can be seen in this example. The second-generation watches place them just above the moonphase, as can be seen in an example auctioned at Christie’s. This is a placement that has been carried over to the current versions of the Toric Quantième Perpétuel.

The first three generations of the Toric Quantième Perpétuel.

Depending on which generation of watches you are looking at, the Quantième Perpétuel Rétrograde makes use of the base calibre PF331, the first self-winding movement created by Parmigiani Fleurier, which is believed to have been created in 2001. Of these, the calibre PF332 has been used in some of the second-generation pieces, with the PF333 and subsequent variations used in the modern versions.

Further to this, as we have discussed above, it was during the 2000s that the Basica line was introduced, with the very rarely seen Chronometrè, which appeared in the same range of metals as the main collections, without the stylised stepped bezel and with a more traditional dial layout, without guilloche. These appeared in two versions: with a date window, and without.

The Chronometrè watches, simpler pieces introduced by Parmigiani in the 2000s.

The Collectors

When we spoke to Rosneathian to find out more about why he decided to collect these watches in the first place, he mentioned that it was the modern ladies’ collection that first caught his attention, with the 1998 catalogue eventually catching his eye. “I can't think of a more stunning debut,” he says. “It is an extraordinarily idiosyncratic body of work. The look of these first 30-plus watches was both novel and coherent, steeped in classical architectural references, and represented the highest levels of watchmaking prowess.”

Furthermore, the Parmigiani Fleurier watches now represent a still-undervalued area of the market. For example, a 2003 Quantième Perpétuel Rétrograde cost $70,000 (£53,900) when it was first retailed and can now be found on Chrono24 at a price between $22,000 to $25,000 (£18,000 to 20,000). Similarly, the Toric Tourbillon in platinum is believed to have initially retailed for around CHF 170,000 ($189,000 or £158,000), whereas it can now be purchased for around half that price.

“Early Parmigiani Fleurier watches were designed and built to be works of art with little or no regard for market signals. They were conceived by an artist who, in the early days, did not have to worry as much about commercial viability as other independent watchmakers.”


When asked about why the collecting community has yet to properly discover these watches, Rosneathian says: “Parmigiani Fleurier in general has been an acquired taste. As a small manufacture, that was always going to be the case. Management has attempted to break out of this self-defined niche on several occasions beginning as early as 1999, but without much success until recently. There is now an uptick of interest in Parmigiani Fleurier on account of the success of new releases, but the first-generation watches are so recondite that this interest hasn't percolated across yet.”

Parmigiani collectors seek to collect pieces which are not in the mainstream, but which possess the same high quality and excellent finishing appreciated by all serious watch enthusiasts. A quick search across Instagram reveals that the most popular Parmigiani Fleurier watches are their newest releases. Earlier examples are few and far between. Similarly, across forums and dealers’ websites, including Chrono24, these pieces rarely surface, but are always welcomed as a breath of fresh air and with great amounts of appreciation. Perhaps this comes as no surprise, given that the aesthetic of these modern watches is so markedly different from the traditional, more abstract concepts seen in the earliest examples.

Parmigiani Fleurier Today

Today, Parmigiani Fleurier remains a fairly understated brand, although their factories continue to create parts for some of the world’s most well-known watch houses. Despite the brand’s allegiance to watchmaking techniques from the past, they have been involved in several intriguing projects including the Bugatti Type 390 concept watch, an imaginative piece that draws on inspiration from racing cars and holds a distinctly modern silhouette.

Michel Parmigiani’s legacy, as seen these early pieces, is still being felt in the designs produced by Parmigiani Fleurier today.

Meanwhile, Parmigiani has even made a foray into silicon with the Senfine concept watch, which has a mechanical movement that reportedly has a power reserve of up to 60 days. The brand’s willingness to explore and experiment with unconventional materials in this form is a way for them to embrace all aspects of watchmaking, including its most modern features.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Anne-Laure Parmigiani is deeply involved in the business, as a trained watchmaker and designer in her own right. Anne-Laure also works as a project leader and manager, in charge of the brand’s unique projects.Since Michel Parmigiani stepped down, Parmigiani Fleurier has since been led by the likes of Jean-Marc Jacot and Davide Traxler. As of 2021, the brand is under new leadership, helmed by Guido Terreni, the former president of the Bulgari watch division. Since then, the brand has expanded its offerings to focus more on ladies’ watches, and growing current collections such as the popular Tonda PF.

Parting Thoughts

Early Parmigiani Fleurier watches are distinguished by their adoption of classical aesthetics and a playful approach to complications within the tradition of watchmaking. Parmigiani’s ethos for the watches he created draw upon his deep ties to restoring older treasures. “The creations of Parmigiani Fleurier watches are for connoisseurs and collectors – we do not aim at impressive volumes,” he says. “I think that this is also what makes our brand special: we do not seek to flood the market. We need to be understood – understood in the approach, but also in the quality.”

Although Michel Parmigiani is no longer directly involved with the brand, the legacy he has created rings true in the earliest pieces produced.

“We continue to seek to exploit the exceptional, the rare, and the unique. This is what has always animated me, and this is what I have tried to transmit. I wanted to create a brand to leave a mark as I found it in the pieces I restored. I saw this brand as something that one would want to keep, to look at again and again, to preserve and restore so that it would be perennial.”

While many of the newer releases are certainly being recognised today, we believe that the world of early Parmigiani Fleurier has yet to be fully explored. We hope this guide will open the door to more discussion and discovery surrounding these beautiful pieces.

If you have any images or stories to share regarding early Parmigiani Fleurier watches, please let us know at

Our thanks to Michel Parmigiani, Sara Parrod, Stepan Sarpaneva, Raul Pages, Rosneathian, and Laurens for generously sharing their time, research, and experiences with us.

In a previous version of this article, we stated that the private label workshop in which Stepan Sarpaneva and Kari Voutilainen work produced movements for brands such as Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, and Chaumet. This was pulled from a previous interview with Michel Parmigiani that was published elsewhere and was in fact in reference to the brands that he worked with from 1977 and not the work taking place in the late 90s. This has now been removed from the article as it was not accurate or reflective of the work happening at that time.