Parmigiani Fleurier : when a watchmaker turns detective

Michel Parmigiani, Fleurier’s master watchmaker, started his career by restoring old timepieces. This activity still feeds into the design of his contemporary watches.

By Thierry Brandt

Michel Parmigiani attends to the old grandfather, mantle and wall clocks, mechanical singing birds and automata entrusted to him like a mother hen. That’s what Fleurier’s master watchmaker, restoration champion and Sherlock Holmes of watchmaking, is like. It is he who compares himself to Conan Doyle’s detective. For when it comes to restoration, watchmakers often have to proceed as if it were an investigation: “Usually, for these rare old pieces, we no longer have any diagrams or explanations of the mechanism. So, we must be patient and methodical to understand how it works. We have to disassemble the entire object, taking photos and notes as we go along, to discover why such-and-such a component is not working. Otherwise, we would be lost. It’s like at a crime scene: if you wipe away the fingerprints, you’ve had it,” explains the watchmaker.

The magic of automata

Understanding and respecting the work of previous generations: this is the leitmotif of the restorer, who has not become a globally renowned expert by chance. The process requires time and patience – not to mention self-sacrifice – and a great deal of ‘archaeological’ research. Experience and memory also play a leading role, notably in learning to recognise the various mechanisms. Three small automata, three animals with delicate mechanisms, have passed through his expert hands. All are from the Maurice Sandoz collection. The first is a 120 mm mouse made from engraved gold, pearls and rubies, which faithfully reproduces the movements of its real-life model. Captivating. The second represents a 75 mm silkworm composed of a series of rings in red-enamelled gold and rose-cut diamonds, rubies and emeralds. It is operated by means of a trigger piece on the underside of the creature, and it, too, moves like its real-life counterpart. Astonishing. The third is a 60 mm frog in enamelled gold, pearls and rubies. Like its companions, you might think it was alive with its leaps and croaks! Marvellous.

Company status
Société anonyme (public limited company)
Senior Management
Michel Parmigiani, President,
Founder and Master Watchmaker
Davide Traxler, CEO
Number of employees
Flagship collections
Toric, Kalpa, Tonda
Tonda collection
Retail prices
From CHF 8,900 for women’s watches
and CHF 10,600 for men’s watches
Annual production


A single correction per year

Parmigiani is also a contemporary watch manufacture, of course, that is inspired by the teachings of masters from the past. Michel Parmigiani likes to emphasise this age-old connection. “I try to work in the same spirit,” he says. Demonstrating this philosophy, the Tonda Calendrier Annuel model is a wonderful expression of the watchmaker’s passion for calendar complications. It requires the date to be corrected just once a year, at the end of February. The rest of the time, it adjusts itself automatically according to the length of each month. Better still, the retrograde date marker never obscures the moon phase aperture at 6 o’clock. This other complication is also very sophisticated, since it only has to be adjusted once every 122 years.

A last, important aesthetic detail: there is a double representation of the moon. The first for the northern hemisphere, the second for the southern. The moon phase aperture and discs are in solid rose gold. Another version is available in white gold. The Tonda Calendrier Annuel, which is remarkable for its understated lines and the easy legibility of all its indications, is driven by an automatic movement. Amongst other features, the latter has a series-mounted double barrel that guarantees a 50-hour power reserve. As you would expect from Parmigiani Fleurier, the decoration of the movement and all the outer adornments meet the fine watchmaking standards revered by the house.

Tonda Métropolitaine Sélène in rose gold set with 76 diamonds, with white mother-of-pearl dial and rose gold bracelet.

Femininity in the limelight

The most accomplished horological mechanisms do not preclude refinement or poetry. Michel Parmigiani also knows how to appeal to women, as witnessed by this Tonda Métropolitaine Sélène. A watch bearing the name of the Greek goddess of the moon, and which is devoted to representing the phases of the moon, demands highly refined finishes when it comes to both its timekeeping mechanism and its aesthetics. Its automatic movement with a 50-hour power reserve is entirely circular-grained, and decorated with Geneva stripes and hand-bevelling. Its dial, meanwhile, is graced with a moon phase aperture that takes pride of place at 12 o’clock. At the centre of the dial, a finely chased flower in rose gold creates shimmering glints of light. All this is mounted in a case, also in rose gold, crowned with a bezel set with 76 brilliant-cut diamonds totalling around 0.52 carats.