In an industry that prides itself on its rich history and heritage, Parmigiani Fleurier is still a relatively new kid on the block. Yet since Michel Parmigiani founded the brand in 1996 in Neuchâtel, it has successfully built itself a solid reputation for expertly crafted designs, firmly establishing the brand as a key player in the competitive arena of contemporary haute horlogerie.
Today, Parmigiani has a presence in more than 70 countries across five continents. Maintaining complete industrial and financial autonomy, its manufactures turn out around 6,000 watches per year, all powered by one of the brand's 15 different in-house movements. Models such as the classically elegant Tonda 1950 have proved popular for the brand, and with Europe now its biggest market, 2012 has seen Parmigiani turn its attention wholeheartedly to the UK.
Parmigiani opened its Mount Street boutique at the end of November.
Its new boutique on London's Mount Street opened its doors at the end of November and, like Parmigiani's other stores - such as those set up between 2010 and 2011 in Shanghai, Beijing, Moscow, Istanbul, Dubai and Singapore - aims to set itself apart from what they see as the identikit atmosphere found in many luxury retailers. For Parmigiani CEO Jean- Marc Jacot, visibility in London - one of the luxury capitals of the world - is essential for the brand's growth, with its new prime spot in Mayfair providing the perfect outlet.
"Mount Street is becoming one of the most important streets for very exclusive high-end brands. It is active 18 hours a day thanks to the shops, restaurants like Scott's and hotels like the Connaught," explains Jacot. "Being in Mount Street is also important because there is no direct competition to our network of retailers who are mostly based in Bond Street and Sloane Street." Parmigiani's atelier concept puts the watchmaker back at the heart of the retail experience, reinforcing the brand's emphasis on preserving horology as an artisan craft. Jacot describes the boutique as, "an antenna of the manufacture abroad," with customers able to take advantage of the technical expertise on hand. On show will be the brand's main collection, along with the Collection Atelier - a range of pieces designed with the spirit of haute couture in mind, featuring an array of hand-painted and stone-set dials.
The Montreux Jazz Café in Harrods.
A jazzy display
And Parmigiani's focus on the UK doesn't stop there. This year saw the launch of the third Montreux Jazz Café, this one based in Harrods - one of five Parmigiani retailers in the UK. Visitors to the café are able to relax and enjoy recordings of live music from the annual Montreux Jazz Festival or watch unreleased footage of concerts and backstage interviews. But the real attraction is a new section called 'Claude's Collection' - named after Claude Nobs, the founder of the festival - which showcases bespoke pieces specially created by Parmigiani for the occasion.
On display will be the MJF Historical Watches, which are created every year to match the festival's poster design. The second showcase will contain the MJF Artists' Choices, featuring timepieces chosen and worn by artists that have played Montreux Jazz throughout the years of the partnership. Two Kalpa models have been created exclusively for the occasion, the dial featuring the iconic map of the London underground. The piece de resistance, however, that holds pride of place in the centre of the room, is the Tonda Gibson Tourbillon - yet another example of the brand's well-matched musical partnerships.
Turning out interesting products from its collaborative efforts has become a specialty of Parmigiani, with perhaps its best-known series of watches being those designed in partnership with Bugatti. Lovers of fast cars demand a watch with the vivacity and slick design to match, and Parmigiani has consistently delivered this in spades, from the first model - the Bugatti Type 370 released in 2004 - to the Atalante flyback chronograph and Super Sport.
The Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse.
And when the new convertible Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse was unveiled earlier this year, Parmigiani was tasked with creating the timepiece to match. Thus the latest watch in the series - an adaptation of the audacious Super Sport - was born, and is to be presented at SIHH in January.
The movement and design of the two are essentially identical. In 2010, Parmigiani impressed not only with the aesthetic perfection of the case of the Super Sport, but also with its bespoke movement. While most driver's watches rotate the dial to make it easier to read with a hand on a steering wheel, Parmigiani went a step further, placing the dial on the side of the case. With the dial set at a 90° angle to the movement spindle, the world first included a double-pinion system with bevel gearing and a complex mechanism enabling the distinctive perpendicular time display.
Parmigiani's Vitesse combines the forward-thinking movement of the Super Sport with a high-tech titanium exterior.
The main difference in the latest model is the way in which Parmigiani has adapted the case to reflect the appearance of the Vitesse, choosing titanium to express the paintwork of the car - made from a modern alloy combining both shine and matt colour. The challenge for the manufacture transferred from the movement to material, with titanium proving much harder to work with than the white gold of the Super Sport. Highly flammable, it is easily deformed due to its elasticity and becomes sticky on exposure to heat. As a result, the machining speed had to be reduced threefold, with the metal having to undergo three successive solders to ensure waterproofing.
Continuing this use of innovative materials, Texalium - a web of fibreglass covered by a thin layer of aluminum also used in the car - was employed for the reflective dial. The final aesthetic touch comes via the crown, which features two cabochons of lapis lazuli and carnelian, blue and orange in colour, and engraved with the initials of Parmigiani Fleurier.
The sleek design and choice of high-tech materials in the Vitesse prove that Parmigiani has set out to push the boundaries of its manufacture capability, with its ambitious in-roads into the UK market showing that it's not just the brand's design work that is looking firmly to the future.
Further information: www.parmigiani.ch