Mechanical Wonders of Parmigiani @ La Vieille Russie, New York
Attend a Sandoz collection exhibition, one of the finest old automat & timepiece collections, is like transcending one’s horologic culture.
Very often, when one sees the phenomenal prices reached during some horologic auctions, the question to be answered is the question of the sense. Meaning crisis? Investment crisis? Values crisis?
Yet, it is on the contrary a tribute paid to the classic horologic culture: it is either an outright tribute, by buying rarities such as the Rochat brother’s pistols; for example, the pair of pistols was auctioned for 5 million Dollars recently, in Asia.
Alternatively, it is a bet on the future, when collectors put crazy amounts of money on a new Great complication; one could remember the Patek 3939, which was auctioned for 1.4 million Euros.
The very high-end watchmaking purchases are those of technical concepts, the oldest being unique pieces for which fabrication secrets have been lost; we get close to the Art auctions, where the principle is to purchase a unique artistic concept. Whether one plays it safe, or out of passion or profitability, the meaning remains the same: it is betting on the durability of an industry that was able to preserve its «Métiers d’art».
Some Mechanicals Wonders restored at Parmigiani
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the concept came first, everything remained to be done, and the imagination, concentration and abstraction abilities of the Great masters easily made up for the most advanced of our ultra-powerful computer programs.
The best way to understand their approach is to take care of their masterpieces.
For that matter, restoring ancient pieces is a prerequisite for many of the actual Great watchmakers, such as Oeschling, Flageollet, Fraesdorf, Journe, etc.
Now, in this domain, one of the most prestigious workshops, not to say the most qualified, is that of Michel Parmigiani.
The multiple pieces that went through the restoration workshop spread into the Parmigiani Fleurier watchmakers’ heads. It must be said that the restoration workshop sits two levels above the one devoted to Great complications, it is what we call the «vertical communication», literally!
After the Tonda Hémisphère 42 and the «Le Chat et la Souris» small clock, Parmigiani Fleurier presents two new watches, also directly inspired by the Sandoz collection.
The Toric Minute Repeater Capitole features an extremely rare complication assembly: Wandering hour with satellites and Minute repeater ! Obviously, with a minimalist display, the Minute repeater makes sense, especially in the dark.
This complication layout was already presented by Audemars Piguet with the John Schaeffer Star Wheel, almost 20 years ago ; the size (33mm) as well as the design takes more after Le Corbusier than after Frank Lloyd Wright and make this watch obsolete.
Hence, Parmigiani comes with the Toric Capitole, resolutely looking towards….the past !
Indeed, this watch and more particularly its movement, draws its inspiration from the Sector watch with Quarter repeater from the Perrin brothers, one of the most famous pocket watches of the Sandoz collection.
This piece ((Ref. Sandoz: FEMS 68) features a paradox: the watch’s exterior is indeed very sober; the slender aperture is surrounded by a relatively simple engraving.
To put this decoration back into its context, it should be compared with other pieces from the Sandoz collection.
If the external decoration is simple, an aesthetic explosion takes place inside : I already had a chance to see this piece at the SIHH in 2010, it is one of the finest movement decorations I have ever seen.
However, the sumptuary movement’s decoration is swallowed up by the alternatively corrugated and blued
Snake shaped gong!!
Obviously, the production of such a gong, which despite its aesthetic produces a loud sound as clear as a bell, was a technical feat in the Perrin brothers’ days.
And it still is ! Because the Toric Capitole features the same decoration, in a 40% reduced scale(while switching from a 60mm yellow gold case to a 45mm white gold one). The snake replica is more than perfect, it glorifies the original Perrin brothers’ design.
In the middle of this gong sits the movement, whose multiple hollowed bridges, almost skeletonized, are a pretext to an overabundance of very high quality reflex angles. If the finishes are objectively superior to those of the Perrin brothers’ blued base-plate, subjectively one can regret the absence of the contrasts offered by the original piece’s sanded plates and blued bridges. With regards to the dial, akin to the 18th century watch, it is sober, the decoration applied beneath the aperture revisits the underneath of the domes and other floor adornments of the Capitols.
The aperture perfects overall discretion , the satellites open onto a mother-of-pearl sector set with white gold numbers.
On both of these watches, the exterior sobriety stands out in sharp contrast with the demonstration of techniques and aesthetic festival deployed on the inside, akin to Saxon watches.
More than ever, one buys a watch for oneself.
At the SIHH 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a private presentation of some of the old watches displayed the day before at «A la vieille Russie» of New-York today.
There was this magnificent watch from Vardon & Stedman brothers, an oval shaped pocket watch!
It was exceptional because it featured telescopic hands that retract following the railway’s curvature, a display that is a feat dating 200 years and was never reissued in the same way, until now.
When I saw this watch, I tried to find any modernized version on the net. Nothing! It is one of these moments when you wish you were a watchmaker! Two years later, Parmigiani proposes a veritable tribute to this pocket watch, the Elliptica: PF creates a watch that does more than mimicking the original design, it reproduces the complication altogether!
It is also one of the most thoroughly shaped watches, as it features an oval shape down to the tip of its hands. The hands retract at 3 and 9 o’clock and extend at 12 and 6 o’clock. For the large hand lovers, it is rapture: not only are they large, they grow even larger!
Based on its PF110 caliber (8 days Power reserve, set at 21600v/h), the Elliptica encloses the PF114 shape movement, (8 days Power reserve as well), which features a chiseled floral ornament.
The display complication that pulls or pushes on the hands in order to alter their length is relatively thick, which is noticeable on the Power Reserve and Date apertures’ bezels, respectively sitting at 12 and 6 o’clock.To stay in the realm of the dream, one could imagine, in the future, a «Grande seconde» that would follow the same elliptical curve.
Of course, in watchmaking, technique is nothing if not served by a flawless design. The watch is an absolute aesthetic achievement; a single criticism though, the aperture that shows the movement on the back of the case is vaguely potato-shaped, when one could have expected it to be fully oval …
To achieve an oval watch is always a challenge, because supermarket watches sometimes sullied this shape, a little kitsch… In this case, the watch is beautiful, as it takes after the Bauhaus, the Art Deco (a fundamental influence at PF).
The lugs designed by the brand from Fleurier never fit better than on shaped cases, akin to the Bugatti Super Sport (the watch), they perfectly suit the offbeat case design. As you can see on the wrist shot, it is rather a Dandy’s watch; the lugs are tapered at the level of the spring bars, to follow the case’s curvature. With regards to the dial and the hands, it is a real surprise: the indexes provide a quite adaptable sporty aspect to the watch.
With the «Grand feu » enameling finish, one obviously stays in the realm of chic. The “Grand feu” occur also with the hands, blued at the flame.The oval is pervasive on the watch, from the hand’s tip to the lugs, as well as through the numbers, the watch benefits from a hard-liner geometry. One could almost regret that the oval balance has not yet been invented!
This watch is really one of Parmigiani’s biggest achievements, as it associates a dressed-up aspect with an offbeat look, without overloading or lack of taste, the chic that does not preclude sports. It is the kind of Dandy look one would expect from more famous brands, such as Vacheron or Patek.
However, Parmigiani is lucky enough to possess all the craftsmanship as well as the open mindedness that made the (re)birth of this watch possible. The 2 unique pieces (white and rose gold) are obviously sold out, we should pray for a future catalog version for the SIHH2012.
Parmigiani is a brand which is seldom seen on the web, something incomprehensible regarding to the quality of their watches. If the Toric is "just" another great complication, the Elliptica is much more, as it makes Parmigiani’s approach obvious, which is to condition the aesthetic through the technique by drawing from the vast pool of Sandoz collection.