Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF: A New Chapter For The Manufacture

The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF collection represents a new chapter for the brand that will have far-reaching consequences for the entire range.

Feb 01, 2022 | By Ashok Soman
parmigiani fleurier
Tonda PF Chronograph in rose gold and Tonda PF Annual Calendar in steel. Image: CHING@GREENPLASTICSOLDIERS

Given all the attention we have been giving Parmigiani Fleurier this year, you would think we would not have left anything out. After all, the brand is just 25 years old, and founder Michel Parmigiani only started in watchmaking in 1976. We knew that the new Tonda PF was going to be our cover in our final issue this year so we were concerned about repeating ourselves. Going over our notes though, we realised that we had not covered something fundamental to Parmigiani Fleurier, which Michel Parmigiani himself finds so important that it finds expression in every collection, including this new one. We are referring of course to the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio. We shall correct the omission here.

Before we get to that, the cover story needs a brief primer, as always. The Tonda PF Micro-Rotor on the cover gets its own space in our cover watch segment, as always, so that is the place to seek the specifications and other relevant information. The top of the line Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph gets its due right here, and the manufacture invested in wonderful beauty shots for the entire collection and we have included some here.

You will also find a couple of watches from outside the new Tonda PF collection, which found their way into the studio for our shoot and closer inspection so we will devote a little space to those. The time-only Tonda GT and the Toric Hemisphere Retrograde provide visual continuity for the entire Parmigiani Fleurier range, and supply context for key differences with the Tonda PF. Indeed, for the bulk of this story, we intend to focus on what makes the Tonda PF stand out, and why it has attracted so much attention. It does not represent a break with Parmigiani Fleurier collections of the past, and in fact follows up on the positive vibes generated by the Tonda GT collection last year, and the Tonda collection over a number of years.

Bold Moves

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Micro-Rotor
Tonda PF Micro-Rotor. Image: Parmigiani Fleurier

Arguably the boldest move by Parmigiani Fleurier and incoming CEO Guido Terreni with the Tonda PF was to double down on subtlety. Terreni told us that he loves the delicate and quiet soul of Parmigiani Fleurier so going more low-key is perhaps not so paradoxical. He added that he wanted to be careful and deliberate. Still, Parmigiani Fleurier is not Audemars Piguet. To adroitly adopt a logo that abbreviated the brand name as the Tonda PF does, while simultaneously removing the words Parmigiani Fleurier from the dial entirely, is risky.

To break the fourth wall here for a moment, I do not even think Audemars Piguet should be doing that so perhaps I am biased. But, just to be clear, this bias is offset by how attractive I think the Tonda PF is, especially the time and date model, and my feelings about this are evolving, which I will address again by the end of this short story. For now, I will say that I am shielded from getting in over my head here only by my collecting preference for German brands. God help me if Parmigiani Fleurier were to make a perpetual calendar Tonda PF in steel…

Back on point, this brings us to why the Tonda PF Micro Rotor is on the cover. We could have featured the Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph instead, and both the brand and its new retail partner Sincere Fine Watches suggested it. However, we felt strongly about the base model. The complication, while superb and fully in-line with our editorial ethos, distracts from the ephemeral beauty of the Tonda PF. Parmigiani Fleurier has been diligently taking up the Tonda PF’s appeal to purists and connoisseurs — a delight for those in the know, as the press release states. While you, dear reader, may not know what to think of the PF logo, if you are a collector and a watch enthusiast, then you must agree that Parmigiani Fleurier needs a standard-bearer watch. To put it another way, everything about the brand needs to flow from now watch, and this watch must be as pure and true as possible.

Serious Watchmaking

This is not about authenticity mind you; Parmigiani Fleurier has been authentic since day one. Michel Parmigiani is probably one of the most genuine watch creators you will ever meet, should you be so lucky. When the brand made its debut in 1996 at the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland, it introduced no less than 52 timepieces, which is maybe 50 more than most brands start with. The Toric and Kalpa collections are still with us today, along with the Tonda. Beginning with the Tonda Hemispheres in 2007, this collection began to become more significant, culminating in the Tonda GT last year, which is exactly the sort of high-end sporty watch that the world is hungry for.

On that note, for those who might have tumbled into the virtues of Parmigiani Fleurier recently, it is worth considering the brands accomplishments, briefly. As far as being a vertically integrated manufacture, some observers have compared Parmigiani Fleurier’s ability to do all the important work of watchmaking with that of Rolex. It is certainly true that the Sandoz Family Foundation owns Parmigiani Fleurier, and the various firms that supplies it; the brand only needs outside suppliers for sapphire crystals, synthetic rubies, leather straps and the mainspring.

parmigiani fleurier tonda pf chronograph
The close-up on the dial of the Tonda PF Chronograph in steel highlights the importance of great design, right down to the logo. Image: Parmigiani Fleurier

In terms of movements, the band has created more than 30 in-house calibres over the last 25 years. These include some very impressive standards such as the world’s first series-production 30-second tourbillon calibre (for the Tonda 42 Tourbillon); the masterful high-frequency split seconds chronograph movement (originally for the Tonda Chronor Anniversaire); the world’s thinnest flying tourbillon (for the Tonda 1950 Tourbillon); and the world’s first perpetual calendar based on the Islamic lunar calendar (the GPHG-winning Tonda Hijri Perpetual Calendar). While we have curated this list, the relevance and importance of the Tonda collection must be emphasised. As it happens, it is relevant to the future direction of Parmigiani Fleurier.

“Parmigiani Fleurier is all about very serious high-end watchmaking,” said Sincere Fine Watches CEO Ong Ban. “The new Tonda PF Micro Rotor (for example) has set a new standard in the luxury sports watch segment. It has all the hallmarks of an icon and future classic. The bracelet hugs the wrist in a way very few watches in the market do.”

Golden Ratios

We will return to that very salient point about bracelet design momentarily, but it is best to address hallmarks first because we have yet to get into the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the mathematics involved, the patterns that can be derived from the Golden Ratio have informed everything Michel Parmigiani has designed for Parmigiani Fleurier. The brand explains that the Golden Ratio guides the proportions of the hands and counters (if present); the guilloche patterns; the shape of the lugs; and even the case proportions. We have always found it amazing that an irrational number such as the Golden Ratio can produce such harmonious proportions. Needless to say, it has been such a regular feature of the Parmigiani Fleurier publicity strategy that we have since internalised it.

parmigiani fleurier micro-rotor
The fine finish on calibre PF703 demonstrates the manufacture’s commitment to raise the stakes in the sports elegance segment. Image: Parmigiani Fleurier

For examples of the Golden Ratio at work in nature, we prefer the example of the artichoke and the sunflower over the commonly use nautilus shell. That is simply because the latter is not truly an example of the Golden Ratio. In any case, turning to the Tonda PF in particular, we think the logo itself is an example of the Golden Ratio at work, mainly because it is not new; Michel Parmigiani designed it himself and the eagle-eyed may have spotted it on the rotors or crowns in the past. Terreni called it the brand’s poinçon de maître in describing it to WatchTime’s Roger Ruegger; he expanded on this point to us, telling us that the idea of using this logo more prominently as CEO this year. It was amongst the creative ideas he had for the brand before he even joined.

“In my experience, a design that doesn’t come quickly usually isn’t strong. If you are turning in circles on a creative idea, maybe that idea itself isn’t that powerful and you better abandon it and look for a new one,” said Terreni. He responded to our questions on the Tonda PF via email.

Pleasure for the Wearer

That captures our sentiment with the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor too, because the watch absolutely shows how a design establishes success for itself. Consider that not only is there a paucity of brand messaging on the dial, but that the elaborate engine-turned guilloche pattern is so unobtrusive that you have to get pretty close to really see it. This is a little different to previous presentations of the same craft on the dial, as you can see from the Toric and Tonda GT models here, and makes the watch more of a pleasure for the wearer. Ditto the lack of a second hand; people who celebrate time do not need to worry about the brutish passage of the seconds.

“I have known Parmigiani Fleurier for 20 years, and I have always admired the prestige it was able to convey. Yet I had the feeling the consistency of the style and its appeal was fading amongst the watch purists of today. Therefore, I asked for a minimal and pure style, but to be crafted with the highest finishing, that has always been a hallmark of the brand, adding a more contemporary touch.”

parmigiani fleurier micro-rotor close up
Image: Parmigiani Fleurier

This point got us more interested in Terreni’s direct involvement in the development of the Tonda PF, which seems a little incredulous because the collection must have been in the works for some time before Terreni took the reins at Parmigiani Fleurier. Not for the first time, we were completely wrong because Terreni is indeed the driving force behind the collection.

“I felt the urgency to innovate, because the Covid-19 crisis hit the brand harder than the industry in 2020. I saw the encouraging signals shown by the Tonda GT, just launched the year before, and I sensed the need for a more elegant mood, personal to Parmigiani Fleurier complementing the FT sporty collection.”

Risky Business

Terreni explains the time, ironically, was certainly not on his side when it came to the Tonda PF, conceding that he needed to take some “calculated risks.” He believed it was possible to make a success of the collection for three reasons, the most practical of which was that no new movements were called for — everything was already available at the manufacture at Fleurier.

Terreni also found that he had extremely competent teams at his disposal, and what he calls “phenomenal internal production capacity in cases and dials.” Terreni knew that with all the in-house production capabilities of the manufacture, the brand was the master of its own destiny. “I would never have taken such a challenge without such an in-house capacity.”

We can say, quite fairly, that the Tonda PF demonstration of Parmigiani Fleurier’s power. Remember that the knurled platinum bezel of the steel models is finished by hand, and the Grain d’Orge guilloche on all the dials is also done by a master craftsperson (using a hand-driven engine-turning machine). Yes, the movements are existing examples of Parmigiani Fleurier’s know-how and capacity, but creating a collection at this level takes much more. It requires a crack team with a powerful spirit, especially when you face Terreni’s timeline.

“The creative process of the Tonda PF went smoothly. Design was validated in the hard milestones on February 19, leaving finishings and dial colours to be finalised in parallel during the development. The first prototypes saw the light March 8, and the whole collection was finalised at the end of June, and presented with production pieces in Geneva Watch Days on August 30; deliveries to clients started in the second half of October.”

Tomorrow’s Collector

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Annual Calendar Steel
Tonda PF Annual Calendar. Image: Parmigiani Fleurier

If you are the collector Terreni is starting with the Tonda PF — the person looking for something quite different because he has everything else that he wants — then the process of developing the collection might shock you. Look at the four models showcased here, and bear in mind how quickly the look came together. To begin with, as a recap, the Tonda PF collection consists for four distinct models, distinguished by complication: the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor; Tonda PF Chronograph; Tonda PF Annual Calendar; and the Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph. Many of the elements cited thus far are common to the entire Tonda PF collection. The Micro-Rotor is the mainstay here, being a two-hander with date, and it showcases the characteristics that define the Tonda PF.

Tonda PF Chronograph is a high frequency chronograph with date; by high frequency here, we mean 5 Hz. In the Tonda PF, dimensions are by turns restrained and extravagant. As normal in the Tonda, the chrono pushers share design cues with the lugs, which we have always felt is a welcome touch that not every design can accommodate. Water-resistance is 100 metres thanks to a screw down crown, which is common to all Tonda PF models.

Also common to all models is the highly unusual dial, which espouses the same purity of purpose we discuss elsewhere. While it is not entirely appropriate, comparisons with the recent Tonda GT Tondagraph will be inevitable. Both the dial and logo make this Tonda PF quite different, even once you equalise for the absence of the annual calendar module. The all-new indices from the mind of Terreni also make a difference — this is a very handsome chronograph that is a pleasure to look at as well as use. It is available in rose gold and steel.

Speaking of annual calendars, the Tonda PF Annual Calendar gives this complication space to breathe in its own variant. This one has attracted considerably less attention than all other variants, as far as we can tell, but it represents great quality and legibility, while not announcing itself at all. You should take notice though because Parmigiani is not offering this complication in this form, complete with moon phase and retrograde date, in any other collection.

In fact, when we saw this watch for the first time during Geneva Watch Days, we had to be reminded that manufacture has used this retrograde date function previously for the annual calendar — we only recalled the Toric model, as seen here but that is a dual time watch. Our own archives show that the annual calendar with retrograde date first appeared on the Quator model in 2011 (now discontinued) and a previous Tonda in 2018 (also out of production). The Tonda PF Annual Calendar is simultaneously more elegant and subtle, while being perfectly legible. Water-resistance here is also 100 metres. It is also available in steel and rose gold.

Finally, the Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph is the undisputed top-tier offering, and we will use it to discuss a couple of outstanding points about the entire collection. Quite unusually, the dial of the watch is solid platinum, just like the case and the bracelet. The model we shot and had a little time with was a press sample so we will not comment on the feel, but it does look noticeably different to the other Tonda PF models, being sandblasted. In its own way, it preserves the low-key aesthetic of the rest of the collection.

What is truly interesting here is calibre PF361, which the manufacture reminds us powered the GPHG winning Chronor. That watch was created for the 20th anniversary of Parmigiani Fleurier’s founding, and the manual-winding calibre is extensively skeletonised. It boasts a mainplate and bridges in rose gold, and these are thoroughly finished to an extraordinary level. This model is limited to 25 pieces in honour of the 25th anniversary.

Like A Second Skin

Parmigiani Fleurier
Tonda GT and Toric Hemispheres Retrograde. Image: CHING@GREENPLASTICSOLDIERS

Needless to say, this watch represents the apotheosis of the Tonda PF, and the alternating polishing and satinating of the case and bracelet are amazing, especially when one considers that the material is platinum 950. The bracelet design for the Tonda PF is entirely new, even though it resembles that of the Tonda GT. As Ong Ban noted, it wears exceptionally well, like a sort of fabric that is made of metal. Hodinkee’s Logan Baker reports the same, and notes that Terreni also helped to develop the bracelet.

The satin finishing must be given special mention, on the case as well as the bracelet as it does truly reflect the word satin. There is no hint of industrial-style brushed finishing; pay special attention to the case middle when you see the watches in person. Back to that bracelet specifically, it has truncated links but no half-links, giving it more play, as they say, and making adjustment simpler. On that note, the links are screwed, which is only to be expected at this level.

Finally, about that logo, which is of course common to the entire collection. It is not merely printed on, being a solid gold (platinum in the case of the Split Seconds Chronograph) vertical oval double-edged applique. The more you look at it, and inevitably compare it with the full brand name on the dial in the Tonda GT for example, the stronger your feelings will become.

In my opinion, the logo is much better suited for the dial, and probably should have been there all along. Parmigiani Fleurier is a beautiful brand, but the name has a lot of letters, leading to plenty of examples of cluttered dials. The logo is the right idea, and we will stand by that. From what we have heard so far, the Tonda PF is a success in the making and the design decisions here will probably be felt across the entire range in future.

Speaking of which, it is now down to building bridges between Parmigiani Fleurier and the collector of tomorrow that Terreni wants to reach. He notes that the brand is hardly a monolithic construct, or part of a faceless conglomerate, so he believes in building connections between human beings — that is to say between the watchmakers and the collectors.

Tonda PF Micro-Rotor in rose gold and steel
Tonda PF Micro-Rotor in rose gold and steel. Image: CHING@GREENPLASTICSOLDIERS

“Our clients don’t deal with an organisation that follows procedures, but with people personally engaged,” said Terreni. “That’s part of the beauty of being niche. It’s a dimension at a scale that allows us to have a relationship with our clients, (and) our retailers. We can back them up in helping them manage their direct relationship with the end-customer. They can grasp that the soul of the founder, Michel Parmigiani, is still present, as well as mine.”

Given Sincere Fine Watches’ approach, which Ong Ban says is a good match for Parmigiani Fleurier’s vision, building these human relationships is a given. “Presenting a brand to a mature market such as Singapore, engaging collectors on the strengths of the brand, and finally putting the timepiece on their wrists are all journeys we embark upon with our clients. Along the way, they experience Sincere Fine Watches’ passion and know-how and get an understanding about why we brought these new products to the market (and why we are confident about them). Finally, they must be convinced that they feel enough love for the timepieces before acquiring them.”

Science repeatedly tells us that we are more emotional than rational, and the new Tonda PF excels at stimulating emotions. Like us, you might understand that these new Parmigiani Fleurier watches are not that different from the watches from the past, but the Tonda PF feels new regardless. And we mean that viscerally, thanks to the beautiful bracelet. While we have tried to steer clear of very specific references to similar watches, these have no doubt occurred to you. Feeling the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor on your wrist is the best way to discover your true feelings about it. Do it while it is still available to try.

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