Making things beautiful

Michel Parmigiani is a watchmaker with passion and conviction. 40 years ago he began to restore old watches; 20 years ago he founded his own watch manufacturing business at a time when no one had heard of a start-up. To this day the restoration of complex watches has remained one of his specialised areas. You could hold 500 years of watch history in your hands but you could not express yourself in it, claims the aficionado. Therefore he fulfils the latter in the sophisticated timepieces from his Parmigiani-Fleurier manufacture. ADAM talked to the watch constructor about his profession and time.

ADAM: Do we still need watches?

Michel Parmigiani: I discovered the legacy of the ancient art of watchmaking at the technical centre in La-Chaux-de-Fonds. I discovered the ancient art of watchmaking and it shaped me profoundly. It was in the middle of a watch crisis and I simply could not imagine that watchmaking was to die out. It is just fantastic what you can discover in these old watches. What the watchmakers in the past centuries have done. There is no reason not to continue that art.

Are you fascinated by the mechanism?

No, it is the complete work! There is often no connection between the content and the casing of a watch. As I could not find a clock mechanism that satisfied me both with its technical and aesthetic features, we began to manufacture our own clock mechanisms. A beautiful and technically complex watch expresses the noblesse of this profession. For years purely functional clock mechanisms were produced without a single aesthetic requirement. I wanted to change that. In the same way certain companies such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin had always done. I wanted to make things beautiful.

What gave you the conviction to start up with your own watch brand?

I already had 20 years of experience in the branch. That helped me considerably, in conjunction with my understanding of the industrial side. I had also constructed and restored a high number of mechanical specialities and unique pieces for larger brands such Breguet, Vacheron Constantin and Piaget. In particular the complicated elements. And I worked on the Sandoz collection, I attended to their timepieces and automatic machines. I spoke with Pierre Landolt, the president of the Sandoz Foundation and he advised me to create my own brand. It is thanks to the Sandoz family and Pierre Landolt that Parmigiani Fleurier exists today.

Would you today still decide to establish your own watch company?

I might do it a little differently but basically yes. When I began the circumstances were adverse. Everything was negative and highly discouraging. It was extremely hard at the beginning. I forced myself to believe in the positive, to convince myself.

Do you have a different relationship to time, as a watchmaker?

Time is something relative. Today it actually seems that no one has time anymore. Time has become very superficial because we no longer have time to think about things and to work well and exactly. Time is my worst enemy. If you need time today to make something of quality, it is not easy, because there does not seem to be enough time to go round. We have to make a number of compromises with regard to time. It is somewhat perverse. If you are lying sick in the hospital it does not pass, if you have a lot to do it seems to fly. Time is a form of relativity that we live every day.

Photos Copyrights: Parmigiani