Q&A with Michel Parmigiani

The Watch Gallery team was kindly invited by Parmigiani to the quaint Swiss town of Fleurier – the birthplace of this illustrious brand. We met up with Michel Parmigiani to talk all things horological and the future of the industry.

You hold an incredible position within a leading luxury brand. How did your career begin?

An education from my parents taught me see around an object rather than looking directly. From there, I realised that craftsmanship doesn’t create art – it is art. I was constantly seeking out craftsmanship in the world around me and curiosity soon led to inspiration and I became interested in clocks. Watchmaking or architecture were the only two clear career choices and I decided to go with the former as it is more dynamic; buildings and constructions are static.

An Ottoman pocket watch with an Aegean calendar was one of my first major sources of inspiration and the more I learnt about the story, the more I was hypnotised. I was soon qualified as a watchmaker and it was a fantastic feeling, and a few years later, I repaired some antique clocks for the Sandoz family. We struck up a dialogue and the Parmigiani Fleurier brand was founded in partnership.

What was your very first watch?

Now that was a very long time ago. It was a steel Olma but I forget if it was automatic or mechanical. I got it when I was 12 years old as a gift – the early days before I owned a own piece of haute horlogerie.

In your opinion, what makes a Swiss watch so special?

It’s complicated but simple at the same time, and I think the reason goes back for centuries. The industry itself was born from skills gained in France, Britain, Germany and Italy, and was finally brought to Switzerland by Protestants fleeing France. Refugees essentially began the trade and established our country as the homeland of horology.

Switzerland’s own peaceful history let these people train and pass the trade onto the next generation and a result, it flourished. We’re perfectionists and we’ve created schools to perpetuate our watchmaking heritage – and it is this expertise that makes our watches so special.

The Apple smartwatch has been a contentious issue within the world of haute horlogerie. Can you see the advent of such products affecting the fine industry as we know it?

In short, we are a totally different industry – a smartwatch is more an accessory than a timepiece and like all things trend-led, it will constantly change in the future: a mechanical watch will last forever and a smartwatch just cannot compete with that longevity. Ecologically speaking, haute horlogerie is not negligent to the outside world whilst digital consumption is becoming an increasingly concerning problem. These companies are not specialised to be a watchmaker – they do not produce art and operate opportunistically. In the future, we will focus on the things that last because our environment is finite.

And finally, what lies in the future for Parmigiani? Is there anything particularly ground-breaking we can look forward to?

Of course – there are many, many projects behind the scenes, lots of research and design. However, we will only announce these when they’re achieved – after all, if you’re to win the war, you can’t reveal all your weapons.