By Sylvain Fanet, photos: Fred Merz
Though, in the eyes of the public, the Parmigiani name is embodied by Michel Parmigiani himself, the story of the brand is also a family tale. Anne-Laure, his eldest daughter, has been working in the business for fifteen years. Léa, his youngest, first learned to walk there, literally and professionally. The three of them talk about passion, watchmaking and handing down family values.
Can you each tell us about your background?
I attended the La Chaux-de-Fonds School of Applied Arts (EAA), where I studied fashion and clothing design. I’ve always found drawing and painting very appealing, and I also studied music and classical dance, and all of this had an impact on me. At Parmigiani, I spent a few months in the Design department, then in the Communications department. It was very interesting to see the reality of this profession up close. I then was given the opportunity to go to Italy to work for the Missoni brand.
Like Léa, I went to the School of Applied Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds, but to learn engraving. Then I enrolled at a watchmaking school in Neuchâtel. Afterwards, I made my professional debut at Parmigiani Fleurier, first at the workbench, then in after-sales service, where I became familiar with all the calibres and models of that time. It’s been fifteen years since I started with the company, and I’m now project manager for unique pieces and special requests.
When I was a kid, watchmaking was a rather mysterious world. I sketched a lot in my teens, especially houses, and I hesitated between pursuing watchmaking and architecture. I chose watchmaking because there was a school in Fleurier, very close to my parents’ house. I’d always wanted to start my own business. In 1964, when I was still a teenager, I met an unusual watchmaker-farmer who encouraged me to go my own way in watchmaking and, later, meeting Pierre Landolt was the tipping point for creation of the brand.
Are the values that Michel espouses at work the same as those practiced within the family?
I think my being drawn to the artistic realm has to do with the trips we took together. And my father’s knowledge and curiosity about many subjects strongly influenced me.
In the fifteen years that I’ve worked for Parmigiani, I’ve been able to see that the values that were instilled in us, both as children and young adults, are evident within the company. The desire for excellence, the taste for design, creativity. We both have an artistic background, and that has guided the way we approach a project, making it possible for us to share many things.
© Fred Merz
Do you have sometimes differing opinions, a different vision with respect to work?
We don’t always have the same ideas, and that’s a good thing! What’s essential is dialogue. I’m not a tyrannical father who tries to impose his ideas or way of thinking on his children.
Experience helps us each form our own opinions. Sometimes we’re wrong. What matters is to talk about it afterward.
We rarely have conflicts. When we don’t agree, it serves more as a chance to have enlightening, productive discussions. It’s rather positive.
You have to adapt to size constraints, pare down certain lines, understand the impact of the movements, know how to interpret with certainty an original drawing that’s five to ten times bigger than the object to be created.
Michel describes the profession of watchmaker as that of a “craftsperson”. What do his daughters think?
For me, seeing things from the outside, watchmaking is an art form that demands passion, keen powers of observation inspired by nature, by what surrounds us.
Yes, it’s a blend of art and craftsmanship. It requires a lot of patience and dexterity. And either you have a flair for it or you don’t. To set an haute horlogerie
movement, you also need a good ear.
As in ancient architecture, achieving the right proportions requires meticulous work, combined with a quest for beauty. It’s applied art, but it’s still art. The other challenge in this work is miniaturisation. You have to adapt to size constraints, pare down certain lines, understand the impact of the movements, know how to interpret with certainty an original drawing that’s five to ten times bigger than the object to be created. Understanding these things is already an art in itself.
Though the profession requires patience, does it also offer some moments of euphoria?
You have to take into account that some projects can stretch out over several years, so yes, it’s true, when you get to the end and see that everything works the way you wanted it to, despite the pitfalls – because there are always pitfalls – you experience tremendous satisfaction!
There are so many steps, so many phases to go through, and the objects are so tiny, that there is indeed a certain feeling of relief when you manage to complete one of them. It’s incredibly, minutely detailed.
What is your relationship with the brand?
I’m very proud of it. I witnessed its creation, I saw my parents working hard to make this business a success. Today, when I look at the collections across time, I see the consistency and harmony in all of it, and you can sense that the fundamental work was done from the heart.
I was born in 1996, in other words, at the same time as the brand! So it’s been part of my world since I was a child. It’s very familiar, totally rooted in me.
La Toric Chronomètre fait partie de la collection du même nom lancée par la marque en 1996. © Parmigiani
What model designed by your father do you most like?
The model that I find most appealing, at least for a woman, is the Tonda 1950, the one I wear, fairly large and round.
I prefer the Toric range myself, one of the first lines to be created, and then used only for haute horlogerie.
I’ve worked a lot around this Toric for unique pieces; I think it’s the line that best fits the identity of the brand, that really embodies the brand.
Haute horlogerie creations are meant to be collected and preserved.
Let’s look to the future for a moment. Where do you see the profession in twenty years? What will being a watchmaker be like in 2040?
I think the profession will evolve with new technologies, new materials. As far as the reliability of the movements, we will always go further, and also perhaps when it comes to the size of the mechanisms, the power reserve. But as far as the profession itself goes, it will be more of an evolution than a revolution. There will never be a shortage of artists and craftspersons working for Swiss haute horlogerie.
Well, at least I hope not!
Our society is pushing us to take less interest in these kinds of objects, but people also want something precious, unique, that they can hand down from generation to generation. In this age of the iPhone and all these photos that we take and immediately forget, objets d’art
certainly have their place!
Technological evolution is natural, but I think and hope that it remains an artistic profession, for the simple reason that it will remain rare. As far as the Parmigiani brand goes, I think that the things that will become collector’s items are the rare objects with great added value. To my mind, that’s the best kind of recognition you can have. What’s also important is that we create long-lasting objects that can survive for centuries and not become obsolete. Haute horlogerie
creations are meant to be collected and preserved.