Collector’s View: Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe On The Wrist And What It Tells Us About Parmigiani
Just before this year’s SIHH, I received a kind offer from Parmigiani to wear one of the brand’s watches during the week and I was quick to accept. Over the years, I’ve bought several Parmigiani watches, and two of MrsGaryG’s favorite pieces are her Kalpa Piccolas: one with a self-winding mechanical movement and mother-of-pearl dial and the other in steel with a striking red dial (see My Wife, The Watch Collector).
I hadn’t had much contact with Parmigiani over the past few years, though, so was eager both to wear one of the brand’s most distinctive watches and to learn more about its current collection and plans.
The Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe
The moment I liberated the Pantographe from its box I was impressed: this is one serious watch.
The size alone (45 x 37.3 mm and 12.5 mm thick) makes it formidable, as does the thick Hermès strap reaching around to a massive gold buckle under the wrist. Happily, thanks to the dramatically curved (and beautifully detailed) lugs, it sat well on my wrist, making it an amiable partner for strolling the halls of SIHH.
One thing that hasn’t changed with Parmigiani over time is that its watches are beautifully made. Checking out the case from various perspectives reveals a bevy of interesting curves and shapes, and the enamel dial with thickly printed blue indices glows in the light while displaying just the right touch of ivory to avoid harshness.
The movement, designated Caliber PF111, is a variant on Parmigiani’s time-tested eight-day Caliber PF110. That particular “Hébdomadaire” movement has long been a favorite of mine and was one of the things that first drew me to Parmigiani. I still remember the first time I held a watch containing the PF110 up to my ear and heard nothing – or so I thought until I found a quieter room and was able to pick up its finely tuned, almost silent beat.
In the photo below, you can see the high quality of the movement finishing, including gleaming bevels and the multiple sharp, hand-finished interior angles. I’m also quite fond of the bridge shapes, including the small sub-plate at the upper left of the photo integrated almost seamlessly into the larger surface, as well as the fact that this is a so-called shaped movement made to fit into an oblong watch rather than a round movement surrounded by a large void.
Then, of course, there’s the feature that makes this watch unique: the pair of pantograph-style hands that shorten and lengthen as they move around the dial in order to fill the oval space.
While the idea for the Pantographe wristwatch originated from one of the many museum pieces that have been restored at Parmigiani, a vintage pocket watch from 1780, new technical solutions must be developed to make the cam-driven mechanism at the center of the dial robust enough for wristwatch use and modern wearing habits.
The hands have actually evolved over the years since the introduction of the first Parmigiani Pantographe in 2013: in the current versions, an added set of arms and pivots have been added to the hour hand assembly to enable it to stretch farther from the center of the dial.
Visiting with Parmigiani at SIHH
At SIHH 2017, our small group of collectors had the opportunity to meet with members of the Parmigiani team to see several of this year’s introductions as well as the privilege of spending time with Michel Parmigiani himself.
As a fan of Parmigiani’s Fleurier’s earlier watches, I was particularly pleased to see the re-introduction of the Toric line with its classically fluted bezel. And in the current economic climate, it was good to see the new Tonda 1950 in steel, powered by the well-finished PF702 micro rotor movement and priced at a pocketbook-friendly €8,950.
We also had the opportunity to see a new Bugatti-themed flyback chronograph and other Tonda models with black, blue, and white-colored meteorite dials as well as a variety of treasures including a selection of ornate minute repeaters.
Parmigiani present and future, and what the Pantographe could mean
At our group’s SIHH week-concluding dinner, we were reflecting on our pleasant visit with Parmigiani when one of our members asked, “With all that they have going for them, why haven’t they achieved greater success?”
I had to confess that as a fan of the brand, the same question had nagged at me for a while. And although I haven’t made a systematic study of Parmigiani’s situation, here’s what my gut tells me.
Too many notes. For a brand of its size, Parmigiani tries to cover a lot of ground. Just look at the list of watches that we viewed in the course of a one-hour visit at SIHH: everything from sports car-themed sport chronographs to Westminster chime repeaters to the Ovale Pantographe.
Is there an intended center of gravity to Parmigiani’s line, and if so what is it?
Product-based thinking. While a great many of Parmigiani’s watches are very appealing in my opinion, I don’t get the sense that they are developed with a specific consumer or segment in mind, and (related to the first point above) it’s not clear how the various products and sub-lines fit into a coherent portfolio view. Several years ago, I asked Parmigiani’s former CEO to describe his market segmentation model to me, and he responded with a list of price points rather than with any consumer-centered descriptions.
One of the crowd. Parmigiani has many potential differentiators, including its level of finishing, distinguished foundation in restoration, and a patrimony-rich collection of classic watches and clocks, including the watch that inspired the Ovale Pantographe. But as a collector I don’t hear them shouting about any of them, nor do I have an easy time answering the question, “For what type of consumer preference or watch is Parmigiani clearly head and shoulders above its competition?”
So, what to do?
To be clear, I’m guessing that this may not be quite what my friends at Parmigiani had in mind when they called me up about wearing the Ovale Pantographe, but I care deeply enough about them and respect Mr. Parmigiani enough to crawl out on the limb.
Play to win. Decide on the one or two ways in which you are going to be different, and better, than all of your competitors. Not three, five, or ten, but one or two. What do you want to be famous for and why do you believe that you can achieve leadership on those dimensions?
Become storytellers. First, “tell” the stories of the buyers and collectors you want to win over to Parmigiani and keep as loyal consumers. Who are they? What are their aspirations? Where are they in their lives as watch enthusiasts and how can you reach them now with offerings they will prize and then continue to delight over during their watch-buying careers?
Then, tell the stories that only Parmigiani can tell: about Michel Parminigiani’s “hands of gold,” which made him famous as a restorer; the historical watches owned by Parmigiani and Sandoz that inspire new interpretations; and the automata and ornate clocks that Parmigiani dazzles with at each SIHH (see Equus Forma Mechanics: The Parmigiani Fleurier Hippologia).
And, very importantly, be sure to make it manifestly clear how those stories link – directly – to the watches that Parmigiani is creating and selling today.
Focus and win. With your chosen dimensions of industry leadership and the stories of your consumers and your unique capabilities as your North Stars, “fire” every product and sub-line in your portfolio.
Imagine that you have sent all of them out into the parking lot, and then only invite back the ones that demonstrably match your target consumers’ evolving needs and that leverage your unique strengths.
Design, design, design. When you talk with consumers, do they tell you that your watches are design icons?
The Slim d’Hermés has emerged in a short period as one based to a significant extent on sleek, modern design, while Richard Mille has struck gold over a period of many years with distinctively designed watches, in both instances based on movements from Parmigiani’s own Vaucher manufacture. If you aren’t yet taking a hard look at refreshing your design language as a way of complementing your other clear strengths, start now.
Where does the Ovale Pantographe fit into all of this?
If one potential vision for Parmigiani is as a cult brand for those in the know who value modern interpretations of classic horological innovations, it could serve as a halo piece – especially in its newly-released gold movement version.
If Parmigiani chooses other directions, such as focusing on simple watches like the steel Tonda 1950 that offer great finishing at great value, the Pantographe may fit less well.
No matter what, as a collector and enthusiast I will continue to follow Parmigiani closely and wish the brand every success!
For more information, please visit www.parmigiani.com/en/watch/ovale/ovale-pantographe.
Case: red or white gold; 45 x 37.3 x 12.5 mm
Dial: enamel with printed indices and markings
Movement: manually wound Caliber PF111; 21,600 vph (3Hz) with 192 hours (8 days) of power reserve
Functions: hours and minutes indicated by pantograph hands; date, power reserve indicator
Price: $55,000 in red gold
Production years: 2015 to present (in updated version with extended hour indicator)
Also published on Medium.