In the watch world, “in-house” movements are revered as a gold standard. But vertically integrated companies take the concept a step further by making every component in their watches. Two brands known for doing this are Seiko and Rolex, but another, Parmigiani Fleurier has quietly moved into this elite group, with a family of small companies that produce movements, cases and dials not just for themselves, but for other elite brands as well. On a visit to Parmigiani’s workshop, Les Artisans Boîtiers (LAB), in the watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, one finds Lange & Söhne dials, Hublot hands, and MB&F cases being made side by side with Parmigiani’s own watch components. At Manufacture Vaucher in Fleurier, another Parmigiani company, a rotor destined for a Richard Mille is polished at a bench; at the neighboring bench, a woman finishes the namesake component for Corum’s iconic Golden Bridge.
But we didn’t visit Parmigiani Fleurier to look at other brands’ watches; the brand’s own watches are the stars here. Parmigiani’s restoration workshop is the best place to form an understanding of this enigmatic watch brand. It’s where company founder Michele Parmigiani got his start restoring clocks, watches and 19th-century automatons for private collectors and auction houses. On one bench sits an ornately filigreed chiming clock from England; on another, a pocketwatch from a Fleurier-based watchmaker, returned after a century in South America. The pieces here are meticulously restored, broken parts manufactured by hand, the entire process and history of the piece researched and documented in an accompanying book.
The model by which Parmigiani builds its timepieces is based on the time-honored concept of etablissage, whereby work is done by those who do it best. Instead of trying to do it all under one roof, these craftspeople stay in their home villages scattered around the remote valleys of Switzerland — screws hand-turned in one factory, dials made in another, and the movements assembled and cased up beneath the snow-streaked cliffs of Fleurier. We went in search of the pieces of the beautiful puzzle, and discovered a watchmaking process inspired by history.