In 1996, the watch world was a very, very different place than it is now. Though there were already signs that things were going to start evolving very quickly, many of the major players then had been unchallenged for many years. However, there were signs of a disruption to come – just two years before, in October of 1994, a little start-up called A. Lange & Söhne had shown its first collection, and by 1992, a once-nearly-dead firm called Ulysse Nardin had delivered the third watch in its groundbreaking collection of astronomical complications known as the Trilogy of Time. Vintage watch collecting was still very much a quirky, niche hobby, and, in America, the watch internet barely existed; what magazines there were could be found at newsstands next to model railroading, stamp collecting, and doll collecting magazines (I should know).
“People laughed at me back then when I said I wanted to be a watchmaker.”
– Benoit Conrath, Fleurier watchmaker in the New York Times
It was also the year that Parmigiani Fleurier debuted its very first watch: the Toric Memory Time, which you see here on the wrist of its designer, Michel Parmigiani. The other half of Parmigiani Fleurier’s name is owed to the village of the same name in which the company began – its first headquarters were in a mansion formerly owned by the Vaucher family, and it was a Vaucher who is generally considered the founder of watchmaking in Fleurier. In 1996, becoming a watchmaker was still a dicey proposition, regarded with skepticism by many, and Michel Parmigiani’s start-up was very warmly welcomed. In a story in the New York Times, one local watchmaker is quoted on the atmosphere at the time:
“People laughed at me back then when I said I wanted to be a watchmaker,” said Benoit Conrath, now 53 and working at Parmigiani. “Back then, to be a watchmaker was to be unemployed. No one wanted mechanical watches. It was like using a horse and cart to travel.”
Michel Parmigiani’s new firm – backed by the Sandoz Family Foundation – was hailed by local residents as a lifeline for the craft of watchmaking. In the same Times story, Michel Parmigiani’s daughter Anne-Laure remembers, “People would stop him on the street and thank him.”
The original inspiration behind the Toric was twofold: Parmigiani’s design was influenced by classical Greek architecture, as well as by the curvature of the so-called Golden Spiral, which simply put is the shape you get when you inscribe a spiral inside a series of rectangles related to each other by the Golden Ratio (there is of course a much more mathematically rigorous definition).
Specifically, the nested, concentric fluted bezel was inspired by Doric columns, which are the simplest of the “orders” of classical Greek and Roman architecture; Doric columns were considered the most masculine type, and had simple, circular pediments (sometimes in the form of concentric toruses) and fluted sides. The Golden Spiral is most directly related to the curvature of the lugs of the Toric watches, which are a segment of a Golden Spiral. The bezel is a kind of compression of a Doric column, exhibiting both the characteristic fluting and concentric toruses.
Parmigiani Fleurier is now one of the most thoroughly vertically integrated watch manufacturers in the world. Its facilities have also become critical to the Swiss watch industry’s supply chain, with balance springs coming from Atokalpa, cases from LAB (Les Artisans Boitiers) and of course, movements from Vaucher Manufacture. Restoration of vintage clocks and watches (some of enormous historical importance; Michel Parmigiani has restored pieces for the Patek Philippe Museum, to mention just one example) also continues at Parmigiani Fleurier as well.
In 1996, however, movement production had not yet begun and initially, movements were sourced from suppliers like Lemania and F. Piguet. The movement in the Toric Memory Time is caliber PF 132, which is a Lemania 8813 bought as a kit (ébauche) and assembled, decorated, and cased by Parmigiani Fleurier. The 8813 was a fairly typical size for the time – 11.5 lignes, or about 25.6mm in diameter, and 2.95mm thick, with a 40-hour power reserve. For PF 132, Parmigiani Fleurier also added a second time zone indication. It’s a fairly small watch by modern standards, but with its fluted bezels, beautifully finished movement, elegantly curved lugs, and polished javelin hands, a very charming one as well.
It’s interesting to compare the original Toric Memory Time to the new Toric Chronomètre (which we’ll be going into in more depth later this month). The Toric Chronomètre is, according to Parmigiani, going to be the foundation for a refresh of the Toric lineup, which right now consists mostly of highly ornamental minute repeaters. This is a larger watch, of course, at 40.8mm (and 9.5mm thick) with a slightly less ornamental bezel, and it’ll be offered initially in white or rose gold – it still retains much of the grace and clarity of vision of the original Toric Memory Time.
Of course, it has an in-house movement now (caliber PF331) which comes with a chronometer certification from the COSC, and a date window. One of the more interesting design changes from the original Torics is the addition of some lume to the tips of the javelin hands – Michel Parmigiani says that in addition to improving nighttime legibility, he felt it was necessary to improve contrast against the dial in general, as the original black polished steel hands – which are quite gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, and very javelin-esque in feel – do tend to disappear against the dial if the light hits them just right.
Seeing the original Toric from 1996 was quite a trip down memory lane and a reminder of just how much some aspects of the watch world have changed in 21 years. Based on a brief first look, I think the new Toric Chronomètre looks quite promising and it’ll be interesting to see where Parmigiani Fleurier goes next with the refresh to this collection – the one that started it all.