August 27, 2018
by Bilal Khan
Striking the necessary balance to be a successful dress chronograph isn’t easy. Independent brand Parmigiani Fleurier makes several impressive examples (like the Toric Chronograph that Prince Charles wore to the royal wedding) on par with or exceeding offerings from peers like A. Lange & Sohne, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and others. Often, the dress chronos that are impressive are quite stratospherically priced. However, with the updated in 2017 Tonda Métrographe, Parmigiani Fleurier has an entry level offering that occupies an admittedly niche territory, but rewards open-mindedness.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe was like a breath of fresh air for me. At the moment, it’s tough for me to get excited about most chronographs out there. The category is defined by too much leveraging of history, repetitive design, or the massive cluster of timepieces that are trying and failing to get out of the gravitational pull of the Rolex Daytona. Whittling it down to dress chronographs, the options are even more limited. While I will discuss the Parmigiani FleurierMétrographe as the latter mostly, it would be a disservice to not compare it with luxury chronographs overall since the $12,000 price places it squarely in the territory of pieces like the Daytona among others.
That price isn’t cheap by any standard, but the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe serves as an entry to the brand that is associated with much pricier watches that frequently reach six and seven figure pricetags.
With online and social media hype, there are very few “hidden secrets” in the watch world but the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe’s deft combination of design, case finishing, and attention to detail leave me thinking of few peers. Let it be said that I know the aesthetic is polarizing and it’s possible that more people may even dislike it than like it, but I’ll happily classify myself as surprisingly charmed and impressed after a month with this whimsical chronograph.
Before I get into the Métrographe specifically, it’s worth discussing Parmigiani Fleurier as a brand. Founded in 1996, it’s young when compared to some of the antediluvian manufactures that can be considered Parmigiani’s peers. The reputation for masterfully built cases and movements has wooed discerning collectors due to the work of one man. Founder Michel Parmigiani is a true creative visionary and the financial backing of the Sandoz family has allowed Parmigiani to function without the outside pressures that otherwise come with investors, umbrella conglomerates, or shareholders.
I believe Parmigiani Fleurier produces under 6,000 watches per year. When you compare that to something around 50,000 for Patek Philippe or close to 1,000,000 for Rolex, one truly gets a sense of how boutique of a brand Parmigiani really is. But Parmigiani Fleurier’s vertical integration in production (thanks to the Sandoz family, of course) has resulted in a group of five facilities in Fleurier, Switzerland. In reality there are several top-tier brands (which will remain unnamed) that boast “in-house” cases, dials, and components but actually source from Parmigiani. In other words, he’s not chasing trends or bigger sales.
Parmigiani Fleurier owns a 75% stake in Vaucher, the manufacture that makes movements for Richard Mille among others, with Hermes claiming a 25% minority stake. This relationship has made it so the leather straps on Parmigiani Fleurier watches are Hermes. I reviewed the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe on the bracelet, but having handled one on the strap, they do feel about as high quality as you’d expect.
In addition to movements done at Vaucher, there are four other facilities in Fleurier, Switzerland that create the vertically integrated Parmigiani Fleurier manufacture, which is officially known as Manufactures Horlogeres de la Fondation (MHF). Quadrance et Habillage is the facility where all the aspects of the dial are done, such as printing, varnishing, fitting indices, among every other little detail that goes into it. Les Artisans Boitiers (LAB) is the case making facility, Atokalpa SA creates pinions, gears, escapement components, and some other parts. Finally, Elwin SA focuses on the smallest of parts like balance shafts.
Parmigiani Fleurier produces about 6,000 watches per year and the patronage of the Sandoz foundation makes it so they really don’t have to make compromised products due to economic pressure. This really affects all aspects of the brand including marketing. Say what you will, but it is refreshing to never see obnoxious ad campaigns or embarrassing ambassadors.
Keeping all this in mind, the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe is one of the entry level watches from Parmigiani Fleurier, but one that isn’t designed to be a bulk seller. Rather, it introduces Parmigiani to a market set that appreciates and admires the brand but isn’t quite at the level of spending hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
This is a gateway Parmigiani Fleurier, and it is a slippery slope if you get hooked.
Something that bothers a lot of watch enthusiasts is when a brand just beats a collection to death. Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hublot, Panerai, and a few others are luxury watch brands that are pretty much synonymous with a single watch line or style. In some cases this is unfair, like with JLC, but Audemars Piguet could just change their name to Royal Oak at this point.
On the other hand, for a brand that makes so few watches each year, Parmigiani Fleurier has quite a few distinct and well-developed lines. The Tonneau-shaped Kalpa line has some notable chronographs, such as the Chronor which has a movement done in gold that is impressive in photos and jaw-dropping in person. The Ovale Pantographe pieces have some of the most interesting and whimsical hands on any watch, period. And Tonda, which roughly translates to “round” in Italian, is the biggest range from Parmigiani. Obviously, these watches all have round dials and include pieces like the simple 1950 which is their entry-level dress watch as well as the Calendrier Annuel (that’s Annual Calendar if you needed the translation).
Of course, the Bugatti co-branded watches like the $300,000 Type 390 are some of the most outrageous and creatively impressive timepieces I can imagine. Seriously, I can’t go into it all here but look into these if you’re not already familiar.
My point here is that Parmigiani Fleurier as a whole has a diverse body of work as well as a very high learning curve, even for seasoned watch enthusiasts. Were it not for pieces like the Métrographe and the slightly cheaper time-only Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950, Parmigiani would sadly be such a collectors-only brand, that it would be impossible for admirers with a budget to engage with it.
The month I spent with the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe was marked with so many moments where I just admired the case, lugs, and hands on this watch. If you’re looking at luxury chronographs in that $10,000-$15,000 range, I’d implore you to see if there’s a nearby boutique and try the Métrographe on.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the previous generation of the Métrographe, which was produced between 2014 when it was introduced and 2017 when this updated version was released. The date window seemed to gratuitously shoehorn its way through the 6 o’clock chronograph sub-dial, and now has found a much better home above the brand logo at 12 o’clock. The unavoidable, Cracker Barrel serving sized slathering of lume on the chronograph subdials that create a figure 8 was another puzzling decision.
I am glad that a brand like Parmigiani Fleurier, which can be seen as insulated, edited and revised the Métrographe. Fortunately, these deal-breaking gripes of mine were remedied. There were other changes made such as the addition of a tachymetre scale (which I can do without) and smaller hour markers which don’t make the dial look quite so squeezed anymore. Even with this change, the sub-dials still seem too small for the dial.
Another change from the outgoing model is that the case was slightly slimmed down from 12.2mm to 11.7mm. Nothing huge, but slimmer is always better. This puts the Métrographe right between the Rolex Daytona which is 12.2mm thick and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph which is 11mm thick.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe’s drop-shaped lugs are immediately eye-catching, curving around the wrist. The drop-shaped tois an aesthetic signature of the brand and one that I appreciated almost every time I put the watch on for the month or so that I wore it. Since the steel case is 40mm wide and the lug-to-lug is only 46mm, the Métrographe is much smaller than I’d typically prefer, but the considerable lug width of 24mm helps bring it all together. Wearing the watch on the bracelet was non-negotiable for me, as the strap just downsizes the whole piece too much for me.
The right side of the asymmetrical case has the two integrated, oval-shaped pushers on either side of the crown. Parmigiani Fleurier kept the pushers short which I’m always happy about just because I tend to wear a watch closer to my wrist and jabbing chronograph pushers are a pretty common annoyance.
There is very little bezel here which can otherwise look overly delicate and mismatched on a chronograph, especially with such a prominent bracelet. The case is decidedly not seamless due to the large, stylized lugs that basically have their own independent identity. Looking at the watch face straight on, the case and lugs work together while still creating a polylithic design that highlights the separation between the two.
Of note, the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Métrographe is water-resistant to 30m, so don’t swim with one.
For me, the conversation about the case can’t really move forward without discussing the bracelet. I truly found that the Métrographe on bracelet and the Métrographe on the leather strap are almost two different watches with totally different identities.
The lugs allow for this relatively small watch to wear well on my 7.5 inch wrist without looking and feeling undersized. It may not be worth stating since it’s so obvious from the photos, but the bracelet thankfully tapers off. The 24mm lug width is what allows the bracelet to add some visual heft to this otherwise modestly sized watch. For comparison the Rolex Daytona and Omega Speedmaster Professional each have a lug width of 20mm. You’ll typically find 24mm lug width on watches much bigger than the Métrographe, such as the 46mm Breitling Navitimer.
When I first put the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Metrographe on my wrist and closed the butterfly clasp bracelet, I was a little taken aback at how light it was, then quickly realized why that is. The bracelet has polished steel end links which afford aesthetic uniformity with the case, but the large center links are all satin-finished Grade 5 titanium. I personally typically prefer a steel case to a titanium one because I’m one of those people that enjoys some weight and heft on my wrist but this mixed steel and titanium bracelet is just fantastic.
The Patek Philippe Nautilus has what is my favorite bracelet, though the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is also nearly perfect. When considering brands with bigger mass production numbers, Rolex makes the best bracelets out there. This bracelet isn’t on the same level as these, but I love that it evokes the same feeling that there is no better home for this bracelet other than the watch it is attached to. Looking at the profile of the watch, the sides of the end links mirror the drop shape of the lugs which is a detail that put a bow on how pleased I was with the bracelet.
The Métrographe is available with a black or white dial, the latter of which is a little more formal. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to review the black dial on the bracelet, so there wasn’t much debate about that.
I previously mentioned the dial improvements from the last generation Métrographe, but I want repeat my complaint about the how the sub-dials look undersized. Even so, I really like the decision to replace the seconds sub-dial with a double track running seconds dial (this was debuted in the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Chronor Anniversaire) that provides a fresh look when it comes to most chronographs with their stylistically homogeneous, uniformly sized sub-dials. Along with the large hour counter at 6 o’clock, the result is an atypical chronograph dial that I am very fond of. The figure-8 at the chronograph sub-dials at 6 and 9 o’clock is now much more subtle, with the ‘8’ formed by raising the area that creates the shape. Previously, this was done by lume which, again, was just not great in my opinion.
I find tachymeter scales to be vestigial wastes of space, but in this case the watch needs the addition of something sporty. Otherwise, it would be too much “dress” when it comes to a dress chronograph. The fine concentric circle patterns around the hour markers as well as in the sub-dials are done using a very fine chasing tool and add some much needed visual texture and variety to the dial without being as unavoidable as a tachymeter scale.