October 9, 2015
by Rob Nudds
Time leaves scars on us all. There is no way to avoid the ageing process, no way to slow time’s relentless assault on our delicate physical form. Terrifying as the thought may be, we start to appreciate the marks that time left on our skin as we perhaps start seeing it as character – it is impossible to imitate and it is unique. That’s just what I think about when I look down at my wrist and see the face of the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite staring back up at me. The dial, hewn from a slither of an ancient space traveller, took a long road to my wrist, but I appreciate it all the more for it. I appreciate it because there’s nothing like it: it’s a piece of natural history, and it’s telling me the time.
The slither of space metal on my wrist says nothing. It sits there, rarely more at rest than it is today, housed in titanium and anti-reflective sapphire, protected from the dust that once pelted its surface at mind-boggling speeds, leaving characterful striations that Parmigiani have taken pains to preserve and project. Having been colored by a world-first process of galvoplasticisation, the dial is now forever in state. Its journey is at an end. It has arrived, and with it, brought an ever-present prompt for us to look to the heavens and imagine what wonders await us there.
Let’s face it, a watch face is one of the most important components that constitute a timepiece. Whether they exist to aid, shock, inspire, or whether they don’t exist at all, the way in which the time kept by the movement is relayed to the wearer is of paramount importance. It is on dials we see art, sculpture, and messages. In this instance, we see history. A genuine piece of meteorite has been cut, shaped, and treated so it is able to perform this essential function. Applied silver markers in Parmigiani’s typically slender style excellently compliment the slim zigs and zags of the dial. The surrounding silver markers make the watch appear as if it is about to enter warp speed and are an excellent frame for this astronomically-inspired piece.
Located at six o’clock, a running seconds sub-dial is distinguished from the meteoric background by the insertion of a plain, blue disc. I imagine the decision to use a second material rather than simply carve a differentiating pattern directly into the rock was motivated by the structural inconsistency of meteorite and the possibility that cutting into the surface any more might weaken it to the point of catastrophe.
The case is crafted from polished titanium. Measuring 39mm wide and a very slender 7.97mm thick, this watch weighs practically nothing on your wrist. In fact, were it not for the tough leather strap (indigo blue alligator leather by Hermes), taking a few days to wear in, I wouldn’t have known I had it on. Comfortable as titanium is, I have to admit, I was surprised that a watch of this style would choose such a material. To me, white gold or platinum would have made more sense, but titanium was selected because the designers felt it better suited the meteorite. There is something earthy about titanium that gold and platinum lack. It’s also cheaper, so helped prevent the cost of this watch from ballooning into the stratosphere.
The movement, the PF701, is a self-winding calibre with a power reserve of 42 hours, accumulated by way of an eccentric oscillating weight. The off-center rotor is made out of platinum and nicely engraved with a lattice pattern and the “PF” logo. Interestingly, the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite uses ceramic ball bearings for the rotor, as opposed to the traditional steel.
This is not particularly uncommon any more, but it is worth noting the investment in quality Parmigiani have made with their in-house movements. Roughly speaking, ceramic bearings cost about twice that of steel. There is much debate over whether they noticeably reduce friction, but most experts agree that there is a benefit in terms of smoothness and longevity, however incremental it may be. Also, Parmigiani have used a lot more bearings than one might expect to see. A continuous, unbroken line of white spheres can clearly be seen with the naked eye. It’s a pity the smoothness of the oscillating weight’s rotation is not mirrored by the manual winding mechanism.
The Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite watch features a 4.3mm crown, by which the 145-component movement can be wound. The crown is just about big enough to grip and wind, but as might be expected with such a delicate watch, it isn’t the easiest to operate. Additionally, this watch has a very light click spring and a noticeably steep transmission. The speed of the click spring fluttering makes a high-pitched whirring, which you might notice but shouldn’t worry about. It took a little visual examination to confirm the source of the sound was no cause for concern. Even if the sound does annoy you, the uni-directional rotor should be more than capable of keeping the watch fully wound.
That is, of course, assuming the watch is worn every day. The Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite watch is small, and its components, light. It has been designed to operate at 21,600vph. And yet, almost certainly because of its slightness, its power reserve is only 42 hours. This is not low, per se, but this is very much an occasional watch. I would definitely wear it for work and formal functions, because it is so light, comfortable, and stylish. But I certainly would not wear it around the house, down the pub, or while doing anything in any way active. It is too nice, too refined to use as a casual piece. Therefore, it could easily go a day or two without making its way onto your wrist. For that reason, a higher power reserve would have been nice, but it is a small complaint given the increased wearability of this piece thanks to its lightness.
The PF701 movements itself is very attractive. It is incredibly simple, does not make a particular effort to reveal its workings, and is mostly just rhodium-plated brass, as is the norm. It is, however, excellently finished with Côtes de Genève pattern and hand-bevelled edges. Gilded engraving and the platinum rotor weight add a flash of class to this elegantly simple piece.
The Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite boasts the brand’s classic case shape. I am a huge fan of the lug design. I love the way the outside edge of the lug would create a smooth, unbroken line from tip to tip, passing over the apex of the case-edge curve, were it not for the sudden, jutting interruption of the line. That “broken sweep” creates an aggressive yet still refined appearance. It’s just a lovely, simple way to create case character, and is very memorable for it. The ardillon buckle is engraved with the “PF” logo and is also highly polished. The Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite watch retails for a price of €17,500, which is around $19,500, or £12,500. Parmigiani.ch
>Model: Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite
>Size: 39mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The classy guy, who exudes style rather than shoving it in your face. And my dad (because he’s a geologist and would love the dial).
>Best characteristic of watch: The galvanoplastised dial is an aesthetic marvel, but I think the platinum off-center rotor weight gave me more pleasure over time.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Hard to fault it, but maybe the winding work components could be a little more robust. The click spring it so fine, it emits a high-pitched buzz upon winding, which I found a little irritating.