According to Parmigiani, among its primary goals when designing the new Parmigiani Tonda PF Micro-Rotor was to create “a purist’s delight for those in the know,” [a watch] “that doesn’t scream expensive but says excellence.” You probably don’t need me to remind you: In the competitively ostentatious world of luxury watches, this is an exceedingly rare statement. To be honest, neither the first digital nor the first, albeit brief, physical impression of the Tonda PF sufficed to convince me that it had achieved said excellence. And so, I was curious to find out how the willfully discreet and ostensibly pared-down all-steel version faired in the real world. Here’s the full review of the Parmigiani Tonda PF Micro-Rotor watch in steel.
Context: A Few Words On Parmigiani’s Past & Present
The watch brand Parmigiani Fleurier is celebrating its 25th anniversary, although it has actually been over four decades now that Michel Parmigiani had a decisive encounter with the Sandoz family, which owns a very large collection of automatons and clocks. Entrusted with its maintenance and encouraged by the Sandoz Family Foundation, it was right around 1980 that Mr. Parmigiani first considered creating his own brand.
Fast forward to the 2010s and now 2020s, and the vertically integrated (meaning proper) manufacture bearing this master watchmaker and restorer’s name has gone through more CEOs than every season of the Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank combined. Why? Well, maybe it is because Parmigiani Fleurier has long struggled to break the shatterproof glass ceiling installed by historic luxury brand names such as Breguet, Blancpain, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, only for said glass ceiling to be celebrated by their safe-purchase-seeking customers.
Even though a lot of these historic brands have exchanged owners multiple times, often having been reduced to nothing more than a registered trademark and a logo, their ethos nevertheless more easily resonated with the flocks of inexperienced customers seeking to purchase their first ever five-figure watch.
Having the ability to rub 1735, 1775, 1875 or other such “old dates” right into the face of the timid watch buyer is a luxury a lot of these bought and resold. hibernated and revived “historic brands” would have been stupid not to harness, day in and day out. Although the market has, in recent times, become considerably more open to supporting newcomer and fresh luxury watch brands, exhibiting powerful legitimacy remains a challenge for Parmigiani Fleurier and its kin.
Enter Guido Terreni, who’s left his executive position at Bulgari’s seven times world-record-breaking watch division to take the helm at Parmigiani. Having transformed Bulgari from a quirky-cool watch brand into a quirky-cool horological heavyweight, one could well say Terreni knows how to read the collective mind and expectation of seasoned watch lovers. And if there is a brand already geared especially for such seen-it-all and know-it-all purists, it is Parmigiani Fleurier. The Parmigiani Tonda PF is among the very first fresh creations to come from this Parmigiani-Terreni constellation, and that neatly leads us to the review.
What Is The Parmigiani Tonda PF?
The lazy answer would be to say that it is a steel luxury watch with an integrated bracelet. Despite its 100-meter water-resistance rating and screw-down crown (both of which should be peace-of-mind features present on every luxury watch, but they aren’t), the Tonda PF is no luxury sports watch. It falls on the dressy side of things so much that, at times, it didn’t quite feel right to wear with a white T-shirt and jeans. It just felt like I was noticeably and unquestionably under-performing in a sartorial sense when pairing my comfy daily wear with its bracelet that is more a polished ribbon of steel, its incredibly thin case, or its solid platinum bezel. A white-dialed version would be absolutely superb for my Oliver Twist outfit, but until that bright dial variant becomes a thing, it is the eloquently named Tonda GT that offers a somewhat more relaxed and adaptable vibe.
Design-wise, the Tonda PF is a superb weekday watch for those who wear at least a shirt, but preferably also a tasteful jacket, to work. Dressing up all the way to a suit is no hardship and, dare I say, this may be among those very few steel bracelet-equipped watches that I can imagine as an a-okay combination with a tux. Back to the weekday wear side of things, the Tonda PF offers that edge in restraint that the look-at-me Royal Oak, for example, with all its blindingly polished components, does not.
Parmigiani and Terreni have indeed succeeded at creating a watch that is very distinctly tailored to speak to its wearer – while only taking passing glances at their company. This, however, leads us to a self-induced problem or, shall we say, challenge of the Tonda PF.
The Self-Induced Challenge Of The Tonda PF
Call me slow if you wish, but it took me long to figure this one out: There is a difficult task that restrained watches have to tackle. They tend to do better in terms of long-term appreciation, as they tend to have more room to grow on their wearer over time (slowly revealing thoughtful details which take time to recognize), but the problem is that, in today’s world of instant gratification, discreet watches have a very tough job at standing out and making a lasting, powerful impression. I’m not saying the Tonda PF is not an impressive design — that is for everyone to decide on their own — but it can be very difficult to get not even on the My Next Watch Purchase list, but at least the 3-5 shortlist of candidate watches of prospective customers.
In other words, it is easy to subconsciously grow accustomed to watches with flashy, polished components and acres of different textures; watches that tend to have an easier job at standing out and stimulating our senses endlessly battered by social media, social expectations, one-upmanship, loud advertising, and so forth. It’s a tornado of two-second impulses, and chances are that in this world, a watch that is less will, sadly, appear as just that: less, and not more. Or maybe it’s just me, but if that’s the case, bear with me.
You see, if well-heeled customers overwhelmingly appreciated restraint and moderation, our luxury cars wouldn’t have 22-inch wheels from factory and 400 pounds of chromed plastic on their front; our luxury watches wouldn’t be 42-45 millimeters in all-polished-everything, and prêt-à-porter luxury fashion houses wouldn’t be plastering their wares in ostentatious patterns and logos. I am not trying to imply that you or I pursue these items, or if there’s anything wrong with any of that, rather simply pointing out the spiraling trend dictated by these preferences. Our collective senses are bombarded by Tiffany Blue® dials and Méga Tapisserie patterns and insane geometrics.
This, in turn, has strengthened the demand for decidedly restrained and minimalist alternatives. We have seen H. Moser & Cie, Moritz Grossmann, Glashütte Original, and even Grand Seiko debut some very expensive, yet heavily moderated watches. But such creations are still rather few and far between, and none have become runaway successes like the more instantly recognizable and flashier alternatives such as the Royal Oak, Nautilus, and others. Still, if anywhere, it is here that Parmigiani’s way to success may be. Terreni told the Financial Times, “In my 21 years of luxury, I have never seen a moment like this. Luxury is becoming bigger and bigger, and the bigger it becomes the more it becomes mainstream. This trend has given birth to a counter-trend of niche brands, of brands that are dedicated to clients who want to set themselves apart from mainstream homologation.”
About Excellence – Pros And Cons Of The Tonda PF
The fact of the matter is that Parmigiani has everything in-house and under its operation that it takes to create a luxury watch that’s not only expensive but also well-made and refined. The brand operates its proprietary dial and case manufacture, its own movement manufacture, and two other highly specialized factories for the production of essential and bespoke micro-components that make up movements. All in Switzerland. As far as I know, the only things they don’t make are the leather straps and the hands, and maybe the date discs. Bracelets, cases, lugs, bezels, indices, dials, screws, springs, plates, gears — they design, produce, decorate and assemble them all. That’s an immense commitment from a company that produces only a few thousand watches a year.
The result is a bespoke product with lots of horological jewelry, such as the almost imperceptibly minute guillochage pattern on the dial that looks soft and smooth as silk fabric, the solid platinum micro-rotor, the applied PF appliqué under 12 o’clock, or the, again, silky smooth action between the various bracelet links. There is something special to the weight of the Parmigiani Tonda PF, too. Despite being a remarkably thin watch (the movement is just 3.07mm-thick, and the 40mm-wide case is just 7.8mm-thick, even with 100-meter water resistance, screw-down crown, a self-winding caliber, and a date display)…
…It feels like it’s just about the perfect weight. It is substantial without being too heavy — it feels robust without feeling like a brick.
This is certainly in no small part due to the platinum components, namely the solid 950 platinum micro-rotor and the solid platinum bezel that is both wide and tall and therefore a substantial part of the exterior.
There are two elements to the Parmigiani Tonda PF that I struggled getting to grips with. First, since I just mentioned it, is the bezel. It is domed, angled, polished, and fluted: one of the most complex single-piece bezels out there with four different planes. There is a very good reason why a fluted platinum bezel is extremely rare (all fluted bezels on Rolex watches, for example, are exclusively crafted from soft 18k gold that is easy to work with, and never from platinum). Platinum is famously challenging to use for watch components, which is why watches with platinum cases or parts fetch a hefty premium over gold — even if the cost of gold as a material is actually higher.
Because it is so extremely difficult to machine — virtually impossible to consistently bring it to the hundreds of sharp edges like those seen on fluted gold bezels — the Tonda PF has a matte fluted pattern all around its lowest plane. Although nicely proportioned in its width and frequency, the pattern can and does look blunt and nowhere near as spectacular as the almost blinding shiny fluted bezels on a Rolex Datejust or Day-Date, and that will be a definite con for those looking for a flashy dress watch. For those Parmigiani is aiming at, it’ll be a pro. The target customer will like to remember that their precious guilloche dial is framed in platinum and that each of those lines was knurled by hand into the most challenging material in all of traditional luxury watch case manufacturing. Likewise, seeing the various angles and surfaces and the precision with which it is made actually renders this a top-tier effort in platinum fabrication, but even with that achieved, it looks distinctly less spectacular than fluted gold.
The second is the date window. It will definitely be appreciated by those fortunate folks who wear this watch on weekdays and, with this in mind, I should probably restrain from sharing this point. But restrain myself I cannot. I can’t help but feel that there should be a no-date alternative because this round dial and the round (beautifully made, even to the naked eye) PF logo and the delicate dial pattern are all of such a high grade of elegance and refinement that a date just seems too utilitarian. It’s like a biker’s reflective patch on a bespoke Holland & Sherry jacket.
Minor annoyances include the minute hand that, to my eyes, appears just a fraction too short, the absence of a micro-adjust in the clasp and the sharp-ish underside edges along the lugs. The one by far in the most dire need of rectification is the clasp: every five-figure luxury watch that is sold on a bracelet, in my opinion, should have some sort of a micro-adjust link or system built into the clasp. It may not be as elegant as the slim links fitting perfectly together as they do now on the Tonda PF (nicely done), but I did on multiple occasions have the clasp dig deep into the underside of my wrist. By contrast, once my wrist has contracted, the watch moved too easily, sliding up and down along it. Again, I understand the trade-off for a slim and elegant bracelet and clasp — but for daily wear, I’d much rather have a micro-adjust, whatever the cost. And, again, with a retail price over $20k and with a case and bracelet manufacture on hand, engineering a solution is very much due.
Creating a solid first-generation product is extremely difficult — and reaching excellence is in its own microcosm of effort, blood, tears, and do-overs. Due to its in-house manufacturing capacities, which have forever been geared for quality, the Parmigiani Tonda PF does not disappoint as far as overall feel and execution are concerned. Its laidback, restrained, moderate design is also a superb match for the brand and for its target audience. The wide bracelet is a developed taste, made a lot easier to wear in style due to the remarkably thin case, beautiful proportions, and stunning dial.
Nailing minute details such as the wearing comfort and minute hand length, and perhaps driving the refinement game all the way home with the elimination of a date display, could add those last very few percentage points missing from absolute excellence. A few more dial color options would also be welcome, but those will probably arrive sooner than later.
Overall, both the niche and its desires are very intelligently defined by Parmigiani, and their Tonda PF is a solid fresh offering that transforms those ideals into matter. I’m sure there’s a lot more to come where this came from. Price for the Parmigiani Tonda PF in steel is $22,900. You can learn more at the brand’s website.
>Brand: Parmigiani Fleurier
>Model: Tonda PF PFC914-1020001-100182
>Size: 40mm-wide, 7.8mm-thick.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Workdays, especially if I worked in the offices of a major company.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The one with a desire for nice things but none for all the attention those usually get.
>Best characteristic of watch: Its quality, details and intricacy ensure the Tonda PF will surprise and impress long into its ownership. Exudes quality without desperately asking for attention.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Needs a micro-adjust, minute hand could be a fraction longer.