Snakes in the US$395,000 Watch

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 7, 2019.
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Parmigiani’s Toric Capitole ‘Waves’ in rose gold has an undeniable horological joie de vivre


Parmigiani Fleurier has a long history of looking to unusual past masterpieces for inspiration — one of the best known examples is the Pantographe wristwatch, which has an oval case and telescoping hands that mimic the appearance of a pantograph machine (a tracing device that allows one to make a bigger or smaller copy of a drawing or design). The Pantographe is based on a most ingenious oval pocket watch, which was made by the English makers, Vardon and Stedman, around 1800, and is part of the Sandoz Collection.

Another quite spectacular piece in the Sandoz Collection is a pocket watch made by Perrin Freres, of Neuchatel, from around the same period as the Vardon and Stedman pocket watch. The Perrin Freres timepiece has a wandering hours complication, in which the minutes are shown in a sector on the front of a watch by a numeral showing the hour, which “wanders” across the sector over a 60 minute interval. It is also a repeater, with gongs that have a serpentine shape and which have alternating blue and white stripes, giving them the appearance of snakes. Parmigiani Fleurier has created Toric Capitole wristwatches based on this pocket watch in the past (as unique pieces, although all share the same basic case design and movement) and this year they have released the latest version: The Toric Capitole “Waves.”

This is really watchmaking as art, as was the original pocket watch. There was a period prior to the general adoption of technology necessary for watches to be real precision timekeepers (bimetallic balances, the lever escapement, and mainsprings capable of delivering something like a stable amount of torque across a reasonable power reserve, among other things) during which watchmakers competed with each other in making portable timekeepers of the highest possible amusement value, as to-the-second daily accuracy was something of a crapshoot. As watches became more precise, they also became less and less ornamental, but there is an undeniable, horological joie de vivre in watches like the Perrin Freres pocket watch and many of its contemporaries, that became something of an endangered species as the age of the precision watch wore on through the mid-to-late 19th century.

The Toric Capitole “Waves” is a modern watch technologically, of course, but it is still in the same spirit as the pocket watch on which it is based and like the pocket watch, is a repository of high-craft watchmaking techniques. The dial execution is a new one for the Toric Capitole family of watches, with enamel waves contrasting with the mother-of-pearl minute track, and the double bezel and gracefully downturned lugs combined with the overall flawless finish of the 45mm x 12.1mm case give the watch, interestingly, a more classic feel than the rather baroquely ornate impression given by the pocket watch.

The “Waves” duplicates the snake-motif gongs found in the original pocket watch — this was done by first resin-coating strips of the gongs, heat-bluing them, and then removing the coating; this leaves the distinctive pattern of blue-and-white stripes that make both the “Waves” and the original pocket watch so visually arresting. The gongs are also “cathedral” gongs, which make two complete turns around the circumference of the movement, and the resulting deep, rich tones make the “Waves” as pleasant aurally as it is rich visually.

The Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Capitole “Waves”: Case, 45mm x 12.1mm, 18k rose gold, sapphire front and back; 30m water resistance. Movement: Parmigiani Fleurier calibre PF321, hand-wound; frequency 18,000 vph; 34mm x 8.5mm with wandering hours. Unique piece, US$395,000 (RM1.64 million). — Bloomberg

Originally published on Hodinkee.