Parmigiani on the wings of the dragon

With growth climbing 20% in 2011 and forecast to reach 15% in 2012, Parmigiani ended the year on a high, driven by a business model which, curtailed by production capacity, couldn't quite deliver as hoped. A shining example of this success, Le Dragon et la Perle du Savoir is the latest allegory from the Tempus Fugit concept.
By : Christophe Roulet
Published in :

When Michel Parmigiani talks about Tempus Fugit, the inspiration for unique creations which embody the highest degree of expertise in Fine Watchmaking, his eyes light up. This sparkle was evident at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) when he presented Le Dragon et la Perle du Savoir (The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom), an extraordinary horological automaton and the latest illustration of this concept to date. Over a period of six thousand hours, some twenty professions - virtually every one of the métiers d'art involved in watchmaking - helped bring the dragon to life. Possibly the sparkle in Michel Parmigiani's eyes was tinted with relief, as the dragon had alighted only the day before, when the final touches had been made.

An obsessive attention to mechanisms

This allegorical objet d'art symbolises an ancestral Chinese myth that the novice who enters the emperor's court can never possess the knowledge which only the supreme master can hold. Chasers, enamellers, stone-setters, sculptors, lapidaries, engravers, jewellers and, of course, watchmakers are just some of the craftsmen and women who helped fashion this creature into a showcase for Parmigiani's savoir-faire; the consequence of years spent poring over the work of masters past so as to better assimilate and perpetuate this science.
Le Dragon et la Perle du Savoir is the epitome of how Parmigiani approaches each of its timepieces, with an almost obsessive attention to the mechanics of time and its most consummate complications, and to the métiers d'art whose talent is to bring its quintessence to the fore. The dragon, which the legend tells us began as a carp which succeeded in swimming a river to leap through the dragon's gate, is sculpted from a block of solid silver. Its 585 scales are carved, chased and set with multiple nuances of mother-of-pearl. The creature rests on a transparent cleaved rock crystal base through which the rotating mechanism can be admired.

The limits of success

In a similar vein, and following the presentation last autumn of the Toric Minute Repeater which displays time in sectors, inspired by an early 1800s' pocket watch by Frères Perrin, Parmigiani came to the SIHH 2012 with the Tonda Retrograde Annual Calendar with precision moon phase. It is driven by the Manufacture's seventeenth in-house movement. This exceptional timepiece once again confirms Parmigiani as a master of complex yet supremely legible timepieces.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Parmigiani is a victim of its own success, unable to ride the growth train at full tilt because of vertical integration and the limits imposed by production capacity, but also an overriding and quasi-religious respect for quality. The firm nonetheless recorded 20% growth in 2011 with some 5,000 watches distributed at 280 points of sale. A figure expected to rise to 6,000 watches or 15% growth in 2012. Responding to the dwindling ranks of independent distributors, Parmigiani has taken important steps to restructure its business upstream and created five wholly-owned distribution subsidiaries in its key markets. Similar measures will be implemented this year, along with the introduction of new representatives for the brand. "We are convinced that Parmigiani holds all the cards to assert its presence and become a major player at the high end of the market," concluded CEO Jean-Marc Jacot.

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