InConversation: Guido Terreni, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier. The secrets of reviving a brand.

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Parmigiani Fleurier CEO was in town recently to show off his creations from Watches & Wonders Geneva 2023. We caught up with him for a tête-à-tête, and bring you insights from the Guido Terreni.

InConversation: Guido Terreni, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier. The secrets of reviving a brand.

We met before lunch at an interesting, new restaurant in town – Aniba, serving a new interpretation of Middle Eastern Cuisine with European style by Chef Meir Adoni. Guido was animated and high energy, as usual. I have had a rather long history with Parmigiani Fleurier, having spent the best part of autumn of 2010 in Fleurier working as a staff photographer for the maison.

We began with the usual exchange of phatic communion and pleasantries, we dived right into the matter.

Parmigiani Fleurier – evolution of a brand

First off, I asked about the evolution of Parmigiani Fleurier as a brand. With its roots founded by Michel Parmigiani’s genius and passion for watch restoration, Parmigiani was founded by the Sandoz Foundation in 1996 with Michel at the helm. The brand has seen many spectacular watches since, but have been mostly a commercially lukewarm brand, at best. It was not until the arrival of Guido Terreni as CEO in 2021, that we are beginning to see the brilliance of the maison. Prior to being the maison’s CEO, Guido had spent two decades at Bulgari’s horology division.

On arrival, he immediately set about to revamp the collection, while streamlining the distribution. He sorted out the Tonda collection, calling it the Tonda PF. With this were design changes to evolve the brand into what he calls private luxury. A quiet, sober and non-ostentatious luxury which is perhaps more old school (the Sandoz family is as old school wealthy as they come) than the brand was when he took over.

He had the interesting coincidence of joining the maison in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave him and his team a 7 month breather to focus on brand values. He aligned the brand’s diverse collection and distilled them into two – the Tonda PF and the Tonda PF Sport. And to innovate by injecting interpretations of useful complications. The Toric collection remains as a reference in both quiet luxury and high horology. It seems that, at least for now, the Kalpa collection is dropped.

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor Steel, reviewed in 2021.

The elements of the Tonda PF – the creation of a very small guilloché which almost looks sans texture at a distance, but showing the intricate guilloché pattern at close quarters. He revised the brand logo, made it small and discreet as it is not about the branding, but the expression of the owner’s own style. And with one fell swoop, he changed the fortunes of Parmigiani Fleurier.

The Tonda PF was an immediate success. In almost all the authorised retailers, the Tonda PF was quickly sold out, and a waitlist ensued. Even the special Pacific Blue model, created to celebrate partnership with Sincere Haute Horlogerie is in hot demand (we understand all 50 pieces have been spoken for not long after its launch).

Depth of communications

Guido also talked about the increase in the depth of communications from the maison. With this, he talked about grasping the nuances which make the brand unique, and communicating that. The look, style, the vibes of wearing a Parmigiani watch needs to be communicated. And he told us that he is choosing to use a mix of specialised media (like us!) and lifestyle media.

He took it on himself to continue direct engagement with media, both during the big watch shows like Watches & Wonders and in market visits. For a brand like Parmigiani, he sees the strategy to leverage on one single large mass launch event like Watches & Wonders. And while other brands are using a high frequency launch method, trickling novelties throughout the year, Guido feels that for Parmigiani, there is no need for that. Only one big watch event (W&W). Fewer novelties, but deeper engagement with the media, retailers and collectors.

Watches & Wonders 2023

He also talked about the practical complications, starting with this year’s introduction of the GMT Rattrapante and Minute Rattrapante. And also the revisit to cultural calendars, with this year’s Xiali Calendar.

The Minute Rattrapante is an interesting complication introduced this year. The watch is very elegant and looks like a regular Tonda PF, with two additional pushers on the left side of the case and a coaxial pusher on the crown. The lower side pusher advances a gold hand in 5 minute intervals, and the upper one at 10 o’clock in 1 minute intervals. That’s it! What does it do? This is one of the most interesting look at a new timing device for a long time. Not quite a chronograph, and yet perhaps more than a movable bezel, the complication is useful for many things. Like cooking pasta, where the timing can be set for say 11 minutes by pushing the 5 min jumper twice, and the 1 min jumper once. The minute hand will show how long till the pasta is perfectly cooked. And if the allocated time is up, will tell us when to dump the pasta when it gets overcooked beyond saving. Also useful for measuring time for parking. The only addition we might think of is a small alarm when the the timing has reached the target.

The other is the Xiali calendar, a perpetual calendar with indicators showing the Chinese calendar. Parmigiani is known for its ability to culturally adapt their calendar system. In 2019, they released the Muslim Hijri calendar incorporated in their watches, and this is Guido’s way of returning to the roots. The case is designed into the Tonda PF collection.

What’s next, I asked? I had to asked the question, knowing full well what the reply would be. Guido did as expected, and with a glint in his eye, he said, “Watch this space. We have many more interesting stuff in store!”.

Future grails and long term plans

Guido shared that in the longer term, he is positioning Parmigiani Fleurier as a reference for the understated elite. He opines that though this niche is not a new one, he wishes Parmigiani for it to be the entire embodiment of the brand. And not like other maisons where this genre is just addressed by one or two collection from an otherwise more diverse range of watches.

Guido’s distribution strategy is to grow by a natural rhythm. Since he became CEO, he has reduced the point of sale doors by 70%, focusing on quality rather than quantity. He disclosed that though Parmigiani is doing well globally, stand out markets are Japan, which is his top market. Next come the USA and China a close joint second. And the Middle East and Asia Pacific growing strongly.

Concluding remarks

Currently Parmigiani produces less than 4,000 watches a year, and is probably still able to grow. But Guido is only seeking for sustainable, organic growth. And to evolve with demand.

And with that, lunch calls. The other guests have arrived, and we concluded the discussion to proceed for a photo session. And for our mid-day meal.

I really enjoyed talking with Guido. He was candid. Animated at times, and very direct and honest. It gives me great confidence that with him at the helm, Parmigiani Fleurier is headed for great times.

Photo notes

The portraits of Guido Terreni were made in-situ at Aniba on September 13, 2023. I only used available lighting. Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 2.8/80 with H Adapter G.