Parmigiani Fleurier is often under rated for their full independence and in-house technical prowess. The manufacture comprises of a group of companies, all held by the Sandoz Foundation. And are almost fully self-sufficient, from small parts and escapement manufacture by Atokalpa, turning parts from Elwin, movement manufacture by Vaucher, dials from Quadrance et Habillage and cases by Les Artisans Boîtiers, and finally Parmigiani Fleurier (PF), the jewel in the crown. PF itself comprises of specialist ateliers as well as a well known restoration department. From the ateliers come the subject of our review: The Parmigiani Fluerier Tonda 1950 Tourbillon.
The Parmigiani Fluerier Tonda 1950 Tourbillon
The Tonda is Parmigiani’s classical line. Beautifully proportioned clean lines, classic round case with elegant and slightly curved lugs. The series range from an entry level Tonda 1950 time only watch to the rather more complicated calendars, skeletons and this Tourbillon. The Tonda 1950’s movement is based on an automatic movement of Parmigiani design and production: the PF700.The PF700 is designed by Michel Parmigiani himself, and bears some resemblance to the Chopard LUC 1.96 as they share the same origins.
Unlike many of Parmigiani’s tourbillons which make one revolution every 30 seconds, the Tonda 1950 Tourbillon is rather more conventional in that it makes one revolution every 60 seconds. But the watch is unusual in several aspects:
Firstly, it features a flying tourbillon. First conceived by Alfred Helwig, the flying tourbillon is cantilevered, being only supported from one side rather than supported by a bridge or cock on both sides. The absence of one bridge/cock enables the constructor to build a thinner movement.
Secondly, it features a micro-rotor. The micro-rotor is on the same plane as the movement train, and is typically used to construct a thinner movement.
Thirdly and perhaps most interestingly, it makes claim to be the “World’s Thinnest Automatic Flying Tourbillon with Micro Rotor”. Interesting claim. Worth an exploration and analysis.
Tale of the tape
Will the real thinnest tourbillon please stand up?
Perhaps it is instructive to look at ultra thin tourbillons. Historically, it was probably Audemars Piguet who made not only the first automatic tourbillon, but also the first to claim thinnest. The year was 1986, and the watch was the remarkable AP Caliber 2870. The watch had no case or dial so to speak of. The movement plate served both as the dial and the back as the case. A thin bezel and two sapphire crystals, and that was the watch. It was a bumper automatic, meaning the automatic winding system was not powered by a rotor, but a kind of a siding rocker in the same plane as the movement train. The watch had no hand winding system, and the watch was started by shaking it. There was a small crown on the back of the case which is used for only time setting. The case measured a slim 2.5mm. Truly a very interesting watch. This link to the Timezone article by the author’s friend Walt Odets tell the story in more detail.
AP held this record for a long time, and still does hold the “Thinnest Automatic Tourbillon ever made”. In the meantime, along came Piaget‘s quest for the Altiplano with their 600P, handwound, 3.5mm thick and their 1270 automatic with micro rotor, 5.5mm thick. And more recently Arnold & Son‘s UTTE which is hand wound, with a movement thickness of 2.7mm. All still thicker than the automatic AP’s 2.5mm case thickness.
It was only when Bulgari came up with the BVL 266, when the movement thickness fell below 2mm. The Bulgari measured a scant 1.95mm thick. However, it was a hand wound movement, in the very beautiful Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, it had a case which was 5mm high, so the AP keeps the crown. At least for case thickness. We can of course argue that the BVL 266 is the thinnest tourbillon movement at only 1.95mm.
Within the arena of automatic tourbillons, Breguet holds fort with their 5377 in a 7mm thick case, and a movement which was just 3mm high. AP is still slimmer.
Parmigiani Fleurier claims their Tonda 1950 Tourbillon with the PF517 movement as the “World’s Thinnest Automatic Flying Tourbillon with Micro Rotor”. A mouthful. But one which is carefully crafted. We can clearly see in the non-exhaustive survey above, the tale of the tape is not in PF’s favour. But with clever marketing, it can claim a crown. A very specific one, with fences and boundary lines created to eliminate its competitors. How is this so? We can argue that the AP is no longer in production, nor does it have a micro-rotor. Hence not in contention. We can also claim that the Breguet is not a flying tourbillon (though this seems to put Breguet in an advantageous light as a flying tourbillon is usually thinner than a regular one), and it is equipped with a peripheral rotor rather than a micro-rotor. And the Bulgari is hand-wound. Leaving the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Tourbillon to claim a crown of its very own.
Back to the Tonda 1950 Tourbillon
As mentioned it is a very handsome watch. Classic proportions, elegant design.
As a nod to their ownership of Quadrance et Habillage, the specialist dial maker, the Tonda 1950 Tourbillon is available in a variety of dials. Each magnificent and extremely beautiful. The eggshell textured ecru like the one we photographed as well as dials in white jade, black jade, grey mother of pearl, and deep blue with Geneva stripes are options. All of which feature the rather unusual, but very engaging placement of the tourbillon cutout at 7 o’clock.
The movement is also classically laid out, and well finished, though we did note some anomalies, in particular the uneven nature of some of the anglage.
On the wrist it sits comfortably. The diameter is 40.2mm and with the thin profile of 8.65mm case makes nice proportions.
Retail price in Singapore is S$214,100 with GST in rose gold with the eggshell ecru dial as shown. The watch is also available in white gold and a variety of dials, and a diamond set version.