Review: The new Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar Watch

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The calendar is an indispensable component of civilisation. It allows us to chart the flow of time in order to better organise milestones pertaining to religion, agriculture, and social life, among other things. Of the many types of calendars that we are aware of, the Chinese calendar remains one of the most complex. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, where the lunar and solar calendars are calculated separately and then synchronised. This is accomplished by the addition of an extra lunar month (the 13th month) which allows the two cycles to coincide. The calendar conveys a wealth of information such as solar terms, the arrival of seasons, day and month number, name of year and so forth. This makes Chinese calendars a challenge to implement in watchmaking. Of course, this isn’t to say that it hasn’t been done. There are currently several Chinese calendar watches available in the market, the most impressive of which has to be the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar.

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar

The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar has a retail price of SGD 106,600 inclusive of GST.

It bears mentioning that this isn’t Parmigiani Fleurier’s first rodeo with complex calendars. The brand has tackled the Gregorian annual calendar and more recently, the Islamic calendar, resulting in the award-winning Hijri Perpetual Calendar. Armed with the experience of constructing complex solar and lunar calendar movements, Parmigiani Fleurier then decided to take it to the next level. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the Tonda PF Xiali Calendar, the most complete Chinese calendar wristwatch ever made.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The Tonda PF is Parmigiani Fleurier’s sports watch line, introduced back in 2021. Key features of the Tonda PF case include the teardrop lugs, the knurled bezel, the integrated bracelet, and the signature way that it is polished along the sides of the bracelet. Each of these elements, of course, are also found on the case of the Xiali Calendar. Measuring 42 mm x 12.2 mm, the Xiali Calendar case is crafted in stainless steel with the exception of the knurled bezel, which is made of platinum for some extra radiance.

As far as sports watches are concerned, the case and bracelet design of the Tonda PF remains one of the most elegant with its teardrop lugs, knurled platinum bezel, and alternating brushed and polished finish.

Three other tell-tale signs of a Tonda PF are the openworked delta hour and minute hands, cropped hour marker appliques, and the barleycorn guilloche dial. On the Tonda PF Xiali Calendar, the latter is rendered in a striking ‘Imperial Red’ hue, befitting of the theme of the watch.

The barleycorn guilloched dial is given an absolutely regal shade of red that stands out even from a mile away.

A third central hand points to the perimeter of the dial where the solar term display is. There are 24 solar terms per solar year, six for each season. Each term has a Chinese name derived from the natural world relating to the change of season and climate. The solar terms determine the agricultural calendar and correspond with traditional Chinese festivals.

Moving inwards, we are met with four sub-dials in a cruciform layout, often also the layout of choice for perpetual calendar displays. Starting from the bottom, we have the familiar moon phase display. The moon phase disc is adorned with a layer of aventurine to depict the starry night sky. Two pink gold moons complete the indicator as they display the phases of the moon for the southern and northern hemispheres. Meanwhile, the months are displayed at the 9 o’clock sub-dial. Instead of names, the months are numbered, usually from one to twelve. An aperture within the sub-dial indicates if an additional 13th month is in play, which occurs around every three years.

At 12 o’clock, three levels of information are conveyed in a single sub-dial, all of which are related to the year. The outermost layer displays the name of the year, the middle layer indicates the corresponding animal (the Chinese zodiac), while the innermost layer tells us the corresponding element and whether it’s yin or yang (denoted by the darker or lighter shades). Finally, the 3 o’clock sub-dial displays the date, with a window indicating if it’s a long or short day.

The Movement

Driving the Tonda PF Xiali Calendar is the new 353-part, 42-jewel Calibre PF008. The automatic movement has a respectable 54 hours of power reserve when fully wound and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency. The Calibre PF008 powers the highly complex traditional Chinese calendar seen on the dial which in itself consists of multiple complications. As the Chinese calendar is not cyclical, it is mechanically programmed and covers a period of 12 years via a cam system. At the end of the 12 years, the watch needs to be reset by a qualified watchmaker for the next 12-year period. Like a perpetual calendar watch, during this 12-year period, no interventions are necessary to maintain calendar accuracy so long as the watch is kept running this entire duration. Of course, in practice, the watch – along with the calendar – is almost certainly not going to run for 12 years uninterrupted. Now you might be thinking: setting a complex lunisolar calendar that’s died for an appreciable period of time, indicator by indicator, sure sounds like a Kafkaesque nightmare. And you’d be right. But thankfully, the good folks at Parmigiani Fleurier have thought this through. If the watch does stop, corrections can be made easily and quickly simply by changing the day and month number with rapid correctors located at the sides of the case.

The Calibre PF008 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back

From a finissage perspective, the Calibre PF008 is expectedly excellent. The most eye-catching part of the movement has to be the skeletonised pink gold oscillating weight. It is meticulously finished with multiple techniques, including mirror polishing, sandblasting, and satin finishing. The top surface of the bridges is adorned with Geneva waves and gold-filled engravings. The edges of these bridges are beveled and polished, with a handful of rounded and sharp, outward angles to be found. Screws with polished heads secure them to a base plate decorated with perlage.

The Competitive Landscape

Calendar watches don’t get much more sophisticated and interesting than the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar. The Chinese calendar is a complication that hasn’t been attempted by many manufacturers given how niche it is and complex. With the Tonda PF Xiali Calendar, Parmigiani Fleurier have indeed set the bar real high as the new industry gold standard. The watch, which is not a limited edition piece, retailing at just a tad above SGD 106k.

The Tonda PF Xiali Calendar fits perfectly as the lugs and supple bracelet wraps around the wrist with comfort and security.

No talk about Chinese calendar wristwatches is ever complete without the mention of the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar. The watch – the first of its kind – was unveiled in 2012 in the year of the dragon in the previous cycle. It combines the Gregorian and Chinese calendars for maximal practicality. The drawback to this is the need for a larger case to accommodate the complex movement and displays; at 45.2 mm x 15.1 mm, the Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar is best worn on a large wrist. Now, a full 12 years after the debut of the watch, the most popular Chinese zodiac is back in the spotlight with Blancpain releasing a new variant with a green enamel dial. This 2024 edition of the Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar, rendered in rose gold, is limited to 50 pieces only and is estimated to cost prospective buyers around EUR70,000 (exact price only upon request).

Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar with white enamel dial

If you’re just after an elegant wristwatch with an exotic calendar, then look no further than the Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar Ref. 5212A. The calendar may not be Chinese or even as complex, but it sure is as uncommon as they come. First introduced in 2019, the Ref. 5212A displays the date, day, month and, of course, the week number – a function that those in the business world may find helpful. This is the brand’s first weekly calendar timepiece and also one of a handful made in the modern era. Of the three watches here, the Ref. 5212A is unsurprisingly the smallest at 40 mm. Available only in stainless steel, it is priced at USD38,440.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar Ref. 5212A

Concluding Thoughts

It’s not everyday that you see a sports watch combined with a Chinese calendar. After all, it does sound like a mismatch at first pass. Why would one need a Chinese calendar display on a sports watch capable of shallow diving? The same reason why anyone needs a mechanical watch: you don’t. But if there had to be a Chinese calendar on any sports watch, it’d have to be the Tonda PF. In fact, thanks to the elegance of the Tonda PF, the Chinese calendar doesn’t even feel out of place until you think real hard about it. Parmigiani Fleurier deserves full credit for executing the Tonda PF Xiali Calendar to such levels of excellence. Here’s to more niche calendar displays from the brand, sports watch or not.


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