The end of each year is filled with a number of festivities worth celebrating—Thanksgiving, the holidays, New Year’s Eve. For watch lovers, the season also marks Michel Parmigiani’s birthday. No, this doesn’t mean adding another line to your shopping list each December—quite the opposite. Instead, Michel Parmigiani gives us the gift of an incredible new timepiece every time he adds another candle to his birthday cake.
In the past, this has given us timekeepers including a limited edition Toric (the first wristwatch Parmigiani designed back in 1996) and Les Roses Carrées, a collection of minute repeaters inspired by the famed 25th-anniversary pocket watch of the same name. Last year, the celebration was particularly monumental with the debut of yet another exceptional pocket watch: the L’Armoriale. This one-of-a-kind masterpiece offers a chronograph, a minute repeater, and a perpetual calendar featuring a moon phase all housed in an 18-karat white gold case showcasing breathtaking grand feu enamel work.
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But this pocket watch is far more than this list of impressive features. Within 58.2mm of real estate, transports anyone who looks at it to the northern region of Italy from where Parmigiani’s family hails. Here, we find ourselves in the Palazzo Te in Mantua, a sixteenth-century royal palace strategically positioned at the crossroads of Milan, Genoa, and Venice. Within the Palazzo Te, we make our way to the Hall of Giants showcasing artist Giulio Romano’s Fall of the Titans. This Renaissance work incorporates both architectural elements and nature along with the harmony of the Golden Ratio, a principle that has long informed Parmigiani’s approach to design.
To take us on this journey, Parmigiani enlisted the expertise of four “Golden Hands” craftsmen to perform the fashioning of the chain, engraving of the case, and enameling of the back case. Here, we see the work of Laurent Jolliet, Eddy Jaquet, Christophe Blandenier, and Vanessa Lecci, who famously executed the enamel work of Parmigiani’s La Rose Carrée pocket watch. According to Lecci the teamwork between her and master engravers Jaquet and Blandenier was like “dancing a beautiful waltz.”
“The watch traveled between me and the engravers several times—before glazing and during engraving—in order to perfect the smallest details together; we talked to each other, we told each other about our respective technical requirements to help the complexity of our respective professions come together,” Lecci tells Robb Report. It was a very symbiotic process.”
It comes as no surprise that this was a true joint effort, scaling the larger-than-life work of Giulio Romano into a pocket watch. The Fall of the Titans depicts a crucial moment from the tale told by the Latin poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses in which the god Jupiter throws his thunderbolts to destroy the titans, causing buildings to crumble and leaving desperate titans in despair. For Lecci, it was key to reconcile this chaos.
“My palette is certainly a choice of colors based on the original work, but one of the challenges was accomplishing harmony between cold colors and warm colors to achieve something beautiful when the pocket watch is observed in its entirety because beauty soothes us; it makes us forget the chaos.”
Ultimately, she chose to work with transparent enamels as opposed to opaque to best harmonize with the engraving of the metal. Here, each color of enamel was ground in more than six different particle sizes, and throughout the application of each of the seven layers (a process that took roughly 50 hours of work), she had to decide which to use.
“This was a technical difficulty for me, but it was like an amusing game where I could win or lose everything during the firing process between each layer of color. Patience, concentration, and control were my essential allies. Thankfully, the result was impeccable!”
After the last fire comes the finishing stage of hand polishing, which brings the enamel work to life. For Lecci, this process of working with the canvas of a pocket watch is particularly rewarding for a few key reasons.
“The enameling of a pocket watch back case offers a completely different surface from a wristwatch dial, in part for its larger diameter but, more importantly, for the visual and tactile experience thanks to the absence of a protective glass. With a pocket watch, we can observe the engraved and enameled surface without filter. Here, the slightest defect is visible, and so developing the right technique to achieve this level of perfection, for me, is pure adrenaline! But on the other hand, this unobstructed interaction with the enamel work also allows us to experience the intricacies of its beauty.”
This is an understatement. The L’Armoriale Pocket Watch is a truly mesmerizing sight to behold. The synergy between the artisans is crystal clear, with each technique enhancing the other to create depth and movement, resulting in a timepiece that feels alive both inside and out. Of course, beating at the heart of this timekeeper is an equally impeccable caliber: a mechanical movement dating from 1890 and signed A. Golay Leresche & Fils in Geneva. The original caliber showcased a chronograph and minute repeater. However, in 1985, Michel Parmigiani restored the movement and added a perpetual calendar featuring a moon phase.
This one-of-a-kind work of art is available for purchase, with a price offered upon request by contacting Parmigiani Fleurier directly.
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