When Parmigiani Fleurier unveiled its refreshed new Tonda PF line at Geneva Watch Days in 2021, it marked an exciting new chapter for the Maison. The collection also marked Guido Terreni’s first as CEO of the brand. Formerly the head of watches at Bulgari, Terreni believes designing for a brand is a creative exercise that has to be very disciplined. “It has to interpret and convey the values of the Maison and it has to appeal to an audience that shares the same values,” he tells The Peak Malaysia.
Terreni tells us more about his design philosophy and Parmigiani Fleurier’s “rich minimalism” style in the conversation below:
You seem to have a very clear vision for Parmigiani Fleurier from the moment you became CEO. What are your ambitions for the brand?
Concerning the watch category, I wish that in the future Parmigiani Fleurier will be recognised as the reference for refined and private luxury.
How would you describe your philosophy towards design for Parmigiani Fleurier?
When it comes to Parmigiani Fleurier, there are two founding values embedded in the monumental restoration work that Michel Parmigiani has shaped, meaning: a deep cultural knowledge of watchmaking, and discretion. This means that the timepieces we create must convey a level of finishing and watchmaking content that is superior, but, at the same time, is subtle and discrete in the aesthetics, because our clientele is non-ostentatious.
The Tonda PF is the result of this philosophy and is finding an important place in the hearts of watch connoisseurs. But it must not only be (limited to) aesthetic research, technical innovation is very important too, and we also apply that to the World Premieres in which we are introducing the same philosophy of subtle ways of interpreting existing functions, like in the GMT Rattrapante, or inventing new ones, such as in the Minute Rattrapante.
You came up with the Tonda PF line shortly after you joined the company, could you tell us a bit about the story of how you came up with the idea?
I studied a lot, before entering the brand and after. It was clear to me that the brand needed a direction in the creativity of its products through a “start collection” and in clearly defining the audience we should appeal to.
It was in a very difficult environment due to the pandemic, when I led a deep introspective work with my team that brought us to present the Tonda PF in only seven months. It was an alignment of the stars, as it would be impossible to replicate it today. The free industrial capacity at the time and the fact that we could not travel, paradoxically eased our job.
We studied those recognisable signs that the brand had created in its life and used them in a way that conveyed the values I shared before. The PF logo was hidden in the previous collections. By placing it at 12 o’clock on the dial, it was a powerful and elegant way to convey the brand.
The traditional guilloché has been miniaturised to provide a more contemporary feeling to such a traditional technique. The colours we chose are easy to wear and yet are unique developments, building a subtle palette. The flexible bracelet provides comfort that you immediately feel once you wear the watch, in a way, always matching Parmigiani Fleurier’s historical standards, which have always been very high.
You were previously at Bulgari, what would you take from that position to bring to Parmigiani Fleurier, or is there something you would do differently here?
What I bring with me, beyond the technical skills in leading design, development and manufacturing teams, is the philosophy of refusing to accept that something can’t be done.
Integrating design and manufacturing cultures is no easy job, especially in a Swiss high-end watch Maison like Parmigiani. So when someone answers to a demand saying that it can’t be done, I always ask to rephrase with “it has never been done before” and that’s where it becomes interesting!
Similar to Parmigiani Fleurier’s founder, you are also of Italian descent, do you think this makes you feel closer to the brand?
Of course! Michel is Swiss with Italian origins which is important to the Maison’s cultural influences. I am Italian and my life has since brought me to acquire Swiss nationality over 10 years ago.
We can say that Michel and I have sort of converged. But for sure (being Italian) has eased my understanding of Michel’s persona. Parmigiani Fleurier is a brand I strongly identify with, and I try my best to lead the teams in perpetuating it in a more contemporary way with the values that Michel gave to the brand that carries his name.
What do consumers expect from a Parmigiani Fleurier timepiece?
I think they are looking for personal pleasure, out of the mainstream. Also, the feeling that you have to be in the know to know, gives an extra sentiment of being for their eyes only.
You’ve mentioned that part of your mission is to appeal to a younger demographic, do you have a different approach in designing watches for younger audiences?
Today, especially in Asia, the market is generated by an audience in their 30s and mid-40s. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that a design can’t also be appealing to people outside of this age bracket. But age is not the only factor, because we must understand the lifestyle and values of this younger audience, which transcends age, and have more to do with the education of the audience and the quest for a personal choice. Therefore, the response to this must be personal to the brand Parmigiani Fleurier.
We decided to address this by designing a style around an apparent simplicity, where the purity of the idea is evident and the superior finishings are subtle and not “in your face”. We call this style rich-minimalism. Furthermore, the world is going towards less formal attire compared to the previous generations. That doesn’t mean that the younger generations are “dressing down” but there is a quest for more versatility in being elegant. We tried to respond to this evolution by designing a collection that allows us to be impeccably informal.
Is there a big challenge for Parmigiani Fleurier?
Of course, we are on a trajectory that is unprecedented. We are four times the size we were before the unveiling of the Tonda PF. This is a huge stretch that is challenging to master as the desire we have generated must not become a frustration to our clientele that is waiting for the watches they have reserved.
We must grow at the speed of the sell-out and make sure that we maintain the number of watches to fit the size of the demand, hoping to get down to a three to six-month waiting list for the most coveted creations because I don’t believe in creating desirability by withholding the product to who wishes to enjoy it.
With so many timepieces and brands in the market now, what are the elements of a watch that make it stand out?
It depends on who you are willing to please. Watchmaking is a unique category, where the lifecycle is theoretically infinite. It is also unique because nine out of ten watches bought today were not designed in our generation.
However, the elite at the frontier of watchmaking is looking for new points of reference and this is why independent brands are on the rise. There is no answer to your question. It is luckily a matter of sensitivity and taste, that is specific to the brand and the audience it wishes to appeal to. However, one ingredient must be there. The design must win time and must be managed with discipline to do so.