History, “Sprezzatura,” and Finding Balance: A Conversation with Parmigiani Fleurier CEO Guido Terreni

Writing about watches is, often, an exercise in confirming and combatting preconceived ideas. Snap judgments are easy to form without thinking them through, and early opinions can be hard to shake, so the biggest challenges for anyone in this industry are parsing one’s own opinions, and learning how to look past them to evaluate the watches that come across our desks fairly.

Most watches only require confronting this challenge in a cursory sense, but the best watches force you to face it head-on. Like many watches in the latter category, the new Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Sport Chronograph required me to do some serious thinking. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to sit down with Guido Terreni, the CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier, to talk about the brand, their watches, and why I can’t get Parmigiani Fleurier off my mind.

Guido Terreni, Parmigiani Fleurier CEO

Parmigiani Fleurier has spent much of the last few years absolutely knocking the proverbial ball out of the park. Since Terreni’s hiring in 2021, the brand’s been on a heater, releasing hit after hit, and building a new identity almost from scratch, rebuilding and simplifying the collection to create a new identity for the nearly 30-year-old brand.

“When I joined the company, I understood that the brand needed direction and style, and what was in the pipeline was not building the brand as I thought it should. So I blocked everything and we started working from scratch on a white piece of paper — not perfectly white because the Tonda GT was showing some traction. So we started building. The Tonda PF was created in only seven months and it changed the picture of the brand because now basically it is the backbone of the brand. And we are now five times the brand I found in three years.”

A Strong History

At this point, it’s worth admitting that I am a huge fan of Parmigiani Fleurier. But that alone doesn’t really mean much because, despite a relatively short history, Parmigiani Fleurier has evolved dramatically since its founding in 1996 by Michel Parmigiani. The early days of the brand built noticeably on the restoration work Parmigiani was known for, and the watches the brand produced had a distinctly classical appeal.

Michel Parmigiani, founder

Today’s Parmigiani Fleurier has a decidedly more modern feel, though it’s no less inspired by the man who lent his name to the brand. Though Michel no longer involves himself in the day-to-day operational side of Parmigiani Fleurier, he continues to offer himself up as a source of advice and inspiration — occasionally even taking a day to teach the watchmakers a technique or two. Reflecting on this, Terreni said, “I imagine people working in Breguet, they would love to be able to talk to Mr. Breguet. And I have that luxury, I have that chance, and I treasure that.”


Discussing the hand-grained dial of the new Torics, Guido didn’t shy away from Michel’s impact. “I simply asked him a question, how to address that style through an artisan technique. And he told me, this technique could work very well on that watch. And he spent a full day teaching the artisanal way to the dialmaker that we have in our group to be able to make it.”

Over the years Parmigiani Fleurier has produced incredible watches — one of which even found its way to the wrist of King Charles, though when I mentioned Parmigiani’s position as the ‘Watch of Kings,’ Terreni quickly noted “You put an ’S’ to ‘kings,’ but, yeah.” I’d argue that, in this day and age, one king is more than enough. Despite that impressive history, Terreni has little desire to look backward.

King Charles (prior to his coronation) wearing a Toric Chronograph

“I don’t believe in replicating the past. The past is the past, and it had its moments, and I think you have to look forward. Replicating the past is a habit that the industry started 20, 30 years ago. I think it’s a lack of good ideas and every watch that is now building a big amount of business; when it came out was an innovation, was disruptive — and every vintage guy who looks at these watches knows it.”

The Parmigiani Catalog

Perusing the Parmigiani Fleurier website can, on its surface, seem like a fairly limited experience. Since the redesigned Tonda GT was launched in 2020, and especially since Terreni joined the brand the next year, Parmigiani has centered its collection on the Tonda, with most of its novelties acting more as an iteration of the form, rather than a radical reinvention.

Of course, the brand has started to stretch its legs again — the new generation of Torics released at Watches & Wonders this year make that clear — but Terreni would be the first to admit that the current Parmigiani catalog doesn’t exactly feature the same depth as those of some competitors. “Well, if you think that, in three years, we have an assortment of 38 references, which is not a wide assortment if you look at a catalog of a brand. So we’re very precise.”

The new Toric, introduced this year

But that precision, along with the success of the Tonda, has allowed Parmigiani to explore something most brands lose as they grow — focus. Looking down at the watch currently sitting on my wrist, there is no doubt that it is a Parmigiani Fleurier. Looking at the broader offerings available from the brand, it’s difficult to find anything out of place.

“Creativity is being able to interpret the values of a brand in a consistent way. To create a style across the collection, if you look at two watches, you see that they are part of the same brand, even if they are expressing two different styles and two different uses. So it’s extremely important to be true to your identity and, if you do that, you’re understood.”

It’s a familiar approach from Terreni who, in his time at Bulgari, oversaw the rise of the Octo Finissimo. While Bulgari and Parmigiani Fleurier are massively different brands in history, clientele, and organization, Terreni’s two decades at Bulgari very much inform his approach at Parmigiani. As he put it, “It’s very instrumental in what I’m doing today because I learned how to guide a vision and to use creativity to build a desire and to build a position.”

The position he has built is, as it turns out, quite a strong one, with long lines of customers coming to Parmigiani in recent years, often for the first time. It’s not hard to see why. As I’ve already said, Parmigiani has developed a strong identity over the last few years. The watches are built on a clear vocabulary. Beyond that, modern Parmigiani Fleurier watches all demonstrate a clear perspective on what enthusiast-centered luxury watchmaking should look like.

That’s no accident. Terreni has instituted a clear connoisseur-driven mission at Parmigiani Fleurier, and he knows that to back it up, he has to deliver a product that more than matches that group’s expectations: “The connoisseur is the core of our clientele. It’s a person who doesn’t need a marketing plan to know what to buy. It’s discerning, it’s knowledgeable. And he is the exigent. So, you have to be flawless, you have to be without compromises.”

One big way Terreni is moving to grab connoisseurs’ attention is through experimentation. Under Terreni’s leadership, Parmigiani Fleurier has drawn attention for unusual and exciting twists on classic features and complications. Perpetual Calendars tracking cultural calendars and rattrapante GMTs remind us that watchmaking still has room to evolve, while watches like the Minute Rattrapante push us to open our minds to completely new complications.

“I refuse to stop innovating because, to me, luxury is an evolution of excellence. We are serving the connoisseur and the connoisseur wants to be surprised… We refuse to think that everything has already been done in watchmaking. That’s our mantra. Not only aesthetically, but also technically, and you have to have ideas, and you have to push yourself to be creative.”

With all that said, Terreni still sees holes in the Parmigiani collection, “There are plenty of other things that we are still not addressing correctly. There’s plenty of women who are interested in Parmigiani and we don’t yet have an offer that is at the level of the brand expectations, or of a lady that is into watchmaking.” But don’t expect Parmigiani to rush its introduction — a ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach is not in the cards.

Any ladies’ watch that comes from Parmigiani will have to live up to Terreni’s expectations for the brand. “I think a woman can have an ambition to have creativity specifically done for her.” Terreni knows what he’s talking about. While his time at Bulgari is probably best remembered for the dramatic rise of the Octo Finissimo, his tenure at the brand also saw the modern reinvention and reintroduction of the Serpenti (and its more exuberant cousin, the Serpenti Tubogas).

“There are plenty of things that we can do there, but to do a lady’s watch is probably the most difficult thing that you can imagine. And I know this by many flops that we did in my life in Bulgari — until we reached the Serpenti, which is, to me, still one of the statements of the brand. So it’s very important that you find your understanding and you find your way.”

The Parmigiani Way

So what is that way? Well, if you ask me, it’s the Tonda PF Sport. Introduced last year to replace the Tonda GT line, the PF Sport builds on the successes of the last few years at Parmigiani. It takes the now-familiar case shape and, through a well-thought-out mix of aesthetic choices and technical changes, creates what just might be the perfect entry point into the brand.

I’ve been wearing the Tonda PF Sport for a few days now and, I have to say, I don’t want to take it off. Arguably, if you want the purest expression of the Tonda, this watch isn’t the way to go, but for anyone unfamiliar with the brand’s offerings, time with the PF Sport is likely to make a believer out of you. When Zach went hands-on with the time-and-date version of the PF Sport last year, he offered a reminder that watches, especially watches of this caliber, are always more than just the sum of their parts. I’m inclined to agree with him, especially when it comes to the Tonda.

As Parmigiani Fleurier has continued to release new iterations of the Tonda, I’ve been genuinely shocked by how successful I have felt them all to be. Bizarrely, I’m frequently not quite sure why I love these watches as much as I do. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s something I’ve often had a hard time putting into words. Fortunately, Guido Terreni has my back, and when I mentioned this to him he served up a perfect answer: Balance.

The Tonda PF Sport is, as the name would suggest, about as sporty as Parmigiani gets these days — though I think Zach pretty much nailed it on the head in suggesting the term ‘leisure sport.’ But in a world where mechanical watches are increasingly anachronistic, and where luxury sports watches are more likely to be worn in a luxury box at Wimbledon than on Centre Court, it’s probably fair to say that Parmigiani’s offerings — even the Tonda PF Sport — hew closer to the traditional role of a dress watch. But the dress watch today has evolved dramatically over the last century.

“A dress watch today is not the same dress watch that you have in watchmaking history. It’s the Brits’ fault, always, because they invented the suit. And the suit became our uniform for 200 years. And what happens is that you’re building a structural aesthetic code based on black and white… That’s why you have an expression, which is a white face usually to match the shirt, which is a white gold or platinum case, which is a glossy black strap because you have to match the shoes. So it’s a very stiff, if I may say, expression of elegance.”

“In the last decade, you start seeing a lot of people who are rediscovering the pleasure of dressing well… And it’s a discovery of a less stiff elegance, which is sartorial, which is not branded, which is there to stay, it’s not a fashion trend, it’s a way of being, where you build your own wardrobe. And the answer to the question ‘What do I put on that wrist?’ is this.”

After a few days with the Tonda PF Sport, I’m starting to see what Guido means. No matter what I’m wearing — and over the last few days I have worn everything from REI shorts up to (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) semi-formal garden-party-wear — having the Tonda PF Sport Chronograph on my wrist makes me feel like I’ve stepped it up a notch. It’s not what I would pick for a black tie dinner, and it’s probably not what I would grab for a day at the beach, but it does bridge those two worlds better than most other watches I can think of. Again, balance.

It’s in the Details

If you ever find yourself shopping for a suit, you’ll quickly learn that what separates the best of the bunch from the worst isn’t anything all that dramatic. It’s the small, subtle details that you may not even notice. A hand-stitched sleeve, a well-rolled lapel, and an impeccable fit all come together to make everything look right.

The same is often true for watches. When I first looked at the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Sport Chronograph, I couldn’t tell you right away why that watch was so… well, right, I just knew in my gut that it was. On paper, it’s not a watch I should like as much as I do. I’m not a chronograph guy or all that much of an integrated bracelet fan. Black lume, mismatched date wheels, and slightly off-center subdials on chronographs (I’m looking at you, Rolex Daytona) all rank high on my list of watch pet peeves.

But I don’t care. At all. I love this watch, and I adore the brand that made it.

The word ‘sprezzatura’ gets thrown around with some abandon these days, especially amongst people (like me) who love to read and discuss the various peculiarities of tailored clothing and men’s style. The word accurately translates to ‘contemptuous,’ but has come to describe a studied carelessness, an ability to dress with intention and style without looking overly fussed — or overly fussy.

I’m hard-pressed to find a better word to describe the modern Parmigiani Fleurier. Watches like the Tonda PF Chronograph are at ease with themselves, and when you have the opportunity to strap one on, it feels like you get to tap into a little bit of that feeling. These are not watches that seem thrown together. Rather, these watches communicate very clearly the effort and attention that went into them, and then they let it go, getting out of the way. Or, as Guido Terreni put it:

“What attracted me to Parmigiani Fleurier was the prestige of the brand. The deepness of its understanding of what watchmaking is, the purity of understanding that and the discretion — with no ostentatious style.” Parmigiani Fleurier 

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A native New Englander now based in Philadelphia, Griffin has been a passionate watch enthusiast since the age of 13, when he was given a 1947 Hamilton Norman as a birthday gift by his godfather. Well over a decade later, Griffin continues to marvel and obsess about all things watches, while also cultivating lifelong love affairs with music, film, photography, cooking, and making.