“It’s about knowledge, not wealth”, says Guido Terreni, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier

Guido Terreni is a self-confessed understated man. And according to him, that’s probably why he works so well with the ethos of Parmigiani Fleurier, where he was appointed CEO last year. Previously Head of Watches at Bvlgari, Terreni has travelled an illustrious path for 20 years, compounding his knowledge of the watchmaking industry. At Parmigiani, he has already introduced a new collection, the Tonda PF, with a movement that has the whole horological world in awe, the GMT Rattrapante.

Guido Terreni, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier
Guido Terreni, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier

Though his previous experience was extremely rewarding, allowing him to reposition an Italian jewellery brand and enhancing its reputation, he felt it was time for him to take charge of a brand holistically. He shares, “It was a time for me to have a full experience, and Parmigiani was the perfect brand because I was looking for a very prestigious brand that has a lot of potential.” Few independent brands have the skillset that Parmigiani Fleurier does, yet the brand was in a difficult situation when Terreni entered. “It was a very interesting moment because it allowed us to do introspective work and define what the brand should be and who is the client we want to serve. So, it was urgent to give an important signal to the market,” he affirms.

We meet him through a window of a Zoom call, as he lets us into his watchmaking journey, his inspirations and his plans for Parmigiani.

Parmigiani

Why Parmigiani?

Over a decade of expertise, a covetable position at a renowned brand like Bvlgari, and still, Terreni chose to take the road less taken by going onboard a comparatively newer and lesser known watchmaker: why? “Because it is founded on two very important values,” he claims.

The first is the deep knowledge Parimigiani has about watchmaking culture. “Michel Parmigiani founded this brand based on his enormous understanding of watchmaking due to his heritage, which is restoration.” Today, as business owners, watchmakers are more focused on the commercial side and less motivated to get acquainted with restoration. Terreni defines restoration as an art where “you have to master not only the production of today but you have to master everything that was made in history and goes back centuries.” The skill demands a near-unparalleled understanding of all the finishings, techniques, dials, movements and much more.

Michel Parmigiani
Michel Parmigiani

The second value is “understatement”. Terreni states, “The incredible thing [about] restoration is that this huge craft, in reality, is not YOUR craft. You are at the service of another creator that you’re trying to bring alive again. So your craft has to disappear.” This builds a contrast between the heaps of knowledge that lies within you and the fact that this can’t be revealed to the world as you are bringing back someone else’s work. “Your ego is not in the way,” he sums up.

Finally, Michel’s independent thinking sealed the brand identity. In 1975, when everybody was going quartz, he decided to go in a completely different direction because of his understanding of patrimony, details Terreni. 50 years later, UNESCO defined this as an intangible cultural heritage. Michel believed in designing his own path and reimagining fashion based on his knowledge and values. These are the values that brought Terreni to Parmigiani.

Guido Terreni & Michael Parmigiani

His plans for Parmigiani

At the outset, Terreni wants to respect and celebrate the brand’s heritage and aesthetic code. He says, “When I joined 22 years ago, I got in contact with Michel’s work the first year by chance. Bvlgari was launching the Rectangular Collection. I had just joined ten days before, and Parmigiani was developing the movement. And I was blown away by the fact that a brand so young was at the level of prestige of the highest already after very few years of existence.” So, upon joining the brand, his goal was to discover the client, between 1996 and 1999, who made this brand so high-end, so trustworthy, so interesting, and so fast. Summarising the qualities of a Parmigiani buyer, Terreni notes, “He is a watch lover for sure, who is very knowledgeable, educated in watchmaking, and he’s somebody who is not really following what everybody’s buying.”

Tonda PF Chronograph
Tonda PF Chronograph

After understanding the quintessential client, he found that the brand has been out of touch with the evolution of market tastes. “On the second day, I stopped all the pipeline of launches that were not going in the direction I thought was right. And we started working on what should be the branded entity of this brand today,” he notes. The brand went for a new, understated look. “There are plenty of details that are not in your face, that you discover little by little wearing them because it is something that is meant to be interesting for an educated eye.”

A closer look at the Bugatti and Pantograph timepieces

According to him, the Bugatti watch is an exercise in how partnerships should be done because “you’re blending your art of watchmaking at the service of the art of driving.” So, that was an extremely interesting partnership from a horological point of view. He believes that it’s not just about putting the logo of a Bugatti on a dial; “that doesn’t make sense”. Instead, it helped Parmigiani build the image of a creative brand that was able to look forward in watchmaking because we refuse to think that in watchmaking everything has already been done.

Parm 5 Bugatti Type 390

That said, the Pantograph is a different exercise. He divulges, “The Pantograph is not what I intend to “creativity” because the Pantograph was already present in the table clock and it was transferred to the rear. So, to me, that is an exercise which is less interesting from a horological point of view and aesthetically, you can like it or not like it.”

Parm 4 Ovale Pantographe

What is the brand all about today

Before defining that, Terreni recounts that today’s world is becoming less and less formal. 80 years ago, people would wear tuxedos when going for dinners. Today, you don’t even wear a tie, but that doesn’t mean you’re not elegant. You can be impeccably informal if you want, and it’s all about taste. “It’s much easier to be elegant wearing a suit and a tie because that’s sort of a code. However, it’s much more difficult to be elegant, mixing and matching at your own pace. [It] shows how elegant can be much more interesting than applying a code,” he tells us. And this is the same at Parmigiani, as was evidenced by the brand’s latest launches.

The GMT Rattrapante

Terreni points us to the brand’s most show stopping release at Watches & Wonders 2022: The GMT Rattrapante. “It was the third day I was in the company, it was January 29. We were completely fed up with staying at home because we wanted to travel in the middle of the confinement. And so I wanted to work on this function which I adore. We asked ourselves, what should we be expressing in terms of the GMT? And for sure it was relevant, refinement and simplicity in the usage,” he illustrates. The brainstorming lasted five minutes, resulting in an idea that was intuitive and simple; after all, “The most simple ideas are the most powerful,” he asserts.

Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante
Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante

So, what is the GMT about? He expounds, “It involves reinterpreting one of the most common functions, which is GMT, and putting it in that subtle way without following the rules.” On the concept behind this revolutionary timepiece, he shares, “I travel a lot, but 70% of my time, I’m at home. So when I’m at home I don’t need to be disturbed by a blue and red bezel, 24 hours indication, a night/day indication. I want a simple pure watch to handle. And then when I travel, I want to have that functional service because it comes to life when I need it. And when I need it, it has to be extremely user-friendly because it has to be pure in the way that you use it. Because I hate to move a time zone by the crown because you’re affecting the minute hand. The minute hand should never move when you’re travelling because that is the only thing that remains the same. So it had to be with a push button to split the hours, no time of the hands.” The innovation was to have the Rattrapante function applied outside the chrono. “In the history of watchmaking, it has never been done.”

Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante (caseback)
Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante (caseback)

Terreni tells us that the term Rattrapante means to “catch up” in English, contrary to its commonly assumed meaning, which means split second. “Rattrapante means that the hands that you had split are catching up with one another. So, the crown is making you come back home instantly in the shortest way when you’re out.” He acknowledges that many people might not consider this timepiece as a traditional GMT because it does not feature 24 hours; however, he feels that’s not true. “Somebody asked me, you know what, I would have loved a night and day indication. Why should I have to bear the pain of looking at the night and day indication 70% of my time when I’m at home at a meeting?” The watch’s aim, for Terreni, is to remind him, if he is travelling East or West, whether his family is ahead or after his time.

He asserts, “It is not a descriptive GMT. It is a GMT which is at the service of an aesthetic. It has to be beautiful, it has to be refined and discreet so you don’t have to see it when it’s not needed.” Ultimately, he believes that if you want to be an innovative brand, you have to rank high on both aesthetic and technique.

How much of Guido do we get to see in Parmigiani?

“Well, a lot,” says Terreni. “I have to identify myself with what I do, so I cannot do something that I don’t believe in.” The exercise in Bvlgari was the same. The Finissimo was how he interpreted the brand. He wanted an Italian brand to stand out for its contemporary design, which has different ingredients. Similarly, he interpreted Parmigiani Fleurier with this quest to look ahead, not backwards. “[Using] your background to build your future is something that remains in my values. I’m fond of the craft, I’m fond of the making of the watches, and I’m mostly an understated person, so it matches perfectly with my personality.”

Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph
Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph

A closer look at the Tonda PF

The Tonda PF was another standout piece at W&W this year. Though the skeleton was already in the works before his arrival, its creation started on the second day of Terreni’s joining. “What I wanted on this watch, what I added on this watch, has been fine tuning and subtle details. The other thing is the toning down of the movement behind the hands.” Skeleton movements are very nice, but are very difficult to design, especially because who designs the movement looks only at the movement. So the movement is part of a bigger thing, which is the whole watch. And if you want to read the time well, the hand has to contrast with what you have behind.

Tonda PF Skeleton
Tonda PF Skeleton

Comparing it to other watches who attempt skeletonised movements, he narrates, “Sometimes I see movements that have plenty of colours because they want to show the contrast between, I don’t know, platinum, which can be dark and the wheels inside that can be very bright. And then you cannot read the time because the hand turns around, and according to where it floats, you can see it or you can’t see it.” So what Parmigiani did was really have a monochromatic approach to the movement behind with these very modern finishes, which are vertically brushed. He admits, “It’s expensive, but then the outcome is so nice and you can understand that you’re looking for those subtle details that you see and nobody sees them at first, and then you show them. It’s extremely fun because it’s unexpected.”

Tonda PF Skeleton (The Movement)
Tonda PF Skeleton (The Movement)

Had his then girlfriend, now wife, not been in Switzerland, would Terreni still have chosen this path?

“No, I would have been doing something else,” he confesses. It was Terreni’s girlfriend who brought him to Switzerland, which led him to fully realise his passion for watchmaking. Designing is not easy, because it needs you to master the craft. “Starting from a brand which was considered a jeweller or a fashion brand and transforming it into something completely different that has the appreciation of the whole industry, it’s a moment of pride,” he divulges. But now, it’s a different job because he has to reposition a brand. It’s work that can take ages.

“The brand is a refined state of luxury,” asserts Terreni. “With Parmigiani, you’re not showcasing your wealth, you’re showcasing your knowledge, you’re showcasing your competence, your refinement.” According to him, many brands today address luxury as if we were all going to a gala dinner every day. But, “that’s not life”, and Parmigiani Fleurier recognises that.

Tonda PF Micro-Rotor
Tonda PF Micro-Rotor

As for the brand’s plans to reactivate and reposition in India, Terreni urges aficionados to exercise patience. He concludes, “It’s a priority, but today we’re really looking into a demand which is unprecedented, and we have to not disperse the product everywhere because otherwise the brand is not seen.”

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