Except if you’ve been living in a cave for the past three or four years, you might well be aware that the hottest watch category these days is the so-called luxury sports watch. Based on 1970s inspirations, equipped with an integrated bracelet, mixing daily capacities with refined mechanics, they’ve become something of a necessity for any watchmaking brand that wants to be taken seriously. Can we blame them? Certainly not, all of these new contenders are simply answering market demand. Parmigiani Fleurier has recently decided that it wants a seat at the table, and preferably next to the main icons of the so-called Holy Trinity. And for that, it has created a completely new collection, including this Tonda PF Micro-Rotor. But is it any good?
What is a luxury sports watch?
We’ve explained what we consider are the key traits of a luxury sports watch many times in the past, but since there is no fixed definition, a quick reminder will be helpful. According to our own definition and to many in the industry, the concept of the luxury sports watch was born in 1972, under the pen of Gérald Genta, who designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet. Back then, it was a deeply disruptive product. It was provocative, expensive, bold and sharper than anything else on the market. Observing the success of this new category, many watchmakers jumped on board the train – Vacheron with the 222, Patek with the Nautilus, IWC with the Ingenieur, Rolex with the Oysterquartz, and countless others.
But why “luxury sports watch”? The whole idea behind these watches was to combine the superior watchmaking credentials of brands such as AP, VC or PP, with ultra-thin, finely decorated movements and cases that were made of stainless steel, with decent robustness and comfortable water-resistance. Most of these watches also displayed refined dials executed with traditional techniques, but the designs were more modern, sporty and far more casual than classic dress watches of the late 1960s. The liberation of mentalities also influenced the watchmaking industry.
There might be no fixed definition, but a real luxury sports watch must answer certain requirements. It has to be available in steel, it usually has a shaped case (barrel-shaped for most), often a nautical inspiration, a thin profile made possible by the use of an ultra-thin automatic movement, a minimum water-resistance of 50 metres (and possibly more), a simple display but a patterned dial, a raised bezel with a complex shape or texture and, most importantly, an integrated metallic bracelet that blends perfectly with the sides of the case.
Is the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor a proper Luxury Sports Watch?
Spoiler: yes! Clearly, this very short answer to a complex question was expected. Not only is this appreciable at first sight, but this was the clear intention of Parmigiani Fleurier when it unveiled this collection, specifically this Tonda PF Micro-Rotor version as discussed in a video interview with the newly appointed CEO of the brand, Guido Terreni – and the man knows a thing or two about luxury sports watches (LSW).
But now that we’ve answered the ‘if’, let’s look at the ‘why’. If we look back at our definition above, the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor ticks most of the boxes (if not all of them). It is relatively compact, it has a slender profile (enough to be called ultra-thin), it has a shaped case, a bracelet that perfectly blends with the lines of the case, it is available in stainless steel, it retains a certain robustness while also showing high-end details, its dial is both sleek and textured and inside is a handsome movement with fine execution. So yes, in my books and I guess in the mind of many watch enthusiasts, there is no doubt regarding the qualifications of the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor as a proper luxury sports watch.
Thankfully, the Tonda PF is not a copycat. While sharing most of the classic attributes of an LSW, it remains true to the design elements first introduced by Michel Parmigiani in 1996, when he created his brand. Having said that, it is time to look at the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor in detail.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor
Looking at the current Tonda collection, you could see that it was split between highly classic models, such as the 1950 watches, ultra-high-end watches under the Chronor name and, a more recent introduction, the Tonda GT and Tondagraph GT watches. While the latter models were already moving in the direction of the luxury sports watches, they were still too large, too sporty, too bold to be part of the LSW game. But there’s one thing that should be noticed when looking at all these watches – besides their very different natures – and that is the common design elements… And this is where the Tonda PF makes a point, by mixing the classic cues of the category with the emblematic elements of the Tonda collection.
For some years now, the most important design element of the Tonda collection has been the shape of its case, and specifically its tear-drop lugs. There’s a certain baroque sense of style in these watches, which is now associated with the brand. Adding sporty credentials to this was certainly not the easiest task. Another important element of PF’s design language is the finely knurled bezel, which was first found on the Toric watch, Michel Parmigiani’s first creation.
With this in mind, the new Tonda PF Micro-Rotor plays on typical PF elements to create a luxury sports watch that has personality, and I’d go further by saying that it has its very own personality. The Tonda PF differs from the usual suspects – Royal Oak or the Nautilus – in many ways and thankfully doesn’t try to imitate these watches. Despite its elements of differentiation, it remains in line with market expectations. But you’ll have to accept to be different, to have a certain baroque design together with your desirable integrated bracelet.
The case of the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor is rather impressive. Design-wise, the integration of the signature tear-drop lugs has been cleverly done, serving as a starting point for the curvature of the integrated bracelet. There’s an undeniable smoothness in the lines of the Tonda PF that marks a departure from the classic sharp designs of the category. In the same vein, the bezel is raised and sits high over a barrel-shaped case and is finely hand-knurled. It is a very thin pattern, which from a distance serves as a contrasting element, and reflects light differently from the rest of the case.
Proportions are very pleasant on this specific model – not so true for the other watches in the collections, which are not only thicker (due to more complex movements) but also larger. At 40mm in diameter and only 7.8mm in height, the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor is right where you want an LSW to be. Large enough to have some presence, compact from one lug to another, with a very pleasant curvature of the caseback, so it hugs the wrist (even on my small 16.5cm wrist) and with the right thinness to make it a joy to wear. Thin doesn’t mean delicate, though, because the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor is water-resistant to 100m, thanks to a screw-in crown and a screwed caseback.
The case is available in 18k rose gold or stainless steel – probably the future bestseller of the collection. Combining brushed surfaces and polished accents, it also features a bezel made of 950 platinum to offer an optimal shine for the knurled pattern. And you can feel its weight when you wear the watch. The overall execution of the case is pretty impressive with refined and very thin polished bevels and a true feeling of luxury/quality. The sides are particularly appealing yet far from consensual. Typically a watch that will create love/hate discussions. Besides the characterful design, my main complaint is the size of the crown: it is really small and hard to screw back in place. For the rest, the level of detail on the case is pretty impressive.
While the case is complex and bold, the dial is its total opposite. Another point of division in perspective… But at least, we won’t be able to blame PF for being consensual. The dial of the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor has been deliberately imagined in the purest way possible… from a distance. First of all, it has a simple 2-hand display, with a date at 6 o’clock. I see the sempiternal debate date/no-date coming, but to me, luxury sports watches have to feature a date. The applied indexes, which are faceted and designed on two levels, are extremely small, and the logo – a newly designed applied logo – is also reduced in size. All of that creates a dial that feels, at first… well, let’s be honest, unfinished.
But, take a closer look, and you’ll discover that this dark grey, apparently matte dial, is actually full of very discreet details. And the most noticeable one is, of course, the hand-guilloché pattern. Using a grain d’orge (barleycorn) motif, the size of the pattern has been reduced to the maximum so the watch retains a discreet elegance when observed from a certain distance while offering its owner a beautiful execution. To me, this is a clever conception of luxury. The one that doesn’t scream its provenance. I certainly appreciate this.
Competing on the luxury sports watch market, the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor is equipped with the mandatory integrated metallic bracelet. As said, the shape of the bracelet is attractive and the way it wraps around the wrist makes it pleasant to wear. The overall execution is in the same vein as the rest of the watch, meaning top-notch, and it comes with a concealed triple-folding clasp. But the integration of both an easy-change system and of a micro-adjustment device would have been welcome.
The reason for the slenderness of this specific edition of the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF comes from its movement… and one that isn’t a newborn, since PF relies on its classic ultra-thin micro-rotor automatic calibre PF703 – a movement that has been used already in the Tonda 1950 watches but here without the small seconds counter. Measuring only 3mm in height, it is equipped with a platinum oscillating weight for better winding inertia. Beating at 3Hz, it boasts 48 hours of power reserve. If the specifications are not spectacular, the decoration of the movement is attractive with nicely curved bridges, guilloché on the rotor, thin Geneva stripes and polished bevels all around.
When entering the hyper-crowded and extremely competitive market of the luxury sports watch, Parmigiani Fleurier has, cleverly, decided to remain true to its signature design and to stay out of consensualism. This leads to a watch that isn’t as easy to understand as a Royal Oak or a Nautilus, yet a watch full of character and charm. It retains most of the desired elements of a luxury sports watch but adds the distinctive baroque touch of PF watches… which won’t generate unanimity. But sometimes, it’s good to be disruptive.
On a more objective note, the overall execution is on par with the industry’s heavyweights, meaning impressive attention to detail. Case, bracelet, dial and movement are all finely executed, and apart from the two or three flaws mentioned above, there’s objectively a lot to like in the Tonda PF Micro-Rotor. Subjectively, I let you decide on whether the design speaks to you or not.
Price-wise, at just above 20k Euros, the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor is far from cheap. It’s a substantial amount of money for what remains a 2-hand automatic watch. Sure, the execution is delicate and refined, sure the dial is impressive (when looked closely). However, compared to the three main competitors that are the Nautilus, the Royal Oak Jumbo or the Overseas, the price of the PF is either close or fairly lower. And don’t get me started on the concept of availability of these three watches and their prices on the second-hand market…
Availability & Price
The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor in stainless steel (ref. PFC914-1020001-100182) will be available this Autumn and priced at EUR 21,000, CHF 21,000 or USD 22,900. Note that this Micro-Rotor edition is also available in 18k rose gold.
For more details, please visit www.parmigiani.com.