The Sandoz Collection and Parmigiani link watchmaking history to the present.
By Laurie Kahle, November 08, 2011
Maurice Sandoz, a mid-20th-century writer and composer, applied his keen eye and very deep pockets to amass a collection of exceedingly rare timepieces and objets d’art. One such piece is an early-19th-century enameled and jeweled double-barrel pistol that releases a singing bird and a whiff of perfume when the trigger is pulled. The pistol by Frères Rochat, several Fabergé creations including the Imperial Swan Egg and dozens of other mechanical masterpieces from the collection of the Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation are on display at Mechanical Wonders: Antique Automatons and Contemporary Watchmaking through November 26 at A La Vieille Russie, a New York City antiques dealer.
Seated amid the display cases, Michel Parmigiani, the collection’s official restorer and the visionary watchmaker behind the Sandoz-backed Parmigiani Fleurier watch brand, reflected on his craft both past and present. “Restoration work was really a fil rouge, a connecting red thread, that allowed me to pursue, excellence, harmony, technicality and the thought processes of how to put together timepieces,” said Parmigiani, who demonstrated that connection with two new limited-edition wristwatches inspired by historic pocket watches in the exhibit.
About six years ago, Parmigiani started restoring an early-19th-century Perrin Frères signed pocket watch from Neuchatel, Switzerland. The musical minute repeater, which chimes the time, was noteworthy for its unorthodox movement with the gongs shaped into snakelike coils. A special sector time display indicates the passing of the hours through an aperture on the dial. “The beauty of the mechanism with the chimes drew me to that piece,” explained Parmigiani. “The idea was to take a minute repeater and associate it with a passing time display.” Working together, Parmigiani’s restorers and elite complicated watchmakers created the Parmigiani Toric Minute Repeater with a new movement, the Calibre PF 321, featuring a minute repeater with cathedral chimes plus an additional module dedicated to the sector time display. “It’s a very beautiful emblem of the collection,” he concludes.
A signed Vardon and Stedman pocket watch dating to 1800 with unusual telescopic hands was the impetus for the Toric Oval Watch with Telescopic Hands. Parmigiani’s team worked to recreate the complex hands, which expand and contract to follow the perimeter of the oval case as time passes. Taking aesthetic cues from the Eiffel Tower, the hands are constructed from tiny riveted segments of blued titanium assembled using extremely precise specifications. “What is different is the minimization concept,” explained Parmigiani. ‘Everything is adjusted piece by piece, and the hands will not function unless everything is done perfectly.”