Nature is a source of inspiration for all. Humans have always sought to imitate it, and automata were among the first objects to recreate natural movement. Parmigiani Fleurier has drawn on its expertise to restore many pieces, including a snuff box with singing bird produced by Frères Rochat around 1820 and belonging to the Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Collection.
At first sight, the piece appears to be a 75 mm x 51 mm x 25 mm box designed to hold snuff. The materials used are all eminently precious, with the box made from finely engraved coloured gold to represent foliage, cornucopias and dolphins, and it has a compartment intended to hold snuff. Yet the piece harbours a secret. When the side button is pressed, the polished oval element edged with pearls at the top centre of the box is lifted, revealing a small feathered bird. It moves its wings, tail, head and beak as it sings a melody. To the surprised observer – who could never have guessed at the existence of this mechanism – the tiny creature seems genuinely alive.
Restoration by Parmigiani Fleurier
The restoration and preservation of watchmaking heritage represent the very foundation and origins of Parmigiani Fleurier. Its expertise dates back to 1976, when master watchmaker Michel Parmigiani opened a restoration workshop. In 1996, the Parmigiani Fleurier brand was created around this centre of excellence. Restoration requires the highest level of watchmaking expertise. Much of what is learnt is actually linked to forgotten activities of the past; activities which are imprinted in the brand’s watches. The Parmigiani Fleurier restoration workshop is a department that deals with all types of horological objects. Three small automata from the Maurice Sandoz collection serve as fine examples of masterpieces restored by Michel Parmigiani. They are sources of inspiration both on a mechanical and a material level.
Restoration involves returning an object to its original condition. In order to do this, Michel Parmigiani has set himself apart by creating his own methodology, a constant balance between ensuring the mechanical functionality of the creation and preserving the expertise of the past. For him and his team, this means conducting investigations and immersing themselves in the past, so as to ensure the preservation and operation of the item during its restoration. By studying masterpieces from the past, he is able to find his own solutions to the mechanical and technical challenges faced by master watchmakers throughout the ages, and to use them in the Parmigiani Fleurier watches of today.
Like an archaeologist, who knows that any undertaking on a component may prove irreversible; the initial task of the restorer is to observe an often unique item – within which lie many mysteries – over a period of a few days. The restorer looks for parallels, scouring scientific works, museums and collections before opening the piece, whilst making sure to document it all. He or she must understand the subtleties of the mechanism just as much as the techniques used. The restorer should also have knowledge of numerous arts such as precious metalwork, enamelling, engraving/chasing, gilding and glasswork. Preservation involves a long and patient cleaning operation, which can sometimes uncover new secrets, for example a previously hidden inscription. Restoration, during the reassembly phase, involves adopting reversible solutions, whilst ensuring the original remains the same.
Taking its name from its founder, watchmaker and restorer Michel Parmigiani, the fine watchmaking brand was founded in 1996 in Fleurier, in the Swiss valley of Val-de-Travers. With its own watchmaking centre ensuring its independence, the brand has both full control over the production process and unique creative freedom. For twenty years, the Parmigiani Fleurier signature has resided within timepieces that command the utmost respect, in harmony with watchmaking traditions. They are the labour of a lifetime – that of Michel Parmigiani, the talented individuals who assist him, and the special relationship between the Manufacture and the masterpieces of the past, enabling it to invent a bold future.