Hands-On Review – Parmigiani Fleurier Tondagraph GT Acier

The Skinny

You might be thinking, oh no, not another stainless steel integrated bracelet sports watch! Well this isn’t your typical watch. There’s a lot going on here. Let’s dive in…

  • Diameter 42 mm
  • Thickness 13.7 mm
  • Movement PF043 (Automatic big date annual calendar chronograph)
  • Water resistance 100 m
  • Price $19,500
  • Limited to 200 pieces
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The overall design is ingenious in that it effortlessly melds together a stainless steel sports watch with elegant vintage design cues while maintaining thinness, lightness, and comfort.

What’s a Parmigiani?

The brief version is that Michael Parmigiani is a genius watchmaker who specialized in restoring old masterpieces. The Sandoz Foundation manages the assets of the Swiss Sandoz family and was founded by the sons of Edouard Sandoz. Edouard started a well-known chemical and pharmaceutical firm that developed the artificial sweetener saccharin. You may have heard the name in conjunction with the merger that led to the pharmaceutical company Novartis. Michael Parmigiani restored many of the old automatons and other mechanical marvels of the Sandos family and received their sponsorship to develop his company which launched in 1996. Parmigiani Fleurier has also acquired a number of other firms in order to become a vertically integrated Swiss manufacturer. (For more details, see David Flett’s write up.) Parmigiani have a surprisingly simple and well organized set of collections. Kalpa is rectangular, Toric is round and dressy, and Tonda is their sports line.

How The Tonda Feels on the Wrist

The Tondagraph GT Acier definitely has a striking wrist presence. What I didn’t expect was the elegance and comfort. The black dial has a certain subtlety created by the multiple textures. The case is sporty yet refined, combining the look of an integrated bracelet with a nod to the elegant dress watches of the past in the quasi-teardrop lug shape. The knurled bezel adds to the subtlety and nods to vintage style cues as well. The bracelet is thin, surprisingly comfortable, and wraps and hugs the wrist. The overall design is ingenious in that it effortlessly melds together a stainless steel sports watch with elegant vintage design cues while maintaining thinness, lightness, and comfort. Once you put it on your wrist you will not want to take it off.

Like many items of exceptional quality and well thought out design, the more you dig into this piece the more you appreciate it. I mean, here you have a stainless steel sports watch with a chronograph but also a big date and an annual calendar in a case thinner than an Omega Speedmaster.

The Dial

Ok so let’s talk about the dial here. The outer track is raised and divided into ¼ second hash marks, consistent with the accuracy of timing with a 28,800 vpm chronograph. The Swiss Made mark at 6 is perfectly spaced with 2 hash marks on either side. There are seven circumferential grooves that transition from the outer raised track down to the center of the dial. There are channels cut into the grooved portion for the markers so that there is an effect somewhat like the tunnels that lead out to stadium seating. The markers themselves are faceted at the inner edge continuing the theme of stepping down towards the center of the dial. The markers at 3, 6, and 9 are shorter to accommodate the subdials but maintain the inner facet. The markers are filled with a black colored lume. I have heard of matching the date wheel to the dial color but this is the first time I have seen matching lume! 

The inner dial has a triangular guilloche finish. There are flat cut outs for the logo at 12, the big date, and the circular textured subdials. The calendar functions are in orange with a date wheel color matched big date with two separate wheels at 12, a month indicator at the 3 subdial, and orange lettering at 6 indicating that the watch is an annual calendar.

To review, an annual calendar can compensate for the long and short months of the year but will not do the once in every 4 years leap year adjustment for February. The 6 subdial also has a label in white lettering that the watch is a chronograph which seems pretty obvious without being told. The 30 minute subdial at 9 and the 12 hour subdial at 6 are otherwise rather standard. The running seconds at 3 however is interesting because the month indicator (conveniently labeled “month”) is within the lower portion of the subdial. The running seconds compensates for this by having a double ended subdial hand with the longer end touching an outer scale on the top half of the subdial going from 30 to 60 seconds, and the shorter hand going along an inner scale from 0 to 30 seconds. I appreciate this rather ingenious solution. 

The hands are well-finished and matched in terms of the chronograph functions and the running seconds. The hour and minute hands have a contrasting style with alpha hands. Only the tip contains lume which I suppose is intended to help with legibility, especially of the big date. I would say that the alpha hands don’t quite match the more formal style of the rest of the dial except that the hour markers have black lume so they have a hollow look as well from an average viewing distance.

This watch is one of the best arguments for a manufacture movement compared to an off the shelf movement which would likely be ETA 7750 based and much thicker and not have a big date.

The Case and Bracelet

The case is also extremely well made with some interesting design flourishes. The bezel is coin edged as a decorative feature but recalls the older style when watches had a three part case for water resistance and the bezel unscrewed with a tool from the front.

I was a little surprised to see that the case is otherwise high polished as I expected to see some brushed surfaces. The lugs are one of the most interesting design features of the case. From a distance they look like standard lugs but at a medium distance it is apparent that stick out slightly from the side of the case. They wrap around and mirror the shape of the teardrop shaped pushers like a semi pusher guard but the overall impression is of a ghost of a sweeping elegant dress watch. I have seen similar lugs on for example 1950’s era high end dress watches. This touch of elegance adds a lot to the overall aesthetic. The pushers allow for crisp activation of the column wheel chronograph and the left sided lug protrusion provides a comfortable rest for counterpressure from the thumb for example at 8 for the 2 o’clock pusher.

The logo crown is rather large and easy to wind. The butterfly clasp integrated bracelet is rather complex with high polished edges and center links but with brushed connecting links in a triangular shape that taper from the watch case to the removable links. The triangular shape recalls the alpha hands and the brushing further draws attention to this feature. The bracelet is thin but robust, adding to the lightness. It is allowed to be thin due to the 13.7 mm thickness of the case which contains an automatic winding big date annual calendar chronograph with 443 components and 56 jewels in a 7.4 mm thick movement, a wonderful feat of engineering. It is a modular design incorporating a column wheel chronograph. It features a sophisticated bidirectional winding system highlighted by the elegantly finished 22K gold rotor. There is a fundamental connection between their manufacture movement and the elegant design of the dial and the thinness and comfort of the case and bracelet. This watch is one of the best arguments for a manufacture movement compared to an off the shelf movement which would likely be ETA 7750 based and much thicker and not have a big date.

The Verdict

Like many items of exceptional quality and well thought out design, the more you dig into this piece the more you appreciate it. I mean, here you have a stainless steel sports watch with a chronograph but also a big date and an annual calendar in a case thinner than an Omega Speedmaster. The finishing and design is exceptional and the watch on bracelet is amazingly comfortable on the wrist. The only bad thing about this watch is having to send it back. If you like the style and have the money, grab one of these 200 watches while you can.