Oriental Fascination: Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar

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While we were busily assembling and curating a list of festive Chinese New Year watches for 2023, Parmigiani Fleurier came out of left-field with the 42mm Tonda PF Xiali Calendar in steel, with trademark knurled platinum bezel. Going well beyond a thematic Year of the Rabbit novelty approach, the Xiali Calendar is a complete Chinese calendar; in fact, xiali means Chinese traditional complete calendar, which also means that this watch has two calendars in its name. Technically, the Chinese calendar combines features of both solar and lunar calendars so there are really two calendars in play. This means that there is a lot of complexity to go through here, because the Chinese calendar cannot be turned into a perpetual calendar. So yes, the Xiali Calendar is an annual calendar.

To get it out of the way, Parmigiani Fleurier is known for its forays into calendar complications, with the Xiali Calendar following up on the Hijiri Perpetual Calendar and the Gregorian Annual Calendar (like Deployant, we also recall a Hebrew calendar but we too might be mistaken). You might recall that the Hijiri, an ode to the Islamic calendar, won the Innovation prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG) in 2019. According to the manufacture, calendar complications are a personal pleasure for Michel Parmigiani, hence the focus on them. Given that this is the case, let us first begin by looking at what the Chinese calendar tracks. We are no experts on non-Gregorian calendar systems so we will have to take all this at face value. Caveat emptor, as they say.

To begin with the combination of solar and lunar indications, these are synchronised by the addition of a 13th month. This allows both cycles to coincide every three years, approximately. Just considering the word “approximately” there must have given the watchmakers pause, but there is more! The solar year is divided into 24 periods, not the 12 we are accustomed to; and new years are mechanically challenging because it is always the arrival of spring, which for the Xiali Calendar is some time between January 21 and February 19 (the second new moon after winter solstice, if you want to go down this rabbit hole).

And then there is the matter of the 60-year cycles involving the lunar years and months, where the years are named and the months are numbered. Given that this requires astronomical observation, it is quite impossible to standardise via a mechanical movement, although the automatic calibre PF008 is reportedly fantastically complicated, with 353 components and a structure purpose-built to deliver user-intervention free functionality for 12 years. We will return to the movement, and adjusting the time, in a bit, but we are not done with calendar stuff yet. As a bit of trivia, it is useful to note that the Chinese New Year and the Lunar New Year are not the same thing, as there are plenty of other cultures that also have a lunar new year.

So how does all this play out on the dial? Quite neatly, as you can see, which plays to the strengths of the Tonda PF collection (more on this, briefly, later). Hours and minutes are indicated by the usual skeletonised and rhodiumised white gold delta hands, and that is it for regular timekeeping. Starting from the outermost display, the chapter ring around the dial, this one displays the 24 solar periods, via a central baton hand. The three-level subdial at 12 o’clock indicates the name of the year, zodiac animal and corresponding element (one for each level, from outside in); this subdial also uses a coloured marker to signify the end or the beginning of a 12-year cycle. The subdial at 3 o’clock shows the day number of the month, from 1 to 29 or 1 to 30; an aperture within this subdial indicates if the month is long or short. Phases of the moon are indicated at 6 o’clock (as is traditional in watchmaking), and this is synchronised with the aforementioned day number (exclusive to the Xiali Calendar); the month number is displayed at the 9 o’clock subdial, with the aperture indicating if a 13th month is present (if not, nothing shows). All calendar indications are in traditional Chinese, including the numerals, and that about covers it for time displays here.

As expected for the Tonda PF collection, the dial is in the typical grain d’orge or barleycorn guilloche, this time in Imperial Red (emphasis is the brand’s). Markers are white gold (rhodium-plated) and so is the brand’s cartouche bearing the logo, moved to the space between 1- and 2 o’clock for the first time. Adjusting the calendar is accomplished by the pushers in the case middle, which should only be necessary should the watch run down its 54-hour power reserve. Good views of the movement are not yet available, and we have not yet seen the watch in person to comment on the finishing, but expect not to be disappointed, given Parmigiani Fleurier’s track record here. We will leave it here, and conclude with the comments of both Michel Parmigiani, and brand CEO Guido Terreni.

“Calendars are a radiography of civilizations. It’s something magical because the calendar comes from the observation of humans as well as of nature. Nature is full of codes that are beautiful to discover. It’s always harder to talk about nature when you are in an urban area. It’s better to immerse oneself in nature and its rhythms in order to create and to stimulate creativity. By observing nature, one can travel through history and trace the development of civilizations. I think of the Maya and the Toltec cultures, which had calendars that were very similar to the Chinese calendar. Calendars were born from a need to understand nature’s seasons, to plan the times for sowing seeds and harvesting crops, to anticipate and manage the winter’s cold and the summer’s heat. The calendar exists because we need to anticipate the phenomena of nature’s nurturing,” said Michel Parmigiani.

“This year is indeed a very special year. This is a project that I’m very attached to, and it is the nucleus of this year’s collection. The Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Xiali Calendar is a complete Chinese calendar, born from Michel’s passion for cultural calendars. And it is very dear to me because it is also about respecting and understanding different cultures. What sets civilizations apart is the ways in which they interpret time. The Chinese calendar is among the most difficult calendars to master because it’s both a solar and lunar calendar together. For the first time on the wrist, you will be able to see all the elements of the calendar that are not cyclical. It has been a great challenge to master,” said Guido Terreni.

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