In the watch world, “in-house” movements are revered as a gold standard. But vertically integrated companies take the concept a step further by making every component in their watches. Two brands known for doing this are Seiko and Rolex, but another, Parmigiani Fleurier has quietly moved into this elite group, with a family of small companies that produce movements, cases and dials not just for themselves, but for other elite brands as well. On a visit to Parmigiani’s workshop, Les Artisans Boîtiers (LAB), in the watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, one finds Lange & Söhne dials, Hublot hands, and MB&F cases being made side by side with Parmigiani’s own watch components. At Manufacture Vaucher in Fleurier, another Parmigiani company, a rotor destined for a Richard Mille is polished at a bench; at the neighboring bench, a woman finishes the namesake component for Corum’s iconic Golden Bridge.

But we didn’t visit Parmigiani Fleurier to look at other brands’ watches; the brand’s own watches are the stars here. Parmigiani’s restoration workshop is the best place to form an understanding of this enigmatic watch brand. It’s where company founder Michele Parmigiani got his start restoring clocks, watches and 19th-century automatons for private collectors and auction houses. On one bench sits an ornately filigreed chiming clock from England; on another, a pocketwatch from a Fleurier-based watchmaker, returned after a century in South America. The pieces here are meticulously restored, broken parts manufactured by hand, the entire process and history of the piece researched and documented in an accompanying book.

The model by which Parmigiani builds its timepieces is based on the time-honored concept of etablissage, whereby work is done by those who do it best. Instead of trying to do it all under one roof, these craftspeople stay in their home villages scattered around the remote valleys of Switzerland — screws hand-turned in one factory, dials made in another, and the movements assembled and cased up beneath the snow-streaked cliffs of Fleurier. We went in search of the pieces of the beautiful puzzle, and discovered a watchmaking process inspired by history.

At Les Artisans Boîtiers (LAB), an MB&F case awaits inspection. With abundant expertise in case and dial making, LAB is a supplier to many top Swiss and German brands.

Using a hand file, a worker polishes the inside of a diamond bezel before fitting the sapphire crystal.

Valuable shavings. Nothing goes to waste at LAB. The excess material left over from case manufacturing, whether steel, gold or platinum, is collected and sent off to be melted down and recycled in future cases.

A bin holds what’s left behind after case cutting.

While most watch cases are milled with modern CNC machinery, some special editions are still milled by hand.

A worker polishes brass dials to a high shine before they’re sent for galvanizing.

A rack of dials are hung on a rack to be dipped into galvanizing solution. Here they are about halfway to their final auburn color.

A selection of special Parmigiani dials created at LAB. Some of these were made for limited edition watches with Parmigiani’s partners or to commemorate special events like the Montreux Jazz Festival, of which the brand is a sponsor.

Watchmaking is not all serious business. Here, a dial made for a special edition Ovale as a tribute to artist Andre Saraiva.

The windows of Manufacture Vaucher provide ample light for watchmakers and inspiring views.

A master watchmaker’s bench at Vaucher, where the most complicated movements are assembled.

the ornately decorated calibre 110 from a limited edition parmigiani kalpa
The ornately decorated calibre 110 from a limited edition Parmigiani Kalpa.
Gear Patrol

The spectacular calibre PF 361 from Parmigiani’s first ever integrated chronograph, the Tonda Chronor Anniversaire. In-house movements are special, but an in-house integrated chronograph movement can put a brand into a very elite club of only a few.

The main offices of Parmigiani Fleurier in its namesake village in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel.

A 19th-century Grosclaude pocketwatch, originally made in Fleurier for the South American market, after restoration at Parmigiani.

The restoration workshop at Parmigiani Fleurier, where clocks, pocketwatches and automatons are meticulously restored. Center: A British-made table clock nearing its completed restoration.