With watches, we are the most accustomed to the round case shape, an obvious outgrowth of watches starting out as pocket watches (and clocks, before that). The great thing about the round case is that the dimensions are constant, and you can easily size hands to fit the dial. We can be a contrary lot, though, and find ourselves drawn to different and interesting case shapes. What about an oval? That’s like an elongated circle, right? Yes, but you’re constrained by the smallest dimension, when it comes to hand length. At least, that is, if you’re talking about a watch other than the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe PFH775.
With the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe, there is a very recent history, and then there’s a history that goes back a few centuries. Let’s start back in time. For that, we go back to the 1800s, and a pocket watch that was created by Vardon and Steadmann. This pocket watch took the concept of a pantographe (by which a drawing could be copied with a telescoping arm), and applied it to the watch hands. In this way, the hands could extend or collapse as they travel around the dial, keeping a proportionally-pleasing length.
It was in 1997 that Michel Parmigiani set about restoring this pocket watch. Of course, no drawings or manuals existed for repairing and restoring the watch, so they were charting their own course. Through the work of determining how that pocket watch works, a seed was planted. That brings us to 2011, when Parmigiani introduced the Parmigiani 114. This limited-edition watch was the foundation for what became the Pantographe when it was introduced in 2013
For the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe, it is the oval case and gracefully curved and rounded lugs that first capture the eye. That’s true for all of the Parmigiani Ovale collection, to be fair. What really sets the Pantographe are, of course, the telescoping hands. Though they are carefully designed and laid out, they have the feeling of free-hand pinstriping, or perhaps even the sort of doodles that you might do in the margin of your notes.
Clearly, this is a handset that was precisely built; for all of that, they introduce a whimsical feeling to the overall look. This does not diminish the design or demean it in any way. Rather, it makes the oval watch all the more unique, and elevates things to another level. This makes a splash on the wrist, as the 18k white gold case is generously sized at 45 x 37.77mm. Comfort should still be paramount, as the case is only 11.7mm thick, and those lugs curve down, allowing the Hermes strap to hug your wrist.
For the Ovale Pantographe to work its visual magic, there has to be something very special going on under the dial. Here, it’s known as the PF111, which is derived from the PF110 (which was first used in 1999), albeit without the sub-seconds. Still, this means that the 8-day power reserve is retained, which is no mean feat. What makes this all the more impressive is the view that you have via the caseback. Given the reserve, you might expect to see a large barrel or two prominently display, or perhaps even something that indicates how the hands are telescoping.
Instead, you’re greeted with decorated plates that give the sense of clouds floating in the sky. Yes, you do see the jewels and screws, but you have only a hint of the gear train. The most prominent portion of this manually-wound movement is the balance wheel, which is humming away at 21,600 vph, or 3 Hz. We find that this movement presentation encapsulates and underscores the watch. It reminds the viewer that, while things may look deceptively simple, there is more going on than (literally) meets the eye.
Versus The Competition
Given how unique the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe is in its presentation, any sort of direct competition is actually difficult to come by. On one hand, you could go with something that takes unique presentation in a flashier direction, say, something like the De Bethune DB28YT. De Bethune is more commonly known for their white-and-blue designs (like this Parmigiani). While the Starfleet insignia is still present, the entirety of the design is much more of the golden tones. As sublime and elegant as the Parmigiani is, this De Bethune takes things in a much more brash direction that makes for a slightly bolder presence on the wrist.
If you’d prefer to stay with a more classic foundation, but with an unexpected design twist, then the Cartier Crash is the right alternative. This is a watch design that has its roots in the 1960s, when a watch that had been on the wrist of someone in a car crash was brought into Cartier. Jean-Jaques Cartier saw the watch and realized something could be done; in 1967, the first Cartier Crash was offered. In modern interpretations, you’ve got the classic Roman numerals, squished into the artistically deformed case.
While we referenced pinstriping and doodling earlier, there’s another craft that the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe is a perfect fit for — the drafter. In fact, that’s what the pantographe was first designed for, to scale up (or down) technical drawings. So, to look upon a watch like this one puts us in the mind of a drafter or designer who has risen through the ranks in their career, and are enjoying the fruits of their labors. For that, they’re not particularly flashy, preferring to let design speak for itself. While they may have “made it”, they still remember and acknowledge their roots. That, dear reader, is the personality of this watch, and no doubt the personality of its wearer.
If you had any doubts about the technical complexity in the handset used on the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe, just think back. Have you ever seen a handset like this? Maybe even do a search out on the web — is there anyone else out there trying to come even close to this design? You’ll quickly come to see that the Parmigiani Ovale Pantographe is rather unlike anything that’s ever come to market. For the simple fact that you can have hands that are always the right length, in a non-circular case? That alone is worth the price of admission.