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Parmigiani Fleurier CEO Guido Terreni | Image: Supplied

‘You Better Have Something to Say.’: How Guido Terreni is Leaving His Mark on Parmigiani Fleurier

After putting Bulgari on the watchmaking map with the Octo Finissimo, Guido Terreni spectacularly waved goodbye to the high-jewellery maison he had called home for two decades. Three years later, he’s continuing to revolutionise the industry. In this candid chat, the Parmigiani Fleurier CEO speaks on the Toric, the state of the luxury industry and having King Charles as a trusted client.


When Guido Terreni stepped into the role of CEO at independent watchmaker Parmigiani Fleurier in 2021, he brought with him a legacy of change. The man universally renowned for dragging Bulgari into watchmaking’s most illustrious circles had no shortage of credentials to his name, and he would have been forgiven for simply rinsing and repeating. Complacency, however, is not in Terreni’s vocabulary.

In his three years at the helm of Parmigiani Fluerier, the industry legend has overseen some of the brand’s most distinctive novelties, from 2021’s stunning Tonda PF to the unexpected revival of the brand’s iconic Toric line this year. Remarkably, Terreni’s success at Parmigiani has succinctly mirrored that which he experienced at Bulgari, albeit for entirely different reasons. As he explains, an acute knowledge of the luxury industry has taught him that no two brands are alike, and that Parmigiani marches firmly to the beat of its own drum

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“You don’t buy Parmigiani for your social recognition. You buy Parmigiani to please yourself,” he tells me. “These values remain because the brand is like a person. You cannot change your values and be one person one day and another the next – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde doesn’t work in watchmaking.”

For Terreni, who is perhaps best known for leading one of the industry’s most transcendent evolutions, the luxury industry should feel like home, but it is in his nature to go against the grain. In his time at Bulgari, the proud Italian proved instrumental in the brand’s reinvention, spearheading a string of remarkable watches that sent shockwaves through the media and put the entire sector on notice. But as Terreni reveals, even much-loved novelties like the Octo Finissimo didn’t come easy.

“It took me probably 10 years to understand what I was doing,” he tells me. “It was an Italian brand, a jeweller, so the culture of watchmaking was not really in the brand. Through these years, we managed to make it a legitimate watch player, especially with the arrival of the Octo Finissimo. That taught me to look into the brand and not what is happening outside the brand.”

I recently caught up with the Parmigiani Fluerier CEO in Geneva, where the brand debuted its all-new Toric collection. A typically refined nod to the classic design codes of the past, the precious metal releases spoke to a bygone era of luxury, but there was something profound contemporary about the 2024 novelties. As Terreni explained, an evolution of masculinity in fashion was responsible for a remarkable sway away from the gaudy design language of old. In his words, the times are changing.

MoM: Now, I do want to talk about the new Parmigani Fleurier novelties, but before I do, your story and your journey in the watch industry fascinate me. What got you first into watches in the first place?

Guido Terreni: Well, I have a history with watches, which is quite peculiar because I spent 20 years with one brand and it took me probably 10 years to understand what I was doing. Luckily, I was not in a pick-up position in the hierarchy of the division and had the chance to learn, but we were learning on the job. It was an Italian brand, a jeweller, so the culture of watchmaking was not really in the brand. Through these years, we managed to make it a legitimate watch player, especially with the arrival of the Octo Finissimo, which everybody knows a very big success for the brand. That taught me to look into the brand and not what is happening outside the brand.

Luxury is about an expression of creativity and of excellence. You have to find your own singularity, this is what I bring with me in Parmigiani.

Obviously, it’s a completely different brand, completely different client, so you can’t copy-paste what you did before. You have to dive into the values of the brand, and that was the most interesting part of the beginning of my path in Parmigiani Fleurier. I was helped by the pandemic because the fact that you couldn’t travel, you couldn’t change the numbers because it was such an external factor that even if you worked like crazy, you wouldn’t have moved the needle, so it was a fantastic moment to say ‘What are we about? Who do we want to appeal to?’ Which is this refined connoisseur, non-ostentatious, very knowledgeable in luxury in general, but also in watchmaking.

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I had already an idea of what Parmigiani should be before entering because (luckily) CEO scouting doesn’t last a couple of days, it lasts a few months. So I was able to study the brand from the outside, and very quickly, thanks to the fact that the pandemic had freed a lot of industrial capacity, we were able to do things right and properly in only seven months coming out with a PF.

The PF changed the game, and three years later, we are ready to launch the second collection. Parmigiani is much more than one collection. You cannot think of Parmigiani as a sports brand and a mono-category collection. Our clients have been asking us for a couple of years, “Please do the same revival that you did on the Toric,” and now we’re happy to present it.

My journey in watches is quite strange because I came here for love and my wife was already in Switzerland. She was my girlfriend at the time, so I moved to stay with her and I found a second love in watchmaking.

MoM: Over that period, you’ve seen first-hand how the luxury watch market has evolved over the last 15-20 years. How do you the watch market now as opposed to when you first started?

Guido Terreni: We’re trying to move the codes of masculine elegance forward, which you know, are quite stiff. It’s a conservative industry, and when you look at how a dress watch should be, it’s quite impressive that we are putting on our wrists, watches that have not been designed in our generation. And this doesn’t mean that you have to be sensitive to fashion. Watchmaking is not about a season or two, a watch has to last forever. This is very difficult to design and to craft, but certain things can be understood through decades and through how mankind is evolving in the way that we dress.

When you had a pocket watch, it was like a jewel. You could be opulent, you could be looking at the details of this because it was in your pocket. But when the watch comes out of the pocket and it goes on the wrist, it has to fit this severe classic, formal way of dressing. That’s why elegant watches for the whole century of last century have been with glossy alligator strap in black, white face, platinum, white gold, or sometimes yellow. And if you are really crazy, you put a brown strap on it. So that’s part of how the industry has dealt with elegant watches.

Now, the times are changing. It is very interesting to see what happened to society. Looking at how we behave, we’re less formal than before. Informality has become a very elegant way to be, but informality doesn’t follow a code, so you don’t have a uniform. It’s easy to dress following a code. It’s much more difficult to dress elegantly when you have to choose your personal outfits.

Then there is the suit; a rigid uniform that has been, first of all, broken by streetwear. Especially in the new economy, East Coast Americans have brought a more informal, casual way of dressing. Now there is a sort of rediscovery, especially from a younger crowd of people who are wealthy but who are also not following the fashion brands, but more making their own choices in how to dress. They’re rediscovering tailoring, not in that stiff and formal way, but in a comfortable way. Suits are much easier to wear. You don’t wear a tie anymore, you don’t wear a shirt anymore with it, so the colours are different. So we say, well, ‘How can we complement this beautiful rediscovery of the culture of wearing on a gentleman?’. We do it through the Toric. The Toric is an innovator in terms of redefining the aesthetic codes of the rest of men.

MoM: Do you believe that Parmigiani Fleurier is better set-up to cater to a new generation than perhaps some other watchmakers?

Guido Terreni: Well, the Tonda PF has already rejuvenated the audience a lot. The brand, through the Tonda PF, is interesting to people in their thirties, in their early forties, people who are connoisseurs of watches because you don’t get to Parmigiani as a first brand, probably not even as a second or a third. So, you have already done your experiences, and you are looking for something less homologated, less mainstream, and more personal.

The way that we want to address Parmigiani is really as a brand for people who are not ostentatious. They are understated because that’s part of their values, and they probably already went through that phase of needing to show. You convey more knowledge than wealth.

The wealth is there because watches are expensive, but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is taste.

It’s not easy to do because when you are not in the mainstream, you are outside the codes of the mainstream. To be outside with taste is the most difficult thing to do. You can be extravagant, you can be crazy. That works with the maximalist approach to life, and that’s very fine to do, but that’s not who we are.

We are much more into something refined and something that lasts for a long time because that’s part of the tradition of watchmaking. You have to respect the craft, but you have to not be stuck in a cage of tradition because tradition should be your source of knowledge to bring you forward. It’s always been like this until the last 30 years when the watchmaking industry started to re-edit its own past, and nine watches out of 10 have not been designed in our generation.

MoM: That does lead me into 2024 and the new pieces. What can you tell me about the 2024 teasers and what are you most excited about?

Guido Terreni: Of course, the Toric is the most important note; this is a game changer for me in the way that you deal with masculine elegance. I would like Parmigiani to be understood as a very refined and private luxury because you don’t buy Parmigiani for your social recognition. You buy Parmigiani to please yourself.

That’s why we took out the logo in writing from the dial. That’s why everything is subtle; It’s for the pleasure of the owner. We have to build consistency in understanding what that style is about. So, purism in the idea, simplicity, and powerfulness of one strong idea, which is the brand identity that we are developing, has to be understood. If you put the Toric next to the PF, you see that the two collections are part of the same brand, are part of an identity, which is nuanced, but they’re completely different watches.

One is versatile, you can swim with it, and it’s a metal bracelet watch. The other is a very elegant and personal choice, but used in a different way, so this is extremely important. The collection is only mechanical movements; that’s the most important thing in watchmaking, to display the beauty of the mechanics.

The finishings of the movements are extraordinary – the two barrels that are part of the conception of the movement are protagonists, and then only gold movements, which is very rare in the industry. Gold is the most warm material that you can imagine, very rich and it resonates with a finishing so well. When you turn the watch, you see this purity of aesthetics, which is for thinking, you are inspired by tradition in the sense that you reinterpret certain feelings that you can imagine from the past, but you transform.

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MoM: The details on this new piece are stunning, but there is a reined subtlety to the Toric that feels innately like ‘quiet luxury’. Tell me a little bit about the approach to the finer details.

Guido Terreni: We were inspired by beautiful chevet dials from the ’60s. These dials were flat until a certain point, and then towards the outside, they started to descend with a curve. This gives you a very vintage look, and we didn’t want a vintage look on something so fresh, so we redesigned this curve with a step and with the curve part outside the step.

A lasting thing element that Michel (Parmigaini) prioritises in approaching watchmaking is purity, with such sophistication, every component is at its maximum. When you get to the buckle, it’s not a deploying buckle because, with such a beauty of movement, you want to admire the movement. So, you have to open the strap in order to not have a blade in the middle of your eyes, and you can admire the craft that is behind the watch. So, this is a beautiful combination of certain elements. They’re all ingredients that make sense from traditional watchmaking, but then they are functional to express creativity, which is very fresh and contemporary.

MoM: And how have you seen the reaction since the Toric was officially unveiled?

Guido Terreni: Well, everybody who sees it is quite surprised because the style is very different, very fresh, and it is intriguing. Then, of course, it’s expensive because the making of it is not free. I think you get used to it, it’s something that grows on you. This is very interesting because it was the same thing that happened to the Tonda PF, the simplicity of the purity of the idea. But these finishings that were subtle and you discovered by wearing make you love the watch even more, the more you look at it, so this is a very important thing to have a long-lasting appeal.

MoM: You recently announced that you are expanding into Australia, working alongside the iconic J Farren-Price. What does Australia represent to you as a market?

Guido Terreni: Australia is a market that we were simply not present in. I think we were in the past, but I don’t remember how many years have gone by. It has always been a market that has evolved; at the beginning, Australia used to be the market in which brands used to dump their watches that they couldn’t sell. they started from a long way back, but now you have a public, which is very, very interested and very cultivated. So, it’s a nice thing in these 20 years to see that Australia has moved up in the understanding of what a fancy and nice watch is about. We had to choose one partner, for the moment, it’s only one, and we had to do the best, and for us the best was J Farren-Price.

MoM: There is an undeniable synergy there. How did the relationship come about?

Guido Terreni: Well, it’s been since the arrival of Tonda PF, we cut two-thirds of our distribution because we were over-distributed. To me, it’s very important to be important to our partners, I have to choose people who believe in what we’re doing, which in the past has not been seen as conventional, but rather quite anti-mainstream. There is a public that is looking for de-homologating itself and differentiating itself with taste, and this is a counter-trend to what homologation is about.

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So, every trend has its own counter-trend, and that’s what I’m happy about because that’s where things become interesting and when you can express a higher creativity. Since that arrival, we had many, many people trying to work with us. I think there are around 50 partners that are waiting to work with us, but we cannot open so many clients, so we select very severely who we want to work with.

We have been in discussion with Farren-Price for a couple of years, and now we decided to open one door in Australia, which is important. We opened one in Seoul last month. So, with every door we open, we try now to open a new market without interfering with what we already have. That’s very important because I strongly believe in multi-brand distribution because our client is a watch lover, and a watch lover likes to be advised. He likes to learn. When he comes, he spends a lot of time discussing. He learns about the industry. If you’re only serving one brand, it’s impossible that you are in touch with what is really happening everywhere.

Your dealer becomes your advisor, your confident person that you trust. He has even more than a brand, the interest of satisfying the client goes beyond the brand. A multi-brand distribution builds trust because he knows that a client can buy more than one watch and more than one brand, so he has the interest to serve with what he wants. Of course, we are very happy to serve a client too, but it’s very important that our client has the service of a professional who understands what we are about.

MoM: In recent years, we’ve seen a number of celebrities wearing Parmigiani Fleurier, but I think one stands out the most. King Charles wearing a Toric Chronograph at his Coronation; that must have been a huge moment for the brand.

Guido Terreni: Well, it’s a story that goes back a long time. I think he bought the watch in Klosters when he was skiing in Switzerland, so he got to know the brand. He’s a very educated person to luxury, to architecture, so he fell in love with it, and he loves that watch, but it was his choice, we had nothing to do with that. I also feel quite uncomfortable speaking about it because he is a client of the brand – a very important one, and we’re very happy to have him in our history.

MoM: Now, for our readers who might not know Parmigiani Fleurier intimately and are only just coming across the brand for the first time, what would you want them to walk away with?

Guido Terreni: I would like to walk away with the impression that they found a very cultivated and deep brand that is moving forward the boundaries of watchmaking, whether it is in aesthetics, in craft, or in innovation through the world premieres that we did on the Tonda PF, like the GMT Rattrapante or the Mini Rattrapante. I always say that nobody needs another watch, so, if you do launch one, you better have something to say.

The new Parmigiani Fluerier Toric collection was unveiled in Geneva at Watches & Wonders 2024. The lineup draws upon the maison’s rich horological culture and expertise to redefine the men’s dress watch design language. For more information on the new releases, visit the Parmigiani Fluerier online storefront or learn more at J Farrne Price’s official boutique.