Power Individuals: Guido Terreni On His Approach In Reinventing Parmigiani Fleurier And How To Lead A Brand During Global Crises

Guido Terreni became CEO of the Swiss watchmaker parmigiani in January 2021, when the world was still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. It may have been a blessing in disguise, however, as the lockdown conditions allowed his team to conceptualise and release an all-new collection in a short time. Just seven months later, Tonda PF was announced, with reinvented aesthetic codes that have primed the brand for a new era. “It gave us the time and focus to do some introspective work and come up with this collection in a very short time,” Terreni says, noting that it was quite unprecedented. “It was possible only because during the pandemic there was free capacity of manufacturing and development, and we had a stock of movements already there. It’s sort of an alignment of the stars. If you were to repeat it today, it would take two years.”

Terreni did have something of a running start. As a long-time industry veteran, he knew the brand well and had a solid idea of what he wanted to do. He was part of Bulgari for more than two decades and was appointed the head of its watchmaking division in 2009, a move that came in the midst of the global financial crisis precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers the previous year. “It’s a bit similar. In a moment of crisis, I had a big change in my career. It may be different brands, but both were instrumental to a great journey after a crisis,” he says.

Under his tenure, Bulgari became a watchmaking powerhouse primarily because of the success of Octo Finissimo, lauded for both its design and technical accomplishments. Parmigiani Fleurier is thus the second brand Terreni is seeking to reposition, though coming from the opposite direction. Where Bulgari was a fashion and luxury titan seeking watchmaking legitimacy, Parmigiani Fleurier was already highly respected in horological circles with a broad and deep range of manufacture capabilities, but it seemed to lack a certain essential desirability. “It’s not a secret that Parmigiani was in a moment that was not the best. It was a brand that had lost a little bit of the connection with its clientele over the past decade,” Terreni explains. “It held in my mind a big prestige and a great care for mechanical art. The foundation of the brand was pure and strong.” This foundation was Michel Parmigiani, a world-renowned restoration specialist who founded the brand in 1996. Terreni feels that a restorer is at the pinnacle of watchmaking expertise and knowledge, and also has to put their ego aside as they are in the service of someone else’s creation. “This combination of high craft, understatement and absence of ego is the soul of the brand,” he says. “It speaks to a public that is not ostentatious, which is educated in luxury—and in watches, especially. They can discern, they are exigent and they are elite, if you want, in the cultural understanding of the luxury watch. The values are the same, but we had to address them in a fresher way. Society has evolved to become less formal. The watches with which the brand had made its prestige needed to be refreshed in order to be appealing to a younger clientele.” 

Tonda PF, which was designed in just 19 days, was created to address this. When Terreni initially asked his team what were the most recognisable codes of the brand, they brought him movements. “This tells you how this is a watchmaking brand. The culture is in technique, in movements, in the finishing of the mechanics,” he says. “What was missing was this direction of aesthetic style that we needed to convey.” The answer lay not in creating new codes, but rather to embrace refinement and repurposing of existing elements. For example, in the pursuit of understatement, the full ‘Parmigiani Fleurier’ signature was removed from the dial and replaced by a ‘PF’ seal that was designed by Michel in the early days for use as a case hallmark.

The incredible response is something Terreni admits took him by surprise. Bulgari’s success came after years of work, while it took just months for Parmigiani Fleuerier’s Tonda PF. When the collection’s innovative GMT Rattrapante was launched in early 2022, it was seven times oversubscribed. Terreni is now concentrating on streamlining his supply operations. “I don’t believe in creating desirability by not delivering, or by imposing on someone to buy something else before having what he wants. It’s okay to have a three- or six-month waiting list, but when you exceed one year, it’s more of a frustration than a pleasure or a desire.

“You have to be an optimist. You need to have the courage to go for ideas,” he says. “Courage is a virtue that allows you to have integrity, to stand for your ideas, to defend them. To be resilient, to be persistent—the vision has to be there and I think that’s my most important skill. But you have to move people towards that; you have to inspire them by sharing what you have in mind, and allow people to contribute.”

When he is not working, you may find Terreni indulging in his motorcycle hobby. “When there’s a nice sunny day, I like to ride. It’s a moment when you’re concentrated on just driving. It’s a sort of meditation because your mind is completely free.”

Parmgiani Fleurier

Illustrations by Tan Eng Huat

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