Nearly every luxury watch purveyor makes at least one watch that is targeted at frequent travelers — equipped with dual time zone/GMT functions or even world-time indications. And nearly all of these watches are described by the brands as being easy to use, easy to set, easy to read, just user-friendly in general, despite the various ways in which their operations differ. With the Parmigiani Tonda Hémisphères, however, a watch I had the opportunity to wear for several weeks — including during one of my own annual international trips, to the SIHH watch salon in Geneva — the Fleurier-based brand may have outdone them all in the “ease of use” category.
This is because the two time zones displayed on the dial — the time at your current destination on the main dial’s central hands and the “home time” in a second time zone on a prominent subdial at 12 o’clock — are set independently by two crowns. From a practical standpoint, this means that a second time zone can be set with absolute precision to the nearest minute — even if that second time zone is in a place like India, Iran, or Australia, whose time zones vary from most of the world’s others by half-hours rather than hours.
But let’s start at the beginning. Before one even starts delving into its functionality, this timepiece makes an impression, with its 42-mm, three-part case made of polished white gold; its thin, slightly sloped bezel framing a wide dial opening, covered by a nonreflective sapphire crystal with a subtly convex curve. The case connects to the black leather strap — more on which later — with the elegantly curved, mirror-polished, teardrop-shaped lugs, a hallmark of the Parmigiani brand, which manage to be both elegant and ergonomically sound, not always an easy combo to pull off in watchmaking.
The two crowns that control this watch’s functions, which do not screw down, are grooved; the larger one, positioned at about 3:30, sets the local time and date, and winds the movement. The smaller one, at about 2:30, is used to set the second time zone.
Working our way around the openworked dial, we find a thin, white minute track with small, double stick indices at each hour. Delta-shaped hour and minute hands (another Parmigiani hallmark), filled with Super-LumiNova, tell the local time from the dial’s center. The dual-time subdial at 12 o’clock is framed by a snailed, blue-gray outer ring with alternating white Arabic numerals and applied, triangular indices for the hours. A smaller set of Delta-shaped hands display the hours and minutes of the chosen second time zone. The outer ring is intersected at 3 o’clock by a day-night indicator for the second time zone, with a tiny red hand indicating the time of day on a 24-hour scale divided into black and white sectors (I will let you guess which color represents day and which one night).
A second subdial at 6 o’clock hosts both the small seconds display and the day-night indicator for the local time as indicated by the large central hands. To its right is a badge with the Parmigiani Fleurier logo; to the left and above it, at the 9 o’clock position on the main dial, lies a curved date aperture (which is synched with the local time) with a red pointer indicating the date on white Arabic numerals in an elegant serif font. Underscoring all of these displays is a large, côtes-de-Genève-finished plate with cut-outs offering a glimpse at the movement’s gears and wheels.
As with most “open” dials, technical beauty rather than maximum legibility seems to have been the priority. The various displays can get a bit lost amid the movement innards peeking through. The hands on the second-time-zone subdial are not quite small enough to not distract occasionally from the reading of the local time on the main dial; I also might have opted for a different color, and perhaps even a different shape, for the GMT subdial hands to more clearly differentiate them from those of the main time display. The date, on the other hand, is always clear, and the choice of a bright red hand for the day-night indicators makes those relatively minuscule displays substantially more legible.
But back to that ease of use: the cleverly designed mechanism in the Tonda Hémisphères incorporates two independent movements — one “motor,” one “follower,” each controlled by a separate crown — which allows the wearer to either fully synchronize the second time zone with the main time (i.e, only the hour hand moves, as in a traditional GMT function) or to index to it, adding additional minutes as necessary (by turning the second crown) depending on the chosen second time zone.
Fortunately, my international travel while wearing the watch consisted only of a trip to Geneva, which differs by six full hours (and no half-hours) from my home base in New York, so setting my home time was easy as could be. (A vacation trip to Iran just wasn’t in the cards.) That said, the 12-hour subdial with hour and minute hand is a much more intuitive way to quickly read the time in another zone than is a 24-hour subdial or a simple GMT hand.
The movement, Caliber PF377, is on display through an unconventionally placed, off-center pane of sapphire in the caseback. The view is dominated by the beautifully decorated rose-gold rotor, with an engraved “PF” logo in the center, which swings over a mainplate and beveled bridges lavishly finished with côtes de Genève and offers glimpses of the balance wheel’s balletic oscillations. The self-winding movement is the product of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier (VMF), the brand’s movement-making division; made up of 316 components, including 38 jewels, its two series-coupled barrels store a 50-hour power reserve.
The final element to note, of course, is the strap and the level of wrist comfort and security it provides. Made of black Hermès alligator leather, and finished with a white-gold folding clasp emblazoned with a PF logo, it feels buttery-soft against the skin. If you are, as I was, accustomed to the relative stiffness and thickness of other leather wristwatch straps — especially when the watch is new and before you have a chance to “break it in” a bit— you may find this one’s smoothness a little surprising at first, but it will grow on you in very short order. There is a reason why Hermès leather — which Parmigiani uses exclusively for its straps — is renowned the world over.
The Parmigiani Tonda Hémisphères — while not boasting pure, clean, utilitarian design as its strongest suit — nevertheless makes for a travel companion both beautiful and useful. The technical expertise and sheer creativity exhibited by brand founder Michel Parmigiani and his team in developing this double-movement system for displaying two independent time zones should not be overlooked and cannot be overstated. Historically, watchmaking has always been about developing complex inner mechanisms to achieve outward simplicity for the user, and this watch carries on that tradition proudly. The white-gold version with skeleton dial that I reviewed retails for $39,990.
For those seeking a more conventional dial with greater legibility — or a model at a lower price point — there are in fact several versions of the Tonda Hémisphères available, in different color schemes, case materials, and dial designs, some of which we had a chance to photograph during our Parmigiani appointment at SIHH 2017. A steel-cased version (not pictured) is priced at $24,000; another white-gold model with a silver-grained côtes de Genève dial is $38,000; and rose-gold versions with Havana brown or grained white dials (bottom two photos) are $36,000.