Something I think about quite a bit in this hobby is the idea that the watches we wear are often just part of a costume that we’re presenting to the outside world. They exist as aspirational symbols of what we’d like our life to be. There’s a cosplay aspect to wearing certain watches that I’m never quite able to shake, even watches I love. I wear, on most days, either a pilot’s watch or a diver, and I don’t fly a plane and I don’t even really like to swim. I wear these watches because I genuinely enjoy them as watches, but I’d be lying if a small part of me didn’t feel like a pretender, a guy asking himself who he thinks he’s kidding with this super tactical pilot’s instrument strapped to his wrist.
I’ve never felt that feeling more acutely than in my time with the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Sport Automatic in rose gold. This watch, let’s just say, is not in my normal wheelhouse. While I appreciate it aesthetically (in fact, I find it quite beautiful) it’s not the kind of thing I’d choose to wear. But more than that, this watch is part of a micro-genre of watches that is very specific, one that I’m fascinated by, but am personally so far removed from, I am legitimately probably closer to the pilot walking into the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program than I am the dude who this watch was made for.
The Tonda PF Sport Auto is part of a class of watches I think of as “leisure sport,” with a heavy emphasis on the leisure. These watches have become more popular in certain circles over the last several years, and it’s worth defining our terms here. First, the leisure sport watch is usually (but not always) in a precious metal. The A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus in gold on a strap is a leisure sport watch, but its counterpart in steel (or titanium) is not, at least in my estimation. Second, these watches are specced like sports watches, and look like sports watches, but if they had a consciousness of their own, they’d be thrilled to know that they would never be used in a sporting context for real. Imagine the Odysseus high-fiving a Vacheron Constantin 222 from across the watch box, for a fun mental image of what I’m talking about here.
Hands-On: the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Sport Automatic in Rose Gold
41 x 47mm
I also think of the precious metal versions of the Rolex Yachtmaster as living in this world, a watch that exists to be a more luxurious complement to the true sports watch it looks almost exactly like, which itself is now transformed into a different kind of luxury object. The Yachtmaster, as the name implies, is happy to be worn on the deck of a large, luxury, seafaring vessel. Its “master,” its owner, is likely not responsible for any of the actual work in keeping said vessel afloat and en route to its destination. They’re likely enjoying a cocktail on the deck, or maybe lobster and caviar in a private suite.
I have to be honest: I kinda love these watches. They are often the most straightforward example of a watch that exists to be beautiful above all else, function be damned. The anti-tool watch. What’s kind of exciting about them is they still exist in a sports watch context. If you happen to find classic sports watches aesthetically appealing (as I do), you’re really getting the best of both worlds in a watch like this. As much as I might personally prefer something that’s batshit insane, there’s an elegance in the simplicity of a good leisure sport watch that’s undeniable. It’s uncomplicated. Sometimes you just want to wear a watch that doesn’t require a long explanation.
And that’s the first thing I noted about the Tonda PF Sport in my time with it. When I’m lucky enough to have a watch like this in for review, I like to show it to friends outside my watch circle to get their impressions of it. Unsurprisingly, the Tonda PF Sport impressed immediately across the board. It’s a solid hunk of gold, after all. Humans are wired to find this stuff enticing. That moment when your eyes bulge out of your skull like a cartoon character upon feeling the weight and seeing the luster of a watch like this is primordial, instinctual, and unavoidable.
The watch, at a glance, is remarkably simple, but reveals plenty of detail as you look closer at any single aspect of the piece. What stands out to me immediately is the impeccable finishing of the case, with super crisp transitions between brushed and polished sections, and muscular facets that help trick you into thinking this is a sport sport watch and not something destined for the easy life. The defining feature of so many watches across the Parmigiani Fleurier collection, the knurled bezel, is represented here with a version containing 160 incisions, fewer than the standard 225 across the rest of the Tonda range. According to Parmigiani, the goal here was to create a different visual impression for a sportier watch. I think that’s fair. The standard 225 incision bezel is impossibly intricate, and an important part of Parmigiani’s design history dating back to the brand’s founding. Their stepped and knurled bezels on Toric references from the early days of the brand are true works of art, little sculptures unto themselves. The PF Sport bezel is the Diet Coke version. Full flavor is a different animal, but you might prefer this one Just for the Taste of It.
The watch is particularly striking when viewed in profile. It’s just 9.8mm thick, and wears beautifully. When seen from the side, the teardrop style lugs are emphasized. This is a holdover from prior versions of the Tonda, and this more formal style of lug works remarkably well on a watch that’s meant to be a little sporty. The lug design creates just a little bit of drama when you catch a glimpse of the watch on your wrist from an angle, and is in line with the Parmigiani concept of private, tasteful, luxury. The lugs are bold, but only momentarily, and only for the wearer. There’s a lack of flash and a subtlety to how the case is shaped that is part of a throughline you can trace across other key elements of the design.
The white dial is accented with hand-applied guilloche in what the brand calls a “triangular nail” pattern. Small hour markers circle the dial, with black lume applied to each, and a simple minute track at the dial’s outer perimeter. The brand’s seal, applied and in gold, is found at 12:00, and we get a date window at 6:00. The combined effect here is a dial that is open and serene, very much in the style of other recent Tonda references that prioritize simplicity and cleanliness in their approach. Parmigiani is leaning into one of my favorite things a watch brand can do, and that’s to fill their watch with small things that reveal themselves over time without calling too much attention to themselves. It’s why I prefer subtle, barely visible dial textures on Grand Seikos over the more in-your-face approach of something like the White Birch. Parmigiani seems to understand that a little goes a long way, and the restraint here leads to a level of refinement that is perhaps not often associated with the sport leisure group, a category of watch where more ostentatious examples of otherwise average sports watches are the norm.
The PF Sport Auto runs on the PF770/4100 caliber, a very refined and nicely decorated automatic movement with 60 hours of power reserve, and an impressively skeletonized solid gold winding rotor. In my limited time with the watch, I had absolutely no issues with the movement, either in its operation or its timekeeping. The dressier variants of the Tonda, which are even thinner and less sport inclined than the PF Sport Auto, use movements with micro rotors that are perhaps a little more visually interesting, but lose something in terms of robustness. That’s a worthwhile tradeoff in my estimation. As mentioned above, the PF770/4100 features a date indicator, with a window cut in the dial at the 6:00 position, and this, I think it’s fair to say, is the design element of the watch that is least successful. A date-less dial would make everything feel even more and clean, but if a date must be present, it seems that it should be color matched to the dial on a watch like this.
I wore the PF Sport Auto day in and day out for nearly a week. During that time, a few things became clear. First, a somewhat dreary early fall week in New Hampshire is the wrong time of year and wrong location on our planet for a watch like this. It belongs, I think, in a warmer climate, where the sun can do its thing on the gold case. This watch’s natural habitat is more “tropical resort” than “New England hayride.” Nothing against New England hayrides. I grew up on New England hayrides. But there are certain situations where a watch just doesn’t make sense, even for someone who typically scoffs at the idea of watches having any particular seasonality.
The second thing that became clear was just how well this watch wears. Despite a 41mm diameter that might actually feel a bit bigger thanks to the expansive dial, the PF Sport Auto is very tidy on the wrist thanks to its minimal case height. The other factor working in its favor is the excellent integrated rubber strap, which is supple but still quite substantial, and feels equal in quality in terms of craftsmanship to the watch and its more high profile components. Oftentimes, even on high end watches like this one, brands will cut corners on straps, but I can’t say that’s the case here. While its pebbled texture might not be everyone’s cup of tea aesthetically, I think it would be hard to argue against the way Parmigiani has integrated the strap to the case and the overall quality of the thing. The strap is secured via a solid gold butterfly clasp that is simple to use and feels well made in its own right.
We’ve come to that point in the review where it’s time to discuss the cost of the watch. This part of the review – any review – is the one that always seems to garner the most attention in the comments section. People simply love to fight about prices, now more than ever. This watch has a retail price of CHF 35,000. That’s expensive, of course. But I’d like to preemptively point out, in anticipation of comments to the contrary, that it’s not in any way too expensive or overpriced in any way.
I’ve noticed something in watch review comment sections and Instagram discussions recently. And that’s that every watch, it would seem, is overpriced. Can you believe it? I mean, what are the chances? From new Timex, to Seiko, to Longines, to Tudor, to IWC, to Moser, and on and on and on, it turns out that according to the collected wisdom of the most online members of the watch community that not a single watch has ever been priced fairly.
I talked about this recently on the Worn & Wound podcast, but now that I have a watch in hand that brings these questions into sharp focus, it seems worth examining in more detail. It’s very easy to get sticker shock in this hobby, and I think that’s an incredibly common process that new collectors and enthusiasts go through as they’re getting into watches. But something that’s just as common, that’s talked about way less, is a sense after years of collecting that no watch actually represents a good value. It’s a reflection, I think, of a cynicism that comes on naturally as you experience more watches, some of which, inevitably, will be disappointing in one way or another.
It also might be borne out of an idea that your watch, which you love, is more than meeting your needs at $1,000, or $4,000, or maybe a figure much larger. It’s human nature to compare the things we have to the things we don’t, but one watch being a perceived great value at one price doesn’t mean another watch isn’t priced fairly at an order of magnitude higher.
Both of these concepts (the tunnel vision experienced when your own watch feels like a value sweet spot, and the blasé attitude almost all of us feel at some point toward new watches with enough time in the hobby) meet at the wrongheaded idea that a watch should be priced at precisely the sum of its (literal) parts, and if it’s a dime over, well, that kind of profiteering simply will not stand. When it comes to luxury products, and even when it comes to more consumer oriented products, I’ve always held that a maker has a right to earn some money selling you a thing that you absolutely do not need. For me, this is particularly clear when it comes to the highest end independents, labors of love that take their creators years to perfect. The high cost not only allows [insert name of your favorite indie watchmaker here] to send their kids to a good school and pay their mortgage, but it lets them make another watch at some point down the line. By paying for the watch, sometimes with a high markup, you become a patron of the community and help to support it over the long term. That’s an inherently good thing, and it’s just as true as it is for Parmigiani as it is for Brew, or Lorier, or Arcanaut, or Akrivia.
I have no idea what the raw material cost of the PF Auto Sport is. I’m sure it’s quite a bit less than the CHF 35,000 that Parmigiani is asking for one. But when I look at the watch, hold it in my hand, and strap it to my wrist, you can feel the work of the craftspeople who built it, and that’s unfortunately something you’ll just have to take my word on, unless you’re lucky enough to spend some time with one of these watches yourself. A watch is never just the sum of its parts. It’s a whole lot more, and the best ones take on an emotional quality that transcends dollar amounts anyway. My (perhaps somewhat controversial) feeling is that the people in the comments complaining about price and what a watch is actually “worth” have, to this point, yet to really experience that.
Putting questions of the retail price aside, the Tonda PF Auto Sport is a very impressive watch, and puts the well understood Tonda platform into new, slightly sportier territory. I think, in the real world, this watch has a very niche appeal. But I have to admit that’s a sentiment that could probably also be applied to something like a pilot watch by a certain segment of the watch buying public. At the end of the day, with any watch that’s highly specific in its design, there’s an element of cosplay involved. But it can also be true of literally any watch that conjures an idea in the mind of the wearer about where it belongs, and that’s one of the fun things about experiencing a watch like this for a short time. It transports you, temporarily, into a life you don’t have, in the same way a great movie or a piece of music can immerse you into their worlds. Parmigiani Fleurier