Franck Muller, creative watch design in motion
If Franck Muller had been born in Paris instead of Switzerland, we might see his name on a fashion house. Instead, he developed a passion for mechanics at a young age, studied at the Geneva School of Watchmaking, and continues to revolutionize the watch industry with a company that is driven by artistic vision and technical prowess.
Everything, from the unusual design aesthetic, to the high end materials, to the inventive complications bespeak a singular point of view. For collectors more accustomed to the incremental differences between, say, a Rolex Submariner and a Rolex GMT, encountering Franck Muller can be an astonishing experience.
The Shape of a Muller
Any discussion of Franck Muller as a design innovator starts with his Cintrée Curvex case, presented in 1987. The name means a “curved arch” and his now-iconic design took a classic tonneau (barrel) shape and curved it back so that it gently cradles the wrist. To emphasize the curves, he warped the font of the numerals, enlarging 11, 1, 5 and 7, a play on the typical emphasis of 12, 3, 6 and 9. The unusual treatment of the numerals has become one of the signatures of the brand. But you have to realize that this is not only an exterior design, it’s a technical marvel, as well, as the Cintrée Curvex’s mechanism is also curved to follow the shape of the watch!
In fact, Franck Muller’s love of complication is what makes his watches so much more than their outward design. He started his career as a gifted restorer and a maker of single watches under the brand Franck Geneva. He made only three or four watches a year, each a new step in innovation. Even after the expansion of his production, his gift for precision and innovation has continued to be unmatched, and every year he unveils a World Premier, presenting new complications. A Tourbillon visible from the front? His. A watch that shows the temperature? Done. A perpetual calendar with a lunar dial? Muller makes it look easy.
Note the engraving on the back that says “Master of Complications.” With Franck Muller, it’s no exaggeration. He received first prize in the Geneve Watchmaking Grand Prix in 2002, and his World of Haute Horology continues to amaze the watch world with yearly unveilings.
Muller Watchworld keeps watch over production
How does Franck Muller do it? One of the secrets of his success is that, like a great fashion house, the production of his visions are tightly centralized at his facility in the country outside Geneve. Watchworld is housed in a restored 1902 neo-gothic mansion in Genthod, Switzerland. It is both a return to his roots and the center of his creativity. Its opening in 1995 also marked the beginning of a larger production capability, allowing this passionate artist to both stretch himself technically and establish a world-wide brand.
Everything from design, assembly, case-making, and marketing takes place here. The dials and case stamping are made in nearby Jura Valley, the center of watchmaking skill. By immersing a team in his artistic vision, passion for craft, and demand for quality, he is able to innovate continually and boldly, year after year. Here are a few examples:
The most complicated watch ever made
The eternal question is: “Do you love Franck Muller the design innovator or Franck Muller the Master of Complications?” Here’s one reason it’s a tough choice: the Aeternitas Mega, from the Latin for “Eternity,” boasting 36 complications and 1,483 components. It is one of the most complicated watches in the world and is made entirely in house. It was introduced in 2007 after five years of research. It includes a 1000 year calendar renewable to infinity. Beyond impressive. But then, there’s the artistic vision to consider…
Coloring outside the design lines
One of the signatures of a Franck Muller, now widely copied, is a colorful dial. This limited edition America-America is a great example. Note the distinctive bold blue numerals outlined in red. Perfect for the next Fourth of July party.
Or maybe the free spirit in you is attracted to the Infinity watch, with its oversized colorful numerals. It’s a perfect example of why the brand is so appealing to creative people.
Color us crazy
And then there’s the watch that epitomizes the out-of-the-box designer and the technological wizard. In 2003, Franck Muller invented a completely new complication with a “jumping” hour hand. The hours shown on the dial break out of the standard 1 to 12 order, with 8 in the 12 position, 11 where 3 should be, etc. This “Alice in Wonderland” arrangement would be a design novelty if it weren’t for Muller’s genius. Rather than moving in a simple, traditional circle, the complication causes the hour hand to “jump” 5 spaces forward to the next hour! The minute hand rotates regularly. Truly, every other watch seems a little boring in comparison, now, doesn’t it?
Franck Muller tourbillion innovations
After showing off with such a playful piece, you might expect Muller’s next move to be another crazy-house design. Instead he pivoted back to masterful technological breakthrough mode. His next piece, introduced in 2004, featured a triple axial tourbillion. Keep in mind that a standard tourbillion is designed to compensate for the gravitational drag on the components as the wrist goes from horizontal to vertical. The Revolution 3 corrects for gravity in any position. Yoga, anyone?
For his next tourbillon trick, in 2011 Franck Muller created the Giga Tourbillon, twice the size of a regular tourbillon at 20 mm in diameter. To reduce weight, it uses lighter materials, such as bronze barium and titanium, and boasts 4 barrels for a 9 day power reserve. Popular models show display the inner workings through the dial.
Then there’s Thunderbolt Tourbillon, the fastest in the world. It makes a full rotation in only five seconds and actually uses less energy than a traditional tourbillon!
Who wears a Franck Muller?
Sometimes Franck Muller’s style innovations overshadow the incredible technical innovation. The brand’s unique and unmistakable style has made it a favorite of celebrities who like a bit of ‘bling.’ But now that you know more about the incredible skill, genius, and craftsmanship of each design, you can love them for more than their pretty faces. Regardless of any trend, Franck Muller watches will always be appreciated by innovators, inventors, style setters and visionaries. His place in the pantheon of great watchmakers is assured.