First Man: The history of Franck Muller


In the watch world there are some statements that generally come undisputed, almost like common knowledge. Talking about Franck Muller people usually tend to discuss his self-proclaimed ‘Master of complications’ title or the technical prowess of his movements. While all of this is true, we often miss the other important: the man was really the very first superstar in modern watchmaking, defining the industry landscape of what we now know as the independents segment.

Back in the 1990s and 2000s one could hardly find a serious collector who did not own a couple of pieces with trademark tonneau cases and instantly recognizable indices. When complication was king he actually managed to become a king of complications and left an undeniable trace  in the post-Quartz era.

As Muller himself often states, he dreamed of becoming a watchmaker since childhood. A brilliant student during the watch school years, his first job after the graduation was in restoration for Patek Philippe. But when someone has so many ideas, you don’t expect him to do restorations forever.  Inevitably Franck started working on his own pieces of an unheard of designs and mechanical boldness. For example, in the mid-1980s, he placed the tourbillon right on the dial — and for the time it felt very against-the-stream.

When Swiss watchmaking entered the revival era, it was all about the complications: the more complications the more prestige. And when there is a niche, there is always a person who manages to reach all its limits and then walk an extra mile. The rapid success of Franck Muller, which coincided with an unprecedented mechanical watches boom, turned into an unexpected side effect: the founder of the brand became some kind of modern watchmaking superstar. And while we can only guess how much Mueller’s career served as an example for some of now-famous independents, he was clearly the first one. So the modern perception of an outstanding master, acting as a trademark in his own right, has everything to do with that particular success. 

In 1991 Frank joined forces with Swiss businessman Vartan Sirmakes, and Franck Muller manufacture was born. Based in Genthod near Geneva it has gathered all the production and designing stages under one roof. And the name really said it all — Watchland. From that time on the company has regularly increased its infrastructure, and even started hosting the exhibitions for retailers and collectors right at its headquarters.

A trademark design language was finally formed with the introduction of the Cintrée Curvex case — an interesting variation of traditional tonneau shape, slightly bending on several axes at once. And again, its hard to ignore the obvious parallels. By choosing this visual form, Franck Muller intentionally or not has contributed to another important trend of the late 1990s — 2000s: it’s somehow very natural to pair super hi-tech movements with large tonneau cases, as opposed to traditional round watches with classical mechanics. Think Richard Mille or Cvstos, which by the way belongs to Sermakis’ son Sassoun. Of course, all of the above brands, as well as Franck Muller, have a room for round, rectangular and square formats in their catalogues, but the statement pieces usually come in tonneau cases.

As the legend goes, the concept of Crazy Hours was born when Franck grew tired of some black-tie party and decided to lighten things up by jumping into the pool right in his clothes. Why do watches need to follow some certain rules? Why not just invent our own! At first glance, the location of the indices and the behavior of hour hand, jumping back and forth round the dial may seem chaotic. But on the closer look the pointer appears to move exactly five divisions forward, inevitably returning to its starting position after 12 steps.

The idea of ​​Master Banker is also very emblematic for Muller’s creative method: if everyone makes a watch with two time zones, why not create something with three? Moreover, the real bankers who follow the events on the main world stock-markets will not only appreciate the beauty and complexity of such a concept — each indication can be set individually— but actually use it in daily life.

The Aeternitas collection features some of the most complicated wristwatches in history. For example, Aeternitas 4 rocks no less than 36 complications, 18 hands, 5 disc indications and a movement consisting of almost 1500 parts. Minute repeater, flying tourbillon, fly-back chronograph, perpetual calendar set for a thousand years, and so on. And unlike most of its competitors, every function is placed on the dial — the transparent case back is reserved for admiring the endless mechanical ballet. This miracle of micro engineering is packed in a 61-by-42-mm case with a thickness of 19. So we’d guess it would be extremely difficult not to notice one on the happy owner’s hand. 

If you are looking for the fastest tourbillons on the market, making a full turn every five seconds, or perpetual calendars with a multitude of retrograde pointers, or another crazy stuff like this — Franck Muller can definitely be your first pick. The sports segment, if such a definition can be applied Muller’s designs at all, are represented by the Vanguard collection, which is dominated by high-tech material used in creating cases. And the ladies should take a closer look at the Heart and the Infinity collections. The former plays with the heart-shaped motifs, while the latter makes a good us of some really vivid colors in dial decorations.