Franck Muller: Master of Complications

By Emel Akan, Epoch Times
May 24, 2016 10:54 am Last Updated: June 7, 2016 8:17 am

It comes as no surprise that at a time when digital technology has allowed us access to the most accurate timekeeping since the beginning of known history, the nostalgia and demand for all things mechanical remain unabated.

Increasingly, watchmakers seek to heighten the pleasure of owning a mechanical timepiece by revealing its moving parts.

The tourbillon, invented over 200 years ago in an attempt to achieve greater accuracy for timepieces, is no longer necessary. But necessity and luxury don’t exactly go hand in  hand.

From a very young age, Franck Muller seemed to shun simplicity and chose to delve into the mechanical world of watch complications. He is among the few watchmakers who have been given the title of Master of Complications, and even though the timepieces that carry his name are no longer made by Muller himself, they still carry the title. 

Muller created, for the first time, a tourbillon visible from the front. In all other brands, tourbillons could only be seen from the back. Among the most eccentric of his creations is the Crazy Hours watch, introduced in 2003, that displays numerals in complete disorder while still keeping perfect time thanks to a jumping hour mechanism. In 2004, after years of development, Muller created the very first tri-axial tourbillon in the world.

Muller created, for the first time, a tourbillon visible from the front.
Nicholas Rudaz, Director of Franck Muller Watchland SA., in Geneva Switzerland on 30 March 2016. (Wu Ling/Epoch Times)
Nicholas Rudaz, director of Franck Muller Watchland SA, in Geneva on March 30,  2016. (Wu Ling/Epoch Times)

In Switzerland earlier this year, Pamela Tsai of the Epoch Times spoke with Nicholas Rudaz, director of Franck Muller Watchland SA.

Uniqueness of the Brand

Epoch Times: What is unique about the brand and why is it so successful?

Nicholas Rudaz:  I think there are a lot of unique selling points for Franck Muller: the designs, the complications, the shapes, the numbers, and colors. 

Founder Franck, before launching Franck Muller Geneve watches, was the master watchmaker for watch collectors around the world. So, if a big collector wanted some incredible complications, they would call Franck. He would do a limited number of watches with complications that no other brand at the time could do. It was unique in all aspects.

Gravity Collection (Courtesy of Franck Muller)
Gravity Collection. (Courtesy of Franck Muller)

Epoch Times: How did the founder come up with the idea of customized watches?

Mr. Rudaz: If you look at the history of watchmaking, a lot of the big complications were already invented 200 years ago and they are actually very difficult to do. So, Franck Muller was one of the watchmakers who could actually produce and deliver them on time.

To produce each watch, you have to have more than 60 different skills.

Franck was the first watchmaker to put the tourbillon on a wristwatch. He was also the first to do the double axis tourbillon and triple axis tourbillon. Today, we are the only watch company that makes the world’s largest and the fastest tourbillon.

Epoch Times: When Muller launched his own brand Franck Muller Geneve watches, what kind of clientele did he have in mind? Was he targeting collectors?

Mr. Rudaz: At the very beginning, yes it was for unique collectors, for people who have the know-how of watchmaking and who appreciate his complications, which at the time nobody was producing. But when he started his company, of course, it’s a different scale. Before the company, he was only producing 4 to 10 watches a year. Today, we produce 50,000 watches a year.

Of course, the market, the end users are different today. But they are people who still want to have something different on the wrist, something unique. Franck Muller is very strong in creativity. We produce small numbers of each model.

V45 T SQT 5NBR.NR
The VANGUARD Collection. (Courtesy of Franck Muller)

Customization

Epoch Times: We saw the customized order for Hong Kong singer and actor Cheung Chi Lam. How many customized pieces do you make in a year?

Mr. Rudaz: We can do as many as possible. That is the strength of our production. We are vertically integrated and we can, therefore, react to requests in design and production.

Epoch Times: What is the average production time for a timepiece?

Mr. Rudaz: It depends on the complications. In a very big complication, it is going to take 12 months. We are referring to the world’s most complicated watch, aeternitas mega 4. Other watches can be assembled much quicker.

Epoch Times: How many watchmakers do you have?

Mr. Rudaz: To produce each watch, you have to have more than 60 different skills. One is the watchmaker, one is the polisher, one is the diamond setter, one is the carver, and it just goes on. We have around 370 people working in the facility. Of those, around 80 are watchmakers.

Marketing the Quality

Epoch Times: Could you please talk about your communication strategy?

Mr. Rudaz: The product is our force. The biggest and best publicity is the quality of our watches. And that’s the strongest and most reliable form of publicity. If our customer talks to others about his watch, that is much more straight to the point. 

V29 SC AT FO D CD 5N.RS
VANGUARD Lady Collection. (Courtesy of Franck Muller)

Epoch Times: Do you have a centralized marketing service?

Mr. Rudaz: Yes, there is. We also focus on social media. I think the media landscape is changing. The whole world is changing because of the internet.

Strong Presence in Asia

Epoch Times: Where do you see the fastest growth for your company?

Mr. Rudaz: Today the growth in Australia and Malaysia is still very good. We’re very excited to be opening in Myanmar (Burma). This year, we also plan to open in Cambodia, so we see good growth potential in those countries.

The brand is No. 1 in Japan. The Japanese market is consistent and it does not fluctuate much. Hong Kong and Southeast Asia are also big markets for us.

In China, people do not want to buy locally due to high taxes on imported goods. That is why we see Chinese people buying when they travel to Europe and Asia.

In Hong Kong, we have around 34 boutiques. Hong Kong historically has always been a No. 1 market for Swiss brands. This has been the case for more than 100 years. It is an important market for all watch groups, including us.

Gold Cobra Collection (Courtesy of Franck Muller)
Gold Cobra Collection. (Courtesy of Franck Muller)
The Crazy Hours is so unique. We have just celebrated its 12th anniversary.
— Nicholas Rudaz, Franck Muller

Epoch Times: Can you please talk about the Crazy Hours collection?

Mr. Rudaz: The Crazy Hours is so unique. We have just celebrated its 12th anniversary. In a magazine, 80 percent of the people would not realize that the hours are different. And even today, when I wear the Crazy Hours, people don’t really see it. When I ask them to read the time, they are very surprised.

When you see the complication working, it’s even more striking. That is why visual effects are very important to market that watch. A magazine, a standard photo will not transmit the message to our clients, for sure.

Epoch Times: How do you tell the story behind each piece?

Mr. Rudaz: We have got sufficient novelties to inspire people. For example, for the Color Dreams watches, the numbers are colored. It is all hand painted.