Franck Muller has come a long way from his early days as a restorer of timepieces. Following the success he achieved with the unique wristwatches he created for private clients in the 1980s, Muller established his own watch brand in 1991 with co-founder Vartan Sirmakes, who specialised in creating cases for fine watchmaking brands. The rest, they say, is history.
Today, the Swiss-born watchmaker’s eponymous brand is one of the most recognisable names in haute horlogerie. Most recently, it extended its design expertise beyond the realm of watchmaking and collaborated with the Italian Sea Group to create the very first Franck Muller yacht. Named the 55 Open, the 55ft long vessel was launched at the Monaco Yacht Show late last year. Further models in sizes ranging up to 108ft will be rolled out in the future. In conjunction with the yacht’s unveiling, a special edition Vanguard Yachting watch also made its debut.
We catch up with the man behind the brand and seek his opinions on some of the most notable trends in the watchmaking world right now.
“In my opinion, this all started when the Chinese market opened up and started booming. A lot of companies started to focus their efforts on the Chinese customer — hence creating slim and round watches that suited the relatively more conservative tastes of the Chinese. But this is not the market trend in general. The rest of the world is not concerned about thinness.”
“I don’t think a smartwatch is really a watch. It is just another piece of electronic technology. A mechanical watch is a real watch. A watch is not just about telling the time, you know? It is about about emotions; the moment you buy the piece; the one who offered you the watch; the history of the brand; the knowledge and skills when it comes to watchmaking…it’s so much more. So to me, smartwatches definitely do not pose a threat to the luxury mechanical watch industry. Yes, it will affect the industry to some extent, based on price segments. It might have an impact on timepieces that retail for up to about $1,000, but it wouldn’t affect brands that are selling watches beyond that price.”
“I think this is very stupid. Why do watches need to be certified? If you are a good brand, you’ll make a good watch. Why do you need something extra to prove that it is a good watch? I think the name — the brand — behind the watch is certification in itself already. When you buy a Franck Muller, you know you are getting the Franck Muller standard. The brand speaks for itself. I think that if a brand feels that it needs certification for its watches, it is probably not sure about its own product. If you are confident in your brand, you wouldn’t see a need for certification.”
Increasing focus on the female consumer
“Yes, it’s a big market and many brands are trying to reach this market now, but this is nothing new for Franck Muller. For more than 20 years, over 60 percent of our sales have come from female customers. If you look at Franck Muller’s collections, I would say you can easily find 500 ladies models. It’s one thing to say “Let’s make a watch for women” and it’s another thing altogether to focus all your attention, creativity and efforts on building something for the ladies. When I first started creating ladies timepieces over 20 years ago, I made two versions of the exact same female watch — one in quartz and the other with a mechanical movement. The difference in pricing between the pieces was $5,000 but we were selling more mechanical pieces than quartz ones! You see, women are not stupid. They want something concrete too. So you cannot just make watches for women. You have to understand women and think like them. It’s not easy, though. But it comes naturally to me because I love women.”
Brand heritage museums
“I think it’s a natural thing for brands to have because people increasingly want something concrete and real. Mechanical watches are things you keep, perhaps repair — but you don’t throw. So I would say watch museums are good. It offers a space for watches to be collected and kept. Franck Muller does not have a museum right now, but if we ever do create a museum, it has to be very big in order to house all our watches. Because I have so much creative energy, I think I have designed more than 5,000 models for the brand already. But I don’t want there to be a museum now, while I am still alive. Maybe when I’m dead.”