With some brands ending long-term retail partnerships, Franck Muller CEO Nicholas Rudaz tells us they’re doing things their way: expanding its range according to feedback from treasured partners and creating timepieces with fun, broad appeal.

Franck Muller has always defied convention. It’s a brand hallmark. They put a tourbillon on the front of a watch purely for aesthetics, completely defying tradition, a holdback from the old days when a complicated escapement exposed to harsh sunlight would dry up old-school lubricants.

While some watchmakers have infamously abandoned long-term partnerships for their own distribution channels, Franck Muller has again swum against the current, opting to further deepen its relationship with Singapore retailers Cortina and Sincere. Augustman caught up with Franck Muller CEO Nicholas Rudaz, learning that the Watchland manufacture has taken market feedback into account while developing new production collections. The results are a new energy and momentum for the brand by way of smaller, more wearable proportions instead of the once-gargantuan tonneau cases, especially designed for Asian wrists.

There are many more executions of the Grand Central Tourbillon this season – is this a new product strategy and is this another expression of Franck Muller’s know-how?

Franck Muller has always been very creative with fantastic complications, and the evolution of the Flash is only one aspect. The first central tourbillon in the Curvex was already an achievement within itself; to find the place to put the hands around the tourbillon was quite the feather in [the] hat. Today, we’re very happy with presenting the Grand Central Tourbillon Flash in a smaller, carbon case while giving it that electric field look, and we are happy how funky it has turned out: It combines know-how with fun, especially when you go to a nightclub.

Just how difficult is it to have these indicator hands right at the centre revolving around the flying tourbillon?

It’s hugely complicated. The watchmaker had to develop a bearing system to place the hands around it. Head of Tourbillon Production Patrice [Couston] has been working on this complication pretty much through his career, and it was his idea and passion that brought this wonderful project to life.

Editor’s note: It took almost a year to develop the original Grand Central Tourbillon from scratch; the distinctive flying tourbillon is surrounded by large open-worked rotating discs indicating hour and minutes ‒ these were set on ball bearings while the seconds hand is slave to the 60 seconds rotating tourbillon cage.

Franck Muller has had a historical reputation for fun, with the Grand Central Tourbillon Flash following the successful FR2 collaboration. Will we start to see more playful timepieces from the Maison?

Franck Muller is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Crazy Hours this year and without social media back then, it was very difficult to share the passion. Today, everyone can join in the fun within a 10-second film and so, that was the expectation with the Flash. Franck Muller has always been very bold and pushing the boundaries of watchmaking both in complications and how serious complications can be executed in a fun, interesting manner. This year, the Flash was no exception.

There hasn’t been another fun complication like Crazy Hours since it launched 20 years ago, especially when there are other brands who have started making their own interpretations of a concept that you pioneered…

A complication is a complication and if you can make it a fun one, all the better. Nothing has ever matched it. I don’t think it can be matched quite like it ever again. We’ve always been a leader in the field and we welcome healthy competition especially if we can embrace the whimsy of Swiss watchmaking, but Franck Muller has always had strong identity in this area.

Franck Muller has also traditionally made big tonneau watches while watches continue to trend downwards in terms of proportions. Is this where the Watchland is headed?

That’s absolutely correct. We’ve come up with new novelties this year that are much smaller including the Flash and the 36. The new Skafander is also 43 mm, down from the original 46 mm size. So, effectively this year, we are adapting our collection more to suit the local market. Not forgetting to mention the new thin Skeleton in 41 mm proportions as well as an Asian exclusive in 37 mm. This is the first time that we have made a slim in-house automatic skeleton calibre.

Normally, our skeleton watches have very straight angles; this new iteration is very curved and a bit more sophisticated in style, so it can be worn by women. We also took special care to create a curved calibre so that it can be placed within a curved case and we will have an Asian exclusive executed in gold with diamonds. It will either be white or pink gold.

Was this a new product strategy you embarked on when the Vanguard Line Cut became a critical and commercial success?

It was an evolution of that idea and the Line Cut is very popular. The fact it is our own movement makes it all the more special. People are wearing smaller watches today and a 37 mm Vanguard Skeleton makes it ideal for ladies and men.

Given last year’s momentum and this year’s, it is obvious that there’s a new energy at Franck Muller today. What would you a tribute that to?

It’s a continuation of the genius of Franck Muller. First of all, we never stop recreating and pushing the boundaries of watchmaking. But also this year, we have been working closer with Cortina group and they’ve been very effective in bringing us information from the ground from their clients. We’ve been able to adapt their suggestions and thoughts to develop timepieces that are incredibly appealing for the market, and we’re thrilled with this new energy coming from Cortina.

The brand has also always had that reputation for precious stones in their timepieces. Do you think this is something that more men will eventually adopt?

There has always been a small but growing number of men who are into blinged-out watches, especially in Singapore where it’s perfectly safe to wear such watches without taking any risks. With the 50th anniversary of Cortina last year, we developed even more timepieces with baguette diamonds, sapphires and rubies and those did extremely well. Precious stones may be a girl’s best friend, but husbands are also happy to wear it for themselves!

When will we get a “rainbow”-set Curvex?

Of course. Franck Muller was the first to do the rainbow-set and we’ve also had the Double Mystery. It wasn’t long before everyone else had their own interpretation of rainbow-themed gem-set watches. Cristiano Ronaldo wears his Franck Muller with pride.

As a “Master of Complications”, do you think it’s fair for the consumer to expect a new technical novelty each year?

I agree with you. I think we’ve been pushing the extremes of novelties every single year because we come out with new movements, new shapes and new complications. I think it’s too quick and too fast, you cannot turn watchmaking into something like the fashion world. Can you imagine if we have to start creating a whole new range four times a year? That will be totally crazy, so we have to be careful about that. That said, because of our creativity, we’ve never been shy of presenting new novelties and this year is no exception.

Would you say Franck Muller’s post-pandemic product strategy will look like this for the coming years?

We’ve seen a much bigger demand for watches in general. We just do what we do best at the Watchland, developing innovative complications, colours and designs ‒ that’s the DNA of the brand. And by being an independent, family-run business, we don’t have any obligations to our shareholders. As a result, we are free to be creative and that is our strength instead of having to be worried about our share price.

(Images: Franck Muller / Nicholas Rudaz)

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CEO of Franck Muller, Nicholas Rudaz Tells Us They’re Doing Things Their Way
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