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The business of complications

Samantha Chiew
Samantha Chiew • 9 min read
The business of complications
Rudaz: Franck Muller has always been a brand to watch. Photo: Albert Chua/ The Edge Singapore
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Franck Muller’s CEO Nicholas Rudaz discusses the watch brand’s winning features, its long-standing relationship with Cortina, and plans for the future

This year, eponymous luxury watch brand Franck Muller celebrates its 30th birthday. Founded in 1992, the Swiss watch brand was started as an independent watchmaker by Muller and his business partner Vartan Sirmakes.

With Muller’s expertise in watchmaking and Sirmakes’ intricate jewel-setting reputation, the duo came together to create some of the industry’s most complicated and beautiful watches. Year after year, Franck Muller pushes its ceiling higher to introduce several world premiers — watches with high complications that had never been made in the history of watchmaking.

Nicholas Rudaz, who has recently taken over the role of CEO from Sirmakes, tells Options why he is upbeat on the brand’s future and his plans to expand the brand’s presence globally.

Rudaz with Jeremy Lim, CEO of Cortina Watch

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You have taken on the CEO role for about a year. How has that been so far?

I have been with the company for 16 years already and I have always been working with the owners (Muller and Sirmakes) very closely. I believe that it is a natural evolution for me to take on this role and bring the company forward. Although Sirmakes has taken a step back, he is still very much involved in the business.

To me, the CEO title is just a title. My job, even before this, has always been to push the brand and keep the team happy. Although it was a tricky time for me to have taken on the role last year, as it was during the Covid-19 period, I believe that my long-time experience within the company makes it reasonable for me to move on to the CEO role.

See also: Louis Vuitton announces a completely new strategy for the luxury brand’s watches

While we have our plans to push the brand, we are only as good as the retailers that we work with. We will concentrate on designing and creating beautiful watches and we will trust our partners, such as Cortina, to promote our brand. We are grateful for the support that we have had from Cortina, even though it has only been a short 18 months. But they have a very big interest in the brand and business has been good with them.

The pandemic was tough on the watch industry as a whole. How did Franck Muller rise above it?

Franck Muller has always been a brand to watch. We are a different and unique brand, compared to the others in the market. We stay true to our DNA — which is to keep a strong stance on the design and complication in watchmaking. The brand is also financially very strong, so we are not going to disappear because of Covid-19. Even during the pandemic, we had large and meaningful orders. To adapt to the pandemic situation, we had to give more space to all of our watchmakers, implementing alternate working situations. We also had to increase our creativity in terms of designs.

One of the biggest impacts that Covid-19 has had on our factory is that it now produces chocolates too, as we found that we were left with a lot of space after revising our staff’s working schedules. Hence, the owner decided to make chocolate using this space.

But overall, we’ve survived and we are still doing very well today.

Franck Muller is known for its fun and playful complications. Is this likely to continue?

We would never kill the successful DNA of the brand. Franck Muller’s DNA is its creativity and design complications. Of course, these are all heavily created inside our factory, and that is what we will continue to do.

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Meanwhile, our partners such as Cortina, who are much closer to the end-consumer and know the clients much more, will help us gather the feedback from the consumers and bring it back to us at the factory. We take the feedback into consideration to adapt and deliver [our products] accordingly.

Who are your competitors in the grand complications and gem-set cases arena?

Effectively, we don’t have a direct competitor, because the fact is, every single brand — including us — has very unique features. And our unique features are what we have been developing from the very beginning.

We will continue to strive to push the boundaries of watchmaking, be it in complications or designs. Muller was the first to put the tourbillon on the front of a wristwatch, and he was the first to create a double axis and the triple axis tourbillon. Today, we also have done the world’s smallest and largest tourbillon. And no one else equals that in watchmaking.

Sirmakes’ diamond setting expertise has also contributed to the brand becoming a very strong player in the industry. And all of this leads us to the gem that we are here today, with five one-of-a-kind Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Special Editions timepieces that we have created to celebrate Cortina’s 50th anniversary. These watches integrate all of those special and unique DNA in Franck Muller.

Do you see Franck Muller going the same way as the other luxury watch brands where accessibility is going to be a problem for serious watch collectors?

There are a lot of factors behind “accessibility” — it could be the price or uniqueness, it can be many different things. And at Franck Muller, we try to cover the full spectrum. We have watches in the market that start from $7,000, going up to $2.5 million. In that spectrum, we make it accessible to every specific watch collector and any consumer.

With its colourful and eyecatching designs, has the fan base for Franck Muller timepieces gotten younger?

Yes, it has. That is why we launched the Vanguard Casablanca as a unique collection at Cortina this year. It was really to increase accessibility to the younger generation. This range — that comes in stainless steel — has really resonated well with the younger clientele in Singapore and we have more plans coming up to increase visibility among the younger generation.

At the same time, we will still be present at the very high end with our other unique watches. So, we cover the full spectrum and we feel that there is enough room for accessibility for everyone across the brand.

It has been over a year since Franck Muller has partnered Cortina. How has the relationship been and what plans do the both of you have moving forward?

It is a relationship that started in April last year and we immediately felt the keenness and desire from Cortina to develop the brand together through active promotion. This is something that Cortina has done extremely well, because they have good relationships with their clients.

Although our partnership started during the pandemic, our business was able to progress very effectively thanks to video calls. We adapted to the circumstances of the times and it has worked really well.

Within the short 18 months, Cortina has done a lot with our brand, expanding its presence in Singapore and Malaysia, while planning its expansion in Australia and Thailand. With the borders open and travelling resuming, Cortina is also looking to bring the brand to Korea and Vietnam.

The partnership between Franck Muller and Cortina started in April last year

A relationship that transcends time

It is clear that Franck Muller has a close relationship with Cortina, even though it has just been a little over a year. To commemorate their partnership, Franck Muller is celebrating Cortina’s 50th anniversary this year with five one-of-a-kind specially created Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Special Editions timepieces, with each one signifying every decade that Cortina has flourished.

Exhibition at Paragon to celebrate Cortina’s 50th anniversary

“Even though we have been working together for just a short 18 months, we’ve already accomplished so much within this short period and this is indeed a beautiful milestone for this young partnership. Cortina Watch is a beautiful family-run business just like Franck Muller, and we are proud to be developing the brand collectively for the next generation,” says Rudaz.

Jeremy Lim, CEO of Cortina Watch, adds: “I think we have a very unique relationship with Franck Muller because of the openness from both ends. And because of that, we were able to do a lot of things in a very short time, despite the ongoing pandemic. I’m looking forward to carrying out all our plans together, be it a product, customer experience or expansion into other markets.”

These five commemorative pieces boast Franck Muller’s very own triple axis tourbillon complication. The three tourbillon carriages — one for each rotational axis — must be positioned relative to one another, and any irregularity will affect the entire system. A tri-axial tourbillon also entails additional mass that must be driven by the main spring, which in turn affects the movement’s isochronism and power reserve.

The Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Special Editions timepieces - these five commemorative pieces boast Franck Muller’s triple axis tourbillon complication

In the Vanguard Revolution 3, the three tourbillon carriages rotate at intervals of one, eight, and 60 minutes respectively, while two retrograde indicators flanking the tourbillon track the progress of the one-minute and eight-minute tourbillon carriages. It also offers an impressive 10-day power reserve.

Technical mastery aside, the watches also impress with their design language, which melds contemporary and neoclassical influences. The domed element on the sapphire crystal magnifies the tri-axial tourbillon to create an open airiness, with the effect extending to the rest of the watch given the skeletonised movement.

These exquisite creations are festooned with baguette-cut diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, paired with either rainbow-colored or sleek black dials.

These exclusive watches come with a hefty price tag too, starting from $1.5 million. The $1.68 million emerald piece, the most expensive in the collection, has already been sold.

Due to logistics and the current economic situation, only one of the watches has landed in Singapore, says Rudaz, adding that the team at Franck Muller are sticklers for perfection and that finding the suitable set of stones in a similar shade of colour is also a challenge that takes time.

All five watches are expected to reach Singapore by October.

Photos: Albert Chua/ The Edge Singapore, Cortina Holdings, Franck Muller

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