We got an inside look into how Franck Muller’s exquisite dials are made.
On a cold Geneva morning last week, a small group of watch scribes huddled into a van and took a two-hour ride to the Jura Valley where the municipality of Les Bois is located. The goal? A look inside Franck Muller’s very own dial factory.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a tranquil snow-covered landscape—the perfect environment for any sort of activity requiring immense concentration. Over a hundred staff work in the factory, headed by director Jean-Paul Boillat, who welcomed us together with production manager, Alain Vionnet.
“This factory used to produce dials for brands like Chopard, Baume & Mercier and Piaget, until Franck Muller bought it in 2000. Today, it makes dials exclusively for Franck Muller,” Boillat explained.
Having started his career here in 1984, Boillat is an expert at the processes required to produce Franck Muller’s exquisite dials. Whether it’s the preparation of plates, turning, micro-milling, cleaning, stamping, shaping or transferring, an incredible amount of skill and dexterity is required.
“Our philosophy here is that we manufacture ideas before we manufacture watch dials,” said Boillat.
The dials are cut from a brass disc (‘laiton’ in French) into the various shapes required. Here, a woman places the laiton in a machine which stamps it into a thin tonneau plate (right of image).
After the brass dials are produced, tiny pins have to be attached to them through electric soldering. These pins help adhere the dials to the movement.
When you’re working on something as delicate as a dial, focus is key. These women were completely absorbed in their task—working on small components like applying tiny indexes to an already small dial.
A woman attaches small indexes to a dial
The actual ‘F’ in Franck Muller’s logo placed next to an illustration of its proportions
But it’s not just the women who are skilled in fine craftsmanship. We also saw men painting numbers on the dial with great finesse—no mean feat as we learnt, having had the opportunity to try it out ourselves.
Suffice to say, we've decided to stick with our day job
Some dials require a frappe soleil or sunburst pattern. This is achieved by stamping the laiton disc with the pattern using a 200 tonne weight. Each disc is stamped once, softened in the oven, then stamped again. Depending on the dial, some have to undergo the process up to five times.
A weight of 200 tones is dropped onto the laiton, embedding the frappe soleil pattern
A frappe soleil pattern
To get a sunray finishing (not to be confused with frappe soleil), the dials are coated with cream of tartar and then machine polished, as shown below.
Franck Muller produces a variety of dials for their timepieces. But one of the most delicate (if not the most) has to be the mother-of-pearl dials. Each one is precisely machine-cut from a mother-of-pearl disc, ensuring its paper-thin quality.
Machine-cutting a mother-of-pearl dial
A thin sheet of mother-of-pearl, shown next to the disc it was cut from
For coloured mother-of-pearl dials, they are spray-painted on the underside so that only a hint of colour appears on the dial side. We weren’t allowed in the room and had to take this picture through a glass window because of strict ventilation protocols in place to protect the craftsmen from the toxic paint fumes.
Production manager Alain Vionnet showing us the top of the mother-of-pearl dial which has been spray-painted on the underside
On average, 50 per cent of the dials produced at the factory are discarded, but for good reason. Apart from the difficulty involved in producing such a delicate work of art, the quality controls here are extremely stringent. When the finished dials are sent to Watchland in Genthod for assembly, they are submitted to another round of checks, after which roughly 20 per cent are discarded.
Above, you'll see samples of rejected dials—examples of how stringent the checks are because we couldn't tell where the mistakes had occured! So the next time you look at a Franck Muller watch, you might (like us) have a newfound appreciation for the amount of pride and sheer hard work that goes into every single piece—a fine example of what haute horlogerie embodies.