When considering Franck Muller’s watches, images of tonneau-shaped cases and flashy colours come to mind. But, looking back at the brand’s earliest days, there are some fascinating watches to explore. Just like early Daniel Roth models or early Roger Dubuis timepieces, some of the oldest Franck Muller watches are getting hotter and hotter and will probably be the next “big thing” in youngtimer watch collecting. Classic designs with an undeniable Patek vibe, handsome chronograph movements and refined details abound. And our friend Wei Koh of Revolution and Grail Watch seems to have an eye for this collection, which is about to be brought back to the market with a trio of stunning vintage-inspired and very legitimate models known as the Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronographs.
Muller’s Early days
Franck Muller has not always been characterised by bold and audacious designs. While the formidable watchmaking skills of the company aren’t open to discussion (remember the Aeternitas Mega collection, which was once the most complicated wristwatch ever made), the design aspect of the brand is very personal. But back in the earliest days of the company, things were more subtle. After graduating and winning a Rolex watch for achieving the top prize at the Watchmaking School of Geneva, he took that watch and transformed it into a perpetual calendar (a story we explained here). Rolex didn’t want the watch – and for the record, a certain Jay-Z owns it now.
In the 1980s, Muller worked with another legendary watchmaker, Svend Andersen, restoring many Patek Philippe vintage watches for private clients and also for the Patek Philippe Museum. In 1984, Muller began to create his own wristwatches, including the first tourbillon with the whirlwind mechanism on the dial side. In 1991, Muller launched his eponymous brand. This resulted in the creation of some rather stunning complications, such as the Master Banker, which allows three time zones to be read simultaneously, or the Crazy Hours, a watch with an apparently random jumble of digits on the dial that always tells the right time.
Muller was a bit of an “enfant terrible” in the industry. While Dubuis, who also shares a background with Patek, chose the restrained way, Muller chose a bolder and more audacious path. But not before doing classic, also Patek-inspired things. And this is where the chronographs enter. In the company’s earliest days, Muller was still passionate about this complication, which he executed in a traditional way. The most famous of his creations is probably the Double Sided Chronograph, a combination of elegance, craftsmanship with a guillochñé dial, old-school design and complexity, with a rattrapante movement and a pulsation measurement on the back. The movement was a modification of a reliable 7750 Valjoux. And there are another duo of more straightforward yet delightful chronographs with Lemania movements – one of the only available chrono movements back in the days – with typical 1940s inspiration and bi- or tri-compax layout… And these three models, which are ranking higher and higher in the heart of collectors, are about to return.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronographs
There are a few things you should know about this trio of watches. First of all, as Nicholas Rudaz, CEO of Franck Muller Watchland, explains, “these watches were all commissioned by an Italian retailer in the ’90s. They were made in small series of either 40 or 50 watches each time“. The design is clearly influenced by glorious, vintage Patek Philippe Chronographs, such as the references 130 and 1463, just like Dubuis and his Hommage collection. Two of the watches, the bi- and tri-compax models, use a Lemania 1874, a cam-operated hand-wound movement that also found its way into the Speedmaster. Design-wise, familiar traits are found all around: stepped bezel, steel cases, lugs similar to a 1463, applied Breguet numerals and dot markers, leaf-shaped hands, pump pushers, etc.
The double-sided chronograph is something even more appealing, at least technically speaking. As we mentioned, it has two dials, functions on both sides and is equipped with a rattrapante movement. The calibre (MVT FM 7000-CCRCDF) was a substantial update of a Valjoux base, with the addition of split seconds while maintaining the self-winding capacity. The dial was black and white, with a guilloché pattern, and the case was a classic, rounded design with more elegance still.
Together with Grail Watch and Wei Koh (Revolution), Franck Muller is bringing back these three models as a tribute to its founder, not only with faithful designs (some evolutions are to be seen, though) but also with identical, new-old-stock movements inside.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronograph Bi-Compax
First in line is the silver-toned, vintage-inspired bi-compax model. Originally, this steel watch was 36mm in diameter, with the individual number printed on the dial next to the chronometer indication. In 2022, Grail Watch brings back this watch with the Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Bi-Compax, yet some minor adjustments have been made.
What changes mostly is the diameter, which is now 39mm. The rest, however, remains for the best. The case retains its stepped profile, with a polished bezel and classic straight lugs. Brushed surfaces all around bring some classic tool style, and some changes have been made to the pushers (shorter and now with fluted end caps) and the crown (larger and now signed).
The two-tone silver dial has been kept, with its slightly grained surface in the centre, and snailed recessed sub-dials featuring a polished rim. The classic applied Breguet numerals at 12 and 6 o’clock are still combined with polished dots for the hours and time is read thanks to blued leaf-shaped hands. And while the classic logo is still present at noon, there’s now an “antimagnetic” mention on the lower part of the dial. Some will also notice changes on the small seconds counter with its updated track. The whole dial is surrounded by a base-1000 tachymeter. And it is, obviously, rather delightful altogether.
To remain as faithful and elegant as possible, you won’t find a modern automatic movement here. Yes, it’s well-known that Swatch Group doesn’t sell the original Lemania ébauches anymore, but Franck Muller’s watchmaking department had a trick up its sleeve: a stock of new, nicely finished Lemania 1874 hand-wound chronograph movements – even with the Franck Muller signature on the bridges. And here you have watches that not only look faithful but also beat with their original movements.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronograph Bi-Compax is worn on a brown calfskin strap and is a limited and numbered edition of 50 pieces, priced at USD 19,500.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronograph Tri-Compax
In the same vein as the watch above, Franck Muller also created a tri-compax chronograph in the 1990s, this time with a black dial and a slightly larger 37mm case. Following the same principles, Franck Muller and Grail Watch re-launch this watch with minor amendments and a somewhat more contemporary feel.
While the basics are kept alive, the case is also increased to 39mm. All other classic elements, however, are still there, such as the stepped polished bezel, brushed surfaces all around, and an overall 1940s feel. Just like the bi-compax above, the pump pushers are shorter and now decorated with a fluted end cap, and the crown has been increased in size and is signed.
The glorious dial of the original watch has been reproduced, for the most part, with some modifications. The black base has a matte, grainy surface, contrasting with the recessed, enlarged sub-counters with a circular pattern and polished rim. A handsome 12 Breguet numeral is linked to polished applied dot markers, and the leaf-shaped hands are polished steel. All sub-dials feature elegant, old-school railroad tracks and the rather weird antimagnetic signature of the original has been removed for more clarity.
Inside is the same movement as the bi-compax watch, meaning new-old-stock Muller-signed Lemania 1873, with a 3-counter display. The finishing is elegant, with Geneva stripes, straight-grained parts and polished bevels.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronograph Tri-Compax is worn on a black leather strap and is a limited and numbered edition of 50 pieces, priced at USD 20,500.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Double-Sided Rattrapante chronograph
Enter the big boy… This complex and original double-sided chronograph is based on one of the most sought-after Muller watches of the early days. But not all of these double-sided split-seconds watches were made equal. As explained by Jean-Loup Glénat, head of design at Franck Muller Watchland, the choice was to go for “the rarest, most original and most visually stunning of the double-sided rattrapantes (…) where time on the front dial is shifted to the subdial at six o’clock.” Not only is this a sort of a nod to the Master Banker, but it also frees up the dial so that it is the chronograph and split-seconds hands that occupy the maximum space.
Design-wise and mechanically, this watch aims to be faithful to the original. The steel case, brushed with a polished rounded bezel, differs from the previous two models in many respects. Still measuring 39mm in diameter, it comes with straight lugs with screwed bar caps, standard spring bars (with a baroque touch), polished pump pushers, and a crown with an additional pusher for the rattrapante function. Despite its 13.45mm height (considering the complication), it remains wearable.
The dial is also fairly unique, with a glossy black finish and a concentric wave pattern. White recessed subdials with concentric circular patterns and polished rims are used for the time (at 6 o’clock), for the small seconds and for the 30-minute counter and all rely on blued steel hands. Centrally positioned and in full display are the two hands of the rattrapante. Here, the hands are polished steel. A tachymeter scale frames the whole dial, just like the original model.
Instead of the movement, the reverse side of the case reveals another dial. Thanks to an elongated pinion connecting the chronograph hands on both dials, a central hand (running counter-clockwise, of course) makes it possible to also have indications for the pulsometer (on the periphery), a telemeter (on the white scale) and finally, a snailed tachymeter in the centre, again with a concentric wave pattern. The snap-on caseback protects the same movement as the original models, the self-winding calibre MVT FM 7000-CCRCDF with 54-hour power reserve, a split-seconds evolution of the Valjoux 7750.
The Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Double-Sided Rattrapante chronograph is worn on a handsewn black alligator strap and is a limited and numbered edition of 30 pieces, priced at USD 25,500.
The full set
While each watch above will be available individually, a set with all three tribute clocks will also be available in a limited run of 10 boxes. The latter will be priced at USD 64,500. Not cheap, but there again, a true collector’s item.
All watches forming this Franck Muller 30th Anniversary Tribute Chronographs collection will be available from 18 November at 10 pm SGT / 9 am EST / 3 pm CET, exclusively from GrailWatch.com.