1996 36mm Steel Franck Muller Chrono Seen on A Collected ManBy Sumit Nag
Just last week, our friends at A Collected Man listed a watch up for sale, which unless you took a closer look, could very well have been mistaken for another great example of the Roger Dubuis Hommage Chronograph. A watch that was brought back into the watch collecting community’s consciousness thanks to Silas Walton and his team’s efforts at A Collected Man.
The watch at hand, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a chronograph made in a limited run of just 50 pieces by master watchmaker, Franck Muller in the early days of having set up his eponymous brand.
The piece is said to be from 1996, a 36mm chronograph in stainless steel, with a two-register, two-tone silver dial featuring applied Breguet numerals at 12 and 6. It’s powered by a customized Lemania 1874 ébauche — a manual winding movement with a shuttle cam operated chronograph.
Given that early Franck Muller creations aren’t exactly a widely discussed subject matter, it was curious that A Collected Man would want to delve into such a relatively unknown creation by the watchmaker, let alone offer it for sale on their website.
Matteo Violet Vianello, Head of Content & Sales Specialist at A Collected Man, spoke to us on behalf of the team to tell us a little more about the watch saying, “This piece came to us directly from a collector who’s focused a portion of his collecting on early Franck Muller pieces. The classic aesthetics of the watch, its rarity and the opportunity to tell the forgotten story of earliest Franck Muller pieces, is what encouraged us to list it on A Collected Man.”
But surely it wasn’t for rarity’s sake. Surely the shared aesthetics with the Hommage Chronograph presented A Collected Man with an opportunity to extend their narrative on forgotten treasures from these early years of the ’90s. Says Matteo, “The parallels with early Roger Dubuis watches is partly what got us excited about the watch. The early pieces from both brands share similar aesthetics, focusing on a classical execution of historical complications – in this case, the chronograph. Whereas Roger Dubuis watches generally have a higher pedigree, due to ébauche used and only made in precious metals, we felt that the Franck Muller chronograph captured the same spirit.
“Further, the brands share similar stories: both were founded by master watchmakers, initially producing few, classically styled pieces, before moving into a more commercial phase of production.”
But what of the shared aesthetics? Could it be that the two master watchmakers were acquainted? Shedding some light, Matteo shared, “We’re unaware of any evidence that the two men knew each other, though considering both their independent brands came to prominence at the same time, it’s likely that they would have been aware of each other. We’ve taken the opportunity to ask one of our contacts, who was a close friend of Roger Dubuis for quite some time, if he has any information which could help.”
Could it be that before the two watchmakers developed their own aesthetics, they were clearly inspired by another brand that both gentlemen had some time working with? The brand in question of course is Patek Philippe that we could consider Franck Muller and Roger Dubuis alumni of. To this sentiment, Matteo adds, “I would point out that Franck Muller isn’t a Patek Philippe alumni per se. Whereas Roger Dubuis worked at the manufacture, Muller restored pieces from the historical collection, but was never formally trained or employed at Patek Philippe. However, it’s safe to say both men were undoubtedly influenced by Patek Philippe’s historical models (such as the reference 130), which is why there are such obvious parallels between the early designs from both brands.”
Now, let’s not forget that when A Collected Man brought back the Roger Dubuis Hommage to our attention, it wasn’t long before we were also reminded of the Sympathie Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. In that regard, is that another early creation of Franck Muller’s that we should all keep an eye out for? Say Matteo, “The only other early Franck Muller watches (which we’re aware of) which are particularly interesting are other early chronographs produced in various configurations. The few other examples we have seen also seem to be limited in production, usually to 50 pieces or less. From what we’ve seen, they share similar characteristics such as a Lemania ébauche, 36mm case, ‘straight’ Franck Muller signature on the dial (rather than the later cursive signature), numbering on the dial and classic aesthetics.”