Furlan Marri: The Watch Brand the World NeedsBy Wei Koh
Furlan Marri, the brand that you see exploding across innumerable Instagram pages, poised to be the next big thing, is extraordinary in two ways to me. The first relates to the price of the watches which at USD 485 each (or starting from USD 330 if you support them on Kickstarter) is staggering value considering the refinement and quality of the timepieces.
More information: furlanmarri.com
Second, it is the first brand that was born during the COVID-era as it was conceptualised, designed, prototyped and executed by partners Andrea Furlan and Hamad Al Marri entirely since the global lockdowns occurred in the beginning of 2020. So from the perspective of value and ethics, I already like the watches. But as symbols of resistance against the dark times we’ve all been through together, and as signs of hope for the return of normalcy and the human contact that we’ve all been craving, I damn near love them. OK, first of all I love that there’s been so much creativity at the sub-1,000-dollar price range. Many big brands are essentially being schooled by brash, audacious start-ups such as Baltic, Bamford, Undone and now Furlan Marri.
I’ve always said that I disagree vehemently with the commonly held belief that the next generation is not interested in watches. The reason watches are not on their radar is that they have become so prohibitive in price that the idea of owning a now-discontinued Patek ref. 5711 or any steel Rolex has become as far-fetched a fantasy as owning property in central London, New York or Singapore.
So what happens when something is no longer a possibility? We simply stop thinking about it. But if this generation was not innately drawn to watches, then explain the Daniel Wellington phenomenon of a few years back. This new breed of watch entrepreneurs, of which I would say Etienne Malec of Baltic is the pioneer, understood that if they could make something at the price of a Daniel Wellington that was actually beautiful, they could revolutionize the watch industry.
And while we are experiencing a resurgence of interest in independent watchmaking, I would say that this nouvelle vague of young upstarts has also contributed immeasurably to that dynamic shift. And if Furlan Marri live up to expectations, they will be one of the most significant of this generation.
Getting to Know Furlan & Marri
So who exactly are Furlan Marri? Andrea Furlan is a Swiss designer who graduated from the elite ECAL (École cantonale d’art de Lausanne) and went on to work for different brands such as Chopard, Hublot, Sarcar and HD3. He is perhaps most famous for having worked on designing Dominique Renaud’s DR01, a watch so baffling that only Jack Forster, Suzanne Wong and let’s hope Dominique Renaud understand it.
One thing I like about Andrea is his natural interest in the world that took him on a kind of Caine from Kung-Fu like pilgrimage around the world where he took roots in Singapore for a year. While in Asia, he met suppliers for many watch brands and saw that everything needed to make a high quality but super affordable watch was available to him. Along his journey, Furlan started to share his vision with his old friend, Hamad Al Marri, a deeply passionate watch collector with an endless interest in every aspect of horology. Amusingly, Marri can often be found not just on the auction circuit at Phillips and Christie’s but even wandering the Vallée de Joux, no doubt visiting Philippe Dufour’s abode as well as the premises of horology’s greats. Furlan and Marri have been friends for seven years nows, and are often known to share watchmaking tales that last deep into the night.
When the pandemic hit, like many others, Furlan and Marri found themselves stranded in Switzerland and in Riyadh, respectively. And it was around that time that they started to discuss the idea of a brand they both felt there was a strong need for. Both the designer and collector were enamoured with certain horological icons. Both loved the design language of watches from the ’30s and ’40s, especially the Patek Philippe ref. 1463 which featured an iconic waterproof case created by the François Borgel company.
They loved the idea of creating an homage to this watch but modernising it and giving it their own individual twist on the design. Now it is of course not the first time that this has been done. Roger Dubuis famously used both the references 130 and the 1463 as the inspiration for his Hommage Chronographs. The name “Hommage” refers to the fact that he had based his designs on the two earlier watches. But Dubuis’ watches were very expensive. For Furlan and Marri, they wanted to create watches that were incredibly accessible.
An Attainable Dream Watch
Says Furlan, “I believe in the democratisation of horology. Meaning that I feel beauty, great design and quality should be available in a watch that almost anyone can afford. The idea of a watch being a dream that you have to save your whole life for in order to afford doesn’t work with millennials and Generation Z. They want to be able to enjoy their lives [and] the things in it now, today. But they are also very discerning and are able to appreciate details and nuance.”
Marri explains, “We understand that we have no history. As a collector, I have too much respect for haute horlogerie to want to create a brand that competes at this price level. Together with Andrea, we wanted to make something accessible, fun, that you could wear without thinking about it too much, but at the same time [to expose] a new generation to some of the most wonderful designs in watchmaking history. I would like Furlan Marri to be a kind of bridge that connects the next generation with the incredible story of Swiss watchmaking. But the only way to do that is to make watches the next generation can afford.”
Furlan is open about where the watches are made. He explains, “At this price point, we are transparent [that] the watches are made in Asia. But as a result of the time I spent there, I would say you will be surprised at how well executed and finished our watches are, rivalling timepieces that are 10 times more expensive.” But the design phase of the Furlan Marri watches was a very romantic one. The two founders imagined themselves to live 50 or even 100 years in the past. They thought about who they would seek out to collaborate with, enchanted by the idea of meeting their heroes and working side by side with them.
Dedication to Design & Details
One of the most famous heroes of the late 19th and early 20th century watchmaking was the aforementioned François Borgel. He was one of the most innovative casemakers of his era and became particularly renowned for his impermeable or waterproof watch cases. His early work focused around a one-piece screw case where there was no back seam.
There are stories about a Borgel pocket watch spending days submerged in a river during the Second Boer War in South Africa. By the early 20th century, tastes had shifted from pocket watches to wristwatches and the screw case by Borgel that was needed in 1891 was less suited to these slimmer timepieces. By 1912, François Borgel had passed away and his daughter sold the company to the Taubert family situated in the horological hotbed of Le Locle.
It was at this time that the most famous case associated with the Borgel name was created. It featured an innovative decagonal caseback that was screwed into the mid case. These cases also featured cork gaskets for the crown, and in the case of the chronograph versions, oversized pushers featuring a sunray finish on the caps. This particular chronograph case found its way into first a Mido watch and then ultimately became the home of one of watchmaking’s most famous icons, the stunning Patek Philippe 1463 or “Tasti Tondi”. For Andrea Furlan, this Borgel case is one of the most iconic designs in horological history and the basis of Furlan Marri’s first collection of timepieces.
Next came the dial, and for Furlan and Marri, it was typography that was his starting point. He chose two fonts, one called Decimal designed by the firm Hoefler & Co (famous for creating the Biden-Harris campaign poster) and another named Henderson, designed by the Argentine firm Sudtipos, for the typefaces of their dials. Then came a process of slavishly poring over each detail, from flame-blued hands, to central hands that are bent to fit the contour of the crystal, to engraved pushers, to the famous decagonal caseback, to even the packaging of the watches.
The movement inside the first collection is the Seiko VK64 meca-quartz movement which was selected to keep the price accessible, but there are of course plans for a mechanical version of the watch. All cases are 38mm in diameter and 11.2mm in thickness, which to me strikes a nice balance between modern and vintage and is extremely wearable.
They are made from the industry standard 316 steel. What is particularly nice is that the Furlan Marri watches feature the same oversized flat crown that was part of the original Borgel design and which Roger Dubuis decided not to use in his Hommage Chronographs. It is remarkable to me that at the price of USD 485, these watches actually feature sapphire crystals. And all watches are, of course, water resistant to 50 metres.
The duo finally decided on five different executions to launch their brand. They consist of a steel version with an ivory dial reference 1011-A, a steel version with a grey dial reference 1041-A, a steel version with a salmon dial reference 1031-A, a steel version with a black dial reference 1022-A, and a very cool steel but electro-plated 4N rose gold watch with a black dial reference 1022-B.
The way it works is the first 300 people that purchase a watch on Kickstarter get their watches at USD 330, all early birds that support them on Kickstarter get their watches at USD 350; the future retail will be under USD 500. The Kickstarter pre-orders will begin on March 10th, 2021 and watches will be delivered by August 2021.
For me these watches are a total no-brainer. They are stunning in design, pay tribute to one of my favourite horological icons, and are well made and incredibly accessible in price. Furlan Marri, to me, is more than a new watch brand but an important demonstration that you don’t have to compromise between beauty and affordability, and for that in particular I congratulate them.
More information: furlanmarri.com