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Mechanical watchmaking suffered through a number of devastating global events—the Great Depression, the first and second World Wars, etc—but the one that had the single largest impact on the industry, the one that changed the face of watchmaking, was the Quartz Crisis.

In the 1970s, quartz technology made its way into wristwatches, leading companies namely from Japan to produce timepieces quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. This led to the worldwide decline in sales of mechanical watches because quartz watches were simply cheaper and better.

No mechanical movement could come close to a quartz movement in terms of precision, losing only 15sec per 30 days, not to mention that it never needs winding or the time to be set. Countless traditional watch manufactures folded as they simply could not compete in this new playing field.

(Related: The Watch Expert's Guide: Discover The Jargon So Far)

 Although it appeared that an ominous fate loomed for Swiss watchmaking, the industry was saved by the perseverance of a few good men. Foremost, there was the creation of Swatch by Nicolas G Hayek, then-president of the SMH Group (subsequently renamed the Swatch Group) which singlehandedly kept Swiss watchmaking in business as the watches were inexpensive, trendy, stylish, and marketed with the Swiss made hallmark. Others like Charles Vermot, a watchmaker who worked for the Zenith manufacture, insisted on preserving the blueprints of the company’s El Primero movement despite being instructed to dispose of them.

 By the mid-1990s, however, mechanical watches were back in the limelight but instead of time-telling devices, they had become viewed as objects of art – mechanical art. In comparison, quartz watches were trendy and therefore ephemeral.

In search of timepieces with more eternal value, connoisseurs resurrected the mechanical watch. A number of modern watchmaking firms emerged during this period; Franck Muller was one of them. Handcrafted timepieces were acquired because of their beauty or history or collectability. Accordingly, the watchmaker was now an artist, not just an engineer. This remains true till today, so even if the Quartz Crisis did come very close to obliterating the Swiss watchmaking industry, it is also the very event that enabled it to evolve from a necessity to a luxury. 

(1992) PREMIER MOND-1992-2.jpg 

Proving that there was still demand for handcrafted, mechanical watches: at the time of its launch in 1992, this Franck Muller
timepiece was the most complicated, with a grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, minute repeater, perpetual calendar and internal temperature indicator 

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The 1995 Franck Muller Calibre 95 is a double-faced wristwatch with a tourbillon, chronograph, perpetual calendar and internal temperature indicator

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Franck Muller launched the smallest tourbillon in 1998, which was inserted in an egg-shaped object d'art set with diamonds 

(2003) Revolution 3_.jpgFrom 2003 is the Franck Muller Revolution 2 Tourbillon, featuring a tourbillon cage rotating on two axes 

Related: Discover the Montblanc Timewalker collection)




Tags: Franck Muller, swatch group, Tick Talk, Watch Expert, Hayek, Watch Expert's Guide, Quartz Crisis