Focus: Franck Muller Vanguard Collection
The Franck Muller Vanguard boldly takes on new concepts and designs, crafting watches that defy convention yet surrender to emotions
Apart from Master of Complications, Franck Muller’s other nom de guerre could very well be Defier of Conventions, because this leading-edge watch company has never been known to just follow the rules. Since its inception, Franck Muller’s style of watchmaking has always been considered unique and avant-garde. As a matter of fact, the company’s eponymous founder himself is known to be a maverick in every sense of the word – and one with a wicked sense of humour to boot. Coupled with some truly mad skills honed from classical watchmaking, Muller was able to reimagine high complications like no other contemporary watchmaker of his time. This watchmaking whiz had been the mastermind behind such inimitable works of horological creativity and flair as the Master Banker, Crazy Hours, Totally Crazy, the mind-blowing Aeternitas series of grand complications, and more recently, such dazzling pieces as the Giga Tourbillon. Indeed, these are not watches for the meek, and likewise, the Franck Muller Vanguard collection was made to be revered.
Introduced just two years ago in 2013, the Vanguard is the modern face of Franck Muller. All-time best sellers like the Cintrée Curvex and Long Island have dominated its brand identity for the better part of the 2000s, thanks largely in part to the highly recognisable tonneau or rectangular case with curved sapphire crystal and those whimsical Art Deco-inspired hour numerals, which have become practically synonymous with Franck Muller. While these watches have been and will always remain the company’s classical icons, it is also apparent that existing owners of these watches want and need something else to go on with – something that was irrevocably Franck Muller yet also different, daring, and even more exciting. This was the raison d’être of the Vanguard, a watch that retained the core DNA of the Cintrée Curvex but turned the dial several notches up both in terms of technicality and design.
Audacity may be Franck Muller’s middle name, but the Geneva-based watchmaker did in fact cut his teeth tinkering with horology’s most complicated mechanisms. Legend has it that Muller, in his apprentice years, once tampered with a Rolex watch, deconstructing the movement and adding extra components to make it a perpetual calendar. Legend didn’t say whose Rolex it was, but that’s not really the point. More importantly, Muller went on to found his own brand shortly after graduating from watchmaking school in the late 1980s to early 1990s and introduced new and ever more cutting-edge timepieces year after year. Those watches had been released as world premiers and they included the first tourbillon watch that featured the tourbillon on the dial side, a practice that did not exist before then.
Decades have passed since Franck Muller made that audacious decision, but the company’s bold approach to tourbillon-making hasn’t dwindled one bit. If anything, it’s became even more daring, especially since the turn of the millennium with collections like the Evolution watches, the Aeternitas watches, and, more recently, the larger-than-life Giga Tourbillon and the super-sized Gravity. Where the Giga Tourbillon exudes a more classical appeal, however, the Gravity is unmistakeably avant-garde and contemporary, which means it is just perfect for the Vanguard collection.
This technical tour de force leaves a huge impact, thanks in no small part to its colossal proportions. It occupies more than half of the watch’s dial, and this is by no means a dial of modest dimensions. The watch, after all, measures an impressive 44mm X 53.7mm. But what’s even more impressive is the architecture of the tourbillon, which arrests the eye with a pair of crossbars forming the bridge. Constructed in blackened steel, the entire structure arches over an elliptical aperture measuring 21.2mm at its widest and is doubly stable because it is screwed to the mainplate at four points instead of just two.
At the point where the crossbars meet, a single red ruby and its accompanying chatons keep the aluminium tourbillon carriage firmly attached to the bridge. As it rotates once every 60 seconds, the carriage chases the balance wheel around an elliptical path. In accordance with the oversized theme, the balance wheel at 14mm also measures large. Even the applied numerals and the hour and minute hands are robust to say the least. The Vanguard Gravity is also deeply versatile, sporting a host of case materials from black-treated titanium to precious white or pink gold. Each variation bears a unique colour palette that shows different sides of the watch.
In addition to the Gravity, the Vanguard collection also includes more classical models like the Vanguard Tourbillon and Vanguard Chronograph. While clearly on a different league than the Vanguard Gravity, these watches definitely hold their own in the complications arena. The tourbillon model, in particular, espouses the familiar black-polished FM tourbillon carriage found in all Franck Muller flying tourbillons. Whether set fully with diamonds or designed with a cool industrial style, the Vanguard complicated models are a veritable force to be reckoned with.
The importance of design in luxury watchmaking cannot be overstated and in the case of Franck Muller, it even helped establish one of its watches as a contemporary icon. The classic Cintrée Curvex with fancy Art Deco numerals takes its place as the most recognisable Franck Muller watch of all, and it proffers little more than just the time and date. Available in a dizzying array of colours and styles, the Cintrée Curvex classic pieces follow the shape of the wrist flawlessly and this intangible feature is perhaps its biggest selling point. For years, budding watch collectors have swooned over the watch’s just-right proportions, funky numerals, and discreet dial décor, proving that while high complications are exciting to discover, simple pieces often win the day.
With the Vanguard collection, one doesn’t have to look too far to find traces of design creativity. Of course, the complicated watches pack a punch with a heady mix of different materials for the cases, dials, and straps. Even the simple models could sometimes steal their thunder, and the Vanguard Cobra is a shining example. This magnificent creation would definitely get under your skin and, love it or loathe it, there’s no ignoring it. Following in the footsteps of provocative earlier models in the Cintrée Curvex line like the Iron Croco, Black Croco, and Gold Croco, the Vanguard Cobra brings some serious swagger.
Like crocodile and alligator leather, snakeskin evokes a kind of sensuality and seductive quality that other skins generally don’t. It is this unabashed, unbridled indulgence that evokes luxury. With the Vanguard Cobra, this sensation had been doubly heightened when Franck Muller carved a solid gold case with lines emulating the scales of a deadly King Cobra. And not just the case but the dial, as well, reflects this captivating design motif. The components have been milled from a single block of gold in order to achieve realistic cobra scales, complemented by the rubber and leather cobra-effect strap. With just a little imagination, one could definitely see the similarities between this Vanguard case and the extendable hood behind the head of this largest of all cobras.
Moving over from the snake pit to the smart watch arena, Franck Muller has decided to throw its hat into the ring with its own rendition of a digital watch – tongue firmly in cheek. And if you find yourself complaining about the resolution, then you’ve simply missed the point. Technically, the Vanguard Pixel isn’t much, but visually, it is a refreshing sight even for tired eyes – as long as your sense of humour remains intact. Like a low-resolution image full of pixelated squares, the case and dial of the watch is covered in alternating polished and brushed miniature squares. There is no trompe-l’oeil going on here, though, because even when the case and dial are covered with pixels, the black flange indicating cardinal points, the oversized hour numerals, the Franck Muller insignia, the hour and minute hands, as well as the date, all remain in perfectly sharp focus.
Where the Vanguard Cobra and Vanguard Pixel is designed to stand out, the Vanguard Camouflage aims to blend in – at least it tries. With a matte black titanium case, the dials of these watches are swathed in the classic camouflage motif but over a range of colours including khaki, green, grey, and blue. There are three variations available: time-only, chronograph, and tourbillon. An army-inspired watch with a tourbillon? Why not? After all, there are different ranks in the military, aren’t there? Plus, to have options is always good; even Starbucks offers tall, grande, and venti.
The true test of a watch’s longevity, its ability to stand the test of time, lies in its suitability for everyday wear. This is true of all watches recognised as icons today, including but not limited to the Rolex Submariner, the Omega Speedmaster, and definitely the Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex. At its most basic, the Vanguard is still an excitable timepiece, what with the bold appliqué numerals and chunky hour and minute hands dominating its mien. But this is all part of its DNA; its ancestor, the classic Cintrée Curvex, also had very large numerals. As a sports watch, however, the Vanguard does have some free play, its oversized dimensions lending themselves especially well to this cause.
In addition, Franck Muller doesn’t hold back in terms of design for this watch. Since its introduction in 2013, the Vanguard has taken on countless guises ranging from sporty titanium and black carbon to posh white gold and diamond pavé, not to mention numerous colour variations. Attesting to the versatility of the timepiece, this wide array serves to showcase Franck Muller’s long-term vision for the collection. With something for everyone, including women connoisseurs, the Vanguard embodies Franck Muller’s watchmaking philosophy and sets it in the present. Indeed, traditional high watchmaking is always appealing, especially to the watch connoisseurs, but with these watches, Franck Muller has shown that there is a way to be classical yet modern, adventurous, and anything but boring.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
The Vanguard Yachting collection tightens the collaboration between Franck Muller and the Italian Sea Group
From the sapphire blue of the Mediterranean Sea to the turquoise waters of the Andaman, the open ocean never fails to relax the spirit, especially when you’re aboard a beautiful sailing or powerboat. The Franck Muller Vanguard Yachting is all about the seafaring world, as its design is inspired directly by the Franck Muller Yacht made for the Genevan watchmaker by the Italian Sea Group. Echoing the sensual curves of the vessel, the three models in the collection all feature maritime-inspired details like the deep blue of the dial and case middle, as well as the strap spiked with a touch of white like the body of most yachts, and the symbolic wind rose that adorns the dial.
Cased in a choice of stainless steel, titanium, or red gold, the collection includes three variants: classic, chronograph, and tourbillon. The pieces may be different in terms of movement, but they are united by super-high legibility achieved by setting pristine white appliqué hour numerals against the cobalt blue dial. Skeleton hands filled partially with white Super-LumiNova also help. Although every Vanguard model comes with the cardinal points on its inner flange, nowhere else is this element more pertinent than in the Vanguard Yachting collection, where navigation is the name of the game. On the case back, an engraving of the Franck Muller Yacht reinforces the nautical theme and each timepiece comes with a rubber-lined cordura strap with white or blue stitches.
Text by Celine Yap
Photography by Ching/Greenplasticsoldiers
Art Direction by Joaelle Ng
This article was originally published in World of Watches