June 11, 2016
by Ariel Adams
Admittedly, it has been a while since I’ve spent any serious time with the people at Franck Muller. The Swiss watch maker is a sort of modern legend, and the Franck Muller Group is further an assortment of luxury brands that includes others such as Backes & Strauss. In the past, the group was even larger including brands such as Rodolphe, Pierre Kunz, and Martin Braun. Now, Franck Muller himself and co-founder Vartan Sirmakes continue to make watches at their “Watchland” headquarters in Switzerland outside of Geneva. Today, I am going to look at something different for Franck Muller that represents a modern side of the brand. This watch is the Franck Muller Vanguard Glacier, from the newer overall Vanguard collection.
Franck Muller started in 1991 and as a brand is known for a few things including their popular Cintrée Curvex case, as well as some heavily complicated watches. The brand often likes to refer to themselves as “the master of complications.” This timepiece is on the simpler side offering just the time and date, but has a complex yet refined design that I find really appealing.
I’ll quickly admit that the Franck Muller Vanguard collection did not appeal to me until I actually saw one in person and put it on my wrist. In computer rendered images, the Vanguard looks both underwhelming and like it is trying too hard at the same time. In a sense, some people might say that about the Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex family of watches. Put either of those models on your wrist in person, and you’ll have an entirely different experience – at least, I did.
The Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex collection begins with a tonneau-shaped case, and it is perhaps one of the few tonneau-shaped cases on the market that I like. Others would include those produced by Richard Mille. This is an age-old design going back to the 1920s, but Franck Muller made it hot again. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Franck Muller was the first “trendy” watch brand of the modern horological era. Only to (by some accounts) become a victim of their own success and face the same issues most other luxury brands do today in the areas of marketing and distribution. Compared to others, I think that Franck Muller has been relatively quiet, choosing to remain more low key and holding back until they have a solid strategy in place. At the least, they have a solid stable of interesting timepieces.
I wouldn’t suggest trying to understand the Vanguard collection’s point by reading about it on Franck Muller’s website, as that isn’t going to tell you much. In fact, it is a good example of the type of writing that really doesn’t explain much but takes up space on a luxury brand’s website. My take on the Vanguard is that it is quite simply a modern rendition of the design that made Franck Muller as a brand popular in the first place. Say what you will about some of the people who have worn the brand or the showiness the brand is known for that not all people like… but at its heart, the core “Franck Muller look” is well-done and until now hasn’t really been captured better by anyone else when it comes to their classic Cintrée Curvex look.
So with that said, consider the Franck Muller Vanguard collection to take that classic Art Deco look and make it feel much more contemporary. That includes the case as well as the dial – whose Arabic numeral hour markers are applied, and a different take on the painted ones you see on more traditional-looking Franck Muller timepieces. Then you have the case which, also tonneau for the Vanguard, is flatter and a bit more ergonomic than the Curvex case. It sits nicely against the wrist, and with the right color and material choices results in a bold, yet elegant look which doesn’t sacrifice legibility for style. Note the compass markers on the internal flange ring – which I’ll consider being for style. Better than another tachymeter scale – that’s for sure.
This particular version of the Franck Muller Vanguard is the reference V 45 SC DT AC.GL Vanguard Glacier – known as such because of the particular PVD-coated finishing over the steel case and the use of a white rubber strap with matching dial accents. Note that this is one of the rare steel Vanguard watches (because of the particular PVD treatment) but most non-gold ones are in titanium. The case is steel and 44mm wide by 53.70mm tall, and just 12.8mm thick. The curved Vanguard case sits comfortably on the wrist with the integrated rubber strap. Visually, the look of the strap continues through the case with a clever look which makes the case appear as though it sandwiches the strap. To allow for a more high-end look versus straight rubber, the strap has white alligator over the rubber lining – which makes for a good look (as people know who have worn straps such as this from other brands like Hublot).
Design wise, there is a modern “audacity” to the overall look that will be inviting to some and repel others. That’s fine, since pretty much no watch Franck Muller has ever made is intended to have universal appeal. These are well-done watches for people who like to show off a bit… and if you don’t like to show off this way, their timepieces probably won’t appeal to you. Again, don’t judge any of these watches fully until you put one on your wrist. I personally was pleasantly surprised.
Inside these three-hand Franck Muller Vanguard collection watches is their caliber FM 0800 automatic movement, which operate at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with a power reserve of 42 hours. I do not believe these are in-house movements (Franck Muller confirmed that these are modified base Swiss ETA movements), but in other Franck Muller watches they of course feature their own movements. The movement offers the time and date (displayed at 6 o’clock). There is no exhibition caseback, and I think there should have been on the watch. It would have made more sense than writing “Master of Complications,” on a watch that isn’t that mechanically complicated. The Franck Muller Vanguard Glacier isn’t a limited edition per se, but it is an individually numbered watch with a serial number placed on the caseback.
Franck Muller produces no shortage of variations for each of their popular timepieces. In addition to offering a range of Vanguard models (from this three-hand automatic to a chronograph and even a few tourbillons) each of the models seems to offer a range of versions as well (most of which aren’t even on the Franck Muller website, by the way). This “discreet information” culture is part of the exclusive nature of the brand, but also one of the reasons that Franck Muller hasn’t fared as well in the information-hungry internet age.
The interesting “shiny gunmetal” applied PVD finishing on the steel case mixed with the white tones makes for an interesting and fun look in the Franck Muller Vanguard Glacier, but plenty of other versions are available. It isn’t inexpensive, but it is a good look that fits the Franck Muller brand well and the next generation of people who will find interest in the brand. Again, this simply isn’t a brand for conservative types, but the range of talents the brand has, as well as their many technical achievements means that Franck Muller just might be a brand to look at again (or for the first time). Price for the Franck Muller Vanguard Glacier watch is $9,800. Prices in the collection for Vanguard Chronograph watches is $15,800 and the Vanguard Tourbillon is $106,600. franckmuller.com