When Alice asked the Mad Hatter if she had gone mad, the answer was rather startling: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
For all his eccentricity, the Mad Hatter couldn’t be more right. Einstein was a crazy genius who turned physics on its head with his theories of relativity, and Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh — despite creating mesmerising paintings — had somehow decided to hack off his ear in frustration during a tiff. Then there’s Franck Muller, the “Master of Complications” who doesn’t believe that time has to be in order, and created a watch to prove just that.
Born in 1958 of an Italian mother and Swiss father, Muller was a bit of a geek when it came to horology, enrolling in watchmaking school at the age of 15. By the early ‘80s, he had graduated from the prestigious Watchmaking School of Geneva, before making a name for himself repairing high-end pocket watches. It wasn’t long before his repertoire consisted of precious Patek Philippes belonging to wealthy individuals, as well as cherished museum pieces.
Getting his hands dirty allowed Muller to develop a knowledge far superior than many of his peers. By 1984, he had designed his own tourbillon wristwatch, a feat only achieved by a handful of other notable watchmakers the likes of Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. His clientele list quickly burgeoned to become comparable to that of a top private members’ club, filled with highly creative individuals that would constantly inspire him to push the envelope in an otherwise stoic and stringent industry.
Breaking the law
Franck Muller doesn’t follow trends, he creates them. Maybe this effortlessness comes with a fearless, unadulterated ability to translate inspiration from his everyday life into his work. The emblematic Crazy Hours watch is poster child of this eccentricity.
And to think it all started during a vacation in Mauritius, where Muller — despite living in a prestigious hotel — found himself restricted by many rules and unable to completely unwind as planned. He drew parallels of this to his everyday life, and realised that at the very foundation of this conundrum was time, ticking away as the rhythm to those rules. Defiantly, he decided to create a watch without any — the Crazy Hours watch was born.
Like its name suggests, the madcap timepiece will not make sense at first glance. Within a sensuously curvy tonneau case sits oversized — sometimes technicoloured — numerals that are thrown over the dial in chaotic abandon. The watch hours from one to 12 are rearranged in a non-consecutive and almost random fashion. Muller had taken the very fundamentals of watch design and turned it against itself.
Still, despite the spontaneity, the Crazy Hours watch is driven by an automatic movement with a jumping hours module on top. This means that the hour hand will leap from one hour to the next instantly when a new hour is reached. However, observe closely and you’ll notice the module always skips five positions to the next subsequent hour. There’s a bit of sanity within this watch after all.
For a long time, the watchmaking scene was a rigid one with rules that few dared to trifle with. Purists have argued that watches worth a second of their time should look a certain way and be made from start to finish by a single watchmaker, with complications more complex to phantom than the theory of relativity. Though highly respected in his industry, Muller was adamant on also making luxury watches accessible to the masses, not just for stoic old men with a monocular loupe permanently affixed to their eye sockets.
The 15-year rebellion
Like its multi-faceted creator, the Crazy Hours collection spawned many variations with different gems and precious materials. The latest collection — the Crazy Hours 15th Anniversary Asia Exclusive — celebrates 15 years of the iconoclastic complication with exclusive models only available throughout Asia. Here, the watches’ technical feat is only rivalled by a distinct youthfulness that manifests in shades of green, red, and blue on the five minute markers and matching leather straps. Iced-out variations add more flair to the standard stainless steel or rose gold cases. It’s a classy watch that would also make you smile — traits that are rarely found together in collectible timepieces.
There’s a fine line between ingenuity and insanity and only few have managed to transcend both to create something so disruptive but admired at the same time. Franck Muller’s Crazy Hours watch not only breaks all the rules of watchmaking, but also questions the value of time. Time is, after all, a concept that humans created, and Muller believes the best way to use it is to assign your own values to it.