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Inside Watchland: The Franck Muller Manufacture

I've had the privilege of visiting a few watch factories, and each one is vastly different. Some are glorious workshops, primarily focused on the assembly of pre-manufactured parts, while others are massive industrial warehouses filled with automated robots and multi-million dollar CNC machines tirelessly working around the clock to transform raw materials into meticulously machined components. However, during my attendance at the 2024 Watches & Wonders show in Geneva, I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Franck Muller manufacture (officially known as Watchland), and it was clear even before stepping into one of the buildings that this "factory" is truly unique.

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Franck Muller's Watchland, located in the picturesque town of Genthod in the canton of Geneva, is a sprawling, idyllic destination that serves as the brand's headquarters. Franck Muller produces 100% of its own dials and cases, with certain operations like dial production and case stamping being carried out at the brand's other production facilities in the Jura Arc, while Watchland is responsible for everything else, including the machining and finishing of movement components as well as the final assembly of the watches.

Although this is a fully modernized production facility with the most advanced equipment, Franck Muller's Watchland complex is anything but factory-like. If you were to stumble upon the neatly landscaped grounds, it would be understandable to think you've accidentally discovered a beautiful residential area, as the terraced lakeside scenery of Geneva blends seamlessly with the distant Montblanc peaks across the water.

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Watchland was established in 1983, originally a single grand mansion built in 1905 that was later converted into the brand's headquarters, and has been expanding over the years to create the multi-building complex that exists today. To accommodate the brand's growing success, Franck Muller added two more buildings in 2000, maintaining the same aesthetic as the original 1905 mansion, and then added two more similar-styled structures in 2019, allowing the brand to consolidate the majority of its manufacturing operations into one location.

All five of these buildings follow the same rural manor house design concept, which is related to local laws requiring new constructions to adhere to the region's old-world aesthetics. The Watchland buildings are not massive boxes of metal and glass, but rather grand and beautiful, any one of which could easily be mistaken for a luxurious private residence—until you step inside.

While the exterior has a stately manor house appearance, the buildings that make up the Franck Muller Watchland complex house a variety of different manufacturing facilities within. Some have floors filled with massive CNC machines capable of meticulously shaving metal bricks into tiny movement components, while others feature ornately carved wood-paneled walls and watchmaker's benches illuminated by the warm glow of natural light.

Each Watchland building is a small labyrinth of rooms executing different stages of the manufacturing process. Behind some doors, you'll find anodizing and electroplating stations, while others reveal vintage lathes and delicate polishing machines. With this in mind, Watchland has a clear methodology to its structure, with each building playing a distinct role in the production of Franck Muller watches.

Although the rough case blanks are stamped at another Franck Muller facility in the Jura, all the machining, shaping, and finishing is done at Watchland, where the cases ultimately take their final form. The metal chips generated during the machining process are recycled, so they can be melted down and reused in future components, with each machine dedicated to a specific alloy, allowing the different types of metal scraps to be collected separately during the recycling process.

Some of Franck Muller's cases also utilize carbon fiber, and while the core concept behind their production is fundamentally the same, the manufacturing process for carbon-based materials requires slightly different techniques. The small carbon fiber blocks are created by compressing thin layers of material under 120 degrees Celsius for nine hours. From there, specialized machines begin a multi-stage process of cutting and milling the blocks until they reach the final case shape. Like all of Franck Muller's cases, the various carbon fiber components undergo hand-finishing to impart their signature appearance.

In their raw form, the carbon fiber blocks consist of dense woven layers, and the machining process reveals the distinct lines and striations that can be observed in the final product. To achieve the brand's iconic Damascus carbon case, the carbon fiber layers are fused with colored fiber plies, and as the original block is ground down into a case, the resulting multicolored striations emerge, each case with a slightly unique pattern.

In the building to the left of the original 1905 mansion is the assembly workshop where the brand's most complex creations come together. Unlike the industrial spaces dedicated to the production-oriented machining and polishing stages, the assembly room maintains the old-world elegance of the building's exterior, with its carved wood-paneled walls, ample natural lighting, and picturesque scenic vistas. Personally, I don't know how Franck Muller's watchmakers are able to focus on their work, as I'd be too transfixed by the natural beauty surrounding Watchland.

Despite the incredibly high-level work being performed, the overall atmosphere of Watchland is remarkably calm and relaxed. While a pervading sense of tranquility is a constant theme in nearly every conference room, the defining characteristic of the entire Watchland complex is a notably more leisurely vibe than other manufacturers, with all employees appearing at ease and happy. You see people resting in the courtyard, sipping coffee and smoking with colleagues, laughing together—the same individuals you'll later encounter operating the CNC machines or meticulously assembling highly complex movements with precision. Regardless of whether each person genuinely enjoys their daily duties, I was left with a strong impression that everyone truly relishes being a part of Watchland.

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Compared to other brands, Franck Muller is almost unassuming about their manufacturing process, which is a bit of a shame considering the brand is responsible for producing the vast majority of the components used in their watches. However, when it comes to Watchland, there are no smoke and mirrors, as you can see the entirety of the manufacturer's production flow by traversing the various buildings, witnessing the transformation of raw materials into complete functional timepieces. With this in mind, Franck Muller's production facilities are open to the public, and those interested in visiting Watchland can book tours to experience firsthand how this renowned Swiss brand produces their watches.

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