Five special-edition Franck Muller watches, each over $1.5m, created for Cortina's 50th anniversary

The five one-of-a-kind pieces boast not just marvellous engineering, but also stunning gem settings. PHOTO: CORTINA WATCH

SINGAPORE - There are five but only one is ready.

The quintet are the Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Special Editions timepieces which Franck Muller has created to celebrate Cortina Watch's 50th anniversary.

The five one-of-a-kind pieces boast not just marvellous engineering - a spell-binding tourbillon that rotates on three axes - but also stunning gem settings featuring baguette-cut diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

One of the five special editions - four are priced at $1.51 million and one at $1.68 million - is currently displayed at a special exhibition to celebrate Cortina's golden jubilee held at Paragon mall until Sept 13.

Mr Nicholas Rudaz, chief executive of Franck Muller, says: "Unfortunately, we have not been able to deliver all five pieces in time because the diamond business has been turned upside down due to Covid. Production is scarce. Finding the right set of stones - in a similar colour - is very difficult because we are doing it on such a large scale. Setting the stones is also extremely time-consuming."

"But we will have them all by October," he says, adding that the $1.68 million emerald piece has already been sold.

Mr Jeremy Lim, chief executive of Cortina, adds: "These are high jewel, high mechanical, high complication watches. We did five to indicate each decade of our existence."

The two men are in high spirits as they sit in the VIP area of the exhibition, which features 57 Franck Muller creations worth a total of $12 million.

The pieces include the new Vanguard Rose Skeleton Black Diamonds Southeast Asia Exclusive, which has black diamond settings as well as roses and leaves on skeletonised bridges; the Grand Central Tourbillon, which boasts the first tonneau-shaped central tourbillon; and the Round Invisible Setting Tourbillon, which features a Grand Complication as well as baguette diamonds and rubies on its white gold case, dial and bracelet.

The last watch costs a cool $1.926 million and has been spotted on the wrist of Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

There is good reason Mr Rudaz and Mr Lim are ebullient.

The Swiss luxury brand has enjoyed a higher profile in Singapore and the region ever since Cortina bought its former competitor Sincere Watch for $84.7 million in March last year.

One of the key reasons for the purchase? The distributorship rights to the Franck Muller brand in 13 countries within Asia-Pacific.

"In the past, we didn't have a really strong brand, where we own distribution, to promote. We saw the opportunity with Franck Muller," says Mr Lim.

Franck Muller CEO Nicholas Rudaz (left) and CEO of Cortina Watch Jeremy Lim. PHOTO: CORTINA WATCH

Despite the pandemic, he and Mr Rudaz - who became Franck Muller's CEO last year after joining as chief operating officer in 2007 - have rolled out a slew of novelties exclusive to Cortina.

Mr Lim says: "They created things for us, despite the disruptions in production. And we were able to do good business. And whatever business we do, we put it back and reinvest to make the brand even stronger."

The two companies, for instance, introduced the Vanguard Rose Skeleton line last year. Boasting a curved iconic tonneau case embellished with diamonds, the watch's most striking feature is the open dial, which has carved roses handpainted by a master craftsman.

The collection proved so popular, it led to the just-released Vanguard Rose Skeleton Black Diamonds Southeast Asia Exclusive.

The models in this new collection - which cost $65,500 each - sport 422 black brilliant-cut diamonds on its case and 75 brilliant-cut gems on the dial. PHOTO: FRANCK MULLER

The models in this new collection - which cost $65,500 each - sport 422 black brilliant-cut diamonds on its case and 75 brilliant-cut gems on the dial.

"Despite such a short time frame, our relationship has been very dynamic, very creative. It's quite astonishing that we have been able to deliver so many amazing limited editions for Cortina in such a short period of time," says Mr Rudaz, adding that two other Franck Muller exclusives for Singapore and the region are the Vanguard 7 Days Power Reserve Skeleton Colour Dreams and the Round Rainbow Skeleton.

Other markets, he adds, have expressed strong interest in these pieces.

"That's because Cortina makes very good choices and has very good taste," he says.

Looking chuffed, Mr Lim adds: "We try to be one step ahead. Ultimately, the world is very small, it's not just about Singapore or South-east Asia. If we do something nice with them, it will spread and everyone will go after it. That's important because it adds to the value of the brand."

The watch industry, he adds, usually adopts a "top-down" approach, with company directors and senior executives dictating trends and setting directions.

However, Cortina's relationship with Franck Muller pivots on a "bottom-up" approach.

"We get feedback from our customers, we think about what is good for the brand, we feedback our findings to Franck Muller and they tell us whether it's possible."

A former hotelier who, among other accomplishments, helped to set up Geneva's famous La Reserve hotel, Mr Rudaz is pleased with Franck Muller's revived popularity.

The brand's reputation, he says, took a hit when the co-founders Franck Muller and Vartan Sirmakes had a public feud which led to several lawsuits and countersuits in 2003. The dispute has since been resolved.

"We kept a low profile and were not very active in doing promotions. But today, the DNA of Franck Muller is out there again."

And what is the Franck Muller DNA? "Franck was the first to do a tourbillon on the front of a wristwatch. It was the first to do the world's fastest tourbillon, the world's smallest tourbillon, the world's first tri-axial tourbillon..." he says, reeling off the brand's horological breakthroughs.

Pointing to the Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Special Edition, he says: "This represents the DNA of the brand - the curve, the tourbillon, the master complications.

"The brand is back again."

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Cortina Watch is holding a special Franck Muller exhibition featuring 57 timepieces worth a total of $12 million at Paragon Singapore's main atrium till Sept 13. The exhibition, from 11am to 8pm daily, is open to the public.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.