New efforts to resolve Franck Muller dispute

Efforts have been made recently to resolve the fierce dispute between co-founders of the innovative and popular Swiss luxury watch brand, Franck Muller, headquartered outside of Geneva.

Didier Decker, administrative director and CFO of Franck Muller Watchland, told JCK that Franck Muller, who left the company in anger last year, met two weeks ago with former partner Vartan Sirmakes. Geneva newspapers also report that the two men recently had a lunch meeting.

Sirmakes has been trying to convince Muller, still a major shareholder in the company, to sell his shares to an equity company, which would then work with Watchland on the brand’s first-ever public stock offering. Watchland has been working on an IPO for more than a year, but can’t proceed until the issue of Muller’s shares is resolved.

Muller, who recently started a new company, has called for the liquidation of the company that bears his name, which is legally owned by Watchland. He reportedly agreed to sell his shares to the equity group at the lunch meeting in early April. However, Muller’s lawyer apparently sent a letter to Watchland disputing this agreement. Efforts to resolve the issue continue, Decker says.

Meanwhile, rival lawsuits that Muller and his former company have filed against each other remain in the Swiss courts.

Despite the dispute, “the company remains very strong” in sales, finances, and watch innovations, Decker insists. In addition, the company’s 550 employees have remained loyal to Watchland rather than leaving with Muller.

Sirmakes, who heads Watchland, also cited the company’s financial strength at an April 21 press conference at Watchland, attended by scores of journalists, distributors, retailers, and other guests. He noted that the company owns the “Franck Muller Geneve” brand name and that 2003 sales rose 5.5% to 380 million Swiss francs (US$290 million). The U.S. market accounts for about 12% of sales.

The press conference was part of Watchland’s annual luxury watch show.