Franck Muller Leaves, Dubuis Stays, Ikepod Sold

The Swiss luxury watch business was shaken in the fall of 2003 by events affecting some high-profile watchmakers and an investigation of a manufacturer of movements for prestigious brands.

  • Franck Muller Watchland S.A. High-profile watchmaker Franck Muller has left the successful business he co-founded. The company, near Geneva, Switzerland, said Oct. 20, following reports by JCK Online, that Muller “decided to leave … for personal reasons,” though he remained a director and “an important shareholder.” Muller, at a Nov. 21 Geneva press conference, claimed he was forced out and wants the company liquidated.
    He and co-founder Virtan Sirmakes have filed legal actions against each other. Sirmakes told Swiss newspapers last fall that the business, which he now directs, can continue without Muller. The company will continue using the brand names “Franck Muller,” “Franck Muller Genève,” and “FM,” which it says it owns worldwide. A spokesperson for Franck Muller USA said the changes hadn’t affected U.S. business.
    The statements by Muller and the company capped months of Swiss press articles, and speculation in Europe and America, about Muller’s unexplained absence from Watchland. Swiss newspapers, business publications, and other sources cited disagreements between Muller and Sirmakes on business strategy, operations, and direction.
    The company, known for innovative watch designs, was founded in 1991 by Muller, a master watchmaker and designer, and Sirmakes, an Armenian Swiss-trained jewelry maker. In addition to its timepieces and jewelry line, it has its own watch show, two other luxury watches (European Company Watch and Pierre Kunz), and two suppliers of luxury watch dials and parts. The company employs about 500 people, makes almost 49,000 watches annually (up 36% in 2003), and plans its first public sale of stock, probably this year.

  • Roger Dubuis S.A. Swiss luxury watchmaker Roger Dubuis, in a statement to JCK, emphatically denied Swiss newspaper reports—some attributed to Sirmakes—that he was leaving his company to join Watchland and replace Muller.
    However, Dubuis, a master horologist, is reducing daily involvement in the company he co-founded in 1995 with Carlos Dias, a Portuguese businessman.
    “I wanted to relieve myself of the daily burden of managing a company in full expansion,” said Dubuis. He stressed, however, “I am proud to continue within Manufacture Roger Dubuis S.A. my quest for watchmaking perfection and to be fully associated with [its] bright future.”

  • Ikepod. The Perficio Group, a new luxury-goods group created by Lac Investment SA, a Swiss holding company, in October announced it had acquired Ikepod Watch Co. and Poiray, a Parisian jewelry house.
    Ikepod, a small, innovative Swiss watchmaker, began operating in 1994. Recent financial difficulties forced the firm to file for bankruptcy and co-founder Oliver Ike to leave the company and its board of directors. The brand will continue as a luxury watch.
    Watch and jewelry trade veterans Christian Weber and William Devine—a former manager of the Basel watch and jewelry show—lead Perficio and plan to make more acquisitions.

  • Jaquet. On Oct. 8, Jean-Pierre Jaquet, boss of Jaquet S.A., La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, a Swiss manufacturer of movements for prestigious watch brands, was arrested by Swiss authorities. The charges, said Swiss newspapers, included robbery, receiving stolen goods, and counterfeiting of merchandise. Zurich’s Sonntag Zeitung reported the investigation might be linked to a January 2002 theft of gold and gold watchcases from Miranda S.A., a nearby polishing house, which were allegedly used in counterfeit Rolex watches. Jaquet’s lawyer denied the charges.

Presiding judge Sylvie Favre said her investigation wasn’t aimed at Jaquet S.A, “but only against individuals.” The company said it had nothing to do with any theft of watches or precious metals.

By mid-October, 12 people had been arrested in what Swiss papers called “the Jaquet Affair,” including a Miranda manager and an employee of another luxury watchmaker. In November, an uncle of Swiss watchmaker Franck Muller also was questioned, said Swiss press reports.

The case attracted much interest in the Swiss watch business because of the possible link to watch counterfeiting and because Jaquet S.A. supplies movements to several high-end brands and is one of the few independent firms still doing so.