The Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 I have long considered not a grail, but rather a myth, really. Not that I have ever looked for it specifically, but I have never stumbled upon it anywhere online, other than when featured with the company’s official photos. Meanwhile, as years passed, I have in fact worn and/or seen in the wild most all of the craziest watches the horological world has managed to bring to this world. The Aeternitas Mega 4 was, however, nowhere to be seen – at least in those parts of the world that I frequented. The Miraculous Encounter happened unexpectedly on the last day of our SIHH 2018 trip this January, when this watch just… appeared. I was baffled, but not baffled enough to miss calling first dibs before proceeding to take hands-on pictures of this beast myself. Here’s how the Aeternitas Mega 4 looked and felt like in the real world.
First, the basics of the complexities. 36 complications, 23 indications via 18 hands and 5 discs, 1,483 components, 99 jewels, 91 wheels (!), 7 pushers and 4 correctors, five years of planning and, reportedly, a full year to assemble… Oh, and a price tag of around $2.7 million. These are the figures the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 shocked the world with at the end of 2009 – even if watches with well over 1,000 components had existed before it.
I wish to clarify that the level of complexity in a watch can be measured in more than a handful different ways – from component count through number of complications, indications, complexities and novelty-factor of indications, durability, level and complexity of decorations and so on. Therefore, I will not call this the most complicated ever – although it was widely regarded as such at the time of its launch – because it is a claim easy to undermine by mentioning other watches that are, in their own right, just as worthy of the most superb of superlatives. Another important thing to consider is how the Aeternitas Mega 4 has 36 complications but “””only“”” 23 indications. This is because, as you’ll see from the list below, the list of complications includes mechanical complexities that render a feature more complex/different than it basically would be, hence adding to the total figure of complications – but not always to the number of indications (e.g. flying tourbillon counts as two because it is a tourbillon that is of the “flying” arrangement without an upper bridge holding it down).
Let us now entertain ourselves with a full list of functions and complications inside the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 – keeping in mind that this is coming from a hard-to-find, official Franck Muller document from the time of launch, not fished from the interweb.
The FM3480 QPSE is the all you can eat buffet of fine watchmaking complications. The movement is 34.40mm wide, 41.40mm tall and a whopping 13.65mm thick. In other words, the movement is about the same size as a small, tonneau dress watch all cased up – except for the fact that it is much, much heavier. I must say, I’m slightly disappointed that Franck Muller didn’t add the entire list of complications in letters to the name of the caliber – Patek style – as I would have loved to see an FM3480 QPSETCWCHRPEGMTARMFBPRDRGSPSSC! Talk about missed opportunities!
The fun begins when you are handed the watch and first feel its weight. The 18ct white gold Cintrée Curvex 8880 case is 42mm wide, 61mm long, and 19.15mm thick. The weight is absolutely immense and yet, it feels great in a strange, inexplicably awkward way. I’m sure you’ve been there when you’ve been wearing a watch for long and, for a moment, you sort of forgot you had it on and ended up shaking your hand in panic to determine whether or not there was a watch still wrapped around your wrist. Well, I don’t think a sane mind – or even a severely intoxicated one, for that matter – could ever disregard the feeling this watch provides on the wrist. It’s so heavy and intimidating that you are constantly aware of its thickness (not to bump it into things) and its weight… It’s the watch-equivalent of The Mountain’s unnecessarily large broadsword – that’s a Game of Thrones reference you are invited to disregard, just think of a big ass sword.
You realize fun has just elevated to a whole other level once you rotate your wrist away from you. Hand on heart, I can say I was shocked (and wildly amused) at this sight for two reasons: 1) I have never seen a watch with the proportions of a sausage dog on my wrist and 2) the watch felt so secure and weirdly comfortable on the wrist that I just simply wasn’t expecting to see this sort of height associated with it. It literally is a trick on the mind when you rotate your wrist away from you and discover the thickness – I did it countless times and every time as the flat, OK-looking dial started rotating away from me, I could sense my mind panicking as it struggled to understand what it was looking at. It’s absolutely insane.
The Cintrex case is a stellar piece of design, and I must commend Franck Muller on their choice of this particular hand-sewn alligator strap and a tang buckle. On a scale of 1 to 10 for wearability, I was – let’s admit, not without reason – expecting the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 to score about 1, maybe a generous 2… But the integration of the strap (it meets the case up high and deep into the lugs, basically shackling this beast of a watch onto the wrist) as well as its choice of a supple, but strong alligator material meant I never once had a feeling that the watch wants to somersault off my wrist any time I lifted a fork or drank from a glass – we saw the watch during lunch. It felt as secure around the wrist as the top 10% of watches out there, which is probably the biggest secret/surprise of this watch.
On the picture above, you can see this ~1 pound (that’s a guesstimate) watch sitting flush against my wrist, even in a vertical position. The watch wasn’t dragging down itself around my wrist – nah, rather, it was pulling my entire arm. All this is to say that with intelligently picked drill-points for the strap’s spring bars a watch with ab-friggin-solutely gargantuan proportions can be held comfortably and securely around the wrist. This is just a heads-up to luxury desk diver’s watches, as well as all the others: if this monster can sit fine on the wrist, you have no excuse not to be fantastically comfortable every time, all the time.
I encourage everyone to try and decide on their own which side of the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 is more insane. The dial, with its 18 hands and 5 discs, or the case-back with its level 9000 maze of cams, wheels, gears, plates, bridges, and so on. Strangely, the only real legibility issue of the dial comes from the poorly AR-coated curved crystal – I understand curved crystals will always reflect a wider field of view on what’s behind/above the wearer of the watch… But I don’t think I could ever get a totally (or close to it) clear look at the entire dial at the same time. The indications are laid out very intelligently with a smart use of blue and red making the different indications super easy to distinguish. I will not even try to describe where everything is on the dial – please just refer to the chart shared on the previous page to identify the individual functions.
The caseback view from afar is remarkably clean. Although I am sure you can have the white gold frame of the sapphire caseback engraved with personal texts or show-off engravings of some of the watch’s specs, I think the vertically brushed piece frames the super busy movement in a rather classy way. This particular example, though it definitely impressed me with its visual complexity, showed to have lived a somewhat harder life: this particular piece was presented by someone from the brand and so, from the signs of wear on the movement, I’ll go out on a limb and say that this piece must have been disassembled and re-assembled many times already. Given that this is not a customer’s piece, the manufacture can do whatever they want with it and not spend hours (or days) cleaning every last little scratch or grime from the hundreds of pieces that are on show on the caseback’s side – so this, in my book, and since this wasn’t an official event or showing of the watch, is fine.
With that note made, the sheer idea behind the movement is mind-boggling to say the least… And to see this many tiny, 3-dimensional, CNC-cut (and not stamped) pieces come together on a caseback is a watch lover’s dream, for sure. I can barely imagine the time and effort that is required to CAD design, machine, check, machine again, refine, decorate, assemble and perhaps further clean up this many individual pieces. The end result is like a Lange Double Split on a lot of and particularly strong steroids: everywhere you look, you see parts, cams, wheels, each with their own dedicated function that in turn are linked to something else.
I think Franck Muller should make a sapphire cased version of this as soon as possible – if they are serious about showing this watch off and selling more of it. On a final note regarding all these complications that I think everyone should keep in mind: I didn’t try 95% of the complications in this watch and so I can’t comment on how they work… Honestly, I have no idea, nor statistical data on this, but I would be shocked if all the complications on a watch with this level of complexity consistently functioned well at the same time… and I’d be equally as shocked if the watch’s owner actually realized… But you know what? As much as a sacrilege this may seem to say, I don’t think asking this watch to work well for an extended period is an unreasonable request. As far as I’m concerned, and you may disagree, if any brand could show me a watch that had all its functions working at one single moment, I’d consider that a superb achievement – but that wouldn’t lead me to expect it to work all the time. If you think that’s a low bar of expectations, I guess you are yet to get a good idea on the incomprehensible complexities that the interaction between hundreds and hundreds of parts impose.
So, in essence, what was it like to see the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 at its surprise appearance? Refreshing. After a full week of mostly lukewarm, retro-nonsense SIHH 2018, this Franck Muller-style middle finger right in the face of watch conservatism was amusing, fascinating, and in truth, a big one off the Horological Bucket List.
I am certainly happy to see that the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 actually exists and I was positively surprised by the sensible and thoughtful design of its strap and strap integration, wearability, dial layout, and the stark contrast between these and the weight, thickness, and that shiny-ghastly curved crystal. It’s a tour de force that, at the same, is also sort of a parody of the genre that it was designed to, ehm, consummate.