PARIS — The saga of Swiss watchmaker Franck Muller took a surprising turn Thursday when Swatch Group said a member of its management board, Jean-Claude Biver, would take a sabbatical year to help Muller “in various activities.”

A spokeswoman for Swatch Group declined further comment, but it is believed that Biver and Muller will attempt to take control of Muller’s disputed firm or start a new watchmaking venture.

Muller and Biver could not be reached for comment.

The news comes amid growing acrimony between Muller and his ex-business partner, Vartan Sirmakes.

As reported, the two had a bitter falling out late last year and are preparing to soon face off in a Geneva court over control of Muller’s namesake firm.

Muller has filed a lawsuit in Geneva’s commercial court seeking the dissolution of the firm as well as damages. Sirmakes has filed a defamation complaint.

A ruling is expected this spring, according to sources.

The two men founded the brand in 1991. Muller was the creative part of the partnership and earned wide acclaim for his stylish, oversized, slightly vintage timepieces in vibrant colors.

Accusations brandished between the former partners have included allegations of fraud.

In late November, Muller’s uncle was arrested on charges of an alleged counterfeiting scheme.

Meanwhile, Sirmakes has been accused of employing clandestine workers from Armenia, according to Swiss press reports.

This story first appeared in the January 9, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.