MB&F is a brand known for its incredible and highly imaginative watches. However, MB&F clocks are just as remarkable deserving of a presentation of some of the most beautiful, clever and spectacular examples produced.
In its short existence, MB&F has become a household name amongst the most extraordinary, exciting and imaginative watchmakers in the world. Their watches explore the farthest realms of a child’s fascination with space, time and engineering yet with the technical skill of a master watchmaker and devoid of any vulgarity commonly associated with such watches.
When I first encountered an MB&F, the famed HM7 ‘Aquapod’, at Baselworld in 2017, I was taken aback by the beauty and madness of such a timepiece. In design, the watches before me were unique and brought to mind a phrase I once heard applied to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor: “Bach is entirely unpredictable yet totally inevitable.”
However, MB&F’s Max Büsser appears to take a much wider view of horology than many watchmakers with a very successful range of clocks produced in collaboration with L’Epée 1839 — the eminently-respected clockmaker. Of course, L’Epée has a very rich history of its own. A simple google search will confirm the way this company of Swiss background but French origin has won awards for its work in the past. This pairing of L’Epée and MB&F has yielded some of the most fascinating clocks in recent memory.
Brought on by the release of MB&F’s new Starfleet Explorer clock, I would like to take a look at five of the most wonderful MB&F clocks which catch the imagination like little else.
Balthazar: MB&F’s Origins
The first MB&F clock to discuss is one which takes its name from a traditional forename in founder Max Büsser’s family: Balthazar. Presenting the duality of man & machine, Balthazar is a double-sided clock taking human form. Built from a mix of plated brass, bronze and stainless steel, this figure conceals the time in digital form, a 35-day power reserve as shown by an indicator, a double moonphase indicator and retrograde seconds.
The armoured figure towers upwards with fully-mobile joints and a shield to conceal the key. A few details which capture the imagination are the domed, sapphire skull which displays the balance wheel and the red pupils which survey the clock’s surroundings as retrograde 20-second counters. This complication also creates the skull’s eyes from the jewels upon which it operates. The addition of each face on the rotating discs of the moonphase adds another piece of intrigue to the creation.
Destination Moon: Blasting Off
The second MB&F clock which definitely deserves a place in this article is the 2017 Destination Moon. Taking its inspiration from the wonder and fascination of the 1960s for space as expressed in science fiction and even advertising, this is actually a much more simple clock than Balthazar. Displaying the time through through rotating discs and a 17-jewel, 8-day movement wound from the bottom of the fuselage, this clock is actually stunningly simple. Instead of being hidden, the owner can contemplate the transfer of energy from the oversized crown upwards to the time display via the visible balance.
Even with such a lovely movement, the focal point with such a clock is the form. Conceived to echo the lines of the idealised rockets of the 1950s and ’60s set to take humanity to new heights, this clock is a stunning display like a shard of steel. To add to the overall form, the landing pods (or engines as I have always envisaged them) are palladium-plated brass which can be enhanced with a PVD finish in stealthy black or iridescent blue or green.
A final touch to this homage to an imaginative time is magnetically-attached figure of ‘Neil’ climbing the ladder in his steel and sterling silver space suit. It’s difficult not to feel the pull of one’s inner-child when looking at this spectacular clock straight out of a Ken Adam set for a 1960s movie.
Starfleet Explorer: Into Deep Space (Nine?)
The most recent addition to the collection (and the inspiration behind this article) is the new Starfleet Explorer. Coming six years after the Starfleet Machine, MB&F’s first clock produced in collaboration with L’Epée, this clock takes a similar space-station shape but in a smaller format.
I think that I should say this immediately, this form appeals to me particularly as (he says expecting the worst) I have loved the other-worldly visions behind Star Trek. Varying from the spectacular to the altogether ridiculous, the world of Star Trek shows a modern interpretation of the ’60s dream of space exploration. This same sense of wonder is entirely present in a form which will be familiar to those who watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
What made a pretty remarkable vision for a future space station also produces a spectacular clock with the movement displaying the time through a rotating disc for the minutes and a rotating indicator for the hours. This runs on a palladium-treated brass movement with an eight-day power reserve. Capturing the depths of space, the MB&F Starfleet Explorer really is unique.
Octopod: Under the Waves
So, we’ve now ventured across land and towards the stars but what about under the waves of one of earth’s true mysteries: the sea? Well, the MB&F Octopod may be just the thing. Inspired by octopodes (MB&F make the correct point that ‘octopi’ is incorrect due to the Greek origins of the word. If that’s so, why not actually use the Greek ending and call them ‘octopodes’?), this clock might be the most spectacular made by MB&F.
Taking clear inspiration from marine cephalopods, this clock reveals its movement atop eight fully-articulated legs clad in PVD-coloured covers. The movement, sitting within a gyroscope-like cage of glass and metal also serves to hint at marine chronometers of old. This is especially apparent when you look at the numerals punctuating the ring around the movement.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this clock is its movement. In a twist somewhat reminiscent of the Ulysse Nardin Freak, the balance wheel of this watch is placed on the minute hand whilst the movement baseplate is anti-reflective glass in order to appear to float. In a watch so grounded with its eight limbs, the movement (in spite of its 8-day power reserve) appears weightless in an aquatic world.
Medusa: Time in the Hadal Zone
The Medusa is, I must say, my favourite of the MB&F clocks made with L’Epée as it takes us to the greatest depths of the ocean where jellyfish dwell waiting for the light of a passing submersible to illuminate their colours. This theme of colour is stunningly represented by the glass bell of Murano glass which was only able to be produced by one manufacturer of the original 40 considered.
Shown either on its steel legs on suspended in the air with matching Murano glass legs swaying beneath it, the life and motion of a jellyfish is seen throughout this watch. Even the luminous markings include the box pattern seen on the top of a real jellyfish. To add to this, the skill needed to match the legs to the bell is rather remarkable.
Mechanically, this aquatic wonder is furnished with a pair of rotating discs to display the time and a seven-day power reserve. The most appealing touch, however, is the inclusion of a marine propeller at the bottom to wind this example of MB&F clocks.
Of course, MB&F clocks are rare and expensive yet, in some ways, I am delighted that they are. You see, in recent years, desktop mechanical clocks have been regarded neither as collectable nor desirable yet here comes MB&F with the skill of a historic clockmaker to produce machines to carry away the imagination. Suffice it to say that I love them.