Together Apart
Brian Cheong 
The LM SE in blue frosted dial

MB&F’s Legacy Machine collection began as a tribute to classical watchmaking by respecting the motivations behind traditional engineering and craftsmanship while elevating them for the 21st century. The first watch LM1 sets the design standard for the collection by placing the escapement, the heartbeat of a watch, on the face of the watch.

“The Legacy Machine (MB&F has a habit of calling its watches ‘machines’) is about revisiting complications and the wishes of the watchmakers in the old days. The escapement was deliberately placed in front because that was the obsession of watchmakers back then,” explains Charris Yadigaroglou, chief communications officer of MB&F.

The latest Legacy Machine boasts possibly the purest form of the escapement, in the sense that only the oscillating balance wheel is left on the dial side. The mechanism is linked to the rest of the escapement (the anchor and escape wheel) via an extremely thin arbour (or shaft). Hence the name, Legacy Machine ‘Split Escapement’ (LM SE).

Traditionally, every component of the escapement is assembled close to one another to minimise external interferences. However, during the development of the Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar, collaborator and fellow watchmaker Stephen McDonnell found that the dial was a little too crowded with indications and mechanisms. In order to clean it up, he decided to move some parts of the escapement to the back, retaining only the balance wheel on the dial side.

“But then there was the problem of finding someone who would be willing to machine the arbour to the most precise measurements in terms of length and tolerance,” elaborates Yadigaroglou. “We asked a few people but no one would take up the challenge until we found a company called, aptly enough, Precision Engineering.”

The length of the arbour is 11.78mm – any longer and it increases the chances of disruptions to the oscillator as well as the potentially distorting effects of a long axle under continuous torsion. Since it can hardly afford any margin of error, stability is enhanced by fitting both ends of the arbour with anti-shock jewel bearings. The bridge holding the anchor and escape wheel is also fixed separately for optimal adjustment. As more energy is lost through a higher mass, two barrels are bestowed upon the movement for a power reserve of 72 hours.

The split escapement first appeared in the LM Perpetual Calendar

Two years after appearing, out of a certain necessity, in the Perpetual Calendar – which incidentally won the Calendar Watch award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve in 2016 – the split escapement now takes the spotlight in LM SE.

“What was a solution to a problem became such a nice, cool feature,” enthuses Yadigaroglou. “There is a lot of animation on both sides of the dial, which we and the collectors love. Unlike the Perpetual Calendar, there is not a lot going on in this watch. We wanted a simple dial (to better showcase the split escapement).”

There are three sub-dials – the hours and minutes at ‘12’, the power reserve at ‘5’ and the date at ‘8’. Their silver tone makes a beautiful contrast against the micro-textured frosted finish of the dial, rendered in a choice of blue, ruthenium, red gold or yellow gold.

Yadigaroglou points out that such finishing regularly appeared in 18th and 19th century pocket watches. “It was done using acid and fire in the beginning. But that was too dangerous – I don’t think it’s even legal today. Today, we use a wire brush to press onto a smooth metal surface.”

The right amount of pressure is required to achieve the desired effect. “Too hard and you damage the metal; too soft, and you see nothing.”

He also shares that apart from aesthetic reasons, the frosting was also a form of shield against dust. “Antique watches were neither water nor dust resistant. The irregular surface helped to trap dust so that it wouldn’t go into the movement.”

Then there is the date, which can be adjusted by pressing a button at ‘7’. In LM SE, only a few clicks or less are required to set the date, which is a far easier task than winding with a crown. “We think from the watch wearer’s point of view. When they decide to strap on a mechanical watch that has been idle for some time, they usually just set the time, hardly bothering with the date because of the extra effort involved. With the LM SE, there is no more excuse,” smiles Yadigaroglou.

An independent watch brand, MB&F is short for Max Büsser and Friends, the former being the visionary founder of the company. While the ‘friends’ part is ever-evolving, its essence as a group of watchmakers and designers coming together to create something spectacular has remained the core part of the brand to this day.

“Nothing’s changed except that it’s a lot more organised now,” observes Yadigaroglou. “The spirit is still the same. When Max wanted Kari Voutilainen to work on the first Legacy Machine timepiece, Kari actually turned him down at first. But after seeing the sketches that Max had done, he added a few of his own ideas to them, resulting in him finally agreeing to work on the project despite being busy with his own business.”

McDonnell, the architect behind LM Perpetual Calendar and the split escapement

McDonnell, the brainchild behind the split escapement, also goes back a long way with MB&F. He came to Büsser’s aid when he was caught in a bind while working on the very first MB&F watch more than 10 years ago. “The supplier who was supposed to deliver the movement for us bailed at the last minute. Max was devastated as he had already received advanced payment for the watch,” relates Yadigaroglou. “McDonnell, who was working as a professor at a watchmaking school then, stepped in and helped him complete the movement during his spare time in the evenings. In the end, he saved the company and Max’s career.”

He adds: “(MB&F) is about the people and trust. There are more handshakes than actual contracts signed. That’s the spirit of the brand.”

And it has proven to be a boon to the brand – and the industry as a whole – as this unique, almost casual approach has translated into some of the most extraordinary modern timepieces ever.

MB&F is available exclusively at The Hour Glass.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 256.