After a long day admiring traditional watch fare from the more conservative brands, a visit to MB&F offers an energising boost of unorthodox horology. Surrounded by a fleet of intergalactic watches, Balthazar the robot, an eight-legged table clock and even a chirping turtle automaton, it is plain to see that Max Busser’s enterprise is a bubbling cauldron of creativity. Busser is fast becoming the matchmaker extraordinaire of the watch world inviting talented friends from different disciplines to join in his creative cocktails where unlimited imagination coupled with impeccable craftsmanship are the main ingredients.
Marking the first chapter of MB&F’s Performance Art produced in conjunction with a watchmaker, the collaboration with Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva materialised in 2012 with the first MoonMachine, a wonderful hybrid creation housed in MB&F’s HM3 Frog case with the bulgy domed eyes.
MoonMachine 2 takes the driver’s seat in an HM8 case
For 2018, MB&F and Sarpaneva unveil MoonMachine 2, introduced here, as it performs its moon dance inside an HM8 case. In a departure from the original MoonMachine with its flat display of the phases of the moon, MoonMachine2 claims to be the “world’s first projected moonphase display”.
Deciphered in layman’s terms, a projected display is the result of an ingenious optical illusion that was already deployed in the HM5 watch with its “heads-up” display of the time. Like driver’s watches of the 1970s, which could be consulted without the driver having to swivel his wrist, time is read vertically and displayed perpendicularly to the movement. What is novel here is the integration of Sarpaneva’s moon face complication placed bang in the middle of the time display, between the jumping hours and trailing minutes.
The man in the Moon is Sarpaneva
The word lunatic, derived from Late Latin lunaticus was used in the late 13th century to describe people “affected with periodic insanity, dependent on the changes of the moon”. Stepan Sarpaneva is, from what he reveals on his webpage, a bit of a lunatic: “The Moon bothers me; even if I cannot see it, I can feel it. During the Full Moon and New Moon, I’m especially sensitive…I sleep badly. Am I cursed?”
Exerting its gravitational pull on his psyche, the Moon plays a key role in Sarpaneva’s design language and his moon face has become almost a trademark symbol for the Finnish watchmaker. Not any old moon, mind you; Sarpaneva’s moon is very personal and is modelled on his own face. An enigmatic moon, the face depicted features a wide nose and a piercing gaze framed under arched eyebrows. “Everybody here in Finland floats around with an air of slight melancholy,” claims Sarpaneva who rejected the idea of a smiling moon as being incongruent with his nationality.
Not one, but three Sarpaneva moons
Crafted in precious white or red gold –depending on the case material chosen – and lovingly finished by hand, three mini Sarpaneva moons have been integrated into the MoonMachine 2. The largest of the three moons is set in the winding rotor and the other two are placed between the display of the hours and minutes. To get an idea of the Lilliputian dimensions involved, the smallest moons indicating the phases of our neighbouring satellite are just 4.5mm wide and 0.35mm thick.
To get the moons as flat as humanly possible, the gold discs were stamped and then hand-turned on a lathe before being manually ground with a stone tool to a thickness of 0.35mm. Like gold foil, their wafer-thin profiles are so delicate that the slightest pressure can perforate the surface and roughly eight out of 10 moons are discarded.
MB&F pulls the rabbit out of the hat again with its optical prism trick to refract the hours and minutes of MoonMachine 2 making it seem as though the time indications are upright as opposed to their real flat position. Sarpaneva’s moon phase complication is also subjected to the prism treatment and performs its rotations in a vertical position. Although the prisms increase the size of the hours and minutes by 20%, this particular magnification could not be applied to the moon phase because of the risk of distortion.
Given the impossibly diminutive dimensions of the moon, it is amazing to see the rich details of the physiognomy and the star-studded sky in the background. The gold Korona ring – a circular aperture that indicates the current phase of the moon – is another Sarpaneva speciality and was inspired by the cosmic phenomenon of the corona, or aura of plasma that forms around the Sun’s edge and can be seen during a total solar eclipse.
Adapting to Sarpaneva’s moons
To house Sarpaneva’s moon phase complication, MB&F tinkered with the case and engine of its existing HM8 model. The case size has increased by 0.55mm and includes a lateral pusher to adjust the phases of the moon. MB&F also replaced the original HM8 battle-axe rotor with a Sarpaneva radial web of titanium. This motif, used throughout Sarpaneva’s Korona watch collection, was in fact inspired by a mundane drain grating. “One night, really late, walking home with my friends,” recalls Sarpaneva, “the Moon was full and bright and shining on the openworked iron gratings that surround the trees on my street.
For some reason, those details just popped into my head and stayed there…” As you might have anticipated, the openworked radial web is embellished with the third gold Sarpaneva moon face. To emphasise this hallmark Sarpaneva pattern, the sapphire crystal glass on the movement also features a metallised web motif.
MoonMachine 2 is presented in three limited editions of 12 watches. The full titanium models feature white gold moons against a light-blue sky; the blackened titanium models come with white gold moons and a dark-blue sky, and the red gold and titanium models display red gold moons and an anthracite sky.
Prices range from CHF 88,000 (before taxes) for the titanium versions to CHF 95,000 (before taxes) for the red gold version. More details on www.mbandf.com.