Introducing Balthazar, the new hyper-cool Robot Clock of MB&F x L’Epée
If you want me to be frank (and I’m usually rather direct), I wonder how useless those MB&F Clocks actually are… Who, in 2016, needs a table clock? Of course, no one. However that’s probably why, together with their unique designs, the MB&F Clocks are so incredibly cool. While the concept of the 19th century clock placed on a marble mantelpiece is, to a large audience, somewhat boring, the idea of those totally irrational, quite childish and purely mechanical clocks by MB&F and L’Epee makes a lot of sense, just to fight our modern way-too-rational daily context. Following Melchior, the Robot-Clock launched in 2015, here is its big brother Balthazar. But beware… If the front looks robotic, there is also a dark side to Balthazar, as there is in all of us.
What is Balthazar? It is a massive (40cm / 16 inches height, 8.2kg / 18 pounds) steel, bronze and brass robot table-clock made of 618 components, all entirely finished with beautiful haute-horlogerie details, with 35-day power reserve (with indicator), a display of the time with slow-jumping hours and sweeping-minutes, retrograde seconds and a double hemisphere moonphase indication. Balthazar, just like all the clocks developed jointly by MB&F and L’Epée, is a massive piece of horology, a frankly interesting piece of mechanical engineering, with a complex architecture of the movement. However, the beauty also lays in the concept, the design and his “duality” (later more about this) that Balthazar feels so desirable.
Like all the creations of Max Büsser, there’s a lot of childhood references in Balthazar. Just like the HM6 was greatly inspired by 1970’s Sci-Fi comics, this new Robot Clock is again a reference to slightly vintage visions of robots in art. “A creative adult is a child who survived” is the motto of MB&F and this new vision of a clock is clearly continuing in this path. Just like Melchior, Balthazar hides most technical components -wheels, gears and barrels are visible- under his armour. With Balthazar, the idea of time seems almost secondary, as the design and the interaction with the object is even more emphasised. Well, don’t get me wrong here, it is a machine to display the time, but above all, it is a an object of fun and enjoyment.
The front side -what Max calls the “light side”- is indeed a robot, with his smily face and his red eyes that continually scan the surroundings. These “eyes” are actually 20-second retrograde displays. The time is displayed on Balthazar’s chest; on the left an hour-disc that makes a slow-jumping motion every hour, and on the right are the minutes that makes one rotation per hour. Underneath the hour and minute display, Balthazar also indicates his power reserve (35-day). Finally, his shield… It is not only for the decorum. It is the “key of his power” – literally speaking, as it integrates the clock-winding and time-setting key. There’s more, and Balthazar, like all of us, has another side, a much darker side…
Rotate his torso 180 degrees and discover a terrifying Balthazar, along with a dual hemisphere moon phase indicator (accurate for 122 years) “that should help you anticipate the evolutions of your mood“. This second side has a different display but also a different head. Balthazar is no more a robot but a skull-head machine, with something of a Terminator. One thing remains for the two sides: the brain. Under the sapphire dome sits the regulating organ, protected with an Incabloc shock protection system to minimize risk of damage to this critical component when the clock is being transported or moved. Finally, Balthazar does more than display horological events: as well as rotating around the hips, his arms bend at both the shoulders and the elbows, and his hands can clasp and hold objects.
Now after reading all this, you might wonder why the name Balthazar was chosen, especially after the first robot-clock that was named Melchior? Once again, like all creations of Max Büsser, there’s a highly personal factor. Instead of a combination of letters and numerals, like most of the robots seen in art, the name could be a reference to biblical history… Balthazar –along with Melchior and Caspar– is one of the names of the three wise men, or Biblical Magi. However Max drew inspiration from something else!
Maximilian Büsser explains: “In the Büsser family, for over five centuries from the 1400s onwards, every eldest Büsser son was either called Melchior or Balthazar. It alternated. My grandfather was called Melchior and he hated it, so he had everybody call him Max, which is how I became a Max. My grandfather hated the Melchior-Balthazar thing so much that he put an end to this 500-year-old tradition by calling my father Mario… Now, a century later, I happen to love the names Melchior and Balthazar!”
On thing to consider with Balthazar, like with all the clocks made by MB&F and L’Epée, is that it’s not because these objects are much larger than a wrist watch that they are easier to produce or to finish. Like a watch movement, the engine of Balthazar features Geneva waves, angling, mirror polishing, sand-blasting, circular and vertical satin finishing. Once again, it is superbly finished and respects all the codes of traditional haute-horlogerie. However, don’t get things wrong, finishing a clock is also extremely complex -maybe even more than a watch- considering the size of the surfaces. For polishing, for example, you need to apply the same pressure as when finishing a watch movement but on a much larger surface. Any variation in pressure will be visible in the final result, and the only thing you want is a beautiful even finishing of all parts.
Balthazar is a great creation by MB&F and L’Epée, and is again proof that the useless becomes essential, and is highly desirable. Max and his friends play on childhood and Sci-Fi themes, which both have a strong echo in many of us. Apart from the look and the concept, which are both fascinating, the execution is just superb. Balthazar is a limited edition of 4 times 50 pieces, for 4 colours – black, silver, blue or green, for the armour plates. This great creation has a price – CHF 52,000 Swiss Francs (ex. taxes) – which conferring the technicality and superb finishing feels quite justified… and anyway, pleasure and dreams are not to be justified by cash! More on MBandF.com.
While interesting and certainly crafted with quality, this robot does nothing but passively display the time. Not a single automaton behavior other than “grasping objects in its hands”. This is simply a lack of imagination and the easy way out of making an object that can really inspire awe. There was much better crafting 200 years ago. Balthazar should be able to doing something kinetic and mechanically amazing. Instead, he is a very expensive and shiney piece of tchotcke that adds nothing horological or animatronic to the world.