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Max Büsser’s Legacy Machine split escapement challenges convention

The MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement’s aesthetic beauty extends below the surface, challenging horological convention with its intriguing, namesake feature.

Like its name suggests, the MB&F Legacy Machine collection’s newest intrigue, the Legacy Machine Split Escapement (LMSE), shines the spotlight on a Split Escapement. It refers to an unusual arrangement of the escapement, balance and escape wheel, where the balance appears to oscillate without any impulse. Horological tradition assumes that the balance assembly, anchor and escape wheel are built as closely to one another as possible, but the Split Escapement challenges convention: The balance wheel and escapement are separated by the dial yet linked by a peculiarly long shaft 11.78mm high and only 0.2mm wide on the tips.

For a brand that started with the vision of futuristic, ultra-modern watches, the Legacy Machines (LM) were an epiphany. Founder Max Büsser recalls the beginnings of MB&F, created in 2005 after he resigned from his managing director role at Harry Winston Timepieces. Determined to do away with classics, Max Büsser launched the Horological Machines (HM), a series of bizarre timepieces that offer a different take on time. In contrast, the concept of LM was a trip back to the past no one else in Büsser’s team wanted to take. They believed it just wasn’t characteristic of a forward-thinking MB&F.

Büsser, however, had a point to prove: A classic doesn’t have to be boring. In tribute to the giants of traditional watchmaking, Max Büsser stepped into his figurative time machine and pondered over the watches he might make in the 19th century. With a bespoke and large “flying” balance wheel on top of the movement, a vertical power reserve indicator and completely independent dual time zones, the LM1 launched in 2011. Powered by a manual winding, proprietary 3D horological movement, the watch bears a traditional aesthetic amid these avant-garde elements.

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That these two fascinatingly different collections (the wacky HMs and classic LMs) come from the same person makes one wonder about the clockwork in his mind. “I’m completely schizophrenic,” Büsser laughs. “I have to compartmentalise, otherwise it just doesn’t work. The HM is my psychotherapy, an introspection into my life; it works from my guts. The LM is a tribute to the past, so I work in my head. You will never see futuristic things in the LM.”

In the LMSE, no world premieres were made even though it features the seamless perpetual calendar, split escapement and clutch system on the pusher from previous editions. No, this watch was created for art’s sake. “Everybody wants a more complicated, innovative movement, but I wanted something beautiful,” explains Büsser. “It seems quaint, but we’ve done these world premieres, so let’s just do something we want to see.”

More than an inspiration, the LMSE was born from a story untold. Max Büsser recalls the 2015 collaboration with Stephen McDonnell, the Legacy Machine Perpetual, which had a defining (albeit overlooked) feature. “Everyone concentrated on the revolutionary perpetual calendar system, but it also had a first-ever movement with the balance wheel flying on top and the escapement at the back,” he says.

The radical feature, previously in the shadow of the perpetual calendar, now enjoys its own spotlight two years later. The team reunited with McDonnell, creating four LMSE variations, each in 18-piece limited editions. An 18k white gold case borders a handcrafted frosted dial plate in blue, ruthenium, red gold or yellow gold.

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Of course, the greatest challenge in the making of the LMSE remains the escapement. The great distance between the balance wheel and the impulse jewel makes the oscillator prone to disruptive influences, and demands a precisely engineered engine to accommodate its peculiar arrangement.

Büsser tries to put the unusual arrangement and its challenges in perspective, pointing at the small space around us, each side barely 6m wide. “It’s like having a shaft four floors up a building, turning on 8cm. Then, imagine a balance wheel as big as this room.”

The fifth edition in the Legacy Machines collection joins eight other Horological Machines, but Büsser shows no signs of slowing down — even at the risk of complete failure.

Büsser recalls his “entrepreneurship suicide”, the HM4 Thunderbolt from 2010. The company invested three years’ worth of profit in that piece, but six months before its grand debut, Büsser confessed to his team that he didn’t believe anybody would buy the watch. True enough, retailers at Baselworld 2010 were perplexed by the masterpiece, leaving MB&F without orders. Morale was low for a few months. Until the world caught on.

“Suddenly, emails started coming in and phones started ringing,” he says. “Retailers were looking for that weird thing from Baselworld. Some guy in the store wanted to buy it”, he added. “It was the piece I was most terrified would never sell,” says Büsser. The Thunderbolt ended up selling like hotcakes, and the company never managed to deliver enough.

“That freed me, and now I am ready to take way more creative risks,” he smiles. “I’ve got six completely different pieces in the pipeline as we speak. There have been pieces I’ve had to shelf because technically we can’t find solutions. We all need to keep fantasies. If you actually get to do everything you’ve dreamt of, you’re empty.”

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