Six years after the launch of the Starfleet Machine, the first clock co-created by MB&F and L’Epée 1839, a new expedition is underway. The space station returns in 2020, in a more compact size and enhanced with bright colours, accompanied by a fleet of three small spacecraft exploring the universe; it rightfully bears the name of Starfleet Explorer.
Designed by MB&F, the Starfleet Explorer is an intergalactic spaceship-cum-table clock crafted by L’Epée 1839, the last remaining Swiss manufacture specialised in high-end table clocks. Not only does it display the hours and minutes, it also features an animation in which three spacecraft perform a five-minute orbit of the station. The highly visible, superlatively finished in-house movement boasts an exceptional eight-day power reserve. The mechanism can be manually wound using a double-ended key serving to wind the movement as well as to set the time.
Hours and minutes are indicated by means of two discs, along with an aperture and a brightly-coloured hand. More specifically, the minutes on a revolving radar dish are read off when they appear through the centre of a fixed metal aperture, satin-brushed by hand and anodised, that follows the dome’s curved contours.
The hours disc placed just below remains motionless. An hour hand – likewise satin-brushed and anodised – indicates the hour by spinning in its place and performing a complete turn around the disc in 12 hours.
Starfleet Explorer also features a significantly original new element in the form of three tiny spacecraft, lined up along the same axis at regular intervals and placed inside the actual Starfleet movement, the heart of the mechanism, around which they revolve at a rate of one full turn every five minutes: a space exploration guided by the mothership.
The Starfleet Explorer’s movement is placed horizontally, but its escapement is vertically positioned. The impeccably finished stainless stain or palladium-treated brass components (with the exception of the 11 jewels) are designed and manufactured in the L’Epee 1839 Swiss atelier. The gears and mainspring barrel are on full display thanks to the skeletonised mainplate and concentric C-shaped external structure. The Starfleet Explorer can rest on both ends of its vertical landing gear; a useful feature when turning it over to wind the mainspring and set the time. It can also be leant sideways so as to offer a different view of the intergalactic horological station.
Starfleet Explorer is launched as three limited editions of 99 pieces each in blue, green and red.
Table clocks – (extremely) large watches
The Starfleet Explorer is a table clock, featuring essentially the same mechanisms as a wristwatch, only larger: gear train, mainspring barrel, balance wheel, escape wheel and pallet-lever. L’Epée 1839’s regulator also features an Incabloc shock protection system, something generally only seen in wristwatches, which minimises the risk of damage when the clock is being transported.
One might be tempted to think that the more substantial size of the components simplifies work. Larger components, however, make finely finishing the movement much more difficult to handle than finishing a wristwatch, because of the bigger surface areas.
Arnaud Nicolas, CEO L’Epée 1839 explains: “It’s not just a case of double the size of the components, it’s double the time it takes to finish them. The complexity increases exponentially. For polishing you need to apply the same pressure as you would finishing a watch movement, but on a bigger surface, and that’s more challenging. It’s thanks to the experience and dexterity of our clockmakers that the Starfleet Explorer can feature such superlative fine-finishing.”
Form follows function
The details of the polished movement can be fully appreciated by the naked eye, thanks in large part to the Starfleet Explorer’s extremely open concentric C-shaped external structure, to which the mainplate is attached.
The outermost C-shape features three vertical arcs on which the clock rests. These graceful supports play a role in the design of the model, but also have a very practical application: to enable the Starfleet Explorer to be placed upside down for time-setting and rewinding using a special key.
MB&F + L’EPEE 1839 Starfleet Explorer Technical Specifications
Starfleet Explorer is launched as three limited editions of 99 pieces each in blue, green and red.
- Minutes: indicated by a fixed curved aperture on the mobile upper dome, performing a complete rotation every 60 minutes.
- Hours: indicated by a mobile hand, performing a complete rotation every 12 hours on a fixed disc.
- The minutes aperture and the hour hand are satin-brushed and anodised, in blue, green or red.
- The hour dome and the minutes disc are satin-brushed and feature MB&F’s signature numerals.
- Height: approx. 11cm
- Diameter: approx. 16.5cm
- Number of parts: 19
- Materials: stainless steel for the main structure, hand-lacquered polymer for the three spacecraft
- L’Epée 1839 in-house designed and manufactured movement
- Balance frequency: 18,000 vph / 2.5Hz
- One barrel, power reserve: eight days
- Number of parts: 95
- Jewels: 11
- Incabloc shock protection system
- Manual-winding: double-ended key to set time and wind the movement
- Mechanism and mainplate in palladium-treated brass
L’EPEE 1839 – the premier clock manufacture in Switzerland
Dedicated to making high-end clocks, L’Epée has been a prominent Swiss Manufacture for over 180 years. Founded in 1839 by Auguste L’Epée in France’s Besançon region, the company originally focused on producing music boxes and watch components. The brand was synonymous at the time with entirely hand-made pieces.
From 1850 onwards, the Manufacture became a leading light in the production of ‘platform’ escapements, creating regulators especially for alarm and table clocks, as well as musical watches. It became a well-known specialist owning a large number of patents on exceptional escapements and the chief supplier of escapements to several celebrated watchmakers of the day. L’Epée has won a number of gold medal awards at international exhibitions.
During the 20th century, L’Epée owed much of its reputation to its superlative carriage clocks; for many, the clock of the influential and powerful, in addition to being the gift of choice of French government officials to elite guests. In 1976 when the Concorde supersonic aircraft entered commercial service, L’Epée wall clocks were chosen to furnish the cabins, providing passengers with visual feedback of the time. In 1994, L’Epée showed its thirst for a challenge when it built the world’s biggest clock with a compensated pendulum, the Giant Regulator, the making of which is celebrated in the Guinness Book of Records.
L’Epée 1839 is now based in Delémont in the Swiss Jura Mountains. Under the impetus of its CEO Arnaud Nicolas, it has developed an exceptional table clock collection, encompassing a full range of sophisticated clocks.
The collection is based around three themes:
Creative Art – first and foremost artistic models often developed in partnership with external designers as joint creations. These clocks surprise, inspire and sometimes even shock the most seasoned collectors. They are intended for those consciously or unconsciously looking for exceptional, one of a kind objects.
Contemporary Timepieces – technical creations with a contemporary design (Le Duel, Duet, etc.) and minimalist, avant-garde models (La Tour), incorporating complications such as retrograde seconds, power-reserve indicators, moon phases, tourbillons, chiming mechanisms and perpetual calendars.
Carriage Clocks – carriage clocks, also known as “officer’s clocks”. These historical models stemming from the brand heritage also feature their fair share of complications: chiming mechanisms, minute repeaters, calendars, moon phases, tourbillons and more.
All models are designed and manufactured in-house. Their technical prowess, combination of form and function, very long power reserves and remarkable finishes have become signature features of the brand.
MB&F – Genesis of a Concept Laboratory
Founded in 2005, MB&F is the world’s first-ever horological concept laboratory. With almost 20 remarkable calibres forming the basis of the critically acclaimed Horological and Legacy Machines, MB&F is continuing to follow Founder and Creative Director Maximilian Büsser’s vision of creating 3-D kinetic art by deconstructing traditional watchmaking.
After 15 years managing prestigious watch brands, Maximilian Büsser resigned from his position as Managing Director at Harry Winston in 2005 to create MB&F – Maximilian Büsser & Friends. MB&F is an artistic and micro-engineering laboratory dedicated to designing and crafting small series of radical concept watches by bringing together talented horological professionals with whom Büsser both respects and enjoys working.
In 2007, MB&F unveiled its first Horological Machine, HM1. HM1’s sculptured, three- dimensional case and beautifully finished engine (movement) set the standard for the idiosyncratic Horological Machines that have followed – all Machines that tell the time, rather than Machines to tell the time. The Horological Machines have explored space (HM2, HM3, HM6), the sky (HM4, HM9), the road (HM5, HMX, HM8) and water (HM7).
In 2011, MB&F launched its round-cased Legacy Machine collection. These more classical pieces – classical for MB&F, that is – pay tribute to 19th-century watchmaking excellence by reinterpreting complications by the great horological innovators of yesteryear to create contemporary objets d’art. The LM1 and LM2 were followed by LM101, the first MB&F Machine to feature a movement developed entirely in-house. The LM Perpetual, LM Split Escapement and LM Thunderdome broadened the collection further. MB&F generally alternates between launching contemporary, resolutely unconventional Horological Machines and historically inspired Legacy Machines. Last year (2019) marked a turning point with the creation of the first MB&F Machine dedicated to women: the LM FlyingT.
As the F stands for Friends, it was only natural for MB&F to develop collaborations with artists, watchmakers, designers and manufacturers they admire. This brought about two new categories: Performance Art and Co-creations. While Performance Art pieces are MB&F machines revisited by external creative talent, Co-creations are not wristwatches but other types of machines, engineered and crafted by unique Swiss Manufactures from MB&F ideas and designs. Many of these Co-creations, such as the clocks created with L’Epée 1839, tell the time while collaborations with Reuge and Caran d’Ache have generated other forms of mechanical art.
To ensure an appropriate platform for all these machines, Büsser had the idea of placing them in an art gallery alongside various forms of mechanical art created by other artists, rather than in a traditional storefront. This brought about the creation of the first MB&F M.A.D.Gallery (M.A.D. stands for Mechanical Art Devices) in Geneva, which would later be followed by M.A.D.Galleries in Taipei, Dubai and Hong Kong.
There have been a number of distinguished accolades reminding us of the innovative nature of MB&F’s journey so far, including, to name but a few, no less than five Grand Prix awards from the famous Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève: in 2019, the prize for Best Ladies Complication went to the LM FlyingT, in 2016, the LM Perpetual won the Grand Prix for Best Calendar Watch; in 2012, the Legacy Machine No.1 was awarded both the Public Prize (voted for by horology fans) and the Best Men’s Watch Prize (voted for by the professional jury). In 2010, MB&F won Best Concept and Design Watch for the HM4 Thunderbolt; and, in 2015, a Red Dot: Best of the Best award – the top prize at the international Red Dot Awards – for the HM6 Space Pirate.