MB&F MB&F x Eddy Jaquet
The project of a lifetime for an exceptional engraver.
In the course of its 15-year history, MB&F has partnered with some of the most talented watchmakers of our generation — Kari Voutilainen, Eric Coudray, Stephen McDonnell, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and Stepan Sarpaneva, to name a handful. Designers and artists as well, from long-time collaborator Eric Giroud and the iconoclastic Alain Silberstein to sculptor Xia Hang and contemporary painter Sage Vaughn. Now, for the first time, MB&F is putting the work of a traditional artisan in the spotlight, with the LM Split Escapement ‘Eddy Jaquet’ Limited Edition: a series of eight unique pieces featuring the extraordinary imagination and skill of the well-known engraver in depicting the novels of Jules Verne.
ABOUT THE ENGRAVINGS
For each unique piece, famed engraver Eddy Jaquet read (or re-read, in some cases) the original work by Jules Verne and viewed any significant secondary creative works based on the books, such as the original published illustrations (which would have been approved by Jules Verne) or films. He then created his own original sketches on templates of the dial plate, depicting key scenes from each story, sometimes combining several tableaux in a single dial plate as a graphic tapestry of storytelling.
The dial plate of the piece inspired by the book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, for example, shows the submarine Nautilus drifting in the depths of the ocean in an unspecified location; a pair of ruined pillars just above the power-reserve dial hints that this is the scene where Captain Nemo and his crew explore the lost city of Atlantis. The dial plate of the piece inspired by Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, by contrast, brings together scenes of the protagonists descending into the planet’s interior, the subterranean ocean teeming with prehistoric life, and, far off in the distance — spoiler alert! — the erupting volcano that returns them to the surface in the novel’s denouement.
Creating these rich scenes on the limited diameter of the dial plates posed its own particular challenges, some of which Jaquet was able to foresee and plan around, and some that he was obliged to invent solutions for, mid-engraving. While working on the first dial plate to be engraved, the piece inspired by Five Weeks In A Balloon, his detailed project notes include observations about the variable thickness of the dial plate. Although flat on the upper side, the dial plate was highly irregular on its reverse, hollowed out in different places to accommodate the different components of the LM Split Escapement engine.
MB&F x Eddy Jaquet © MB&F
In certain parts, the dial plate had a thickness of 1.15mm, which allowed Jaquet ample space to engrave even in deep relief. In three particularly vulnerable areas, the dial plate measured only 0.35mm thick, requiring him to work with an extremely light touch in those places while making sure that the overall aesthetic of the engraving, which is intricately detailed, was not compromised.
In the same project notes on this particular dial plate, Jaquet refers to the trio of zebras visible at the date dial, quietly refreshing themselves at a watering hole on the African savannah. These animals were not part of his initial concept sketch, but were added late in the engraving process for a key point of aesthetic balance. This, however, required Jaquet to adjust the placement of two nearby hippopotami, highlighting the agility and adaptive skills essential to this delicate project.
Jaquet frequently uses darkening treatments as a means to draw the eye to certain elements in his dials and to enhance the dramatic rendering of a scene. Instead of the more commonly seen technique of uniformly applying a dark coating, which is then removed in parts to create the necessary contrast, Jaquet opted for a far more labour-intensive (and ultimately more aesthetically impactful) method for Legacy Machine Split Escapement. Using a jeweller’s electroplating pen, Jaquet painstakingly applied a solution containing ions of a dark rhodium alloy to each dial plate. In this technique, the normally silver-white rhodium is alloyed with a secret mix of other metals to impart a lustrous dark-grey coating.
Using the electroplating pen like an artist’s brush, layering the solution in multiple applications and working with the natural tendency of the rhodium electroplating solution to draw itself along the grooves and surfaces of the dial, Jaquet was able to create a wide range of grey tones to suggest different textures and levels of light. This mastery of chiaroscuro technique is demonstrated in the smoky fire depicted on the Michel Strogoff dial — ink-dark in some areas and pierced by light in others, billowing around a church steeple as Jules Verne described in his tale.
MB&F x Eddy Jaquet © MB&F
ABOUT THE LEGACY MACHINE SPLIT ESCAPEMENT ENGINE
Apart from the large area of space available for engraving on the dial plate, the Legacy Machine Split Escapement is also a singularly appropriate choice for this project with Eddy Jaquet. Featuring the proprietary escapement developed for MB&F by master watchmaker Stephen McDonnell and first introduced in the Legacy Machine Perpetual, the LM Split Escapement is the perfect MB&F creation to bear the engravings inspired by Jules Verne — whose stories are nothing if not sheer escapist delight. Furthermore, the Legacy Machine collection was initially the result of an audacious thought experiment by MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser: what watch would he have created if he had been born in 1867 instead of 1967? The Jules Verne connection brings the story full circle.
The heart of every MB&F machine is twofold. There is a metaphorical aspect, which is its story and inspiration; and there is a literal aspect, which is a mechanical oscillator. These two aspects work together in synchronicity in Legacy Machine Split Escapement to reveal its essential purpose.
The first Legacy Machine drew on the atmosphere of wonder and optimism that characterised the World’s Fair expositions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The eponymous mechanism in the LM Split Escapement channels this heady mix of emotions, an effect achieved by its sharp departure from established watchmaking tradition. By transporting the impulse jewel, anchor and escape wheel to the opposite end of the engine, LM Split Escapement magnifies the impact of its enigmatic balance, akin to an illusionist meticulously hiding all traces of the mechanisms that drive his latest show-stopping opus.
The sensitivity of the balance and the paramount role that it plays in chronometric precision are usually reason enough for watchmakers to avoid straying too far from convention when it comes to escapements. Pure mechanical theory dictates that the point of impulse should be as close as possible to the oscillator, which explains why balance assemblies look very much as they do now — compact components of limited height, with the impulse jewel positioned right beneath the balance wheel and hairspring.
However, the distance between the balance wheel and the impulse jewel is a full 11.78mm, the length of the arbour that traverses the movement and projects through the dial to support the oscillator. A longer arbour increases the likelihood of disrupting influences on the oscillator, as well as the potential distorting effects of a long axle under continuous torsion. The inertia of the balance and the rigidity of the arbour are key factors in this delicate equation, and the LM SE engine is precisely engineered to ensure its chronometric integrity.
Despite the technical challenges of creating the split escapement, the LM SE engine is still designed with aesthetics and classicism in mind — beautifully symmetrical, with bridges that frame their underlying components and curve smoothly around gold chatons and countersunk jewels. And just like in any perfectly executed action, none of the effort is visible to the audience. Only grace and simplicity can be seen. In their quest to channel the breathtaking inventiveness, creative coherence and audacity of Jules Verne, MB&F and Eddy Jaquet could have chosen no other piece than the Legacy Machine Split Escapement.