Last year, we brought you the news regarding the robot-like table clock Melchior by MB&F here and earlier this year the news about its small robot-like sibling Sherman here. Well, just as if those two robot-looking table clocks were not impressive enough, today we present you the newest member of the MB&F L'Epée 1839 clock family. Joining all the other clocks that MB&F had produced in collaboration with renowned clock maker L'Epée 1839, the new MB&F Balthazar is a sophisticated and imposing high-precision robot clock displaying jumping hours, retrograde seconds and a 35-day power reserve. Weighing in at over 18 pounds —8.2 kilos— and standing nearly 16 inches tall —39.4 centimeters— the new MB&F Balthazar clock is composed of 618 beautifully finished, micro-engineered parts. Perhaps one of the coolest things about this clock, is that by rotating his torso 180 degrees, Balthazar turns into a mean robot with a skull-like face and a dual hemisphere moon phase indicator accurate for 122 years.
On the front or light side —as MB&F refers to it—, the clock features a 35-day power reserve indicator at its waist line and “slow” jumping hours and trailing minutes via two discs on the chest. Meanwhile, his bright red eyes are actually 20-second retrograde displays and Balthazar’s “brain” under the polished glass dome is where the precision regulator of the clockwork is located.
As one rotates the MB&F Balthazar around the hips, the miniscule bumps of each micro-roller as he turns can be felt. Then, everything changes as the smiling Balthazar unveils its dark side
revealed by the cold hard skull with menacing teeth and deep-set ruby-red eyes.
The moon phase can be adjusted manually, providing one of many of Balthazar’s tactile pleasures as he does more than simply displaying horological indications. Not only you can rotate him around the hips, but you can also articulate both of his arms, shoulders and elbows, and his hands can clasp and hold objects like the MB&F Sherman does. Finally, Balthazar’s shield conceals and protects the secret of his awesome power: an integrated clock-winding and time-setting key. This double-depth square socket winding/time-setting key integrated neatly into the shield, which naturally slips in and out of its concealed niche with horological precision.
Balthazar doesn’t just look like an incredibly solid piece of complex high-precision micro-engineering, he is just that: an incredible 618 components go into the construction of his
body and clockwork, which are more pieces than in most complicated wristwatches. Developing Balthazar’s movement required such significant modifications to the previous movement that L’Epée had created for the MB&F Melchior that it is basically a new movement. As well as the addition of a double hemisphere moon phase complication, Balthazar is around 30% taller than Melchior so an additional gear train was required to connect the regulator with the rest of the clockwork.
Surprisingly, because of Balthazar’s size —and he is even heavier than he looks— manipulating any of Balthazar’s joints and even the moon phase indication is extremely tactile. Moving anything on this robot is like gently closing the door on a high-end German sedan; it’s the type of feel that requires much more than excellent high-precision micro-engineering capability, it requires caring deeply about touch, sensations, and even sounds from the outset.
The MB&F Balthazar is built to watchmaking precision by a team that cares deeply, you can feel it. Balthazar is full of surprises: joints move in ways that astonish; motions feel so wonderfully better than you expect that you want repeat them again and again. The build quality continually surprises and it’s hard to emphasize just how solid Balthazar feels. And for those who look very carefully into those eerie, ruby red, Terminator-style eyes set deep into Balthazar’s skull, there is an ultimate surprise perfectly illustrating just how seriously the team takes the notion of form-follows-function. Those red eyes are actually the ruby bearings that support the 20-second retrograde eye displays on the other side of his face.
With a normal jumping hour indication, between five minutes to the hour and five minutes past it can be difficult to know if the jump has occurred or not. So L’Epée developed a ‘slow’ jumping hour, which sees the hour disc remain static for 55 minutes and then —rather than jump instantly and risk the jump being missed— start to turn five minutes before the hour. The jump is so gradual that it can be easily seen. Balthazar’s movement features a regulator with an Incabloc shock protection system to minimize risk of damage to this critical component when the clock is being transported or moved. This type of shock protection is generally only seen in wristwatches.
Balthazar’s movement also features the same superlative fine finishing —Geneva waves, anglage, mirror polishes, sandblasting, circular and vertical satin finishing— seen on haute horlogerie wristwatches. However, finely finishing a clock movement is more challenging than finishing a wristwatch because of the greater surface areas of the larger components. Much time, attention and work goes into ensuring that Balthazar is absolutely everything he can be. For example, consider that his legs, which have no articulations to minimize the risk of falling over, have nevertheless been manufactured and finished in three separate pieces before assembly, just because going to that trouble significantly increased the telescopic potential of various sections.
Or those long nail type teeth set into Balthazar’s skull: they could have been milled from a solid block of metal to save a lot of time and money. Instead they were manufactured and polished individually before being set carefully into the skull. While you may not consciously notice these imperceptible details, they all add up. Balthazar —along with Melchior and Caspar— was one of the names of the three wise men, or magi from the Bible. But this robot clock was named Balthazar for another reason. 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 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.”
The new MB&F L'Epée 1839 Balthazar comes in three limited editions of 50-pieces each in black, silver, blue or green armour plates.
Sticker Price CHF 52,000 Ex VAT —approximately $53,000 USD. For more info on MB&F click here.
Displays: Slow jumping hours and sweeping minutes: twin discs on the chest feature MB&F’s signature numerals and respectively display hours and minutes. 20-second retrograde second display in eyes: red pupils in each eye scan over 20-second intervals and indicate seconds.
35-day power reserve indicator: dial on the belly provides intuitive view of remaining energy. Double hemisphere moon phase indicator: phases of the moon are displayed on a disc on the dark side chest.
Movement: L’Epée 1839 in-house designed and manufactured movement. 18,000 vph with five barrels in series, 405 movement parts, 62 jewels, Incabloc shock protection system, clockwork in palladium-plated brass and stainless steel, 35-day power reserve, double-depth square socket key sets time and winds movement.
Body & Armour: 39.4 cm high × 23.8 cm wide (depending on position of the arms) × 12.4 cm (boot size). Total weight 8.2 kilograms and Body/Armour composed of 213 parts. Movement main plate in palladium-plated polished brass.
Head: Dome polished glass secured via polished and bevelled palladium-plated brass bezel, circular brushed finish around escapement.
Skull : nickel-plated bronze with brushed and sandblasted finishes with each tooth milled in stainless steel and polished before being mounted into the skull individually.
Eyes : 20-second retrograde seconds display in stainless steel painted with red lacquer.
Torso: Breastplate in three pieces, breast and two CVD colour-treated shoulder pads. Hours, minutes, and power reserve indicators on one breastplate, moon phase display on the other. Protective plate in sapphire crystal.
Hips: Rotate on precision ball bearings with spring click to indicate and hold at resting positions. Balthazar’s center of gravity is low around the hips to minimize any risk of being knocked over.
Legs: Each leg weighs 1.5 kg. Each femur is in 3 parts to reinforce the look of telescopic potential and Armour plating. Legs, shins, and feet in nickel-plated brass.
Shoulder/Arms: pivot at arms/shoulders, rotation at the elbows, pivot lower arms with spring locking system.
Fingers: On each hand, two fingers cross into the other three so that the hands can clasp.
Shield : double-depth square-socket key in polished and laser-engraved nickel-plated brass with integrated winding/time-setting key. Winding key is palladium-treated to maximize the longevity of the polished finish.