MB&F teams up with L’Epée again to bring us another clock…this time, the elder brother to the Melchior, and is called appropriately Balthazar.
The Balthazar is the latest to come from the creative mind of MB&F founder Max Büsser. The inspiration is the same as for the Melchior which we covered in detail here. Balthazar – along with Melchior and Caspar – was one of the names of the three wise men, or magi, from biblical lore. But this robot clock was named Balthazar for another reason. Max 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 MB&F Balthazar
The Balthazar is a precision robot clock displaying jumping hours, retrograde seconds and a 35 day power reserve. The robot weighs as much as a large new born baby at 8 kg, and stands at 40cm tall.
But the robot is two faced…like many of us…and there is a light side and a dark side.
The Light Side
On the light side, the robot’s face looks serene. Playful even. The clockwork on this side displays a slow jumping hours and trailing minutes via two discs on his chest. 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.
And the power reserve indicator is located at his belly. His eyes are red and are 20 second retrograde displays, look like he is on guard. Scanning the surroundings.
Turn the torso 180 degrees over, and a more sinister face of Balthazar shows. Balthazar rotates around the hips. The movement is smooth, and yet one can feel the minuscule bumps of each micro-roller as he turns, each a distinct notch as he rotates the full 180°, much like the smooth clicks on the rotating bezel of a dive watch.
The dark side
The dark side’s face is menacing. A cold hard skull, baring his teeth and the penetrating deep-set ruby-red eyes. The eyes are the actual rubies of the retrograde mechanism on the other side.
A dual hemisphere moonphase indicator is prominently shown on his chest. Poetically, Max says that this will help you anticipate the evolutions of your mood…perhaps that too is linked to the cycles of the moon. To quote Darth Vader, “If you only knew the power of the dark side.”
The clockwork mechanism
As with Melchior, Balthazar’s brain is under a polished glass dome, and within is the precision regulator of the clock. The balance oscillates, and signals that Balthazar is always calculating. Always ticking. The balance is designed with an Incablock shock protection system. Though Incablock is typical in wristwatches, its use in a table clock is unusual, as most clocks spend their lives in a stationary mode. But Balthazar is a robot as well, and Max wants to encourage him to be moved around by the owner.
The movement is interesting, as it is very complicated. Comprising of no less than 405 components, the movement has more parts than many complicated wristwatches.
The movement required significant modifications over the Melchior, although the base movement is the same. A double hemisphere moonphase is added, and as Balthazar is 30% taler than Melchior, the distance from the regulating organ on top of his head to the rest of the clockwork is larger, and additional gear train is needed.
Balthazar’s arms can articulate at both the shoulders and the elbows, and his hands can clasp and hold objects. The joints are designed to be tactile, and moving it or anything on the robot has a feel of precision, like the gentle closing of the door on a German car. His legs, however are machined from three blocks of metal and not articulating, to minimise the risk of Balthazar falling over.
One arm bears a shield, engraved with the battle axe logo of MB&F, and concealed within is the winding and time-setting key.
Finishing is quite spectacular, with Côte de Genevé, anglage, mirror polishing, sandblasting, circular and vertical satin finishing, to the standards of many haute horlogerie watches. Finishing the clock is reportedly more challenging than a wrist watch. L’Epée CEO Arnaud Nicolas explains: “It’s not simply a case of double the size of the components, double the time it takes to finish them. The complexity increases exponentially. 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 that pressure will show up in the finishing, so a skilled and steady hand is required to apply uniform pressure.”
MB&F Balthazar: technical specifications
Price: CHF 52,000 before taxes
Balthazar comes in limited editions of 50 pieces per colour in black, silver, blue or green armour plates.
“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
L’Epée 1839 in-house designed and manufactured movement.
Balance frequency: 18,000 bph / 2.5Hz
Barrels: 5 in series
Power reserve: 35 days
Movement components: 405
Incabloc shock protection system
Clockwork in palladium-plated brass and stainless steel
Manual-winding: double-depth square socket key sets time and winds movement; when not in use the key integrates into a dedicated slot in the shield
Movement finishing includes Geneva waves (moon phase and power reserve bridges), polishing, sandblasting, circular and vertical satin finishing and starburst decoration
Balthazar’s body and armour
Dimensions: 39.4 cm high x 23.8 cm wide (depending on position of the arms) x 12.4 cm (boot size)
Weight: 8.2 kg
Body/armour components: 213
Movement main plate in palladium-plated polished brass
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
Teeth: 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
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.
Rotate on precision ball bearings with spring click to indicate and hold at resting positions
Balthazar’s centre of gravity is low around the hips to minimise any risk of being knocked over
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
Shoulders and arms
Articulation: 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
Key is palladium-treated to maximise the longevity of the polished finish