MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

The MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement walks on virgin snow. It presents the balance wheel centre stage, floating above a red gold vista, twirling back and forth. The pallet lever and escape wheel are positioned to the rear of the watch, seemingly divorced from the balance and breaking horological convention. Angus Davies visits MB&F’s Genevan Headquarters to see this ingenious watch at close quarters and recount the experience for the delectation of fellow horophiles.

This detailed review of the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement includes live images, specification details and pricing.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

When a filmmaker outstretches his arms and arranges his fingers to form a rectangular-shaped frame, he is trying to envisage the audience’s perspective. It is the skilful cropping of an image which successfully conveys the narrative at the exclusion of the superfluous.

MB&F, a brand which is no stranger to creativity, clearly understands the importance of guiding the viewer’s eyes to the essential and setting aside those elements which detract from the spectacle presented.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

The MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement suspends the balance using a twin arm v-shaped bridge. While the dial is endowed with lucid dial indications, the focal point is the centrally-positioned balance wheel oscillating to and fro. Unusually, the balance appears to rotate free of any source of power. The usual cast members, the pallet lever and escape wheel cannot be seen. As I go on to explain, they are present but cleverly positioned out of shot.

The Legacy Machine – MB&F’s alter ego

MB&F unveiled its first ‘Horological Machine’, HM1, in 2007. Since then, the Swiss brand has gone on to unveil several additional Horological Machines. While each of these neoteric creations exhibit their own distinct character, they all share one trait, namely, a high quotient of originality.

I have drooled over many Horological Machines, appreciating their thought-provoking aesthetics. However, there are some MB&F models which I have found difficult to love. Nevertheless, irrespective of each model’s appearance, I have always admired the Genevan Maison for its courageous design and ingenuity. No one could ever accuse MB&F of plagiarism, its work is quite unique.

In 2011, MB&F debuted its inaugural ‘Legacy Machine’, the aptly named LM1. Over the years the Swiss firm has released additional Legacy Machines. Each iteration of the LM series, without exception, has proved achingly gorgeous. They each possess a classical mien, simple lines and pronounce time with a clear tone. Quite simply, they are very different from the avant-garde Horological Machines. They represent MB&F’s alter ego.

Prior to the release of the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement, the most recent Legacy Machine was the LM Perpetual. This timepiece, endowed with a perpetual calendar, reveals many of the horological thought processes typically hidden from view. It is both aesthetically spectacular and technically brilliant. Stephen McDonnell, an independent watchmaker with immense talent, assisted MB&F, conceiving this new Legacy Machine. He reimagined the perpetual calendar, an often unreliable complication, equipping it with a ‘mechanical processor’. McDonnell, recognising that each month contains at least 28 days, produced his mechanical processor which assumed a default setting of 28 days and then added additional days as required. This approach circumvented the usual approach of ‘skipping over’ redundant days, a step which often proves problematic.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement – deceptively complex

With the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement, the Swiss brand has seemingly set aside complexity, creating a horological vista distilled to a pure conclusion. However, despite its uncluttered appearance, this watch is actually very complex. Once again, MB&F knocked on the door of Mr McDonnell, calling on his prodigious talents.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

This watch separates the balance from the pallet lever and escape wheel. Few brands undertake this task as it is potentially fraught with problems. MB&F conceived the idea of separating the balance wheel from remaining escapement components with a long arbour measuring 11.78mm. The potential problem of a long arbour is that it can be influenced by ‘disrupting influences’, as well as potential flex. McDonnell identified that the inertia of the balance and the rigidity of the arbour were important considerations. He skilfully engineered the ‘LM SE engine’ to ensure such factors were addressed and the chronometric integrity of the movement was realised.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

‘The balance arbour is fitted at both ends with anti-shock jewel bearings, and the bridge that holds the anchor and escape wheel is separately fixed for optimal fine adjustment.’ By equipping the balance with a long balance arbour, which is by default heavier, the movement consumes greater energy. Therefore, MB&F has equipped the LM SE engine with twin barrels in order to confer an impressive 72 hours of autonomy.

However, beyond the technical complexity of the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement, the watch has many aesthetic attributes which distinguish it as special.

The dial

The two arms of the balance bridge emanate from 1 and 11 o’clock. The balance bridge soars ever upwards, following the curving trajectory of the sapphire crystal, until it plateaus at the centre of the dial. Where the twin arms of the balance bridge converge, the cheery red hue of the shock absorber captures the onlookers attention.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

However, it does not take long before the eyes settle on the balance wheel. It is extremely large, measuring 14mm in diameter, and rotates calmly to a frequency of 18,000 VpH (2.5Hz). The hypnotic to and fro motion proves captivating, pulsing with life. Four screws are recessed in the rim of the balance wheel, mitigating turbulence and, in so doing, aiding precision.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

While the focal point of the dial is the spellbinding balance in flight, MB&F has not overlooked the raison d’être for any watch, namely, to articulate the prevailing time. Three discrete dials sit atop a frosted red gold surface. Each dial is lacquered in white, framed with a silver-hued circlet and features a blued hand. The hour and minutes are proclaimed at noon. At 4 o’clock, the power reserve is shown using a lone hand and Arabic numerals. Lastly, the date is displayed at 8 o’clock. A push-piece adjacent the date display facilitates rapid adjustment. Despite the comparatively small scale of the indications, everything proves supremely legible.

Beyond the dial indications is the aforementioned frosted red gold surface. This exquisitely textured epidermis is the becoming consequence of hand-working the surface with a wire brush and imbuing it with small indentations. The skilful practitioner of this technique has to apply uniform pressure to the brush and ensure it touches the surface with a consistent angle of interaction. MB&F offer the Legacy Machine Split Escapement in four dial variants: blue, red gold, ruthenium and yellow gold. I adore the red gold option, pictured herein, but I would like to see the blue option up close as it looks magnificent in the images I have seen.

The case

Currently, the Swiss brand only offers the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement with a white gold case. However, former Legacy Machines have subsequently been offered in other case materials. Only time will tell whether red gold or platinum case versions emerge from this creative brand.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

Personally, I like the muted character of white gold. In this instance, it plays a deferential role, allowing the red gold dial surface to come to the fore. The case measures 44mm in diameter. Although not inconsequential, I did not find this too large for my left wrist, but concede it may dissuade some would-be wearers from selecting this model. However, I would urge those individuals to look at the Legacy Machine 101 which is only 40mm in diameter and is also blessed with a prepossessing appearance.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

A notable aspect of the Split Escapement’s design is the domed sapphire crystal. This is not to be confused with a mildly cambered glass found on some watches. The sapphire crystal atop the Split Escapement is reminiscent of the Dome of Cadiz Cathedral or a laboratory-use cloche. A key benefit of using this shape of crystal is that is enriches the visual appearance of each dial element, introducing lateral views and spectacularly playing with depths.

A consequence of using a domed sapphire crystal is that the height of the watch is increased. Measuring 17.5mm in depth, the watch projects from the wrist more than other timepieces. However, the Split Escapement does not feel cumbersome to wear.

The crown is positioned at 2 o’clock, ensuring it does not gouge the arm or impair free movement of the wrist.

MB&F has paired polished surfaces on the convex bezel and upper lug surfaces with brushed treatment on the casband and lug flanks. Everything on this watch feels tasteful and seemly.

The movement

MB&F has cleverly negotiated a creative path, embracing ingenious and contemporary design while upholding watchmaking traditions. The LM SE engine upholds time-honoured craftsmanship.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

The golden bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève motif and sport gleaming anglage. Numerous jewels are mounted in gold chatons. Effervescent screw heads nestle within highly polished sinks. Wheels are circular grained. The pinion and ratchet wheels are embellished with a sunray decoration. Perlage is visible on the exposed mainplate adjacent the gear train. These bountiful examples of peerless finishing reinforce the perception of no-compromise quality.

Closing remarks

MB&F is a brand which dares to dream and possesses the courage to create. It does not subscribe to the ‘play it safe’ approach to design. This is a brand which inhales oxygen-rich thoughts and exhales boundless creativity.

While I do not pretend to like all of its machines, I respect the Maison for its bravery and daring to create objects which would never survive focus group censure.

However, when it comes to the Swiss firm’s Legacy Machines, it has never missed a beat. Each version of these classical watches has proved to be an Oscar-winning performance. The MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement is no exception.

The epidermis of the dial is bewitching. Its porous texture is the result of dextrous hands manipulating a wire brush to achieve the desired finish. The subdials impart information with notable clarity. Indeed, with this watch, MB&F demonstrate that style does not supplant practicality but happily coexists with it in blissful union.

By equipping the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement with an extraordinary domed sapphire crystal, the independent watch brand has produced an amazing horological sculpture. The curving lens of the sapphire crystal grants unhindered lateral views of each facet of the dial plane and the surrounding dial furniture. The onlooker is invited to scrutinise each element of this artistic creation.

All too often, those items imbued with style lack substance. MB&F has not sacrificed mechanical virtue on the altar of style. The movement is wonderfully finished and stands comparison with other paragons of fine watchmaking.

MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

Consistent with all Legacy Machines, the balance is the focal point of the dial. It proves a beguiling prospect and feels almost organic, courtesy of its animated performance. The MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement is, in my opinion, the finest iteration of this family of models. By separating the balance from the pallet lever and escape wheel and hiding the latter components from view, the Genevan firm has cropped the image presented. Similar to an acclaimed film producer, MB&F has directed our gaze to the pertinent details and skilfully communicated with a watch loving audience. Indeed, this is an amazing performance I could never tire of watching. Encore!

Further reading

Technical specifications

  • Model: MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement
  • Reference: 03.WL.FR
  • Case: 18-carat white gold; diameter 44mm; height 17.5mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; date; power-reserve indicator
  • Movement: LM SE engine; hand-wound movement; frequency 18,000 VpH (2.5Hz); 35 jewels; power reserve 72 hours; 314 components
  • Strap: Brown hand-stitched alligator leather strap with white gold folding buckle.
  • Price: CHF 79,000 (RRP as at 8.2.2019)

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