Fresh from winning a GPHG award for its first women’s complication, the FlyingT, you might forgive Max Busser and chums for taking a moment to bask in the glory such industry recognition brings.
But MB&F has already moved the concept forward, using the unique silhouette of the FlyingT as a platform for one of the most mechanically complicated watches the brand has ever produced, and frankly a shoe-in for another award from the jury in 2020.
The Legacy Machine Thunderdome replicates the ‘picture frame’ asymmetric dial layout of the FlyingT, but instead of a diamond-topped 60-second tourbillon that previously occupied that space behind it MB&F has placed a genuinely revolutionary tri-axial tourbillion, the brand’s first, developed by watchmaker Eric Coudray.
Coudray, who whilst at Jaeger-LeCoultre developed that marque’s first modern minute repeater before, more pertinently, creating its game-changing Gyrotourbillon, was undoubtedly the person best qualified to create the TriAx, the largest, fastest triple axis tourbillon ever made.
Busser gave Coudray free rein, only insisting that the movement of the balance wheel be clearly visible, a signature of MB&F’s Legacy Machine collection and something tourbillon cages used to build multi-axis tourbillons often block. Coudray created a ‘flying cage’, the least obtrusive structure he was able to, arriving at a solution that weighs less than a gram and includes characteristics of both the tourbillon and carrousel. But he also worked the problem from the other end too, by not only Coudray minimising the bulk of the tourbillon cage but making the balance wheel as three-dimensional as possible - effectively creating the first spherical balance wheel (or ball) in history which surrounds a helicoidal balance spring.
The three structures allowing for movement through three axes complete full rotations in eight, 12 and 20 seconds respectively, from central to outermost. The previous champion in the field was the Cecil Purnell Spherion (which was released earlier this year, but garnered little fanfare) which managed eight, 16 and 30 seconds, and was developed by movement house TEC Ebauches, which employs one Eric Coudray to create high complications.
This rotational speed is aided by the characteristics of the unusual escapement at its centre which was first proposed in the 19th century as a tourbillon modification by American watchmaker, Albert H Potter. Potter correctly theorised that if the escape wheel was fixed, rather than driven by its pinion around the fixed fourth wheel as is the case with tourbillons, it would result in much higher tourbillon rotational speeds. If that were not enough, the escape wheel utilises inverted teeth, something MB&F says has only been used once before in contemporary watchmaking.
As you might suspect all of these superlatives require a great deal of power and the manual movement features three barrels offering a power reserve of (a relatively scant) 45 hours.
As usual with MB&F, the exceedingly clever watchmaking is afforded the best possible showcase on the dial side, here accentuated even further by the vast domed sapphire crystal we first saw on the FlyingT. But the reverse is no slouch either, as the movement powering Coudray’s vision has been developed by long-time MB&F collaborator, Kari Voutilainen. As you might expect from Voutilainen, the level of finishing is superb and for the first time, he has applied his proprietary ‘sigmoid wave’ finish to the movement’s ratchet wheels, the first time he has allowed this on a watch that isn't going out under his own name.
MB&F is producing 33 pieces of the LM Thunderdome in platinum (around £209,000+VAT) and a further ten pieces in Tantalum (remember F.P. Journe’s spectacular Only Watch this year?) for famed Singaporean retailer, The Hour Glass, which is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. Five of those get a dark blue version of the guilloché dial, while our personal favourite comes with an aventurine inlay.
I’ll be honest, the only thing I don’t like about this watch is the name: after all, Bartertown, home to the Thunderdome in George Miller’s post-apocalyptic fantasy, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, was powered by a rather unpleasant agricultural by-product, not three immaculately finished mainspring barrels. The 1985 film was many things; an extraordinary Antipodean ensemble piece (just what was Bryan Brown doing that was more important than this?), an energetic auteur’s grimy fever dream, even a rare cinematic outing for Tina Turner, but a suitable name for such an incredible piece of watchmaking? Not a chance.
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