We've come to expect the sublime, the ridiculous, and everything in between from MB&F – but if anything, we have most come to expect the unexpected. Now celebrating the tenth anniversary of its establishment, over the last decade, MB&F has gone on to create some rather stunning wrist-worn "Machines" – as they also like to call them – and, only two years ago in 2013, introduced their first non-watch item with the MusicMachine (hands-on here). A Robot clock and a Star Wars TIE-fighter music box later, today, we meet their latest creation in the form of a massive, time-telling spider: the MB&F Arachnophobia table clock.
Telling the time may appear to be a logical primary function for the MB&F Arachnophobia table clock, but there clearly is a lot more going on than just that: inspired by an enormous sculpture created by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), the MB&F Arachnophobia is far smaller but no less ghoulish than its famous forerunner. The Bourgeois sculpture is called Maman ("mother" in French) and has been displayed all over the world. Measuring more than 10 meters (or 33 feet) tall, the internationally regarded artwork dwarfs the 405mm product of MB&F.
Still, the MB&F Arachnophobia – named after the phobia or fear of spiders – surely does ample justice to its name: that measurement of over 40 centimeters is taken when the spider's legs are fully extended, which looks best when the piece is hung on the wall by way of an innovative catch on the underside, allowing the piece to be attached to a wall-mounted bracket. Just imagine entering a dark room with the creepy ticking sound of the movement echoing inside, and the outlines of a massive creepy-crawler shaping up on the wall...
Flick the lights up, and you'll dare to walk closer – if you do, you'll get the chance to appreciate the complexity of the MB&F Arachnophobia, this 218-component timepiece. It indicates the time by way of two hands that are mounted on the top of the spider's back, curving down and following the contours of the arachnid's torso. The hands pass over MB&F's trademark numerals, which are printed on the arachnid's back – not quite sure if they are luminescent, but they'd better glow bright green in the dark! Beneath the black dome of the spider's back, a modified L'Epée 1839 clock movement beats away. As seems fitting, from a visual and functional point of view, the head of the spider comprises the balance wheel and escapement. The balance is often referred to as the "regulating organ" of the watch, similar in many ways to a mechanical brain. Placing this component within the spider's jaws was no mean feat. Having already reshaped the palladium plates and the layout of the gear train, L'Epée were also required to rotate the escapement 90 degrees so it would fit where they wanted it to go.
At the "business end" of the clock (the spider's posterior), we find a generously sized mainspring in its barrel. The coiled tension of the mainspring, wound around the barrel arbour as one might imagine a spool of silk to be stored, generates an impressive 8-day power reserve. The movement also features many finishes one might expect to find in a wristwatch: côtes de Genève, beveled edges (anglage), polishing, sandblasting, as well as circular and vertical satin finishing all make an appearance.
To wind and set the movement, MB&F say that "the owner must interact with the clock in an intimate manner to wind and set the time of this precision instrument, thereby building a close relationship with it" – for both winding and setting may be performed using a key on the underside of the spider. Intimacy and spiders may not really match for some (count me in), and reaching underneath a 2 pound (or double, in the case of the gold-plated version) spider is certainly something I'd prefer to do no more often than, well, every 8 days.
Extending from the base of the spider's abdomen are eight articulating legs, enabling the arachnid to stand proudly on your desk, windowsill, or sideboard, or, rather coolly, be wall-mounted so it appears to be creeping home to its web. Practically (and that is a really stupid word to use when analysing an MB&F, but humour me), the watch face is too small to be read from afar, and if choosing to wall-mount the MB&F Arachnophobia, you would be relegating it to a work of art. That's not to say it would be out of place in that category – the piece is expertly finished and available in 18ct gold or black to match any décor.
The legs look weirdly life-like, thanks not only to their design, but also their physical creation. Designers at MB&F decided that the only way to get the organic look necessary was to utilise injection moulding. This process involves the metal being heated to a malleable state before being forced into the mould. Common for plastics; less common for metals. In this instance, I think it has worked rather well and must add a reassuring weight to an otherwise spindly component: the gold-coated version features gilded brass legs, while the black variant boasts black lacquered aluminium. Injection molding results in a rather rough piece to begin with, and so the craftsmen at L'Epée have to hand-finish all components – making this from-afar scary looking spider a cool display of traditional horological finishing techniques up close.
Max Busser is not coming from a typical horological background (read bout it here) and so he, along with only a handful of others in today's luxury watch industry, exists to shock, evoke, and inspire people, not to toe the line. It is clear he has no interest in creating watches for the common man to wear, but by creating horological sculptures, timekeeping curios, and wacky wristwatches, he is giving the experienced aficionados of the world a way out – clearly something not all, but many consciously or subconsciously have been looking for.
Yes, it all sounds a bit airy-fairy, but in seriousness, very few of us who adore high-end wristwatches will ever be able to afford them. Their practicality has no bearing on the likelihood we will be able to purchase them, so we should rejoice in Busser's penchant for the whimsical and the bizarre. It shows us what is possible, and it's great to see that MB&F do not shirk this responsibility – rather, they embrace it with every one of their eight articulated legs and cling to it for all their worth. And that, as it happens, is quite a bit: the MB&F Arachnophobia will have a price of CHF15,300 for the black version, CHF17,200 for the gold variety. By today's exchange rates, that works out around US$15,900 and US$18,200 respectively. mbandf.com