We’re used to MB&F putting together bizarre watches, but they may have just tipped over the edge with this latest design. The MB&F JwlryMachine takes the already unusual HM3 Frog as its starting point and then dresses it up as a particularly camp looking owl.
Not just any old owl, of course: this is a jewel-encrusted bird crafted by Boucheron, with fluttering breast feathers described as “a visual illusion created by the faintly perceived oscillations beneath the translucent stone of MB&F’s solid-gold battle-axe-shaped rotor.” Inside there are 305 components keeping the watch mechanism going, with the time being told by his bug eyes.
MB&F and Boucheron will be making custom versions of JwlryMachine in various colors – not just the purple you see here, but a particularly vivid pink, too. We’re not entirely sure who would actually wear one, and since they’re made to order we’re guessing you have to wave cash in their faces to find out the exact price.
The JwlryMachine: Boucheron’s sparkling interpretation of MB&F’s Horological Machine No 3
What could possibly bring together the 152-year-old House of Boucheron, that most venerable of France’s high-jewellery Houses, and MB&F, the young, cutting-edge Swiss creative laboratory whose Horological Machines first invaded our planet only five years ago?
The answer is the JwlryMachine, an astonishing haute-joaillerie version of MB&F’s Horological Machine No 3 (HM3).
The catalyst: Horological Machine No 3
The original HM3, in gold and titanium, sent tremors through the fine-watchmaking world when it was launched in 2009. It pushes the technical and aesthetic limits of horological architecture and design further than even the most open-minded observers could have imagined.
The viewer’s mind has to adjust to the fact that its kinetically energetic engine is displayed on the top of the watch, where the battle-axe-shaped rotor – an iconic MB&F symbol – and the oscillating balance are clearly visible. But the eye is also assailed by the twin cones that rise majestically from the three-dimensional sculpted case. It is hard to believe that this dynamic sculpture also tells the time.
And yet this is a highly technical wristwatch and a feat of micro engineering. MB&F’s engineers and watchmakers have to machine, hand finish and assemble the 305 parts of the HM3 engine working to tolerances of a micron – one thousandth of a millimetre. The 22-karat rose gold “mystery” rotor appears to defy the laws of physics, in being visually symmetrical instead of more obviously off-centred. This was achieved by machining the underside of one arm to a razor-thin edge, thus reducing its mass. Two high-tech ceramic ball bearings visible on the back of the case drive the time indications on the top and sides of the twin cones: one cone presenting the hours and day/night indicator, the other the minutes. An oversized date wheel around the rotor, actually larger in diameter than the movement itself, frames the engine.
When the HM3 was launched, one press release began, “Warning! Horological Machine No 3 is so far outside existing time references that it may cause sensory overload”. It was scarcely an exaggeration.
The JwlryMachine: breathing the magic of Boucheron
With the HM3 as unsettling as ever, the House of Boucheron is poised to create its own seductive shock waves with the JwlryMachine, an haute-joaillerie version of Horological Machine No 3. In a spectacular flight of fancy, the House’s peerless artisans have conceived the watch as a splendid three-dimensional jewelled owl, presented either in 18k white gold, with amethyst, diamonds and blue and violet sapphires, or in 18k red gold, with pink tourmaline, rose quartz, diamonds and pink sapphires.
The owl’s eyes are large glowing cabochons, set over the twin cones, and its sparkling wings, wrapped protectively around the precious HM3 engine, are entirely pavé-set with brilliant-cut stones. Its feathered breast is sculpted and engraved from a single block of amethyst or rose quartz. The glowing eyes, sparkling wings and softly gleaming breast create a carefully choreographed play of light. But most mesmerising of all: beneath the owl’s breast, its heart appears to be beating. The visual illusion is created by the faintly perceived swings of MB&F’s solid-gold battle-axe-shaped rotor beneath the translucent stone.
This effect typifies the hint of secretiveness that Boucheron’s artisans instil into some of their best-loved jewels; as does the fact that the uninitiated will need to search for the time indications on the sides of the cones among the owl’s sparkling plumage.
True to the original HM3, the JwlryMachine is not for the faint hearted. It is an imposing piece, made all the more so by its sheer beauty. The extreme refinement that radiates from the proportions, the choice of stones and the quality of craftsmanship makes this creation “very Boucheron”.
A legendary dynasty of jewellers
On the face of it, the two creators, Boucheron and MB&F might seem an unlikely team. The House of Boucheron, in its historic setting at 26 Place Vendôme, Paris, is a legend in the rarefied world of French high jewellery. A family dynasty, founded by Frédéric Boucheron in 1858, it has never ceased to enchant its discerning clientele. Royalty, aristocrats, billionaires, film stars, authors and artists find a fitting match for their celebrity and status in its magnificent creations.
Over the generations, Boucheron has acquired unparalleled expertise, centring on its passion for precious stones. Its designs are free-spirited and audacious, and with the ease of the true artist, its master jewellers create exclusive harmonies of colour, selecting from the world’s most rare and covetable gems.
While Boucheron’s sources of inspiration are eclectic, love of nature is a cherished theme. The collections abound with references to flowers, raindrops and waves and charismatic animals, birds and insects, whose air of having been effortlessly conceived is part of the Boucheron mystique. Today as ever, Boucheron keeps its promise of luxury and fascination.
An iconoclastic creative laboratory
In direct opposition to his time-honoured creative partner, Maximilian Büsser founded his creative laboratory just five years ago. And where the House of Boucheron’s jewels are clearly objects of desire, the initial reaction to MB&F’s Machines may well be one of shock and awe.
After 14 years spent managing prestigious watchmaking brands, Maximilian Büsser broke free of the constraints of traditional horology. He decided to create for himself, drawing on the imaginary world of his childhood, peopled by spacecraft and fantastical beings, and on his passion for working with other creators and artists. In forging the concept of the “Friends”, (the “F” in MB&F), his aim is to transparently recognise and credit those involved in realising his dream.
MB&F’s Horological Machines certainly tell the time, but they are light years away from classic haute horology. They are daringly engineered works of performance art that owe their power to the tension between their radical concepts and the meticulous traditional watchmaking skills that bring them to life. Each new avant-garde, three-dimensional Horological Machine takes us further into an alternative reality and out of our horological comfort zone.
MB&F’s iconoclastic Horological Machines were never conceived with diamonds in mind. However, Maximilian Büsser had been nurturing the idea of working with the House of Boucheron for years. “I was impressed by their immense savoir-faire,” he says, “and by their creative passion. They are resolutely avant-garde, and each of their jewels is a virtuoso performance. So in a way, although their creations are sensuous and feminine, and ours are not, we speak the same language. And they love to surprise. I knew that they could take one of our Horological Machines and transform it into an incredible feat of three-dimensional haute joaillerie.
The idea accelerated when Maximilian Büsser made the acquaintance of Jean-Christophe Bédos, CEO of Boucheron. According to Mr Bédos, “MB&F showed an appreciation of the excellence that Boucheron embodies. A collaboration between our two Houses was certain to lead to an exceptionally creative concept, with a sparkling result and even a sense of humorous audacity.”
The concept: a meeting of two worlds
Right from the initial get-togethers, it was clear to MB&F that the Boucheron creative team would amaze and delight them with their characteristic flair.
Nevertheless, one of the Boucheron designers in charge of the project remembers his first impression of Machine No 3. “Completely insane! All I could think was, What are we going to do! How can we find a meeting point between this Machine and Boucheron’s world of sensuousness, jewels and femininity? But our work wouldn’t be rewarding if there were no challenge.”
The designers found that meeting point. At the creative presentation, they unveiled sixty-three concepts, each a work of art. But Maximilian Büsser homed straight in on the owl. Structurally, it is a perfect match for the Machine. Like all the best ideas, once you have seen it, it becomes self-evident. And it has that gentle touch of humour that makes an important jewel lovable as well as impressive.
Boucheron’s design team couldn’t have been happier with MB&F’s choice. The great House’s feeling for nature is legendary; reflecting the Art Nouveau influence in their jewels, it is a constant source of inspiration. Preference has always gone to the strangest, most extravagant of Nature’s creations – including the mysterious night creatures – and the exquisitely constructed, delectably coloured jewels that result are so particular to the House that it refers to them as its Cabinet of Curiosities. Contributing ever-more audacious, unexpected pieces to the Cabinet is one of the Boucheron artisans’ greatest joys.
The young creative laboratory and the 152-year-old jeweller have created a perfect fit. Boucheron’s artisans conceived the owl’s splendid jewelled body as a complex framework of solid gold that fits snugly onto Horological Machine No 3, transforming it into the JwlryMachine. The framework is cast as five separate segments, which are then sent to MB&F to be assembled on the watch. MB&F’s engineers had selected five points on the upper face of the watch where there was enough substance for the segments to be screwed down without disturbing the watch’s complex timekeeping functions. Screws are used so that the segments can be removed when the watch requires service.
For the segments to be anchored correctly, Boucheron has to work to tolerances expressed in microns – demonstrating the extreme precision that its lapidaries, gem-setters, engravers and goldsmiths bring to their work.
Reserved for the master craftsman
In a piece where every detail is perfect, the owl’s most striking feature is nevertheless its translucent breast. It is formed from a single block of amethyst or rose quartz, which must be sufficiently large and exceptionally pure. As amethyst and quartz are both very hard stones, the artisan must have a very delicate touch when carving out the breast’s irregular contours and sculpting the feathers, so as not to shatter his handiwork. Compounding the risk, the stone is also shaped in cross-section to achieve a gradation in the depth of the colour over the breast from the owl’s beak to its feet, just enough for the shadowy movement of the rotor to be perceived.
“Even Maximilian Büsser thought we were mad to suggest the beating heart,” says one of the Boucheron designers on the project gleefully. The final effect works on two levels: it is hypnotic, and it hints at the mysteries of the engine inside.
A polished performance
Maximilian Büsser says that in all his ten years of joint creative adventures, he has rarely seen a collaboration proceed so smoothly. In his opinion, the Boucheron creative team’s spirit exemplifies “Where there’s a will there’s a way”. For their part, the Boucheron team emphasise the joy that they had in bringing the owl to life. They relished the challenge of making the two worlds meet – the world of MB&F’s alternative reality and the world of Boucheron’s warmth and seduction.
The JwlryMachine will be made to order, and other colour combinations are possible.