Meteorological science tells us that when cold and warm currents meet, all manner of dramatic weather ensues. Storms, freak atmospheric conditions and even tornadoes have been known to follow. So when two very different master watchmakers come together (one a legendary innovator from the Vallée de Joux known for his unorthodox, jaw-dropping complications, the other a famed perfectionist and acclaimed pillar of traditional craft based in Môtiers) look out for lightning on the horizon.
Rising above a sea of blue guillochage is a rotating spherical mass of gears, pinions and cages. Somehow, from this chaos of motion, order is extracted. Time is indicated on an inclined dial of stretched lacquer, proving that even the wildest horological whirlwinds can be tamed into the logic of hours and minutes.
MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser says, “One of the many things that makes me incredibly happy about this piece is that we got to bring together two people I adore in this industry; who are incredibly talented, have completely different styles and personalities, and have never had the chance to work with each other”.
Once taken, such chances can reshape entire landscapes. MB&F’s only directive to Eric Coudray initially was to “make the craziest, most cinematic three-axis tourbillon ever.” Having been given free rein to create, Coudray built something that was entirely new in his experience: a mechanism that goes beyond the tourbillon, the proprietary new MB&F ‘TriAx’.
The new TriAx mechanism, as showcased in Legacy Machine Thunderdome, fulfils MB&F’s directive to Eric Coudray in spectacular fashion. The triple-axis rotating escapement has a stripped-down construction that transgresses both tradition and modern convention. Instead of the rational (and cumbersome) system that associates one cage with each rotational axis, the TriAx defies logic with a three-axis, two cage configuration that allows for unprecedented visibility of the Thunderdome’s beating, whirling heart.
In a second stroke of whirlwind audacity from Coudray, whose name is practically synonymous with audacious watchmaking in the 21st century, the TriAx mechanism of LM Thunderdome uproots our most familiar notions of watchmaking escapements. Controlling the rate at which energy escapes from the barrel is the unusual Potter escapement, which utilises a fixed escape wheel in place of the mobile escape wheels seen in virtually every type of modern rotating escapement. The fixed escape wheel of the Potter escapement, named for 19th century watchmaker and inventor Albert H. Potter, allows for higher rotational speeds in such a mechanism.
Integrating a fixed escape wheel within a tri-axial rotating mechanism is something that has never been done before, but LM Thunderdome achieves this, and for good reason. The high-speed rotation consumes energy voraciously, with the innermost structure completing one turn in 8 seconds, the intermediate cage rotating once every 12 seconds, and the outermost cage making one full rotation every 20 seconds.
An additional advantage of the Potter escapement is that it frees up more space for the balance and hairspring, allowing to better admire another completely novel development: the balance of LM Thunderdome takes a hemispherical form, wrapping around the helical hairspring for an unprecedented configuration of regulating organ in both modern and classical watchmaking.
Even for a seasoned watch connoisseur, deeply familiar with multi-axis tourbillons over the 15 years since this type of mechanism debuted on the horological scene, Legacy Machine Thunderdome is an eye-opener. Not only is it faster, its components whirring past at dizzying speeds, it is larger, thanks to the offset axis of the outermost cage that increases the overall displacement of the balance, and it is showcased like no other. The pronounced arch of the sapphire crystal dome allows Eric Coudray’s opus to sit fully above the dial plate, visible from all sides.
As difficult as it may be to tear your eyes from the dial side spectacle, the reverse of the LM Thunderdome engine is equally rewarding. The manual winding, triple-barrel movement may have been technically conceived by Eric Coudray, but its aesthetics are fully Kari Voutilainen.
Countless sessions passed between the two watchmakers until the untrammelled dynamism of Coudray’s engine design took on classically elegant forms. Smoothly rounded bridges, incorporating sharp hand-bevelled internal angles and mirrored curves suggest a deep, unyielding calm that anchors the turbulent maelstrom on the other side. For the first time in an MB&F creation, Kari Voutilainen has applied his proprietary style of finish onto the ratchet wheels. This technique imparts a serpentine shimmer to the circular surface, catching the light in sigmoid waves. This technique is a closely guarded secret in the Voutilainen workshops, requiring years of experience and special tools to execute.
The LM Thunderdome is launched in two limited editions : 33 pieces in platinum 950, with a light-blue guilloché dial plate and 10 pieces (photo below) in tantalum commemorating the 40th anniversary of Asia-Pacific retail group The Hour Glass, with five pieces bearing a dark-blue guilloché dial and five pieces with an inlaid aventurine dial (photo below – left side). Price is fixed around 300.000 EURO after taxes.