The MB&F And L’Epée 1839 Octopod Clock

MB&F has been collaborating with clockmaker L’Epée 1839 for many years, and during that time, the partnership has produced a number of very varied clock designs, which have taken from the worlds of biology, science fiction, and space exploration to produce some dramatically different timepieces (including one guaranteed to cause heebie-jeebies in 3.5 to 6.1 percent of the general population). The newest clock is the Octopod, a biomechanical, articulated-limbed, bubble-headed timepiece with shout-outs not just to the octopus, but also to James Cameron’s film The Abyss and marine chronometers as well. And there’s a sort of stealth tourbillon built into the movement as well.

The Octopod clock is the latest collaboration between MB&F and clockmaker L’Epée 1839. Photo courtesy of MB&F

Octopuses are the most intelligent of all invertebrates; they’re capable of planning, fairly sophisticated problem solving, and even seem to be able, at least in some cases, of recognizing individual people and reacting to them. One of the most famous instances of octopus intelligence comes from a New Zealand lab, where octopuses learned to short out lightbulbs by squirting water at them; at the same lab one animal took a strong dislike to one of the researchers, ejecting water at her from its siphon if she got too close to its tank. With eight limbs packed full of neurons (the arms of an octopus are capable of a remarkable degree of independent decision making) and by far the biggest brain of any non-vertebrate animal, the octopus is a charmingly alien creature inhabiting a parallel cognitive universe of its own – something MB&F has tried to capture in the Octopod clock’s design.

The eight legs of the Octopod clock are jointed; the articulations can be unlocked by a button in each leg, and posed in a standing or extended position. The globular head (whose design was inspired, says MB&F, by the James Cameron film The Abyss, which featured research mini-subs with transparent spherical pressure hulls) is mounted on a pivoting mount which allows the clock to be tilted to the optimum angle for viewing, and which can also rotate (through 360º in both axes) and which is intended to echo the design of gimbal-mounted marine chronometers.

Black PVD version of the MB&F Octopod clock. Photo courtesy of MB&F

One of the most interesting features of the Octopod is the configuration of the movement. The sharp-eyed will notice immediately that the balance and much of the going train are mounted on the minute hand – basically those components are the minute hand, which means that the escapement rotates 360º every sixty minutes. While the configuration of the gear train isn’t that of a classic tourbillon per se, it’s still an interesting example of a rotating escapement timepiece. The design conceptually is similar to the Ulysse Nardin Freak, which also has the regulating components mounted on the minute hand, and to the Cartier Astrotourbillon though in the latter case, the regulating components rotate once per minute, not once per second. It’s always a technical challenge to ensure that the hand carrying the escapement is properly poised with this sort of design; hence the presence of a large counterweight at the extremity of the minute hand opposite the balance wheel, lever, and escape wheel.

MB&F Octopod spherical polycarbonate case. Photo courtesy of Hodinkee.

Purists might object that the tourbillon’s proper home is in a pocket watch but I think we’re far enough along in the development of modern watch aesthetics to acknowledge that the tourbillon – in whatever form it appears – can be legitimately used for visual effect as well as in the pursuit of better positional performance. In fact it’s probably used far more often for the former than the latter, nowadays; and even Breguet made a table clock with a tourbillon (and constant force escapement, no. 1252) so there is nothing if not precedent for the practice.

Closeup of the MB&F Octopod movement; the balance, lever and escape wheel are mounted on the upper surface of the minute hand. Photo courtesy of Hodinkee.

Closeup of the MB&F Octopod movement; the balance, lever and escape wheel are mounted on the upper surface of the minute hand. Photo courtesy of Hodinkee.
The Octopod’s movement seems to float freely inside the sphere that encloses it; this is thanks to the transparent, mineral glass faceplate which is double anti-reflective coated (and a good thing too; it would be an excellent mirror without the AR coating which would certainly spoil the effect).

Max Büsser and L’Epée 1839 CEO Arnaud Nicolas. Photo courtesy of Hodinkee.

The clock will be made in three limited editions – black PVD, blue PVD, and palladium – with 50 of each. I think this is an especially successful example of a clock collaboration from L’Epée 1839 and MB&F – the flexibility of the clock, the presence of points of articulation throughout, and the handling of the movement inside its bubble enclosure make for not only a very sophisticated and unusual take on the often rather staid world of table clock design, but also fulfills what’s always been one of the key objectives of any MB&F design: creating something that’s fun.

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