We reckon the creative geniuses at MB&F bathe in a ‘creativity fountain’ because they always manage to surprise us with their beautiful horological creations. The independent brand has just announced its latest mechanical deskclock (it seems wrong to say it’s just a deskclock), a robot with two personalities named Balthazar.
If you’re asking ‘Why name a modern horological robot Balthazar?’, the answer is quite simple. Here’s a short story from MB&F Owner and Creative Director Maximilian Büsser, “In the Büsser family, for over five centuries from the 1400s onwards, every eldest Büsser son was either called Melchior or Balthazar. It alternated. My grandfather was called Melchior and hated it, so he had everybody call him Max, which is how I became a Max. My grandfather hated the Melchior-Balthazar thing so much that he put an end to this 500-year-old tradition by calling my father Mario… Now, a century later, I happen to love the names Melchior and Balthazar!”
Of course Balthazar isn’t the first horological robot that MB&F has created, that honor falls to last year’s Melchior (our story here). The brand then took a walk on the creepy side with the introduction of Arachnophobia (our story here), which while not technically a robot in its appearance, reminded us a of a certain robotic scorpion in the 1993 film Robot Wars. Perhaps realising that they may have freaked out some people with Arachnophobia, MB&F then released a super adorable robot named Sherman (story here) earlier in 2016.
Coming back to Balthazar, this MB&F robot screams high-precision engineering and an obsessive attention to detail. It comprises 618 components in total, of which 405 components belong to the movement alone. The hand-wound movement packs five barrels set in series, which give a massive power reserve of 35 days. This means you’ll only have to wind this robot up about 10 times each year, though we’re sure you’ll be ‘playing’ with him much more than that.
Compared to Melchior, Balthazar is a far different beast in terms of its functions, aesthetics and movement. We’ll discuss the functions and movement a little later on but in terms of dimensions, here are a few impressive numbers. Balthazar is 30% taller than Melchior, measuring 39.4cm in height, about 23.8cm wide, and tips the scales at a colossal 8.2kg (Melchior was 6.3kg). Each of Balthazar’s legs weighs 1.5kg, and MB&F decided against allowing articulation to reduce the risk of the robot falling over. To enhance stability further, MB&F also gave Balthazar a lower center of gravity around its hips. We reckon this is smart because the last thing you want is to have your 8.2kg robot falling over.
As far as articulation, MB&F says owners will really be able to enjoy Balthazar because of how much attention was paid to the robot’s joints, and rotating parts. The torso can rotate a full 180-degrees, allowing you to see his ‘other’ side (more later), and the Horological Lab says that manipulating the joints will feel like ‘gently closing the door on a high-end German sedan’. MB&F attributes the robot’s many tactile touches to the fact that it is built by artisans that care deeply about touch, sensations and even sounds.
At a glance Balthazar is striking to look at but as with all MB&F creations, an eager eye will be further rewarded. The robot’s shield features a battleaxe and also functions as storage for a double-depth square-socket winding/time-setting key. Moving to Balthazar’s head you’re in for a real treat.
Of course you have the regulating organ sitting up top but this robot – unlike any other MB&F robot before it – actually has two different faces, which we’ll call the light side and a dark side ;). On the light side – the side of the robot that tells the time – you have a ‘normal’, harmless-looking robotic face, and each eye socket features a 20-second retrograde seconds display in stainless steel, and painted with red lacquer. They do a good job of looking like eyes. However, once you rotate the torso 180-degrees, and look at the other side of the robot’s face, things get a bit more sinister…
You’ll find a freakish metallic skull that may resurrect every Terminator nightmare you’ve ever had. On this dark side face, there’s even more detail to drink in – the skull looks machined to perfection (based on pictures), and the teeth – believe it or not – are milled and polished individually, before being fitted into the mouth one-by-one. The effect is dramatic but that’s not all. The robot’s eyes will complete your Terminator nightmare because set far back into each eye socket are red rubies. The effect is brilliant but they also serve a purpose because each ruby is actually the ruby bearing, which supports the 20-second retrograde display on the robot’s light side face. Brilliant!
As with Melchior, the majority of Balthazar’s indications can be observed on its torso. The torso consists of three pieces, the breast and two CVD color-treated shoulder pads. On the main side (light side) you’ll find the hours, minutes and power reserve indicator, while on the other side (the dark side), you’ll find a dual hemisphere moonphase display. The moonphase complication is a new addition that did not exist on either Melchior or Sherman, and will be accurate to 122-years.
MB&F worked closely with L’Epée to bring Balthazar to fruition, and because of this robot’s different design, new complication and dimensions, L’Epée had to go back and redesign the Melchior movement almost entirely – MB&F says this is pretty much an all new movement. The 30% increase in height alone dictated that an additional gear train was needed. Check out the the video below to get a better view of Balthazar and the work that goes into creating this incredible robot.
As far as finishing is concerned, you can expect to find Geneva waves, plenty of anglage, mirror polishing, sandblasting, circular and vertical satin finishing across Balthazar’s impressive body and movement. Finishing is particularly challenging on larger components as L’Epée’s CEO Arnaud Nicolas explains: “It’s not simply a case of double the size of the components, double the time it takes to finish them. The complexity increases exponentially. For polishing, for example, you need to apply the same pressure as when finishing a watch movement but on a much larger surface. Any variation in that pressure will show up in the finishing, so a skilled and steady hand is required to apply uniform pressure.”
Balthazar is being offered in four colors – black, silver, blue and green armor, and each color is limited to just 50 pieces. The M.A.D. Gallery in Dubai’s Alserkal is sure to receive these mechanical marvels in the coming weeks, and we’ll update this story as soon as we have local retail prices and availability. Just so you have an idea however, the official international retail price is set at about US $53,000 plus tax.
To learn more about MB&F, click here.