Hello from Geneva! I’m in Switzerland to cover the third annual Geneva Watch Days exhibition, a small Swiss industry trade show that popped up in 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the conventional trade show calendar was in utter disarray. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend the first two iterations of the show due to pandemic travel restrictions, so I’m excited to officially be on the ground in Geneva to cover the show’s third time around the sun. First on my docket is MB&F, who is releasing a pair of enticing new colorways in the LM Split Escapement series.
The MB & F LM Split Escapement EVO could very rightfully be considered the fifth generation of MB&F’s Legacy Machine series. When it was first released in 2017, it was the fifth iteration of the Legacy Machine concept, following the LM1, the LM2, the LM101, and the Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar. It could also, however, be accurately considered a bit of a back-to-basics moment for the inventive and eccentric Swiss watch company.
And I don’t mean that because it’s any less complicated a creation – despite only featuring the hours and minutes, power reserve, and date split across the three raised sub-dials, it’s all about the unique approach to the escapement, which soars above the rest of the dial, suspended in space thanks to a highly polished, arched V-shaped bridge. This so-called Split Escapement will likely be the first detail on the watch to capture your attention. But then, you might notice something odd: Where, pray tell, are the typical lever and escape wheel to provide impulse to the balance wheel? What sort of strange horological devil magic allows this watch to work?!
The secret is hidden in the watch’s name – the “split” in Split Escapement references to the appearance of an open separation set in between the oscillating balance wheel and its impulse-providing lever, escape wheel, and impulse jewel. The balance, clearly, is the star of the show, while the rest of the necessary escapement parts are positioned underneath the dial and hidden from view. Although the balance appears at first glance to be completely disconnected from any element outside its looming V-shaped bridge, there’s actually an extra-long balance staff measuring exactly 11.78 millimeters that links the sky-high balance wheel to the subterranean action of the Swiss lever, the impulse jewel, and the impulse roller.
As you might expect, the tolerances involved in ensuring the proper transmission of energy across 11.78 millimeters are absurdly infinitesimal. Just consider the architecture of a traditional Swiss lever escapement – the driving escape wheel, the lever, and the balance wheel are typically all placed together in sequence to ensure everything couples together without a hitch. Now, imagine intentionally breaking all of that up by nearly half an inch, with only a slim pole ensuring it all works out without issue. Pretty cool, right?
This unconventional approach was born from the brain of one Stephen McDonnell, the Irish mastermind behind two of my absolute favorite MB&F watches, the astoundingly clever LM Perpetual Calendar, and the recently released haymaker of a chronograph, the LM Sequential EVO. The Split Escapement approach was actually first used by McDonnell and MB&F inside the LM Perpetual Calendar in 2015, and it isn’t inaccurate to understand that the much simpler LM Split Escapement watches are more or less identical to the LM Perpetual Calendar, except with the elimination of the perpetual calendar mechanism. It’s a back-to-basics approach for the Legacy Machine series in a method that only MB&F could envision.
For 2022, MB & F LM Split Escapement EVO is adding two new color variants of the Split Escapement EVO to the collection. One example, featuring an attractive “Sky Blue” base dial and slate grey sub-dials, will enter serial production. The second release features a black base dial and dark blue sub-dials and is a limited edition of 25 pieces exclusive to the Beverly Hills MB&F LAB, a new in-store retail concept that MB&F is deploying in select markets and that operates as a smaller sibling of the company’s flagship MAD Gallery retail locations; the Beverly Hills MB&F LAB is run by Westime Jewelers.
Both of the new watches are placed in grade-5 titanium cases and are part of the company’s EVO series, which indicates additional sporty design elements, such as an integrated rubber strap, a screw-down crown, 80 total meters of water resistance, and a unique internal shock-absorbing system developed by MB&F called “FlexRing,” which is more or less a monobloc steel dampener that sits in between the case and movement. The first LM Split Escapement included in the EVO collection was actually released earlier this year in the UAE Golden Jubilee, a 10-piece limited edition with a salmon dial created at the request of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the region’s leading luxury watch retailer, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.
There’s never been any doubt about MB&F’s creativity, innovation, and general horological ingenuity. Those are all fairly painless to appreciate, but I’m sure there have been more than one intrigued well-to-do collector who’s walked away from a potential acquisition over wearability concerns. The development of the more casual EVO elements throughout the greater Legacy Machine collection is meant to address any potential unease around fit.
MB&F introduced the EVO platform in 2020, so my first experience handling a fully EVO-kitted-out Legacy Machine wasn’t until I saw the Sequential chronograph earlier this year. I remember feeling suitably impressed at how it impacted the on-the-wrist experience compared to previous-gen LMs. There’s no question that MB & F LM Split Escapement EVO generally produces watches on the rather large side – they don’t hide from the fact! – but the addition of the integrated rubber strap and bezel-less case profile makes the entire silhouette more dynamic and endearing. If I was an MB&F owner, I imagine the additional EVO components would make it a lot easier to strap the watch on in the morning, especially compared to a stiff alligator leather strap.
So I think it’s a positive to see that MB&F is prioritizing the expansion of the EVO design elements throughout the entire Legacy Machine line-up, instead of focusing on one or two “sportier” references. I also appreciate how the Split Escapement is such an authentically MB&F creation even though it’s technically a spin-off of the company’s more complicated LM Perpetual Calendar.
As much as I adore the MB&F QP, I wouldn’t feel short-changed or disappointed at all to end up with the Split Escapement instead. It’s rare to find a watch that places such a priority on showing off its regulating organ, especially one that’s built around the traditional Swiss lever (albeit executed very differently than normal), but the MB & F LM Split Escapement EVO is all the better for it. It’s a timepiece that dictates its own aesthetics through the purity of its horological approach – the first thing you notice is the extra-large balance wheel seeming to spin freely through devil magic.