Moonmachine 2: Art Collaboration from MB&F and Sarpaneva
Architecture & Design

The Men and The Moon: MB&F and Sarpaneva Send Us Into Space, Again

The 2018 Edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Brings Us Another Performance Art Collaboration from MB&F and Sarpaneva

By Barbara Palumbo

“Modern science says: 'The sun is the past, the earth is the present, the moon is the future.'” – Nikola Tesla

In the age of the social media influencer, the term “collaboration” has sadly morphed into a distorted silhouette of itself, meaning something quite unlike its textbook definition. When I read the words “in collaboration with...” slipped into an Instagrammer’s caption, I immediately think that they’ve been paid to promote to their hundreds of thousands of followers (bought or not) said brand’s designs/product/work, without doing much more than posing for or reposting a picture and typing a handful of characters from their iPhone X. That, to me, is no collaboration. The influencer’s hands didn’t get dirty. Their stress levels didn’t rise to the point of chest pains and migraines. They didn’t sweat their way through failed prototypes. They didn’t bite their nails while reading the reviews of their work on various watch forums or highly-respected blogs. No, they did none of those things, because those things are what make a genuine collaboration what it is: equal work by the two parties involved. However, the MoonMachine 2 by MB&F and Sarpaneva, released at the 2018 edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), is as true a collaboration as any in the watch world, and it’s one this journalist in particular is more than happy to write about.

To know Max Büsser and Stepan Sarpaneva is to know both creativity and legacy. Stepan’s lineage of Finnish blacksmiths and textile artists no doubt influences what he does in the watch world today, and Max – well, what can I write about Max that I haven’t already written a dozen or so times? Max’s openness to ideas, combined with his youthful desire to make an otherwise stoic industry fun for everyone, gives artists like Stepan Sarpaneva the platforms they so rightfully have earned, resulting in the various forms of Performance Art we’ve seen come out of MB&F over the years, up to and including this year’s collaboration.

For the original MoonMachine (which was released in 2012), Stepan reconfigured the HM3 “Frog” by turning it 90° and adding his now famous moon-face/moon-phase indicator. He also, according to the brand’s website, “transformed the winding rotor into a scintillating firmament of laser-pierced northern stars, forming constellations visible in the northern sky.” Now six years later, we are treated to the MoonMachine2, which comes to us in the outward form of the HM8 Can-Am (the first MB&F Horological Machine to contain the battle-axe rotor as well as the heads-up time display seen first in the HM5), but with the world’s first projected moonphase display. 

Upon sitting down in the MB&F booth with Stepan and Charris Yadigaroglou (aka - #theprettiestmaninwatches) in the Carré des Horlogers at the SIHH, I immediately got the sense that I was going to witness something that would prove special to me and my background as a once-jeweler’s apprentice. 

This wasn’t the funny, joke-filled meeting from two years ago with James Thompson, where we found ourselves under the table discussing North Carolina barbecue amongst other unnecessarily non-watch-related topics.

It was rather a more serious conversation about the mystery of the moon, its meaning to those who come from Finland, and the jewelry design work of Stepan’s father and uncle, Pentti and Timo Sarpaneva. Stepan, with undeniable pride, explained the method and concept behind his latest collaboration with MB&F in terms even this still-novice could understand. As someone with a background in jewelry manufacturing, one of the characteristics that stood out for me personally about the MoonMachine 2 was the size of its gold moons – the smallest ever created by Stepan Sarpaneva. On average, the moons Stepan has made for timepieces up to this point have been roughly 10mm in diameter and about 0.5mm in thickness. For comparison, the MoonMachine 2 uses one moon that is 8.5mm in diameter and 0.45mm in thickness, and two tiny moons that are 4.5mm wide and 0.35mm thick. But what’s even more impressive is the process with which each moon is created; a process that – if failed – results in having to start the creation of the moon over from the beginning. 

After first being stamped to a thickness of 0.55mm, the smaller gold moons are then reduced to just under 0.4mm through the process of hand-turning on a lathe. After being ground down manually with a stone tool until they are 0.35mm at their thickest point, the moons are blasted to create an even, matte-like finish, with their thinnest point (in the area of the moon’s eyes) being as narrow as 0.07mm. That’s a dangerously thin piece of gold which, if accidentally pierced or punctured, can result in the ruination of a moon. Roughly about eight out of each ten moons created were discarded for not passing the quality test required by both MB&F and Sarpaneva in order for them to be used in the making of the MoonMachine 2. When the tests are passed, however, you’ll find that two of the Sarpaneva moons are mounted on the moon disc, taking it in turns to cycle under a Korona ring, and the third is mounted on the winding rotor. The sapphire crystal pane framing the top of the MoonMachine 2 engine has been metalized, drawing attention to the finish of the brushed titanium rotor as it moves.

Those familiar with the HM8 know that the simplified case construction highlights the whimsical nature of the projected hours and minutes. MoonMachine 2 uses that same concept in order to focus on the visual of the moon disc appearing in a space not quite large enough for the moon’s magnificent character. The projection occurs using an optical prism to refract the hours, minutes, and moon discs to appear as if they are perpendicular to the engine, and the hours and minutes (but not the moonphase) are enlarged by 20% through the prism in order to read the time more easily. The MoonMachine 2 has a slightly larger case size than the HM8 so as to accommodate the additional moon disc, and a Korona-framed gold plaque signifying the collaboration between Stepan Sarpaneva and MB&F is affixed on the sapphire crystal pane which is adjacent to the crown. 

It was a joy and a pleasure to get to discuss goldsmithing for a change during a watch appointment; something I don’t get to do very often but wish more brands would focus on. We tend to find ourselves all too often caught up in the mechanics of watchmaking, and sometimes the beauty of the age-old traditions of jewelers can get lost amongst caliber references and complicated movements. 

Metalsmithing is also complicated – as Stepan shows us here – and as much as we occasionally like to believe that the jewelry world isn’t a big part of the watch world, a piece like the MoonMachine 2 comes along and proves us so very wrong.

The MB&F and Sarpaneva MoonMachine 2 is available in three limited editions of 12: one in full titanium with white gold moons and a light-blue sky, one in blackened titanium with white gold moons and a dark-blue sky, and one in red gold and titanium with red gold moons and an anthracite sky. 

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