Style / World of Watches (WOW)

The Last of the MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement

The latest Legacy Machine SE or Split Escapement brings to fore the unique balance – escapement assortment which literally sets it apart from other watches

Oct 11, 2017 | By Jonathan Ho

It’s hard to believe, but the MB&F Legacy series has had six years of life. The Legacy Machine 1 has been among the independent watchmaker’s steady best sellers, 60 movements a year and they’re always sold out. Thus, to be among the first watch publications to have the latest MB&F Legacy Machine Split Escapement and what looks to be the last of the Legacy Machines (in these design codes) presented by Max Busser himself, LUXUO and WOW considered it a real honour.

The MB&F Legacy Machine hides an impressive property in plain sight – the balance assembly. One might even say it is a celebration of the principle pioneered by Christopher Huygens. Indeed, Max Busser envisioned the Legacy Machine as what the Horological Machine would look like if it were designed and built in the 19th century. – Ashok Soman, Editor, WOW

Presently, out of 360 pieces in six years, there are only 15 Legacy Machines left in the world (Singapore is home to one of them at retailer, The Hour Glass). Why did MB&F stop making the LM1? Because Max wanted his MB&F watches to hold value to the secondary market. For the Creative Executive Officer, a strong brand is one which commands good resale values – while everyone has their own definition on what a strong brand is that sad fact is even if a company sells 50,000 watches a year and should an owner try to sell his watch and find no takers, or worse, has to entertain low ballers offering bids for 20 cents on the dollar, it becomes an issue. Such is the care that MB&F takes about secondary market values that they have begun to offer free servicing whenever MB&F watches are sold through auction houses like Sothebys but we digress.

Legacy Machine Split Escapement was derived by the split escapement originally found on but largely unnoticed on the LM Perpetual

Legacy Machine Split Escapement was derived by the split escapement originally found on but largely unnoticed on the LM Perpetual. Notice how the large balance here shows no escapement anchor?

Every Legacy Machine puts the balance assembly dialside, suspended above the movement by a prominent bridge. With the SE, which stands for Split Escapement, Busser uses this unique architecture to separate the balance wheel and hairspring from the escape wheel, pallet fork and impulse jewel. Take a close look and you’ll find these latter elements missing from the bridge dialside. Instead, they are positioned caseback-side, connected to the rest of the balance via what must be the longest balance staff in wristwatch history – Ashok Soman, Editor, WOW

Introducing the Last of the MB&F Legacy Machines: The LM Split Escapement

When it comes to the Legacy Machines, Max strives for something he doesn’t usually strive for in his horological creations. He strives for beauty in a brand that has become known for innovation and high dramatics. Working with Stephen McDonnell, Max set down McDonnell and wanted to create something using the base of the popular Legacy Machine Perpetual calendar.

The LM Perpetual had many world premieres but what was likely the most amazing was one little mentioned aspect – the fact that the escapement anchor was far removed from the balance wheel. Nowhere in the history of watchmaking has these two elements been separated, so many things are happening on the perpetual calendar complication in front that no one noticed the pallet fork and assortment on the underside of the movement away from the balance wheel, separated by a distance of 11.78 mm in fact – to wit: if a balance wheel is the size of a boutique, its shaft would extend a height of 4 floors, held aloft by two 8 cm pivots at each end.

The escapement anchor of the LM SE is actually on the underside of the calibre. Can you spot it?

Why the need for such theatrics, you might ask? The best answer is the magical effect of seeing the balance wheel and hairspring appearing to move without any influence at all. One might even call this a ‘mysterious’ escapement!  – Ashok Soman, Editor, WOW

Challenges of the Legacy Machine Split Escapement

Technically speaking, there’s a reason why the balance wheel and escapement assortment is rarely, if ever, separated, horological tradition (really common sense) dictates that the balance assembly, anchor and escape wheel, be kept as close to each other as possible to minimise external influences which could threaten chronometry. But Max Busser and his friends, in this instance, the talent Stephen McDonnell, have never been one to shy away from a challenge – the balance of LM Split Escapement beats just under the dial-side dome of sapphire crystal while its impulse jewel, anchor and escape wheel are on the other side of the movement, visible through the transparent caseback.

We questioned Max about the nature of the long balance arbour. Our contention was that the length of the balance arbour would make it more susceptible to shocks and Max agreed that a longer arbour increases the likelihood of disrupting influences on the oscillator, as well as the potential distorting effects of a long axle under continuous torsion. Furthermore, given MB&F’s penchant for leisurely 2.5Hz or 18,000bph, these balances are much harder to regulate. Add to the fact that the inertia of the balance and the rigidity of the arbour are key factors in this delicate equation as well and one can accurately surmise that the engine of the LM SE engine is precisely engineered to ensure chronometric integrity; the balance arbour is fitted at both ends with anti-shock jewel bearings, and the bridge that holds the anchor and escape wheel is separately fixed for optimal fine adjustment.

That said, despite the immense technical hurdles faced with the split escapement, the LM SE or Split Escapement is designed with aesthetics and classicism in mind — beautifully symmetrical and aesthetically pure thanks to the presence of a beating balance without distraction of ticking pallet forks providing regular controlled impulse, here, function follows form – a necessity for stability given that Busser and McDonnell have opted for maximum horological dramatism. 

The Other World First of the LM SE

The other world premiere on the new Legacy Machine Split Escapement is the date pusher – First, it is Gospel truth that one should never attempt a date change close to midnight as the gears have engaged and you risk damage to the calibre should you attempt a date change at that juncture and the second is that you never have a pusher that might easily cause  you to commit an error in that manner out of convenience.

That said, after a brief experience with his own Patek Philippe 5712 where he didn’t have a push pin readily available and decided to wear the watch with date unadjusted, Max decided for his Legacy Machine Split Escapement, he would have an easy-to-use button with clutch system which would safely allow actuation close to midnight, without engaging the date change and accidentally damaging the movement, saving you an expensive trip for watch servicing – the secret, is the open clutch which allows no adjustment during the period it is dangerous to do so.

Four Editions of the Legacy Machine SE: Finishing, Specs, Singapore Pricing and Availability

The launch edition of the Legacy Machine SE is made in a series of 4 pieces. Each 44mm Split Escapment limited to 18 pieces is distinguished with its edition’s base plate hand frosted in rose gold, yellow gold, ruthenium and blue.

  • Blue frosted finish paired with rhodium-plated movement for the most classically elegant version;
  • Ruthenium frosting with similarly darkened movement evoking new-millennial functionality and putting the focus on the white lacquer dials;
  • Red gold frosting and movement conveying warmth and accessibility, its subtle roseate sheen emphasising the intense hue of the blued hands;
  • Yellow-gold frosting and movement finish: the strongest aesthetic affinity with the era inspiring the Legacy Machine collection, an era that defined the precepts of modern watchmaking.

The attractive porcelain white domed subdials are actually finished with stretched lacquer because it’s not technically possible to fire enamel in that shape.

Case 44mm 18K white gold case with 30m water resistance
Movement Stephen McDonnell Split Escapement manual winding movement with twin barrels and 72 hours power reserve
Black or brown hand-stitched alligator strap with white-gold folding buckle.
Price SGD 129400

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