Every home used to have at least one. Hung on the wall, standing on the sideboard or perched on the mantle. Unassuming or elaborate, clocks regimented time for the entire family. Today, of course, it’s a different story. Only a smattering of prestigious names – Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hermès, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Parmigiani Fleurier… – still feature clocks in their catalogue. And even then only sporadically, given that many brands don’t manufacture the movement themselves. Clocks have become a niche market to which the brands in question cater with more or less conviction.
An icon returns
In the midst of this rather sparse landscape, one figure stands out: L’Epée, Switzerland’s last remaining high-end clock manufacturer, based in Delémont in the Jura mountains and part of Swiza Group. In 2009 the company would have gone under, were it not for a handful of investors who were determined to save its age-old expertise from history’s bottom drawer. Since then business hasn’t just picked up; it has been transformed. Six years ago, L’Epée did little more than manufacture movements for third parties. The clocks it produced under its own name represented just 6% to 7% of revenue. Now it’s the opposite. Clocks have come up trumps and account for 60% of sales, the unmistakable sign of a revival of interest in this type of timepiece: clocks that don’t simply give the time but are intended as mechanical artworks that take shape in their creator’s limitless imagination.
L’Epée owes much to its collaboration with Max Büsser and his friends (MB&F), a collaboration that began in 2009, precisely when L’Epée was making its comeback. The founder of MB&F and Arnaud Nicolas, CEO of L’Epée, immediately saw eye to eye, as Arnaud Nicolas recalls: “We’re both engineers, which I’m sure helps each of us see where the other is coming from. But that doesn’t explain everything. We hit it off from our very first meeting, both on a personal and a professional level. We complement each other and are open to what others have to say. We’re also keen to get to the bottom of things. Fast.” Max Büsser, as one might expect, concurs: “For many years, all my projects have been based on collaboration. It’s this pooling of talents that interests me. The collaboration with L’Epée and Arnaud Nicolas is authentic and possibly the best one of all. We’re in a field that allows unbridled expression. We’ve already imagined three objects together, each of which grabbed the attention of both media and collectors, and which have almost all found takers. And I’m sure you’ll be even more amazed by what we’re lining up next.”
A time-telling spider
For the time being though, after Starfleet Machine, the intergalactic clock-cum-spaceship, and Melchior the mechanical robot, this autumn it’s the turn of Arachnophobia to spin its web. As its name suggests, this is a spider-clock that will be equally at home on a table or desk as it will mounted on a wall. Indeed, it is perhaps in its vertical configuration that this extraordinary object truly comes into its own. Max Büsser found inspiration for its design in Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider sculpture, Maman (Mother). The abdomen houses the movement and the dial. The softly curved legs are made as one piece and are articulated where they join the body, meaning they can be rotated to give the spider subtly different attitudes. Interestingly, the legs aren’t cut on a CNC machine but instead are injection-moulded, using brass for the gold-coloured version and aluminium for the black edition. Each leg is, of course, hand-finished in keeping with the values of Haute Horlogerie.
The movement is a hand-wound calibre with an eight-day power reserve and a frequency of 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph). Totally visible and extensively skeletonised, it is of course from L’Epée, which has adapted and transformed it for this purpose. The regulating system represents the spider’s head while the other end contains the movement’s one barrel. A black dome forms the spider’s body, with hour and minute hands pointing to white numerals, a signature of other MB&F creations. The movement is key-wound on the underside of the spider. Its finishes and decorations are also to Haute Horlogerie standards. Like every joint endeavour between MB&F and L’Epée, Arachnophobia bears the name of both its creators, and is proposed as two 500-piece limited editions.