At first glance, the Orb looks like a futuristic model of an eye with its perfectly formed shiny sphere, and its dial taking the place of the iris and the pupil. But nothing is ever quite what it seems with the collaborative clocks of MB&F × L’Epée 1839. The minimalistic structure is composed of four elytra (that’s the technical word for a beetle’s protective wing covers, in case you were wondering) that not only open up, but can also swivel like a transformer to display the Orb in a variety of different positions. The shiny-white version is reminiscent of the first iPods with their lustrous curved cases, a surface that is particularly pleasing to the eye and the touch. The possibilities of displaying the ORB are multiple. Placed on its saucer so it doesn’t roll away, it can be displayed completely closed or with one, two or three opened elytra. Alternatively, opening all four elytra allows to display the clock without the saucer. Orb starts life as a solid block of aluminium that is then hollowed to create the perfect sphere. Once cut, the elytra are then coated with several layers of lacquer that are hardened in a kiln to create the brilliant finish. The four elytra are soldered to the structure with torque hinges so they can retain their angle however little or wide they are opened. When closed, the elytra are held in place with four tiny magnets on the interior of each tip to keep the shape of a perfect sphere.
Powering this state-of-the-art clock is a beautiful L’Epée 1839 hour-striking movement with an eight-day power reserve. In contrast to many of the other MB&F × L’Epée clocks, the movement is not perceivable from the outside. But the perfectly formed sphere invites the viewer into the mechanical heart of the piece and the discovery of the movement. The eight-day calibre can be seen just slightly through the curved aluminium dial covered by a domed mineral glass, which has a hole in the centre to allow the setting of the time with a special key. There are two barrels, one for the time and the other for the striking of the hours, that are wound separately. The hour mechanism doesn’t just chime the passage of the hour, but indicates the actual hour, like a church clock. This function can also be repeated on demand via a button on the side of the clock, or turned on and off if required. This new hour-striking development is based on a similar mechanism used in L’Epée 1839’s historic carriage clocks. In France, these are known as “Officer’s clocks” as legend has it that when Napoleon almost lost a battle because one of his officers was late, he ordered all of his military chiefs to carry a carriage clock with them at all times.
The word orb comes from the Latin orbis, meaning “circle” or “disk”. The word is also the basis of the word “orbit”, a word that has stayed in the modern-day vernacular even if orbits are now known to be elliptical and not at all round. Orbs are also used today in fanfiction to mean eyes, as in “cerulean orbs” that designate blue eyes or “chocolate orbs” for brown eyes – a nod to perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when we first lay eyes on the Orb. Dedicated to making high-end clocks, L’Epée has been a prominent Swiss Manufacture for over 180 years. Founded in 1839 by Auguste L’Epée in France’s Besançon region, the company originally focused on producing music boxes and watch components and became synonymous at the time with entirely handmade pieces. From 1850, L’Epée became a leading light in the production of ‘platform’ escapements, creating regulators especially for alarm and table clocks and musical watches. It became a well-known specialist owning a large number of patents on exceptional escapements and the chief supplier of escapements to several celebrated watchmakers of the day. L’Epée has won a number of gold medals at international exhibitions. During the 20th century, L’Epée owed much of its reputation to its superlative carriage clocks; for many, the clock of the influential and powerful in addition to being the gift of choice of French government officials to elite guests. In 1976 when the Concorde supersonic aircraft entered commercial service, L’Epée wall clocks were chosen to furnish the cabins, providing passengers with the time. In 1994, L’Epée showed its thirst for a challenge when it built the world’s biggest clock with a compensated pendulum, the Giant Regulator, which was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records.