x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A wonder of a watch

How Stepan Sarpaneva looks to the moon for inspiration for his collaboration with industry yogi Max Busser.

Moonmachine designed by Stepan Sarpaneva. Courtesy MB&F
Moonmachine designed by Stepan Sarpaneva. Courtesy MB&F

"The Moon bothers me," says Stepan Sarpaneva, gnomically. "Even if I cannot see it, I can feel it, and during the Full Moon and New Moon I'm especially sensitive… I sleep badly. Perhaps I'm cursed?"

Whether he is or he isn't, it's certainly not unusual for a watchmaker to suffer from mild lunacy. For centuries, a phase-of-the-moon indicator has featured on some of the finest pieces from grande maisons such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet. Since time as we know is defined by the Earth's movement through space, it makes perfect sense; the moon is the most dynamic, romantic representation of the heavens' steady progress.

Sarpaneva, however, is Finnish, which means his mindset is rather out of step with your typical Swiss. Working alone on the outskirts of Helsinki, in a corner of Nokia's old cable factory, the fact it's freezing-cold and gloomy to pitch-black for six months of every year is bound to affect anyone. Which explains how he was the first in the world to make a moonphase that showed the dark new moon rather than the bright full moon. As he is from a family of designers and artists, it wasn't to be a plain disc either.

"Everyone in Finland floats around with an aura of slight melancholy," he says. "So a smiling moon was out of the question. Instead, I gave it an aura of aristocratic melancholy, with a bit of indecision as to whether he is happy or sad. His expression just 'is' - the same as the people here."

This year, Sarpaneva's enigmatic moonphase has now worked its way into a version of MB&F's bug-eyed HM3 'Frog' - the latest and arguably most charismatic collaboration from industry yogi Max Busser and his 'friends'. Not only does 'Moonmachine' have Stepan's moon, but the winding rotor has been placed between the movement below and moons above, stencilled with the seven brightest stars in Ursa Major - the Big Dipper - plus the seven brightest stars of Ursa Minor (the Little Bear). It's a celestial wonder to behold.

"Collaborating on a performance-art piece is rarely a straightforward task," says Büsser. "But when you meet a creator like Stepan, who not only has great ideas but enormous talent and human values, making the decision to work together is easy. The result is a piece that neither Stepan nor MB&F would have created alone."

Stepan agrees: "It's been a really interesting project for me technically, because the rotor of the HM3 is on top. By covering the movement with the moonphase and sky, you make the timepiece more poetic. Moonmachine transforms HM3 into a fairy tale."