A Transfixing Expression Of Time
In its tenth collaboration with Switzerland’s premier clockmaker, L’Epée 1839, MB&F plunges into warm ocean waters where the beautiful and ancient jellyfish proliferate. Medusa is a dual-configuration clock, housed in hand-blown Murano glass, that can be ceiling mounted or stood upon a desk. In the form of one of the most compelling yet mysterious creatures of the sea, Medusa blends exceptional artisanal skill with Swiss horological precision, and introduces new frontiers in both.
The central mass of Medusa is formed by a large transparent dome of hand-blown Murano glass that evokes the bell-shaped body of a mature jellyfish. Two rotating rings, one displaying the hours and the other displaying the minutes, are visible through the dome, and the time is read off a single fixed indicator that extends over the rings. Like a jellyfish glowing in the abyss, Medusa glows in the dark thanks to Super-LumiNova. A 2.5Hz (18,000vph) movement beats underneath the time indication, forming the pulsating heart of this mechanical creature.
The movement of Medusa is entirely new and required over two years of development by L’Epée 1839. Whereas the other co-creations had separate points of winding and setting, Medusa required a combined system for winding and setting, since the surrounding glass dome limits access to the movement. Furthermore, in order to maximise the visual impact of the clock and reinforce the source of its design inspiration, the movement was engineered around a central axis, mimicking the radial symmetry of a jellyfish’s neural column.
Perfecting the glass exterior of Medusa – available in blue, green or pink – was as challenging as any aspect of its movement creation. The pink edition, in particular, required multiple stages of layering red and clear glasses to achieve exactly the right shade desired.
For the best possible aesthetic result, the dome and tentacles had to be crafted from the same glass, which would give them the same optical qualities. The skill needed to produce by hand a set of consistent glass tentacles for each clock exists only in very few glassblowing houses. Add to this the difficulty of creating a hand-blown Murano glass dome that has to appear extremely light and delicate, and yet withstand the weight of a clock movement – it’s easy to see why only one Murano glassblower, out of the 40 companies that L’Epée 1839 approached, was able to accomplish the task.
Independent designer Fabrice Gonet first proposed Medusa in 2016 to MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser, who immediately saw the appeal of Gonet’s sketch and recognised the essential spirit of an MB&F creation in its lines. Says Büsser, “I’ve known Fabrice for some years but we never had the chance to work together before. When he wanted to show me one of his designs, I accepted, even though I don’t normally say yes to this kind of thing — also because I saw that his design was of a clock and not a watch. The vision was so clear that, in the end, the final clock turned out to be very close to the initial sketch!”
Medusa comes in three limited editions of 50 pieces, each in a different colour – blue, green and pink – chosen to reflect the natural hues of a jellyfish.
MEDUSA IN DETAIL
A New Movement
L’Epée went back to the drawing board for Medusa, designing the movement entirely from scratch. Due to the weight of the outer glass shell and its vulnerability to shock damage, it was necessary to build a movement that could be wound one-handed, with the other hand available to stabilise the clock. Additionally, with most of the movement surrounded by glass, access to any winding or setting mechanisms would be limited.
In a departure from their previous clock movements, L’Epée 1839 combined the winding and setting systems in the Medusa movement. A single propeller element, which projects from the bottom of the movement for easy access, is rotated anticlockwise to wind the movement and clockwise to set the time. Whether in its ceiling-mounted or stand-mounded configuration, Medusa is easily and intuitively wound and set.
With no reinforcing outer support structures, the movement of Medusa has been deliberately built to resemble the internal neural network of a jellyfish, with a central column and radial elements. This feature is not simply aesthetic; in terms of engineering it helps to preserve the integrity of the clock as it is suspended from the ceiling.
Medusa can be set on a desk or any flat surface thanks to a special steel frame with curved legs, designed to receive the base of the movement whilst allowing for easy access to the winding and setting mechanism. When hung from the ceiling, Medusa can be further decorated with its hand-blown Murano glass tentacles, which hook onto the movement and sway gently with the slightest motion of the clock – recalling a free-floating jellyfish carried along by the current.
A body of glass
One of the greatest challenges in bringing Medusa to life was finding a glassblower that could fully realise the design. Like most MB&F + L’Epée creations, Medusa was not designed with the current limits of technique in mind. Instead, technique was developed to accommodate its design.
The ethereally light, undulating form of a jellyfish had to be captured in a billowing glass dome that could withstand the entire weight of the 2.34 kg clock. In calculating the dimensions and tolerances of the glass dome, the L’Epée 1839 team faced the daunting task of reducing the weight of the clock and keeping the glass as thick as possible without compromising the design or timekeeping performance of Medusa. As is the case with avant-garde creations, there was no precedent in pushing the materials so far beyond their conventional use. Through trial and error, the L’Epée team were finally able to arrive at the desired result: a glass outer body of incredible strength yet apparent delicacy.
Maintaining optical consistency between the glass dome and tentacles was essential, so the conventional solution of drawing the tentacles out from pre-formed glass rods was not possible. Instead, the tentacles were produced from the same glass bulk as the dome and individually hand drawn to identical shapes and widths, which requires considerable experience and skill.
Getting the right shade for the pink edition of Medusa proved problematic as well, since the same technique applied for the blue and green editions did not work in this case. Much like vitreous enamel, hand-blown glass is coloured by metal oxides, and the palette is limited by known formulas that have been handed down over centuries of glassworking expertise. The pink glass was therefore achieved by first layering red molten glass over a clear core and then subsequently blowing and drawing the glass out.
L’Epée approached 40 well-established glassblowers to produce Medusa, out of which only four agreed to even attempt the challenge. Only one succeeded.
The Medusa name
The associations that come with the name Medusa are varied and span the entire range of human experience, from the natural world’s mesmerising jellyfish with its trailing tentacles to the Gorgon of Greek myth whose every appearance could turn a man to stone. One thing is for sure, once you gaze into the depths of Medusa, it is hard to look away.