Review: Maurice LaCroix Mysterious Seconds
When a technology has been around as long as the mechanical watch has, it can be hard to think of something new—but that hasn’t stopped Maurice LaCroix from trying. Can we uncover the mystery of the aptly named Mysterious Seconds?
With a second hand that inexplicably floats around the enormous seconds sub-dial, this Maurice LaCroix has certainly earned the name, ‘Mysterious’. But there’s another word hovering in the periphery, one that’s a bit of an elephant in the room: ‘gimmick’.
There’s more to the Mysterious Seconds than cheap parlour tricks, however, because this is a variant of complication that’s been in service since 1912. The idea of a magical display was first introduced by illusionist Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, considered the father of modern conjuring and the inspiration for Ehrich Weiss, better known as Houdini.
The principle of Robert-Houdin’s clock was based around the floating hour and minute hands, suspended within a gold outer rim as if by magic. The mystery was simple, but very convincing, the hands mounted onto glass disks, driven from the edge. It was a style developed further by Cartier in 1920, taken to the next level by housing the floating hands within a crystal box, the mechanism cleverly hidden from view.
Some of Cartier’s later designs took the concept to a level that still baffles today, the use of a single, narrow connecting point dangling the floating dial mechanism like a pendant, one of the most impressive. The mystery clock, as you can imagine, was intended to be a statement piece, and in that respect, it was hugely successful. They were and continue to be the most expensive decorative objects ever produced by Cartier.
It’s an unusual tradition that Maurice LaCroix has revived for the Mysterious Seconds, to showcase its ability to build in-house movements. Let’s look a little closer.
You probably don’t associate Maurice LaCroix with high-end, in-house movement manufacture, and that’s a fair appraisal, because as a relative junior in the industry at just over 40 years old, the brand is best known for its entry-level offerings.
That hasn’t stopped the Jura-based watchmaker trying to make a name for itself with its Masterpiece collection, however, first introduced in 1990. Given the expense of developing a simple, time-only movement—estimated to cost around £1 million—this was a bold and, to be honest, rather risky move for such an unknown brand to make.
Most new brands investing in in-house movements do so as the primary focus of their collections—take Nomos for example—but Maurice LaCroix bucked that trend by using the Masterpiece line as a halo product to elevate its core offerings. Very similar to how Audi introduced the halo R8 to boost the perception of its everyday cars to bring them in line with Mercedes’ and BMW’s.
There are only a handful of watches in this flagship Masterpiece range, some that are more traditional, and others, like this Mysterious Seconds, that offer something a little more unusual. Powered by the calibre ML 215, the Mysterious Seconds has a display that compromises even the telling of the time to proudly showcase its illusion, munching almost half of the regular hour and minute track—that’s already taken a back seat—with its arena of illusions. Some stark skeletonisation offers a peep within the calibre ML 215, but there’s no telling how the watch does its magic.
Speaking of which, here it is, the mysterious seconds of the Mysterious Seconds. It takes a moment to even figure out how to read it, the black and blue tips passing indication duties from one another every 15 seconds—but it’s unlikely that the readability of the dial will be the first question that’s raised.
So, how does this seemingly impossible feat occur? The initial instinct is with magnets, but as a gentle shake reveals that can’t be the case; the hand is solid as a rock, not to mention the big no-no of mixing magnets and movements.
A closer look reveals the answer: the white background, which appears stationary at distance, rotates, the second hand, by way of planetary gears, orbiting the centre whilst performing its rotation. It’s a similar principle to the original Mystery Clock, with the addition of the orbit, presented cleverly enough to hide the mechanism from all but the most thorough scrutiny. I think Robert-Houdin would be rather impressed.
So, it’s not exactly the next must-have complication, but it’s an interesting and unusual way to demonstrate the marvel of watchmaking, using a technique that’s baffled onlookers for over a century. It may not be magic, but for that brief moment of suspended disbelief, it’s as close as it gets.
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