MB&F under the stewardship of its founder Max Busser just released the 5th machine in the series appropriately named the HM5. Busser thinks that people can only remember up to 10 different watches without getting them confused, so it will be interesting to see how the naming goes once he surpasses that number.
Like the other Machines, the HM5 is provocative in design and understanding how it works is part of the fun. We’ll run you through the build and the mechanics later. Perhaps more interesting and important is the HM5 and its brethren’s place in the collecting world.
While the Horlogical Machines have their fans, the majority of people find them too progressive for their taste, sticking to more traditional presentations when they purchase a watch. You can compare MB&F watches to the Harry Winston Opus series, initiated by Busser when he was at the company. They are both marvels of micro engineering combined with breakout design, but only appeal to a narrow niche. None of this worries Busser, however. As he says, “If everyone likes what we’re doing, we’re doing something wrong.”
Busser approaches watches from a different perspective than the majority of brands. Usually a new watch starts off with an engineering advancement, the technical aspects leading the way. The case, dial, etc. are then designed around that improvement. In contrast, Busser reverses the formula. The HM5 and all the watches in the collection are an illustration of a watch with an idea and not an engineering improvement. The mechanics follow the design. Additionally, there is no driving theme to the machines, each one started from scratch and specific to the watch. And, this is obvious if you look at the models. There is no specific MB&F DNA.
Interestingly, fashion watches are developed the same way, starting with an idea and then building the movement around it. For the most part, these are inexpensive and expendable watches with a quartz movement. The mechanics aren’t an important part of the watch or the reason you buy it. It’s more about the concept and the look.
You might say that MB&F, in a way, create fashion watches too. There is a big difference though. MB&F always incorporate a high horology execution. The movement is just as important as the design. “If you look at conceptual art, it can be rough in execution. The execution isn’t a major concern,” says Charris Yadigaroglou, Head of Communication at MB&F. “With MB&F, the execution is integral to the process. It’s everything for us.”
Van Cleef & Arpels is another high horlogerie brand that builds a movement around an idea in their Poetic Complications, such as the “Poetic Wish” and “Lover’s Bridge”, winner of the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix in 2010.
While MB&F designs might be a tougher sell in today’s market, they have potential down the line for collectors. In their own way they are icons, representing a milestone in the evolution of watchmaking. You can’t judge too soon. If you look at horologic history, some watches that were snubbed during their time like the Rolex Milgauss Ref. 6541 and Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 are now important and coveted collector’s pieces.
And let’s not forget the rejected watch Louis Cottier, inventor of the worldtime complication, made for Patek Philippe. At the time, it was considered too far out and not a piece that would appeal to Patek Philippe’s clientele. Now it resides in the Patek Philippe museum as a valuable example of technique and design. In fact, URWERK resurrected the idea and form with the UR-CC1 AlTiN “Black Cobra”.
So now that the Horological Machines are put in perspective, let’s take a look at HM5 and its design and mechanics. As Yadigaroglou says, “It’s a case watch, a celebration of design with cues from the 1970’s. It’s not about the movement, per se.” The HM5 uses as a movement the Girard-Perregaux calibre 3300, the same one used in HM2 and 3. Jean-Francois Mojon then modified it.
The raison d’etre for this watch is the case design and the display, which is actually an image of time. It’s an optical illusion. The bi-directional jumping hours and minutes numbers are reversed in circular displays, then pass through an optical-grade sapphire prism that magnifies them 20% as it flips them upright to reflect the proper time.
Designed, as usual, by Eric Giroud, thecase intentionally looks like a 1970’s version of what the future would hold, when supercars came on the scene, we experienced the moon landings and anything seemed possible. Busser also found inspiration in the Girard-Perregaux Casquette (Little Cap), which is a quartz digital watch, and the Digitend, made by the now defunct company, Amida, of which the HM5 is an homage to. Interestingly the Digitend used a mechanical movement to imitate a digital one to tap into the new quartz technology. Louvres on the sleek, automotive-like case aren’t just decorative. They open to allow in sunlight to charge the Super-LumiNova numbers on the time disks. While the case isn’t waterproof, the movement is, with “exhaust pipes” draining off water.
With the HM5, MB&F creates another innovative and challenging timepiece. It will be interesting to see how the watch market responds now… and decades in the future.