Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the MB&F HM1.
Ever since MB&F surprised the world with its strange and fascinating first model, the HM1, high-end watchmaking has only gotten weirder. The Swiss brand didn’t create this highly eccentric niche of the watch industry, but it contributed to it significantly and elevated its profile. Whether or not you find the aesthetics or prices palatable, MB&F is constantly challenging established notions of what a watch is, or can be, and is notable for representing the extreme end of esoteric horology.
Now that the brand is over a decade old, the HM1 (shown above) is no longer MB&F’s most outrageous product by a long shot. Which one deserves this particular designation is debatable — whether it’s the HM4 that looks like two horizontal jet turbines strapped to a wrist; the desk/wall clock that looks like a giant mechanical spider; one of the various clocks shaped like spaceships or robots; or some other horological creation that can perhaps only be described as…indescribable. When the brand debuted its first product in 2007 with the HM1, however, people likely didn’t know what to make of it.
Before founding MB&F, Maximilian Büsser was already responsible for some of the most avant-garde haute horlogerie in existence as managing director at Harry Winston, where he worked with various independent watchmakers on the Opus series of concept watches. He imported the creative spirit and collaborative nature of the Harry Winston Opus as a foundational concept of MB&F, the brand’s name standing for “Max Büsser and Friends.” For each new project, MB&F assembles a relatively small team and, quite uncommonly for the watch industry, each person and his or her role is prominently disclosed.
The MB&F HM1 movement, for example, was manufactured by Claude Blanc and Hervé Schlüchter; hand finishing of movement components was performed by Jacques Adrien Rochat and Denis Garcia; and so on, even down to web design and product photography. Maximilian Büsser himself is credited with the concept — drawings that were then rendered by a designer (Eric Giroud), movement engineer (Laurent Besse), and watchmaker (Peter Speake-Marin). Not to be boxed into a notions of what a watch should or shouldn’t be, the brand refers to its creations, not as watches, but as “machines” (HM1 is for “Horological Machine No. 1”).
MB&F Horological Machine 6
The HM1 is certainly unconventional but, unlike some later MB&Fs, it’s clear right away that one is looking at a watch of some unfamiliar sort, with two dials side by side. With the hours to the left and the minutes (and a power reserve indicator) to the right, reading the time is a simple — if not immediately legible — affair. Rather, emphasis is placed on spectacle, with a sense of visual complexity achieved by displaying multiple strata of the dial down to the intricate and meticulously finished movement below. Prominently squeezed between the two dials and providing some animation is a one-minute tourbillon.
MB&F makes a point of incorporating some technically interesting features in each of its watches, lest their avant-garde design seem superficial. In addition to the watchmaker’s pet challenge, the tourbillon, the brand emphasizes its use of four mainspring barrels (most watches have one, or two at most) that together power the watch for a full seven days. Automatic winding is a convenient bonus. Still, it is the strange figure-eight-like case shape with its unconventional face that stands out most, measuring much wider at 64mm across than its length of just 41mm.
MB&F Horological Machine 4
MB&F watches are produced in very limited quantities and often priced well into six figures. Despite their existence in a world in which the least expensive cellular phone or a $10 Casio can tell the time with more accuracy than the most sophisticated mechanical watch, MB&F’s creations clearly serve a deeper purpose: to enrich the world with fantastic objects that are beautiful simply by virtue of their existence, and the boldness required to imagine them.