“Holy sh*t, that’s cool!”
Those were the first words to escape my lips when I finally laid my eager eyes on the new Horological Machine No.5 from MB&F. Admittedly not the most dignified response and, judging by the glares of my fellow café-goers at the time, certainly not the most politically correct however, I am a firm believer in the notion that our first impressions are often our most honest. Plus, who cares? This really is one seriously cool timepiece!
It’s hard to know where to start when describing a new creation from MB&F, namely because each timepiece is quite simply that, a new creation. There are no real direct comparisons to be drawn with previous models and generally the only common features they share are the Battleaxe rotor and the fact that they tell the time. That’s not a complaint though, not by any stretch of the imagination but it is an important point to make as it talks to the incredible creativity and ingenuity of the MB&F team, led by creative director Maximilian Busser.
That being said there is one, critical element that must be explored in detail to fully appreciate the significance and intricacy of each horological machine. I am of course talking about the source (or sources) of their inspiration. Busser has made no secret of the fact that he often felt lonely in his childhood and so immersed himself in a rich imaginary environment of his own creation, populated by various elements of the popular culture at the time, such as spaceships and supercars. The only difference between now and then is that Busser is now able to turn those ideas into reality (and of course he is a lot less lonely too!)
The HM5 is no exception. According to the brand the design has been inspired by Busser’s interpretation of the free-spirited and highly-energized era of the early 1970s. This was a time of great promise and excitement, we had already conquered the moon at the end of the last decade and now anything was possible; supercars, hovercrafts, even rocket men! If the mind could dream it, man could achieve it.
The Amida Digitrend was a key source of inspiration for the HM5.
It was also around this same time that an event occurred that would have dramatic repercussions for the luxury watch industry; the introduction of mass produced quartz watches. In a time where speed was king and man was constantly seeking the latest innovations, this development would sound the death knell for many of the traditional brands.
It wasn’t just the super-accurate movements that got people’s pulses racing though; it was also the bold, futuristic case designs and time displays wrapped around them. Digital was cool, it was different and most importantly it was accessible.
Not all brands chose to see this as a negative however, after all it was quite liberating from a design point of view. One brand in particular decided that a watch could still be cool, even without a quartz movement. That brand was Amida and their solution was the Amida Digitrend (pictured above), a mechanically powered timepiece that featured a fashionably futuristic tapered case and vertical digital LED-look display. Ultimately this was not enough to save the brand from extinction however at the very least their iconic timepiece has gone on to inspire another in the same vein.
The first thing you notice about the HM5 is that the design is nowhere near as outrageous as the HM4. In fact by MB&F’s standards this sleek machine could almost be classed as conservative. Of course, it is anything but.
The other thing that stands out is that the HM5 does not appear to as complicated as its predecessors. This is true in part and has been reflected in the 54,000CHF + tax price tag, which is considerably lower than the other horological machines. Just as side note, the decision to price this new model fairly reflects not only Busser’s understanding of the market but also the respect he has for his clients and his supporters. It would have been easy (and tempting I’m sure) to add on an additional premium to reflect the strength of the brand name and the high desirability (and limited availability) of this timepiece. The fact that they haven’t, for me at least, speaks volumes about the brand.
All that being said, first appearances can be deceiving and this is most definitely the case with the HM5. Although from the outside it may not appear complicated, it most certainly is. The movement was developed by Jean-François Mojon and Vincent Boucard of Chronode and features bi-directional jumping hours – enabling the time to be easily set both forwards and backwards – and minutes, printed on two overlapping mineral glass discs and then covered in Super-LumiNova. The discs have been designed to overlap as much as possible to maximise their diameter and the space available for large legible numerals.
As you can see in the image above however the discs are laid flat and rotate on top of the movement, which begs two questions. Firstly, if the discs are flat, how come we read the time indications vertically in a ‘dashboard style’ display, and secondly, how does light ever reach the Super-LumiNova?
A Case Like No Other
And it is here that we get to the true ingenuity of this machine; the zirconium case. Unique in every way imaginable, the case of the HM5 hides a few tricks up its streamlined sleeves. Firstly, MB&F worked with a high-precision optical glass supplier to develop a sapphire crystal reflective prism that bent light from the disks 90° as well as magnify it by 20% to maximize legibility. In other words, what you’re seeing on the display is a crystal clear reflection of the discs, as opposed to the actual discs themselves.
The sapphire prism is wedge-shaped with the angles precisely calculated to ensure that light is reflected from the horizontal indications to the vertical rather than refracted (bent). A convex lens at the front provides the magnification. Sapphire crystal is much more difficult to work to optical precision than glass and it took considerable development and meticulous care in production to create crystals that reflected and bent light without the slightest distortion.
That covers question one but it still doesn’t account for how light gets to the movement. The solution is a surprisingly simple one and once again has taken its inspiration from the world of supercars. Much like the louvres on those awe-inspiring cars were designed to restrict sunlight (and heat) from entering the near horizontal rear window the functional louvres on HM5 do the opposite in that they open to allow light down onto the Super-LumiNova numbers on the hours and minutes indication disks to charge them. Opening and closing the louvres also changes the dial’s light intensity and is done simply by activating a slide set into the side of the case.
The supercar references don’t stop there however, the case of the HM5 also features dual exhaust pipes specially designed to drain water off the movement should you be unlucky enough to get caught racing on a wet track in an open-top Murcielago. This is one of the drawbacks of the open vent system however MB&F have further addressed the issue by housing the movement in a separate, smaller case within the main case. This not only protects it from moisture but also from the shocks of coming out of tight corners at 120mph (of course it won’t do anything for the shocks this may cause to your heart.)
On the underside of the HM5 carriage the Engine is revealed through a sapphire crystal display set into the water resistant container, complete with its 22k gold battle-axe shaped ‘mystery’ winding rotor, fast oscillating balance and stunning hand-finished bridges
Limited to just 66 pieces in zirconium the MB&F HM5 will retail for 54,000CHF + tax and will, I daresay, sell extremely well. So as always, if you want one, don’t delay!
The Final Word
Hat’s off once again to Mr. Busser and his incredible team of friends. Yet again he has delivered an incredible new machine, unique in its own right from all its predecessors and an utterly original interpretation of a modern classic that was well before its time.
For more information on the new HM5 please visit the official MB&F website: www.mbandf.com