Here it is people, the latest and greatest watch from MB&F. Hands-on and in the flesh with the Horological Machine Number 4 - the Thunderbolt. What a kick-ass little machine it is. Well 'little' in the scheme of things only, it isn't exactly shy on the wrist. But that is OK, I like my statements bold, and this watch certainly is lays on the cool thick. Get the full story on the HM4 here, where I wrote about it when announcing it to the world.
Unlike other MB&F watches, the aviation themed HM4 is more steampunk in feel than their other watches. Not that it is steampunk in theme, but it has that look with the two large gauges and "pods." Made out of titanium the watch is pretty light for what it is. This much steel would weigh a lot more. Wearing wise, it is actually very comfortable. I could easily wear this watch all day long - just don't forget to be careful. When wearing a watch of this caliber, you don't want to be failing your arms all over the place.
Max Busser, founder of MB&F, remarks that the HM4 is the most legible MB&F watch yet. He is actually quite right. It is the only Horological machine with a traditional looking dial. Round and clear, it is quite easy to read with its Arabic numerals and luminant covered hands, especially given its orientation on the wrist. I actually love reading this watch. Right next to the time is the pod with the power reserve indicator for the movement. In order to make winding super smooth, MB&F added an extra gear to the train. While winding is much smoother, you do need to spend more time winding the watch to keep it wound. Which is actually not terrible given that people who wear manually wound watches tend to like to nervously fidget with the crown and winding it regularly. The watch has two crowns, one behind each pod. the crown behind the power reserve indicator pod is for winding, while the other crown is for adjusting the time. Reading the time is thankfully a breeze, as is operating the movement.
While most watch cases feel like more cohesive chunks of metal, the MH4 is a more open, skeletal design. A major function of the case is to provide a view into the movement. Aside from the transparent sapphire crystals on the case, MB&F designed the watch to have movement views from all angles. You can't help but immediately notice the large sapphire crystal piece in the middle of the pods section. This large section of sapphire is extremely tough to make, and costs more than many types of in-house made mechanical movements cost to manufacture. There is one supplier in the world that MB&F goes to to get this exotic cuts of sapphire crystal. It might be a pain in the ass for them, but the results speak for themselves. I think this trend should be carried over to cars - such that they have transparent hoods over the engine.
The HM4 engine doesn't have a tourbillon, but you can see the escapement wheel moving through a sapphire window on the top of the watch - which creates a great sense of perpetual motion. It is an amazing apparatus the HM4. Not only does it work really well, but you get this wonderful feeling of membership into a special club of exclusive watch enthusiasts just by putting the watch on.
The aviator inspired calfskin leather strap is black and custom made for the MB&F. It really does complete the theme of the watch which starts with A-10 airplanes. The finish on the case is a combo of polished and satin finished sections. You can tell that the polishing was very difficult. MB&F informed me that their case finishers laughed at them when they said they wanted satin finish on the case. It has to do with the tiny spaces that need to be polished and the size of the satin finishing brush. Somehow there were able to get it done, and I have a feeling they will continue to perfect the process. It is nice to know that this watch isn't just some limited edition - but rather a new permanent part of the MB&F timepiece family. Though the brand will only make about 2 of them a month. The waiting list for one is already many, many months long, even with its price tag of $158,000. Even at that entry-level Ferrari cost, knowing the competition, the HM4 Thunderbolt seems like a good deal.
While my ability to afford this or any other MB&F watch may never come to fruition, I'm totally sold on the concept. MB&F appreciation is turning into a lifestyle, along with a mere love of their products. There is already the concept of the "MB&F man" (being one who trusts his own tastes enough to not request approval from others), and most all other avant garde luxury watches are immediately compared to what MB&F has cooked. Does MB&F really care that they are set as some high-bar for weird mechanical watches? Not particularly - though they are flattered by the title and position. Max Busser (and friends) will continue to develop cool watches that they want to see being made. It just so happens their taste is a bit infectious. After seeing and wearing the Thunderbolt, I have an acute case of Horological Machinitis!