November 4, 2014
by Ariel Adams
“Space Pirate” is the nickname MB&F has given to their sixth Horological Machine timepiece, which will exist as a limited edition of 50 pieces in this particular titanium-cased version. While the Geneva-based, avant-garde, high-end watch maker MB&F has been focused on slightly more accessible models (relatively speaking) over the last few years when it comes to the majority of their Horlogical Machine and Legacy Machine pieces, the MB&F HM6 is a return to the sky in terms of both price and design. Inspired by a 1970s era Japanese animation cartoon and the design school of biomorphism, the MB&F HM6 Space Pirate is the latest thrilling ride from MB&F.
There are a few things that struck me as first impressions when seeing and wearing the MB&F HM6 watch. First is how interesting and different it looks while retaining a distinct sense of MB&F design DNA. Second is just how light it is, in terms of weight. The case is produced from a tough and light grade 5 titanium alloy, and elements of the watch such as the time telling domes and turbines are produced from lightweight aluminum. The third thing I noticed is just how important it is that high-end watches of this ilk really focus on the idea of being high-end toys.
The term “toy” when applied to items for adults isn’t always positive, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Yes, “toys” can be mere facsimiles of “real” things or of a low quality, but the essence of a toy is that it is for play. Is the MB&F HM6 Space Pirate a watch designed for some type of professional use? No. It is a execution of traditional design principles and techniques? Not really. It is an artfully designed functional item that plays on childhood inspiration and encourages cognitive fantasy? I would say so.
Max Busser of MB&F claims that the inspiration for this $200,000 plus timepiece was a cartoon he saw on French television called Capitaine Flam (“Captain Future”). An image and short video from the television series is included in this post. Max isn’t shy to describe most of his timepieces as being inspired by something from his youth – and there is nothing wrong with that. As people grow up, our patience and free time for play is much more limited than when we were children. Plus, we don’t require play as a developmental tool. Adults, nevertheless, require a degree of play for relaxation and catharsis. So even if it takes a high-end mechanical timepiece, I think play should certainly be encouraged.
Part of Capitaine Flam was a spaceship that Max feels incorporated a then popular design aesthetic known as biomorphism. The idea apparently related to the concept that industrial design is inspired by nature as well as natural shapes such as curves and sometimes asymmetry. A study of some 1960s and 1970s era furniture, automobiles, and architecture reveals biomorphically-inspired shapes and concepts from time to time. Biomorphism is integrated into the MB&F HM6 throughout the entire design as the case is highly curvaceous and the five sapphire crystal domes on the “surface” appear a bit like eyes. The MB&F HM6 watch actually has a total of 10 sapphire crystals on it.
I tend to like nature-inspired design, so the biomorphic elements of the Space Pirate watch speak to me. I wouldn’t call it the world’s most elegant or beautiful design. In fact it may not even be beautiful at all (though it is certainly very pretty from some angles). Rather, I consider the design visually appealing and very interesting. It is highly artistic as a functional item, and from my perspective, it has a lot of merit from an aesthetic angle as being well conceived and unique. In other words, while the MB&F HM6 might not win any awards for traditional timepiece elegance, it has the makings of a museum piece, and I’d be happy (and excited) to wear it.
The wearing experience of the MB&F HM6 watch is similar to that of the HM4 watch (hands-on here). Both of these timepieces have similar articulating lugs so that the watch wears more comfortable as it wraps around your wrist, and the strap designs are similar. I’d say, while the MB&F HM6 has the potential of looking strange on your wrist, it doesn’t wear uncomfortably. Part of that is aided by the timepieces surprising lightness. It really does feel as though it should be heavier, but the light weight is certainly welcome.
Even though the MB&F Horological Machine No. 6 has such a distinct look to it, so much of it is inspired by other MB&F watches. I’ve already mentioned the HM4-inspired elements and shared philosophy. You also see some of the HM3 Frog (hands-on here) when it comes to the domes that are used to indicate the hours and minutes. MB&F even goes back to its roots by having a centrally-mounted tourbillon, similar to that of the Horological Machine No. 1.
MB&F doesn’t stop at inspiration from their own watches, and design elements of the MB&F HM6 extend to concepts developed by their friends such as those the also Geneva-based watch maker Urwerk. MB&F even partnered with Urwerk on joint-venture watch known as the C3H5N3O3. The “turbines” in the MB&F HM6 watch are connected to the automatic rotor which winds the movement. A very similar concept was developed by Urwerk for their UR-202 watches. The MB&F HM6, however, extends the concept of the turbines and makes them much more visible – from both the top and bottom of the movement. The turbines are directly connected to the automatic rotor and move when it moves. This is mostly for show, but MB&F always likes to find a function to their fun, and they say that the turbines create some air resistance so that the rotor never spins “too fast” potentially damaging the movements.
There are four turbines in the two sapphire crystal bubbles at the “top” of the case. The turbines are enjoyable to watch moving – and it goes without saying that extra movement is always appreciated in a high-end mechanical timepiece. Each of the turbine structures is produced from aluminum – similar to domes that indicate the time at the other end of the watch. Speaking of time indication – while the concept of reading the time via two domes is sort of odd, you get used to it rather quickly, actually.
I mentioned above that MB&F uses some special alloy of titanium for the case of the MB&F HM6 watch. They call it Ti-64L-4V titanium, but I have a feeling that is just the technical term for grade 5 titanium. So, it is possible that the case is “merely” grade 5 titanium. Having said that, people need to know (if they don’t already) that not all metals of the same name are created equally. I think most people believe that “stainless steel” is all the same – and that is totally wrong. There are many forms and alloys of stainless steel, and there are various forms of titanium. While I am no expert on all the titanium alloys available, the most high-end form of titanium I’ve seen used in watches is grade 5.
You can see the case of the MB&F Horological Machine Number 6 uses both highly polished titanium as well as a more satin-finished version of the metal. Given what we know about MB&F limited edition models, I think it is safe to say that there will be future versions of the MB&F HM6 in other finishes, as well as with other materials (likely a version made with some gold). In terms of size, the MB&F HM6 appears larger on paper than it does on the wrist. The case is 49.5mm wide and 52.3mm tall. It is also 20.4mm thick. That sounds large, but given its light weight and strange shape, it doesn’t wear all that large – at least it doesn’t feel like it does. The case is produced from 80 different parts.
For the MB&F HM6 watch MB&F worked with David Candaux Horlogerie Creative to design the movement. I recall with the HM4 that when MB&F released it, they first showed off the movement and then the final timepieces. They did that because the movement was in and of itself a work of art, and seeing it really didn’t give you a good idea of what the overall timepiece was going to look like. The situation is the same with the MB&F HM6. The movement has a life of its own and is meritorious as a mechanical creation without a case. It is produced from 475 parts and is unlike most other movements I have seen.
With 72 hours of power reserve operating at 4Hz, the movement is also an automatic. Oddly enough, the axe-style rotor has just one side (versus being a full battle axe-style design. In blued metal, the rotor is solid 950 platinum. In addition to the domes that indicate the hours and minutes, the MB&F HM6 movement has a flying tourbillon. It has been a while since MB&F has released a tourbillon-based movement, and for this watch, MB&F has ensured that the no-longer innovative nor as interesting high-end complication has some extra pizazz for the MB&F HM6 Space Pirate. In addition to having a neat MB&F battle axe logo style cage, the flying tourbillon is centrally mounted…. and can be “hidden” like a closing eye in a closing dome.
That’s right, while the right crown on the case is used for manually-winding the movement and setting the time, the left crown is used to open and close the “shield” dome over the tourbillon. Each of the individual dome “blades” is cut from a solid piece of titanium and the feature is really fun to use. Yes, “fun.” There is not immediate functional purpose to the shield, but again, MB&F attempts to imbue this element of the design with some functional purpose. According to them, the tourbillon shield can protect the tourbillon from UV rays from the sun… which can theoretically diminish the lifespan of the oils in the movement. I will just leave it at that.
It is difficult to explain the MB&F HM6 Space Pirate watch – let alone the MB&F brand overall – to watch world novices. What can you say about this high-end watch aside from the fact that it is a sci-fi inspired wrist toy with a lot of artistic merit in a really high-quality package, designed for an elite group of collectors around the world? Perhaps it is just that. We jump through a lot of mental hoops to convince ourselves that items such as this are more than mere toys, but isn’t that meaningful enough if it brings value and enjoyment to our lives? I, for one, would feel pretty lucky to have more toys like this to play with. Those are certainly the types of things that are worth looking forward to after a life of hard work.
The MB&F Horological Machine No. 6 Space Pirate will be part of a limited edition of 50 pieces. Price is $230,000. mbandf.com
HM6 Space Pirate Tech Specs from MB&F
– Three-dimensional horological engine developed exclusively for HM6 by MB&F with David Candaux Horlogerie Créative
– Flying Tourbillon with retractable shield
– Iridescent green platinum 950 battle-axe automatic winding rotor
– Twin aluminum turbines driven by winding rotor
– Power reserve: 72h
– Balance frequency: 28,800bph/4Hz
– Number of components: 475
– Number of jewels: 68 jewels
FUNCTIONS / INDICATIONS
Hour and minutes on separate semi-spherical aluminium indications
Crown to open/close tourbillon shield
– Manufactured by Les Artisans Boitiers
– Ti-6Al-4V (Grade 5) titanium
– Dimensions: 49.5 mm x 52.3 mm x 20.4 mm
– Number of components: 80
– Water resistance: 30m / 90’ / 3atm
– 10 sapphire crystals: 9 domed (4 for the hour and minute indications, 4 for the turbines, 1 for the tourbillon) and one flat (display back)
– STRAP & BUCKLE: Hand-stitched calfskin strap with titanium custom designed folding buckle