James Thompson is a charismatic and friendly Canadian-born fellow who might just be the next “it boy” of the watch industry. His company Black Badger has been making mostly men’s rings and other wearable items for some time, with many of them focused on a series of special luminous compounds Thompson himself helped to create. His first foray into the watch industry was a limited edition set of watches produced with Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva for the Korona Northern Lights (which was a best-of-Baselworld-2015 watch), and for 2016, Black Badger now steps it up a notch working with Swiss watchmaker MB&F on the limited edition MB&F HMX Black Badger (introduced on aBlogtoWatch here with more details). An interesting point of trivia is that Stepan Sarpaneva also previously worked on a limited edition watch with MB&F.
The HMX is MB&F’s entry-level Horological Machine collection watch. Released as part of the brand’s 10th anniversary, the MB&F HMX is also seen as the “baby version” of the MB&F HM5, which was their “driver’s watch,” as it indicated the time to the side versus on the top of the case. In similar fashion, the MB&F HMX offers a wedge-style case that displays the time via a window on the side of the case facing the wearer, while the top of the case is actually a view of the movement “engine.” It is on this engine surface that James Thompson decided to add various colors of his special luminous material, as well as for the dial to help read the time even better. For full appreciation of Black Badger products, you should really be in a room with black lights. Seeing the glowing elements in the dark or under a UV light is a simple but thrilling pleasure.
Thompson currently resides in Sweden where Black Badger operates out of a large machine shop full of goodies. Much of the time, Thompson is really just experimenting with materials and applications, attempting to simply make “cool stuff.” It is easy to listen with enthusiasm as he excitedly shows pictures of interesting projects he has done and laments interesting yet failed design experiments. It is the type of art you feel as though you want to endorse, and James is the type of person you feel like you want to support.
His particular enthusiasm and pride in work combined with a lack of pretension or lifestyle suggestion is exactly what certain elements of the independent watch industry need. More people like Black Badger entering the watch industry have the potential of adding new ideas and making the work of the niche watch industry a bit more mainstream. In Black Badger’s case, I think his work also has the potential of fundamentally changing watch design by addressing a common weakness – luminant.
If Black Badger can create and supply luminant material that can be milled and machined, that is a potential game-changer for the industry. I think of what watch designers can do if, rather than painting SuperLumiNova on to an hour or marker or hand, that entire hand or hour marker is produced from a naturally luminous material. Of course, you can imagine exotic applications like a luminous watch case, but in reality, the most interesting application for this technology is for watch dials.
It is true that companies like Casio produce luminous plastics that are used in some of their watches, but it isn’t really the same, and it isn’t nearly as impressive as SuperLumiNova for most applications. As most people know, not all “glow-in-the-dark” items work that well. So if Black Badger can create a high-quality “luxury watch-grade” luminous solid material that can be cut and shaped by a machine, then I think it will be very positive for the industry.
Let’s return to the MB&F HMX Black Badger. I was with James Thompson when he himself received his own personal MB&F HMX Black Badger watch with blue luminant material. James exclaims with the watch on the wrist, “I never could have imagined that I’d be wearing my own MB&F watch.” It goes to show the roads that unbridled creativity can take you, along with the power of enthusiasm and passion in being able to sell products. What James Thompson shares with people like MB&F founder Max Busser is just that – the ability to get other people excited about their own products because they themselves are so excited about them. It is a simple formula, but it can’t easily be emulated if it isn’t authentic.
On the wrist, the MB&F HMX Black Badger feels a lot like the original MB&F HMX watch, but actually a bit more subdued without the bright colors of the original versions. The pale color of the luminous material in the light makes the watches a bit more subtle, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – and the “engine-style” movements inside of the watches look as nice as ever. If anything, the original MB&F HMX is colorful in the light while the MB&F HMX Black Badger is colorful in the dark.
Vertical stripes on the automatic movement are above the discs that indicate the hours and minutes which sit below. They too are coated in luminant material. A prism-effect on the sapphire crystal moves the image of the time so that it is read in a horizontal format on the side of the watch. The opposite side of the titanium case bears the winding and time-setting crown.
Inside the MB&F HMX is a base Swiss Sellita automatic gear train which has been heavily modified for use in the HMX watches. The titanium cases wear smaller than the HM5, but the HMX is still 44.3mm wide, 46.8mm tall, and 20.7mm thick.
The MB&F HMX Black Badger represents a fine relationship between James Thompson and MB&F. If you recall, the watch is not the only thing they worked on together, but also a Black Badger version of the MB&F StarFleet Machine which now has Black Badger luminant in key spots. In order to make this article more on point, we’ve filled it with mostly lume shots. We think there can never be enough cool lume shots. Limited to 18 pieces each with blue, green, or purple Black Badger luminant, the MB&F HMX Black Badger watches are priced at 48,000 Swiss francs each (quite a bit more than the original HMX that was priced low on purpose for the brands 10th anniversary). The MB&F Starfleet Machine Black Badger comes with either purple, blue, or green luminant and is priced at 33,000 Swiss francs. mbandf.com