March 10, 2010
by Ariel Adams
Back in January, while in Geneva, I got to happily molest the entire collection of MB&F watches. Those lovely Horological Machines were willing participants, and I fondled them with care and admiration. I think the biggest question I got to answer for myself was “are these watches wearable?” Well, in short, the answer is yes – mostly. I should begin with explaining what the point of MB&F watches are as I understand it.
MB&F expresses that their mission is neither to make traditional practical watches or men’s jewelry. Looking at their designs and listening to MB&F founder Max Busser (and his colleagues) and it is clear that these are luxury mechanical toys based on a lifetime’s appreciate of sci-fi and men’s fantasy pop culture. Spaceships, battles axes, robots, gadgets, and everything else in this mix are part of the timepieces’ inspiration. The “HM” part of the model names that stands for “horological machine,” that pretty much sums it up. These are machines that tell the time. They are worn as watches, and the real allure to them is the machine part of it. MB&F watches do some cool things, but are less about complex innovation in function, as they are about design innovations.
Take the newest HM2 model for example. The “SV” version that is. SV stands for sapphire vision. You can see a nice image of it in the flesh here. The entire front plate of the watch is made from an incredibly hard to make single piece of synthetic sapphire crystal. What is the point of it other than to show that MB&F suppliers are willing to engage in highly time consuming acts to please the brand (actually it was a pain for them to find a supplier for this)? It is all about being able to see the mechanical innards of the automatic mechanical watch. Being able to appreciate what goes into the design and execution of the machine. MB&F isn’t super concerned about traditional horological considerations such as rate results or things of that nature. Sure they want their pieces to tell the time reasonably well, but even good legibility isn’t what they are thinking about. It just occurred to me that MB&F watch designers are in some ways the exact opposite of the Seiko watch engineers. Both talented, but with really different goals.
MB&F wants to take all type of pop culture fixtures that men have good associations with (well, not just men), and make watches that embody that spirit in way not previously attainable. Grew up watching Star Wars and always wanted a droid all your own? MB&F takes that designer robotic look and is somehow able to get it on your wrist in a totally non-geeky way. When I wrote about the HM3 a while ago here for example, I showed you how the face of the watch resembles a mechanical face. Others see it as a spaceship. However you see it, the same genre applies.
Each of the MB&F watches have eyes on the dial – I have a feeling most ever new MB&F watch will have a “face” of the the face. Even with the original HM1, you can see a pair of googly eyes. The HM1 is still the most expensive MB&F watch. It is the only tourbillon of the trio, and it has some very expensive sapphire bridges. That design looked crazy when it was revealed a few years ago. Today it almost looks tame by comparison to the HM2 and HM3.
Of course the exception is the very tasteful HM2.2 Alain Silberstein watch. That highly limited edition piece (also seen here) is meant to look a bit like an old fashioned camera box gone “watch.” Alain Silberstein really was able to just do whatever he wanted with the piece, and I love the result. I understand that another special collaboration between MB&F and another design is on its way soon. This will involve the HM3 and will have some frog-like looks I am told.
In a short time I will get to check out the newest MB&F watch, the HM4. Rumors abound about its look, and MB&F is being predictably tight lipped about it. What I do know is that it will be quite spaceship inspired, again. It will be a well-hyped and much deserved high-profile piece. In fact the people behind MB&F are part of the horological “machine.” Max Busser himself basically travels all the time. Meeting with collectors and retailers, he is the face and steam behind the brand – along with those that travel with him. What impresses me is the passion he inserts into the designs and the personal communication of the brand. He preaches his work better and with more energy in one year than most do over an entire career. I really admire that. So while yes, there is a lot of “image” behind MB&F watches, it is an image that they deserved.
Going back to my initial question of whether the watches are wearable. Physically they are. Not really as giant on the wrist as you think they are. I tired to give you good illustrations of that fact by wearing the watches myself. And to be seen in them? Well the good news is if you had to wear a crazy avant garde luxury timepiece, and MB&F would probably cut it so well it should be at or near the top of your list. MB&F is really a modern phenomenon, and I am happy to keep sharing their progress with you. Now which of their watches could you (most) see yourself wearing?