Unconventional Wisdom

Maximilian Büsser made MB&F one of watchmaking's most consistently daring brands by embracing creative leaps of faith.


By Scott Hickey
January 1, 2019

Since it started in 2005, the brand has surprised and delighted enthusiasts with an ambitious procession of unconventional timepieces that challenged horological conventions, pushed design boundaries, and sparked conversations about where modern watchmaking can go.

However, Büsser admits that choosing the road less-traveled has come with its fair share of detours and disappointments. “Looking at our last 13 years of Horological and Legacy Machines, it’s clear I am pretty used to hitting walls! There is always a difference between my initial idea and what our great team of engineers can transform into reality. Some projects were completely shelved from the start. Others were modified so strongly that I decided not to let them see light. Some improved thanks to the issues we hit and ended up even more interesting.”

Büsser is quick to add that he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Overcoming uncertainty and challenges is what makes me proud. And pride is my adrenaline. As a creator, the journey to create is as important — if not more — than the creation itself. Some may call it masochism, others will call it growing.”

Clearly, the extreme curves and acute angles of the Flow’s case are unlike anything else is in the watch world. Its aerodynamic shape is rooted aesthetically in Mid-Century Modern design. It’s an era that Büsser is extremely passionate about, especially when the conversation turns to cars and airplanes made during that period, like the 1948 Buick Streamliner and the de Havilland Venom jet. “As a kid, I put together every model plane and car that I could get my hands on,” he explained to a recent gathering of collectors at Cellini Jewelers.

The Road Edition of Horological Machine No. 9 Flow will be made in a limited edition of 33 pieces.

 

As you would expect, taking the Flow’s complex case from a sketch on paper to metal on the wrist presented a formidable challenge for MB&F. Büsser says the ability to machine the titanium case didn’t exist when the project started. Instead, current manufacturing techniques had to evolve to meet the brand’s demands.

One of the trickiest aspects was developing a three-dimensional gasket that would fit the case’s amorphous shape and make it water resistant. Büsser says that when MB&F explained what it needed, the Swiss gasket specialist A. Aubry originally thought it would be impossible to manufacture what the company was proposing. Despite that, A. Aubry’s team began working on the issue and eventually succeeded by creating a patented three-dimensional gasket that is the first of its kind in the watchmaking industry.

The same is true for the finishing that decorates the HM9’s titanium case, which measures 57mm at its widest point. Polishing tools that are normally used to apply satin and mirror finishes to watch cases were too large to navigate the narrow channels of the Flow’s exterior. For MB&F, the solution was to develop new finishing techniques that could accommodate the case’s curvilinear profile.

Sapphire crystal windows reveal signature elements of the HM9 caliber,
including its central differential and two independent balance wheels.

 

YEARS IN THE MAKING
MB&F matches the HM9’s rich aesthetic creativity with the same level of mechanical ingenuity. Keen-eyed fans of the brand might recognize the source of inspiration that MB&F used as the starting point to build the engine that powers the Flow. Its design is based on the caliber used in the Legacy Machine No. 2.

Like the LM2, the HM9 features two balance wheels that oscillate independently while suspended from curved arms. The chronometric data from each mechanism is transmitted to a central differential that determines the average of both rates. The result is what you see indicated on the dial. The advantage to this approach is that averaging the timing rates improves timekeeping precision overall.

HM9’s movement is rose-gold plated in the Road Edition, and dark gray in the Air Edition.

 

Even though the HM9 was based on an existing caliber, it still took MB&F almost four years to find ways to successfully apply that knowledge to a new design. It took even longer, Büsser says, if you factor in everything that went into bringing the Flow to life. “HM9 would not have seen the light of day if we previously had not worked four years on the LM2’s double flying balance wheel system, and practically eight years on the HM4 and HM6 cases. All in all, even though it looks as if it took three and half years to create HM9, you can probably add another seven to eight years to the whole process.”

The titanium case’s aerodynamic shape evokes automotive and aviation design from the Mid-Century Modern era.

 

Without a doubt, the movement’s double flying balance wheel and planetary gear differential is one of the most complex to engineer, machine and regulate in the watchmaking industry. Add to the mix an insane 3-D titanium and sapphire case that takes an average of 300 hours to machine and hand finish. Only when you consider everything that has gone into the watch can you begin to understand why a piece of engineering and artisanship like the HM9 is so amazing.

What’s even more remarkable is thinking about how easily this triumph could have been derailed by a gasket, or a finishing tool. But ultimately, it’s this willingness to roll the dice in the face of so many unknowns that makes MB&F such a special brand.

“Having to halt or discard a project is always very tough, even depressing,” Büsser says. “At the same time, it makes our successes so much more impactful. I love the saying ‘I never lose. I win, or I learn.’ It symbolizes so well the whole MB&F journey.”

Click here to view the MB&F collection online at Cellini Jewelers.