MB&F: Wearable Art
MB&F watches are perhaps best described as futuristic, playful, and groundbreaking. Inspired by all things sci-fi, this Swiss luxury watch manufacturer exclusively creates limited-edition masterpieces coveted by many collectors.
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Taking Watchmaking Outside the Box
Maxmilian Büsser, founder of Swiss luxury watch manufacturer MB&F (Maximilian Büsser & Friends) doesn't mince his words. He openly admits that, since the introduction of quartz watches, there is no need for mechanical timepieces. Instead, Büsser views his creations as works of art that just happen to tell time, whether it's a turbine-shaped wristwatch or a three-dimensional kinetic machine.
However, Büsser doesn't go it alone – there are also his "friends." He works with a cadre of independent watchmakers, designers, and craftspeople on every project, each of whom is highly specialized and respected in their field. Together, they turn MB&F's timepieces into truly one-of-a-kind treasures.
MB&F finds inspiration for their watches (or "machines") everywhere they look. For example, the Horological Machines collection is heavily influenced by science fiction and animated TV shows from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Then there's the Legacy Machine series, which MB&F uses to explore the kinds of timepieces they would have produced 100 years ago had they been around. The results pair classic watch design with MB&F's willingness to explore all three dimensions. MB&F also crafts timekeepers for off the wrist, with clocks and music boxes shaped like deep-sea creatures, space ships, toy robots, and more.
It's not uncommon for an MB&F masterpiece to have upwards of 600 components, each painstakingly set in place by hand. The manufacturer also usually develops an entirely new caliber for each machine. While MB&F does produce watches with stainless steel or gold cases, they also embrace less traditional materials like titanium, platinum, ceramic, and sapphire crystal. The journey from concept to finished product generally lasts several years. Unsurprisingly, this also means low annual production numbers. MB&F usually only builds 20 to 50 copies of any given timepiece each year and often ceases production of models within a few years of release. Furthermore, many pieces are limited to only a handful of watches from the outset.
Reasons to Buy an MB&F Watch
- Watches with unique futuristic designs
- Highly limited editions
- Extraordinarily complex calibers
- Platinum, gold, titanium, steel, or sapphire cases
- A selection of wristwatches, table clocks, and music boxes
Prices in Detail: MB&F Watches
|Model/Reference number||Price (approx.)||Feature(s)|
|LM Perpetual, 03.TL.G||128,000 USD||Perpetual calendar, titanium case, 50 pieces|
|HM1, 10.T41.T||75,500 USD||Two dials for the hours and minutes, tourbillon, titanium case|
|Balthazar, 50.6830/401||54,000 USD||Robot-shaped table clock, 35-day power reserve, moon phase, 50 pieces|
|LM1, O1.WLW.W||53,000 USD||Two timezones, flying balance wheel, white gold case|
|HM5, 55.CMT.B||46,500 USD||Carbon case, sapphire glass prism, 66 pieces|
|HM3, 31.WTL.B||38,000 USD||White gold and titanium case|
|Arachnophobia, 76.6000/114||14,000 USD||Spider-shaped table clock, palladium-plated brass case|
Horological Machines: Art That Can Show the Time
It all began in 2007 with the release of the Horological Machine No.1 – also known as the HM1. Maximillian Büsser developed this truly extraordinary watch together with designer Eric Giroud, caliber specialist Laurent Besse, and master watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin.
The case, which is available in red gold, white gold, or black PVD-coated white gold, looks like a horizontal figure-eight and measures a whopping 41 x 64 x 14 mm. Each half of the eight has its own dial – one for the hours on the left and another for the minutes on the right. Transparent sapphire bridges hold the two dials in place as they appear suspended in thin air. A raised minute tourbillon sits front and center and completes one full rotation every 60 seconds. It gets its energy from four isochronous barrels with two on either side.
Flipping the watch over, sapphire crystal offers a clear view of the movement within. You're immediately struck by the battle-axe-shaped rotor, which Büsser modeled after Grendizer, a super robot from a Japanese manga of the same name. In the series, the titular hero regularly saves the world with the help of this powerful weapon.
Other Horological Machines
MB&F has gone on to produce a whole range of Horological Machines in the wake of the HM1's success, with each model outdoing the last. One example is the HM3 Frog. As its name implies, this timepiece resembles its namesake amphibian thanks to two bulbous, hemispherical displays for the hours and minutes. Then there's the HM5, which incorporates elements from legendary sports cars like the Lamborghini Miura, Lotus Esprit, and Lancia Stratos. However, the most extraordinary feature of this timepiece is its special sapphire crystal prism that projects the horizontal hour and minute discs onto the vertical display.
The HM6 is no less eye-catching. Not only does it look like the space ship from the Captain Future anime series, but it also boasts unique technology. In addition to its flying tourbillon, this watch features twin turbines that regulate the winding rotor's speed, among other technological innovations.
The Horological Machine No.10 joined the series in 2020. Known as the "bulldog," this red gold or titanium watch embodies the stoutness of the English bulldog. Four hinged lugs serve as legs, while a large sapphire crystal dome forms the head. Like the HM3 Frog, two hemispherical displays mimic the animal's eyes. A remarkable power reserve indicator is the cherry on top. Instead of using a conventional hand, this timepiece features canine jaws that slowly close as the movement runs out of energy, thus indicating when it's time to wind the movement.
How much does a Horological Machine cost?
Due to their low production numbers, it's nearly impossible to find a mint-condition MB&F Horological Machine. However, Chrono24 is home to several listings for pre-owned pieces. Prices for these kinetic treasures vary by model, with most falling into the 32,000 to 120,000 USD range. Especially rare editions often demand double or even triple as much.
Legacy Machines: An Experiment in Time Travel
Compared to the Horological Machines series, the Legacy Machines collection feels downright traditional, though that's not saying much. Upon closer inspection, these elegant creations are just as fascinating as their sister models. Büsser and his team use these timepieces to explore how MB&F watches would've looked a century ago, in a time before Star Wars and manga. The results are more than successful and feel like something out of a Jules Verne novel.
All Legacy Machines have a traditional round case made of platinum, gold, titanium, or stainless steel. They also share highly domed sapphire crystal, which offers a distortion-free view of the displays below. The very first model, the Legacy Machine No.1 (LM1), has two complete time dials at 3 and 9 o'clock, enabling the wearer to follow the time in two time zones at once. A 14-mm flying balance wheel occupies the space between the dials. MB&F also equips this model with a vertical power reserve indicator at 6 o'clock.
The LM2 features a single dial at 12 o'clock. Two flying balance wheels sit directly below the dial at 3 and 9 o'clock. The result is two independent regulator systems that each tick at different rates. A prominent planetary differential at 6 o'clock takes the average frequency of the two systems and transfers it equally to the rest of the gear train.
The Legacy Machine Perpetual is a masterpiece of both technology and design. Independent watchmaker Stephen McDonnell created this watch's extraordinary caliber, which includes a perpetual calendar with a "mechanical processor." This processor uses a 28-day month as a default, simply adding additional dates as needed. As a result, months with fewer than 31 days don't have to skip any unnecessary days to return back to the starting position. MB&F pairs this state-of-the-art technology with an equally spectacular design. The front is completely skeletonized, granting a detailed view of the caliber within. Each display seems to float in midair, from the dial at 12 o'clock to the ring-shaped day, month, and date displays at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock, respectively. The flying balance wheel in the middle is the icing on the cake.
Legacy Machine Prices
Like the Horological Machines series, the Legacy Machines collection covers a wide price range, with the different models selling for between 52,000 and 131,000 USD.
Table Clocks & Music Boxes from Another Dimension
MB&F is no one-trick pony: In addition to their magnificent wristwatches, they also produce table clocks and music boxes. The company partners with L'Epée 1839 to create new and unique table clocks. This storied family business specializes in high-end clock calibers.
Many of these co-creations were inspired by the animal kingdom. For example, the Medusa resembles a graceful jellyfish. A bell-shaped dome of hand-blown Murano glass forms the body, with the vertically oriented movement and ring-shaped time display serving as the creature's inner workings. The numerals and certain movement components are coated with luminous material, enabling the Medusa to glow in the dark, just like its aquatic inspiration.
The Arachnophobia is not for the faint of heart. Büsser came up with the idea for this spider-like timekeeper after seeing "Maman," a 10-meter-tall bronze sculpture by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois. A specially-built L'Epée movement serves as the Arachnophobia's body, providing the clock with its eight-day power reserve. Eight fully articulated spider legs attach to the main body via ball-and-socket joints. If that wasn't enough, this clock also comes with a stand that allows you to mount it on the wall.
Prices for these lifelike clocks largely depend on the model and material and fall between 14,000 and 29,000 USD.
We Are the (Clock) Robots
When they're not playing Mother Nature, MB&F and L'Epée are living out their childhood dreams building robots. Take the Sherman for example. This robot gets its name from the famous Sherman M4 tank, since it too moves on caterpillar tracks. However, there's no need to fear the MB&F Sherman. With its friendly face and familiar charm, this clock bears a strong resemblance to the robot Number 5 from the movie Short Circuit (1986).
The Melchior also elicits feelings of childhood nostalgia. At first glance, you could easy mistake it for a toy robot from the 1970s or 80s. However, this is no child's toy. It measures 12 inches (approx. 30 cm) tall and weighs almost 14 lbs (6.3 kg). Its head is topped with a sapphire crystal dome, which contains a flying balance wheel. The eyes are two retrograde seconds displays that jump back to their initial position every 20 seconds. Melchior also feature two discs for the time on his chest. His left arm is a Gatling gun, which you can use to wind the movement and set the time. Fully wound, Melchior boasts an impressive 40-day power reserve.
Balthazar is Melchior's big brother. This impressive machine is 15.5 inches (39.4 cm) tall, and at just over 18 lbs (8.2 kg) is heaver than Melchior. Like so many things in life, there are two sides to Balthazar. From the front, he is your average family-friendly robot with a time display on his chest. However, if you rotate his torso on his hips, you'll find a menacing skull with unblinking red eyes and a full set of metal teeth. The time display also disappears and is replaced by a moon phase indicator for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Sherman is the most affordable option with prices of between 11,000 and 18,000 USD. Melchior requires a larger investment of approximately 36,000 USD. At 53,000 USD, Balthazar is the most expensive member of this robot family.
A New Take on Music Boxes
Music boxes are another of MB&F's passions, which they are able to live out in cooperation with the traditional Swiss music box manufacturer Reuge. To date, this partnership has resulted in three so-called "MusicMachines." Star Trek and Star Wars have clearly influenced the designs, which is also reflected in the song choices. In addition to the main themes from both films, these impressive music boxes can play "The Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes Back. Other song options include famous rock hits like "Stairway to Heaven," "Angie," "Another Brick in the Wall," and "Smoke on the Water."
A special soundboard developed by JCM Lutherie helps project the sound. JCM Lutherie creates these resonating boards by taking a honeycombed Kevlar-like material known as Nomex and encasing it in a thin layer of high-grade spruce wood. The board then acts like an amplifier, resulting in crystal clear sound.
Each MusicMachine is strictly limited in number. MB&F only produced 66 units of the MM1, while the MM2 and MM3 had limited runs of 99 pieces each. As always, prices vary by model and range from 16,000 to 27,000 USD.
The History of MB&F
Maximillian Büsser established MB&F in 2005. He had previously studied engineering and worked for luxury watch manufacturer Jaeger-LeCoultre. In 1998, he became the CEO of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces. Under his leadership, the then family-run company transformed into a profitable business. The Opus collection, which he developed together with several independent watchmakers, found praise among critics and consumers alike.
Encouraged by the Opus collection's success, Büsser took a leap of faith and founded his own business. He was interested in expanding upon his idea of working with different independent partners. At MB&F, each partner more or less has free rein to design their projects as they see fit. As the ultimate sign of respect, MB&F proudly names each individual who contributes to one of their creations.