HM8 debuted a little over a month ago, and, as Stephen wrote then, we had to recalibrate our expectations a bit, because the basic concept as well as a lot of the design cues seemed a little been-there-done-that, thanks to HMX and HM5 (both of which share the disks-and-prism system used by HM8 for a digital/mechanical display of the hours and minutes). However, as usual, the impression the watch makes in the metal is rather different from the one you get from the press kit, so we had to recalibrate our expectations yet again – though the basic principle might be the same as in earlier Horological Machines, HM8 really does feel like an entirely different watch.
Just to review a little from our original coverage, MB&F Horological Machine N°8 HM8 Mark 2 Titanium is a big machine at 49mm x 51.5mm x 19mm. The inward slope of the case along its edges, narrowing from the dial side to the movement side, means the attachment points for the straps are a bit closer to each other than you’d think from the above dimensions though. The lower of the two straps is attached with articulated lugs, which also helps overall wearability. This is one of the few instances I can think of where a bigger case actually improves ergonomics, at least partly: The front-to-back dimensions mean that, for most wrists, the crown is projecting far enough beyond the edge of the ulna that it can be manipulated pretty easily. Unlike HMX and HM5, in which the rotor is on the underside of the watches (and therefore invisible when the watches are worn) in HM8 the battle axe-shaped rotor – a signature element of the Horological Machines since HM1 – is visible up top, giving HM8 a much more kinetic feel than HM5 or HMX.
It’s a little disorienting to wear; while a straight-on view at what, in a normal watch, we’d call the dial side, does give you the rotor to look at, a lot of the HM8 is best taken in laterally; this is a watch that in a certain sense is all about its edges. The time of course is only visible when you look at the watch edge-on, and a lot of the design characteristics are better appreciated when viewing the watch in profile.
There’s always been a toy-like quality (in a good way; MB&F’s motto is, “A creative adult is a child who survived”) about the Horological Machines, as well as MB&F’s other creations, and HM8 almost invites you to see the watch as a kind of Matchbox car, where the side view reflects what you’d see if you stood in front of a real automobile. The car-like aspects of the case are rather more stylized than not, but that’s okay – a more literal interpretation can sometimes work (it’s a big part of the fun for the Astrograph pen) but in this case, abstracting the lines of a car, including the lateral “roll bars” gives much stronger lines. Thanks to the inverted placement of the movement, the under side of the watch is its most sedate: engine cover–like elements, with two visible jeweled pivots for the hour and minutes disks.
Despite the use of luxurious materials for the case bodies (white or red gold and titanium) a lot of the rather clean-but-lavish feel of HM8 comes from the massive sapphire crystals used for the top of the case and the viewing prisms. All the crystals have double anti-reflective coating, and they have the optical limpidity of especially high-quality camera or telescope lenses.
MB&F Horological Machine N°8 HM8 Mark 2 Titanium does not rejoice in the sort of instant legibility, or even semi-instant legibility, that you find in most other watches, but obviously if you’re looking for the sober, workmanlike dignity and utility you’ll find in a real tool watch, in HM8 you are manifestly barking up the wrong tree. That said, it’s not an unpleasant chore to read the time, it just requires, well, a recalibration of your expectations. (One of the most fun times I’ve ever had with a loaner watch was several SIHHs ago, when I borrowed an HM3 Frog from a friend. It could not be read without the sort of concentration and mental effort that I generally associate with things like trying to understand quantum mechanics, but the watch was so cool-looking I really didn’t care).The thing, however, about HM8 (and really, all the Horological Machines), is that you don’t buy them because you’re overwhelmed by the sheer weight of well-reasoned, logical arguments for buying them. You buy them because they are fun, fun, fun with a cherry on top. There isn’t a whole lot of purpose or logic in a Horological Machine, but there isn’t supposed to be, and having HM8 on the wrist is an exercise in forgetting everything except how cool it looks. I don’t know if cereal companies still put prizes in cereal boxes (I suspect the FDA may have told them, at some point, to knock it off with the choking hazards) but when I was a kid there was a fever of anticipation one felt, eating one’s way down to the prize, and real giddy excitement when it was something genuinely nifty. That’s what it feels like to put on HM8. It’s the most exuberantly illogical MB&F Horological Machine N°8 HM8 Mark 2 Titanium watch we’ve had in the office in quite a while – and I mean that as a compliment.