There’s something poetic about MB&F’s choice to launch the MB&F HM11 “Architect” the day before Dubai Watch Week in a country Büsser has called home since 2014. It is, paradoxically, a watch that seems furthest from home of Büsser’s recent Horological Machine designs which have become (and I hate to say this) often predictably automotive. But this is, as the brand has told me, “a home for the wrist.”
No, that’s not a commentary on the typically enormous size of any MB&F Horological Machine N°11 HM11 Architect watch, though here, measuring a relatively small 42mm wide by (still pretty hefty) 23mm thick. It’s not even a jab at the cost of the HM-11, a cool $230,000. Most of MB&F’s Horological Machines look like “things” (many of them automotive, some of them unintentionally – well – like an eggplant emoji). This time, the watch draws inspiration from the futuristic architecture of the 1960s and 1970s that incorporated modernism and organic architecture philosophies. And it’s undeniably one of the brand’s most creative and interesting designs.
It’s not a far cry from Matti Suuronen’s Futuro house – the Finnish designer’s 1970 fiberglass-reinforced plastic design – which was met with some of the same hostility (or at least incredulousness) I often see for MB&F’s HMs. Adjusted for inflation, the Futuro cost less at around $105,000. The apertures look a little more like Antti Lovag’s “Palais Bulles” (without the water features) meets Charles Haertling’s “Brenton House.” In fact, Büsser admits that while his wife wouldn’t love to live in these buildings, he would. It was an Instagram post of “Brenton House“ that made Büsser think “that would make a good watch.”
Just like any of the above buildings, I wouldn’t say I ever really felt like any HM was really for me (save for maybe the HM5 or HM8 Mark II). But I still do my best to at least interpret them and understand the appeal. Looking back to the 1960s and 1970s, architects of the day often attempted to break free from traditional design language that, while comfortable and accessible to mass audiences, had failed to evolve to take advantage of modern building techniques, materials, and engineering capabilities. If that sounds familiar, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the efforts of these architects and their approach to modernizing design have (unsurprisingly) fascinated Büsser for years. The same challenges Büsser’s team have had to learn to overcome – nearly impossible shaped sapphire crystal, hard-to-machine titanium – all come into play here. But rather than looking to the automotive industry as the team has in the past, Eric Giroud, the design leader, drew on his architectural background to inform the layout of HM11. Büsser and Giroud have envisioned the HM11 as a house with four rooms. It’s somewhat like Monsanto’s “House of Tomorrow,” with a central area and branching useful spaces built off of it. In that middle space on the MB&F Horological Machine N°11 HM11 Architect is a one-minute reverse-rotation central flying tourbillon under a double-domed sapphire. The watch will come in two colors, one with PVD-coated “ozone blue” plates, and the other in 5N gold – 25 pieces each. But as eye-catching as they are, the real party is being held in the side rooms of the HM11 house.
On a practical level, the HM11 is read similarly to every Horological Machine since HM3: at an angle on the wrist. To that effect, this may be the least legible Horological Machine that MB&F has ever made. I’m lucky to have 20/20 vision and am generally the last to decry legibility with even the most unusual combinations of dial colors, handsets, or odd displays like the Cartier Tank à Guichet. It’s actually something I struggle to remember in these reviews – call it a “forest for the trees” situation. But in both those instances – and here – the redeeming factor is that these aren’t so much practical watches as sculptural horological machines – as the name explicitly states – for the wrist. If you want legibility and practicality, head to the “Legacy Machine” lineup from MB&F Horological Machine N°11 HM11 Architect and pick your poison. Even the LMs aren’t the most legible watches on the market, but that’s not what you’re buying anyway. In this case, what you’re actually buying is a brilliantly thought-out homage to some of the greatest designers of the 1960s and 1970s, a design that goes further than the overall pod-like design. Case in point: in the first of the four rooms, you can see a small display with two white arrow hands featuring red tips. And they are quite small, about 0.6mm. Those hands point to metal balls on short rods radiating from the center of the display – silver-colored for the quarter hours and brass at the other five-minute intervals. Its timekeeping is drawn from American industrial designer George Nelson’s “Horloge Vitra” Ball Clocks, a design so deeply embedded in my memory that I had never questioned who created it until I saw the HM11. All that is housed in a window about 11.45mm tall, so it’s not the largest face for a watch, to say the least. To translate the horizontal plane of the tourbillon movement to a vertical display for the watch (and the other rooms, which we’ll get to) the brand continues to lean on conical gears which are more visible here than any other HM I can remember, which makes it a perfect way to study the ingenuity that makes MB&F Horological Machine N°11 HM11 Architect watches so compelling. As with most modern architectural projects, energy efficiency is key, and the HM11 acknowledges that in two ways. First is in room two. There, you’ll find a similar display for the power reserve, counting down the 96 hours of power reserve held in the mainspring. To get to the second room from the first, there’s no contortion required. Instead, the watch – rather intuitively rotates unidirectionally around a central axis with an easy twist, locking into position every 45 or 90 degrees so it won’t freely spin. In fact, if you turn it only 45 degrees, it’s almost even more easily viewed as a “driver’s” watch. All of this is suspended on a lightweight titanium frame with long lugs. Room three is something novel and unusual these days: a thermometer, available in either Celcius or Fahrenheit. In fact, this makes it one of maybe a handful of mechanical modern watches with a thermometer. While these kinds of complications used to be made in pocket watches (I seem to recall seeing a number by Jules Jurgensen, for instance) I can only think of one other, by Ball, on the modern market. That watch requires the wearer to remove it from their wrist for a period of time or their body temperature will impact the thermometer’s function – essentially it’ll read your body’s temperature all day. The new HM11 doesnot have that problem. It’s a pretty smart (though maybe less useful) inclusion, all things considered, if for no other reason than the fact the design of the thermometer takes advantage of MB&F’s watchmakers’ existing skills. The watch uses a spring thermometer, with a coiled metal that expands when the temperature rises and contracts as it cools. Just as watchmakers learn to work hairsprings, those skills apparently apply just as well when it comes to regulating a thermometer. The final “room” sits at what would be three o’clock on a normal watch – if the watch is set for viewing the time, at least. Instead of another function, the room is a see-through crystal crown for time setting, a room the brand calls the watch’s front door. It’s the appropriate place for a crown, but this isn’t any ordinary crown.
While a normal crown needs a 2mm gasket, the large size of this crown required some rethinking. Instead, two sets of gaskets are used, creating a kind of double airlock, with eight gaskets total for the crown (19 are used in the watch). This gives the watch 20m of water resistance. But the size of the crown caused a problem. With the initial design of the watch, any attempt to pull the crown out immediately caused it to be sucked back in by the vacuum of the small amount of air inside the domed crystal? The solution was to make the crown’s volume bigger, lessening the impact of a small change in volume when the crown is pulled out. With most brands working to make their watches thinner, it’s a funny but smart and necessary change. One thing you’ll notice while wearing the watch is that the crown doesn’t actually wind the movement. And yet, it’s a manually-wound watch. I mentioned that energy efficiency is key and the fact that the “house” rotates on its foundation isn’t just a parlor trick. Each 45° clockwise turn not only gives you a tactile click, it delivers 72 minutes of power directly to the barrel. After 10 complete rotations, HM11 is at its maximum power. For all the technical specs and creative features, I’ve probably missed a few things. But I’ve also glossed over one important question: how does the watch wear? Well, I’m guessing that even with its steep price tag, there are 50 eager buyers out there for the MB&F Horological Machine N°11 HM11 Architect , many of whom have probably seen a preview of the watch just like I did and have made up their own minds on that question. I doubt buyers really care that much about how the watch wears. For people who can’t afford the watch, I’d bet a lot of people would glibly say that the wearability doesn’t matter much. I could tell you that I was surprised at how comfortable it was on my wrist at 42mm (2mm thinner than the Sequential Evo) and how it didn’t feel nearly as thick as the 23mm specs. It even fit under a shirt cuff. But you’re right. None of that matters much. The most important fact is that Büsser is doing what he’s always done: thinking so far outside the box that it challenges what we even consider a watch anymore. It might not be as technically innovative as last year’s Sequential Evo, nor would it be what I would consider the quintessential distillation of Büsser’s designs in the way an LM-101 might be. But in an age where so many brands are homogenizing their releases (and trust me, I get constant press releases from new brands creating the same watches as so many others), or falling into complacency, at least something is comforting in knowing I can yet again expect to be surprised by Büsser and his team.