HANDS-ON with MB&F’s Retrotastic HM5

MB&F HM5

It is commonplace to use various types of stories describe watches, to describe watch brands. How powerfully and truly these ring is a combination of history, how the narratives are weaved around us and, in the end, how believable each of us finds them or wants to find them.

As it is with other creative people and artists/ artisans are in other fields, part of being an independent watchmaker, of being a small brand with a visible figurehead, is a certain feeling of intimacy. Your customers and admirers get to know something of you, perhaps even meet you; you almost ‘become’ your watches, and people are eager to know more about the watchmaker behind the creations. The more distinctive and ‘personalised’ the creation, the more its inspiration will want to be known and understood.

Max Busser has made no secret of how formative certain childhood influences have been on his creativity as an adult and in particular, the science fiction/ fantastical tv series and toys he enjoyed and dreamed about and which have been re-imagined and translated into modern horological toys. These have formed part of the ‘story of Max’, the ‘story of MB&F’. For those who have grown up with similar cultural memories, seeing something of your childhood in his watches is engaging.

The announcement of MB&F’s latest ‘Horological Machine’ the HM5 taps both into Max’s past and into a sense of ‘re-invented nostalgia’, as I shall call it. The looking back to a period for which you may not have an ‘adult memory’, but which you perhaps lived through (or just missed) as a young child, and which has become intriguing to you as an adult. In the case of the new HM5, it is all about the 1970s, and when I saw the first photo, there was a jolt of recognition.

To paraphrase my friend the watchnerd about the HM5, you know when you’ve been quietly hunting down an under the radar classic watch for half a year (a year in my case) and then somebody does an homage to it? That.

Left to right : Girard Perregaux Casquette, MB&F HM5, Amida Digitrend

The ‘HM5 On the Road Again’ is a modern day version of the niche Amida Digitrend, a watch which those of us with even just a passing interesting in mechanical 1970s direct read/ jump hour watches will come across at some point, with a liberal dash of Girard Perregaux Casquette LED, but Max Busser has not only paid homage to the Digitrend, but put a retrotastic automobile spin on it as well.

I was fortunate enough to see a travelling HM5 ‘in the metal’ with Charris Yadigaroglou of MB&F here in Sydney a few weeks after its launch.

The Amida Digitrend’s design was futuristic and sleek, but unlike many of its contemporaries, it was mechanical. Girard Perregaux ‘Casquette’ LED was introduced in 1976 in three versions – steel with steel bracelet (as in this example), gold finish, and Makrolon, a high-tech polycarbonate that was fitting for the futurism of the period. It is similar in casing style only to the Digitrend.

Back to front : MB&F HM5, Girard Perregaux Casquette, Amida Digitrend

The overlapping hour and minute rotating discs for the HM5’s time displays are simple and very much of the 1970s period for digital display watches. However, the HM5’s are coated in Super-LumiNova, and they may look ordinary, but they are not. The discs are flat on top of the movement (under the louvres), not vertically at the front of the case where they appear to be – they are bi-directional, inversed 90° and magnified 20%.

How was this done? MB&F worked with a high-precision optical glass supplier to develop a wedge-shaped sapphire crystal reflective prism that bent light from the discs 90° as well as magnify (via a convex lens), to maximise legibility.

So we come to the auto influence on the design, and Max’s abiding love of 1970s supercars. Loud, brash, low-slung and with sharp lines, one common design aspect was the use of louvres on these cars to restrict sunlight and heat.

The louvres on HM5, operated with a very firm and audible push and click of a slide on the side of the case, open to allow light down onto the Super-LumiNova numbers to charge them, meaning that you can control the level of brightness by the act of opening and closing. Actually, the most fun aspect of this watch for me is this ability to open and close the shutters; the latter can be done literally by hand as well, by pushing them back down.

So what is under the horological hood? Another case, of course. The first case is but a shell. Why? Water resistance. The car analogy is that auto louvres let in water as well as light, so to protect the watch’s engine from moisture, it is housed in its own stainless steel shell. The case of HM5 is not water resistant, but its movement is. The outer case is Zirconium, and the internal water resistant case, steel.

The HM5’s movement was designed by Jean-François Mojon, Vincent Boucard and Chronode. It has a 22k gold battle-axe shaped ‘mystery’ winding rotor (the crown also has the MB&F battle-axe motif), oscillating balance and hand-finished bridges, all of which are visible through a sapphire crystal display back that is set into the water resistant inner case.

To add to the ‘car feel’, there are two very small ‘exhaust’ pipes that aren’t exhaust pipes but ‘water pipes’, so that any moisture which goes through opened louvres can ‘run out’. Quirky. I probably also suggest that you don’t try this at the beach, though Charris may have mentioned a beach walk in passing…

The auto references are so subtly incorporated into the design that many people may miss them if they are not told about them, and the overall impact of the watch is that it is very much a ramped up 2012 offspring of the Amida. However, the MB&F mark is still there. From the side, there is a definite ‘Thunderbolt’ as a design cousin aspect to it.

Amida Digitrend

I’ve heard a number of people refer to the HM5 as ‘odd’ but for me it’s definitely not. As a fan of the Digitrend, I was always going to be someone who either loved the HM5 or felt that the Amida should have been left alone and not reinterpreted, let alone with supercar influences. Also, I am not really a ‘car person’. However, this new Machine is, simply, just terribly terribly cool. My favourite aspect of it is without doubt the interactive use of louvres to charge the SuperLuminova.

Left : HM5 Right : Amida Digitrend

To hold, the HM5 is large (hardly unexpected, from MB&F) and with some heft to it. However, the rubber strap is soft and very comfortable; when you strap it to your wrist the weight is significantly less obvious. To the point where after a few minutes, you (almost) barely notice it. Most unexpected.

The HM5 is in a limited edition of 66 pieces.

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