Don’t Take No For An Answer, Or, What The MB&F Horological Machine Nº9 “Flow” Taught Me About Life And How To Live It
No one should be surprised, given MB&F’s reputation for iconoclasm and envelope-pushing design — but it’s rather ironic, considering its name, that the newest creation from MB&F goes decidedly against the flow. Horological Machine Nº9 “Flow” is as disruptive a piece as ever emerged from the creative lab of MB&F, and the craziest thing about it isn’t even something that you notice right away.
First things first: the engine of HM9 is a twin-balance movement with differential to give a single time reading, in the tradition of Legacy Machine Nº2 (though I feel silly using the word “tradition” when it comes to anything about MB&F’s conceptual work). Its forceful, projecting jet-engine aesthetic will remind some of HM4, and its undulating surfaces will evoke the biomorphic forms of HM6. That’s where the comparisons end, because all those aspects of HM9 that reference past MB&F creations are pushed to new extremes here.
The case of HM9 should come with a warning; or at least it should have (“Curves Ahead!”) when first presented to MB&F’s manufacturing partners. They took one look at HM9 case schematics and said it couldn’t be done. The height differentials were too great. The dimensions were too unforgiving. The finishing was beyond the capabilities of current manufacturing technology. The whole thing was, like my landlady said to me when I asked about replacing my duct-taped refrigerator door / fixing my doorbell / installing curtains in my bedroom, “pas faisable.” It’s a good thing that MB&F (unlike me) didn’t back down quietly and take those two words for an answer.
Horological Machine Nº9 “Flow” effectively expanded the limits of manufacturing technology in order to get itself made. The swooping, near-parabolic curves of the HM9 case that are twice as drastic as those of the HM6 got made. The exasperatingly narrow sections of polished titanium located at the most tightly angled parts of the case, originally too small for existing tools to polish, those got done too. The tripartite case that had to be sealed for water resistance using a gasket of unprecedented geometry cast in three dimensions — that got patented and then got implemented. The tiny little air scoops at the side of the case that resemble engine air vents, they were thought to be too small to mill and too tricky to affix, but there they are on the HM9, rocking out and looking awesome.
That’s the craziest thing about the MB&F Horological Machine Nº9 “Flow”. It didn’t go with the flow. It saw that current manufacturing technology wasn’t good enough for it. So it went and got new manufacturing technology. It made me think, man, that’s how I want to live my life. Which is why I have a new apartment now. There’s still no curtains in the bedroom, and I don’t actually have a refrigerator anymore. But hey, the doorbell works!
1. The twin balances of the HM9 engine are individually impulsed and spatially separated because they’re meant to give different sets of chronometric data. That’s what the differential is for, to average out discrete timing data. It wouldn’t make sense to have the balances in locked harmonic oscillation. So don’t talk to me about the “R” word, because I don’t wanna hear it.
2. Regulating the balances is pretty nuts, because it can’t be done the regular way — the Witschi doesn’t work because it relies on sound, and having two balances going at once interferes with how it assesses chronometric data. The balances have to be blocked and regulated in turn, but then the calibration is thrown off when both balances are allowed to run simultaneously. They then have to be reblocked and readjusted, slowly working towards optimal performance. You won’t see any shortcuts here.
3. If you’re wondering how necessary the 3D water-resistance gasket is, I invite you to think of another way to split the case and get the movement in without messing up the aesthetic finish. Can’t be done. Seriously. Try it.
4. Those sapphire crystal domes that form the tops of the balance pods — nightmare to mill. They have varying width all along their cross section, like a drop of water.
5. HM9 comes in two editions of 33 pieces each, an “Air” edition with a darkened movement and aviation-style dial, and a “Road” edition with a rose-gold treated movement and speedometer-style dial. They both look banging, but the “Road” edition has strong echoes of the Mercedes-Benz W196 racing car which Maximilian Büsser says is a prime example of the design aesthetic that inspired HM9, so me likey. Zoom zoom.
6. Not that anyone except hardcore horological nerds will care (although you’re probably one if you’re reading this), but gear engagement is optimised in the HM9 engine by using conical gears to transmit motion from the horizontal plane to the vertical. HM9 is not just a pretty face, y’all.