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Review: MB&F HM9 Sapphire Vision

You are travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of timekeeping. A journey into a wondrous lands whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, the MB&F Zone!

A massive thanks goes to the guys at Art In Time who allowed us to film this and a whole host of other incredible timepieces.

Welcome to MB&F and the HM9

This is the MB&F HM9 Sapphire Vision, and it is without doubt the most crazy, insane, bizarre and outright unforgettable watch you’ve ever seen. It’s one of a long line of Horological Machines, as MB&F calls them, that take the watchmaking rulebook, put it through a shredder, soak it in bleach, ball it up and bat it into space.

MB&F does not make watches. It makes visions. Combine all the childhood experiences of founder Max Büsser with a budget that would make any watchmaker sing praises to the heavens and combine that with a group of friends—that’s the “F” in MB&F—who are the best in the world at making devices that measure the time.

That’s a big part of the rulebook MB&F has ditched, a whole chapter in fact: in-house. MB&F proudly states that other people do the work for them, because the reality is if you want the best, you have to assemble the best team exactly for that particular job, legends like Kari Voutilainen and Peter Speake-Marin.

It’s a process Max developed with the Harry Winston Opus series, and the result is that every machine has its own distinct personality whilst looking every bit the Horological Machine. 2018’s HM9 was, unsurprisingly, the ninth iteration in the series, drawing inspiration from the streamliner era of the late 40s when aerodynamics really first started being understood. You know, when Cadillacs had fins and everything was shaped like a rocket.

The original HM9 was cool and everything, but like all good creators, Max realised that cool could be cooler, and so he began work on an evo model, one that took the concept to crazy new places no one had ever dared consider before. Enter the HM9 Sapphire Vision.

The HM9 Sapphire Vision In Numbers

Bear with me for now whilst we treat the HM9 SV as though it were any other watch. I’m going to talk you through some of the details first, the specification, the numbers, all that stuff, because whilst treating this like a Rolex Submariner is akin to going to the shops for groceries in a V-22 Osprey, I think it’s good to ground this watch into reality so by the end you don’t just think you slipped into a fever dream for ten minutes.

The most obvious addition to the HM9 SV is the case, ditching the metal and switching it with sapphire. It makes for a striking look for sure, one that reveals the incredible architecture of the movement within far better than the previous edition. The sapphire is machined just like the metal, with one notable difference. Compared to sapphire, cutting metal is like slicing cheese. Sapphire, being one step down from diamond in hardness, is frankly a complete pain in the butt to machine.

That’s why sapphire crystals that mimic vintage domed acrylic are often more aggressively stepped, to reduce the amount of curved surfacing going on and therefore the number of machining passes it takes to shape. Think of it like resolution. If the crystal of a Submariner is like the resolution of a Casio display, the HM9 SV is like twin 8k screens in the most powerful VR setup in the world.

That is why the HM9 SV’s case takes 350 hours to machine. For one case. 350 hours sounds like a lot, but it’s hard to quantify. Think of it as ten weeks, two-and-a-half months, of working weeks. That’s enough time to watch the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy more than thirty times over. And I mean the extended editions.

As any engineer knows, problems breed problems, and with Max’s insistence on making this creation usable, he required it to have a water resistance of 30m. You know, for all the big shots out there taking their half-mill watch for a swim. Nevertheless, the Machines aren’t built to be looked at and not touched, and so a metal clamping system was devised to pull the two halves of the sapphire case together, sealed with a gasket in the middle.

But how do you seal the frame to the sapphire in the first place? As the guys at MB&F discovered, with difficulty. In the end, after discovering there were no particular friends that could help them with that one, they devised a process similar to the manufacture of carbon fibre, bonding the two materials together in a vacuum autoclave.

So, what’s this precious cargo that required so much effort? What you’ve got here is a twin balance movement that beats a slow, slow 18,000vph. Why so slow? Because it looks cooler. Slower balances are more prone to shock errors, however, and so MB&F did two things: one mount the entire movement on laser cut suspension, and two, combine the average performance of each balance wheel together in a planetary differential.

You know how in your car the driven wheels can turn at different speeds when you go round a corner without the inside one just spinning up? Same deal here. If one balance has a moment, the other picks up the slack and carries it whilst it sorts itself out. Together, you get a 45-hour power reserve that you must hand wind from the Thunderbird 4-esque jet at the back of the machine. Those two spinning propellers at the bottom? Those are there just for fun.

The Insanity Of The HM9 SV

How big is it? How does it wear? These are sensible questions for sensible watches. The HM9 SV is big, some 47mm across and 23mm thick, and despite the inboard strap mounting, it still wears like a miniaturised jet pack. The front mounted sapphire dial means you can save yourself the effort of twisting its heft up to read, but all in all, this is a crap watch. It is crap at being a watch. It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s hard to read. If you want a good watch for telling the time with, buy a Submariner instead.

But before you cancel your deposit on one of the twenty HM9 SVs being made, let me tell you a story. Some of you might remember that I bought myself a Hamilton railroad pocket watch. I didn’t buy it for the crappy dial, which is plasticky and cracked, I bought it because the movement is just a lovely thing to look at, albeit hidden behind a solid case back. And so, I discovered that I could unscrew the case back and unscrew the front with the crystal—and swap them over. The pocket watch is now useless as a timekeeper but I love it more than ever.

The HM9 SV is not for reading the time. You can, but think of that more as a secondary USP. It’s a bit like discovering you new coat has a secret inside zippy pocket. It’s not why you bought the coat, but you’re happy it’s there. Really, you bought the coat because it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen and you love the way it makes you feel.

Okay, that might be a stretch with the coat, but it’s 100% true of the HM9 SV. It’s a tactile, sensory overload on a miniature scale, a sequence of discoveries that rewards for every moment you spend with it. You’ll look at it a year later and see new details you’d missed before, new angles where the continually shifting sapphire stretches and warps the view in.

And if you’re worried the quality of the piece can’t withstand the scrutiny, then chill for a minute, because you aren’t going to find better watchmaking than this. The HM9 SV may look like the brainchild of a lunatic—and it is—but that just means it’s been taken all the more seriously when it comes to execution. You have to be a certain special type of soul to execute an order to finish what is essentially a toy for adults to the highest level of artistry. That is Max Büsser in a nutshell, and thank goodness he is that certain special type of soul.

There are few watches where, after scrutinising it with a macro lens to within an inch of its life, you leave sad because you only got to scratch the surface. This is one of those few watches. Some watches exhaust every opportunity for an original shot with many minutes of video left to fill, and others, rarely, very rarely, leave you wishing a video could be an hour long, if only to properly summarise.

You’ll notice I haven’t really even bothered trying to describe the sights this watch offers in any kind of detail because there’s just no point. Our time is almost up, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin. You’ll just have to let your eyes do my talking for me.