MB&F HM5 Horological Machine N°5
“On the Road Again”
The Watch Quote™ - December 4th, 2012
HM5 On the Road Again may appear relatively simple, but it’s complicated.
- The hour and minute displays look straightforward, but they are bi-directional jumping hours with indications inversed, reflected 90° and magnified 20%.
- HM5 has a futuristic case design, but it's from the 1970s.
- The case of HM5 is not water resistant, but its movement is.
- HM5 has a mechanical movement, but inspired by an era when quartz was King.
- The rear louvres on supercars block light, but on HM5 they let light it in.
- Befitting its automotive heritage, HM5 has exhaust pipes, but they drain water.
- HM5 is On the Road Again, but its inspiration barely left the garage.
The last decade or two have seen an exponential growth in inventions that have revolutionised our lives. In fact, there have been so many incredible new machines that we have become blasé about innovation. Robots may not cook dinner, but they do build cars, vacuum the home and mow the lawn. Sending a man to Mars is more a question of economics than engineering.
But imagine the excitement and dreams of the future in the early 1970s. Man could fly on the road with a new genre of streamlined supercars; fly on the sea with hovercrafts; fly at supersonic speeds on Concorde; and fly to the moon in Apollo. Everything was possible: humanoid robots, jet-packs and flying cars.
In the 1970s the future wasn’t tomorrow, it was today!
Speed also revolutionised horology with new quartz regulators oscillating 10,000 times faster than their sedate mechanical counterparts and offering unprecedented accuracy, reliability and affordability. And compact quartz movements also liberated watch design from the strait jacket of tradition so that futuristic cases and high-tech digital LED displays flourished. No surprise then that the arrival of quartz decimated the mechanical watch industry.
But a few brave (or foolish) brands fought back and in 1972 one of them, Amida, took on the electronic usurpers at their own game. Powered by a mechanical movement, the Amida Digitrend featured a fashionably futuristic tapered case and vertical digital LED-look display. It looked just like an avant-garde modern quartz watch and eventually became an iconic timepiece… but not in time to save Amida.
HM5 takes these 1970s icons and now, 40 years into the future, puts them On the Road Again.Inspiration and realisation:
For MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser, growing up as a child in the 1970s meant living in a constant state of awe and wonder. Supersonic jets flew through the air and through space; American muscle cars dominated the silver screen in road movies and fuelled the imagination.
The Lamborghini Miura launched a new genre of Italian super cars that looked as though they could break the sound barrier while standing still (creations that led the young Max to dream of being a car designer). Lasers, transistors, microwaves, hovercrafts and jet-packs gave the impression that the difference between science fiction and science fact was just a matter of when, not if.
And with the arrival of quartz wristwatches, watch designs were transformed from looking like something your grandfather wore, to something Captain Kirk might wear on the Starship Enterprise. HM5 takes these childhood dreams and gives them a new lease of life by putting them On the Road Again. “Imagine telling somebody in 1972 that in 2012, most people would be wearing round watches with round dials and three hands. That would sound crazier and more far-fetched than the idea of living on Mars!”
The unmistakable wedge-shaped case of On the Road Again is direct homage to the plucky Amida Digitrend. However, it also has unmistakable references to the low-slung supercars of the epoch.
The purpose of the louvres on these awe-inspiring cars was to restrict sunlight (and heat) from entering the near horizontal rear window. The functional louvres on HM5 do the opposite in that they open to allow light down onto the Super-LumiNova numbers on the hours and minutes indication disks to charge them. The disks are actually flat on top of the movement (under the louvres), not vertically at the front of the case where they appear to be thanks to some optical magic. Opening and closing the louvres also changes the dial’s light intensity. The louvres are opened and closed by a slide set into the side of the case.
Another distinguishing feature of supercars are large dual exhaust pipes that are usually seen accompanied by a roar of engine noise and smoking rubber. But HM5’s exhausts are not there to expel combustion gases in a throaty roar, but to drain water in case – like James Bond’s Lotus in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ – HM5 gets wet.
And no futurist icon of the 1970s is complete without a jet. HM5’s ergonomically sculptured crown – inset with the MB&F battle-axe motif – looks as though it could just as easily power a rocket to the Alpha Centauri, or the Batmobile, as it powers On the Road Again into the future.
To minimise potential damage, the winding stem of the crown is supported and guided by three radial bearings that ensure it can only be pulled out and pushed in when perpendicular to the movement.
Indications and reflective prism: The actual hour and minute time displays on HM5, i.e. the numbered rotating disks, are relatively simple: overlapping disks (one for hours, one for minutes) are completely covered in Super-LumiNova, which then has large 8mm numerals created by masking all of the lume except for the numbers.
The disks rotate flat on top of the movement and yet we see the time indications vertically in a ‘dashboard’ at the front of the case. To achieve this, MB&F worked with a high-precision optical glass supplier to develop a sapphire crystal reflective prism that bent light from the disks 90° as well as magnify it by 20% to maximise legibility.
The sapphire prism is wedge-shaped with the angles precisely calculated to ensure that light is reflected from the horizontal indications to the vertical rather than refracted (bent). A convex lens at the front provides the magnification. Sapphire crystal is much more difficult to work to optical precision than glass and it took considerable development and meticulous care in production to create crystals that reflected and bent light without the slightest distortion.
Because the time is reflected, the numbers are printed on the disks as mirror images so that they display correctly on the ‘dial’. The glass on the front is not black but dark-tinted so that it is possible to see time arriving and departing and the numbers have an iridescent light-green outline, reminiscent of the original Digitrend (which tried to look as through it had a quartz-like LED display) and the glowing instruments of a supercar on a high-speed road trip at night.
The vertical forward-facing display makes HM5 an excellent driver’s watch as there is no need to lift your wrist from the steering wheel to read the display.
Engine and internal housing: As with any supercar, the best often lies under the hood and looking below the surface of the HM5 On the Road Again case reveals a surprise: another case! Like a Russian Matryoshka doll, peeling away the outer layer reveals a second case beneath.
The reason for housing the Engine in an inner container is for water resistance. Those supercar louvres let in water as well as light − the reason for those dual exhaust ports – so to protect the high-performance Engine from moisture as well as shocks, it is housed in its own stainless steel shell. This inner case is similar to the ridged chassis of a car on which the external coachwork/body is attached.
Jean-François Mojon, Vincent Boucard and their team at Chronode developed the HM5 Engine/complication. It may appear simple, but it’s complicated! The jumping hours are bi-directional, enabling the time to be easily set both forwards and backwards. The two mineral glass disks of the hours and minutes are supported by a flat wide bridge. The disks overlap as much as possible to maximise their diameter and space for large legible numerals.
Turning HM5 over reveals the Engine, with its 22k gold battle-axe shaped ‘mystery’ winding rotor, fast oscillating balance and stunning hand-finished bridges, through a sapphire crystal display back that is set into the water resistant container.