A Collectors' Guide To MB&F’s Early Horological Machines

A Collectors' Guide To MB&F’s Early Horological Machines

A review of the first four wristwatches from the pioneering mind of Maximilian Büsser and his team at MB&F.

A review of the first four wristwatches from the pioneering mind of Maximilian Büsser and his team at MB&F.

Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo is excited to announce The Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, online auction, taking place from 12:00 PM CET, Tuesday, March 5, to 2:00 PM CET, Tuesday, March 12. Featuring more than 80 different high-end luxury wristwatches, the sale covers everything from A. Lange & Söhne and F.P. Journe to Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. It even includes the first three Horological Machines from MB&F that are featured in this story.


– By Logan Baker

It feels like MB&F has been around forever.

That's what a great brand does – you forget that there was ever a time the watchmaking world was without them. But the truth of the matter is that it's been less than 20 years since Max Büsser left his stable position as the CEO of Harry Winston Timepieces (where he was the architect of the legendary Opus series) in 2005 to start something completely new.

With a little help from his friends, Max Büsser established his own firm: MB&F, or Max Büsser and Friends. The goal? To take watchmaking to a place it had never been before. Avant-garde, experimental, radical – whatever adjective you prefer, that's the type of watchmaking that MB&F would focus on. 

Büsser and his team envisioned a new form of wristwatch, one that refused to abide by the oft-conservative aesthetic laws of the craft. They wanted to create a wristwatch that looked less like a conventional watch, and more like a futuristic gadget or tool that happened to be worn on the wrist. Thus, the Horological Machine was born. 

Today when you look at MB&F's catalog, the brand is almost entirely divided into two separate series: the Horological Machine, and the Legacy Machine. The two feel inseparable from one another; again, a sign of the strength of each collection. But the Horological Machine came first, in 2007, before it was eventually joined by the first Legacy Machine in 2011. 

The Legacy Machine series still leans far into the realm of unorthodox watchmaking, but it does so with a keen eye toward the past. It intends to showcase the best of traditional Swiss watchmaking through the lens of an alternative present, a Jules Vernesque, steampunk-style take on long-established horological norms. Cases are executed in a conventional round shape, but the displays and mechanical elements on the dial can take on almost any form. 

The Horological Machine collection, meanwhile, makes no apologies for its unabridled embrace of horological futurism. And that's what makes the Horological Machine series so important – it doesn't matter if the watches don't align to conventional wearability standards. The early Horological Machines are the timepieces that Max Büsser and his cohort literally could not wait to make. They represent the brand's inventive spirit and alternative approach to watchmaking in its purest form. 

MB&F released four different Horological Machines before the Legacy Machine appeared – and those are the four watches we're going to examine today.

2007: MB&F Horological Machine No. 1

Max Büsser and his team knew that MB&F's debut had to make a statement. It had to be a wristwatch with no compromises, and something that looked like nothing else before it. Surprise, surprise – they succeeded. 

The MB&F Horological Machine No.1 contained the world’s first movement using four barrels that are connected to each other in both parallel and series. It was also the first wristwatch movement capable of simultaneously transmitting energy from two sources to the regulating system.

Lot 60: A circa 2007 MB&F HM1 Ref. 10.T41RL.S that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

Max Büsser called on a number of influential "friends" in developing the Horological Machine No. 1. Award-winning designer Eric Giroud worked directly with Büsser in transforming initial sketches into three-dimensional designs. Peter Speake-Marin, a legend in the world of independent watchmaking, and engineer Laurent Besse were then handed the impossible task of turning Büsser and Giroud's design work into a real-world working timepiece.

The resulting self-winding movement contained 376 components, 81 functional jewels, four mainspring barrels, and an elevated central 60-second tourbillon. Two barrels are placed on each side of the movement, which reduces the torque output of the individual mainsprings, in turn improving operating isochronism and precision, in addition to decreasing wear on the movement and enabling a mamooth seven-days of running autonomy. 

The kinetic action of the 60-second tourbillon is placed on literal center stage. It sits perfectly in the middle of the face, set exactly between the two separate dials and pairs of mainspring barrels. MB&F would later expand on the idea of a central, elevated regulating organ within the Legacy Machine series – but it was first deployed here, in the HM1.

An MB&F HM1 Black Ref. 10.T41WBL.O. A 10-piece limited edition. Image courtesy, MB&F.

Hours on the HM1 are indicated on the left dial of the watch, while the passing minutes are revealed on the right dial. A concentric power reserve display is also integrated into the right dial. The opposing dials look completely separate, but they're of course geared together within the movement via an extra-wide, ultra-thin mirror-polished wheel located between the two sides of the movement and completely supported by jeweled bearings rather than a central axis due to its delicacy. 

The case of the HM1 comes in a hulking figure-eight shape that measures 41mm × 64mm × 14mm and emphasizes three-dimensionality. Comprised of 48 different components, the extra-wide case design provides an overwhelmingly solid house for the intricate movement inside. Large sapphire crystals on the front and the back of the watch provide easy visibility into the HM1's first-of-its-kind mechanical architecture. The HM1 even includes MB&F's signature 22k gold battle-axe rotor that can now be found throughout the brand's complete catalog. 

Lot 60: A circa 2007 MB&F HM1 Ref. 10.T41RL.S that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

Seven versions of the HM1 were produced, with a total of 100 examples across the entire series. 

HM1 BLACK Ref. 10.T41WBL.O: Black PVD-coated 18k white gold case, limited edition of 10 pieces.

HM1 RS Ref. 10.T41RL.O: 18k red gold case, limited edition of 10 pieces.

HM1 WG / Ruthenium Ref. 10.T41WL.S: 18k white gold case, ruthenium dial.

HM1 RG / Silver Ref. 10.T41RL.R: 18k red gold case, silver dial.

Lot 60: A circa 2007 MB&F HM1 Ref. 10.T41RL.S that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000. Image by author.

HM1 RG / Ruthenium Ref. 10.T41RL.S: 18k red gold case, ruthenium dial, 25 examples produced. 

HM1 WG / Silver Ref. 10.T41.WL.R: 18k white gold case, silver dial.

HM1 Titanium Ref. 10.T41T: Titanium case, 10-piece limited edition.

If you're looking to add MB&F's debut timepiece to your collection, best of luck. Out of the four HM models featured in this article, the HM1 has the fewest appearances at auction. I was only able to identify four examples to hit the rostrum since the HM1's release. And out of those four models, three of them were part of the ref. 10.T41RL.S variant, featuring an 18k red gold case and ruthenium dial. The only other result comes courtesy the limited-edition titanium-cased ref. 10.T41T, which sold at a New York auction in October 2016 for USD $90,000 (approx. USD $115,653 today). The average result of the three red gold and ruthenium models (sold in 2009, 2016, and 2020, respectively) was USD $62,838 (accounting for inflation and currency conversion).

The first MB&F HM1 example to appear in a Phillips auction is available in the Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction (lot 60). It's the rose gold and ruthenium ref. 10.T41RL.S example, and it carries an estimate of CHF 20,000 to 30,000.

2008: MB&F Horological Machine No. 2

MB&F didn't rest on its laurels.

They brought the second Horological Machine out the following year, in 2008. Gone was the figure-eight case, in its place an unusual rectangular case design that looked like a chocolate bar, featuring flying buttresses, dual portholes, and a totally modular construction. 

Lot 59: A 2009 MB&F HM2 included in the Phillips Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

The Horological Machine 2 introduced a brand-new self-winding movement utilizing a slew of alternative displays and new complications, including instantaneous jumping hours, concentric retrograde minutes, retrograde date, and a bi-hemisphere moon-phase.

MB&F worked with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht (of Agenhor fame), Maximilien Di Blasi, and Patrick Lété to develop the HM2's unique shaped movement architecture. One highlight of their approach is an energy-efficient jump hour/retrograde mechanism that uses a patented asymmetrical tooth shape for the gears to ensure exacting precision with zero shudder or play while in motion.

A circa 2008 MB&F HM2 CTI Ref. 20.DCTTL.B that sold for HKD $200,000 in the Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction: X, in July 2020.

The case of the HM2 was nearly as complex as its movement. It utilizes more than 100 different components, including the flying buttresses, mounting holes, embedded gasket tracks, bolted portholes, and sliding crown guard.

The case dimensions measure 59mm × 38mm × 13mm and is so complex that it could only be completed using an innovative modular method inspired by the model construction sets Büsser played with as a child. 

Lot 59: A 2009 MB&F HM2 included in the Phillips Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000. Image bu author.

The HM2's complex construction was pushed even further in a small-batch series of examples that featured cases made entirely of sapphire crystal, requiring 55 hours of milling, drilling, and polishing of the crystal to create each individual case.

The HM2 is similar to the HM1 in that it uses two opposing displays to indicate the time and/or a complication. On the HM2, the left-side dial contains the retrograde date mechanism and the bi-hemisphere moon phase display, while the right-hand dial features the jumping hour and concentric retrograde minutes. The moon-phase display, featuring two moon faces (one for each hemisphere) made of solid white gold, are especially attractive, offering an old-world poetic sensibility to the overall aggressively avant-garde design. 

Lot 59: A 2009 MB&F HM2 included in the Phillips Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000. Image by author.

Six versions of the HM2 were produced, plus a unique piece for the Only Watch Charity Auction. However, a second generation of the HM2 was introduced in 2010. The HM2.2 "Black Box" was an eight-piece limited-edition that saw legendary watch designer Alain Silberstein team up with MB&F. The watch was completely redesigned under Silberstein's touch, with the addition of an aperture for the jumping hour as well as new pops of color throughout the design – a Silberstein trademark. In addition to the eight-piece Black Box run, MB&F produced a unique version with a brown PVD-coated case, earning it the name, "Chocolate Box." It sold at Phillips Geneva for the first time last November, for a stunning total of CHF 304,800.

HM2 Black SV Ref. 20.DSTBL.B: Sapphire and black PVD-coated titanium case, limited edition of 18 pieces.

HM2 Red SV Ref. 20.DSRL.B: Sapphire and 18k red gold case, limited edition of 18 pieces.

HM2 CR Ref. 20.DCRTL.B: Ceramic and 18k red gold case, limited edition of 33 pieces.

HM2 CTI Ref. 20.DCTTL.B: Ceramic and titanium case, limited edition of 66 pieces. However, according to the book "MB&F the First 15 Years, A Catalogue Raisoné," only 26 pieces were actually built in this configuration.

Lot 59: A 2009 MB&F HM2 included in the Phillips Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

HM2 WT Ref. 20.DWWTL.R: 18k white gold and titanium case, limited edition of 125 pieces.

HM2 RT Ref. 20.DRRTL.R: 18k red gold and titanium case, limited edition of 125 pieces.

HM2 Only Watch Unique Piece  

A 2009 MB&F HM2 Ref. 20.DCTTL.B is included in the Phillips Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction (lot 59). Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

2009: MB&F Horological Machine No. 3

The Horological Machine 3 came in 2009. It once again introduced an entirely new case shape and movement. 

The time is read via two rotating cones, of which the top caps of the truncated cones are brazed to ensure maximum water-resistance and the red “hands” are cut by laser to obtain high precision and minimum mass

The movement of HM3 has been turned upside down to allow for an unconcealed panoramic view of the oscillations of the balance wheel as well as the battle-axe rotor's spins. Flipping the watch over reveals two large ceramic bearings efficiently transmit power up to the cones and date wheel.

Lot 47: A circa 2010 MB&F HM3 Starcruiser WG ref. 30.WTL.B that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

The original HM3 was produced in two distinct versions: "Sidewinder," with cones lined perpendicular to the arm (below), and "Starcruiser," with cones in line with the arm (above).

Max Büsser and MB&F reunited with some familiar faces to work on the HM3: Eric Giroud worked with Büsser on the design, while Jean-Marc Wiederrecht brought the self-winding movement to life. 

A 2012 MB&F HM3 Sidewinder Ref. 31.RTL.B that sold for CHF 52,920 during the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: XVI, in November 2022.

The HM3 Sidewinder and HM3 Starcruiser were each produced in either white gold and titanium or red gold and titanium.   However, the HM3 was quickly revived and evolved in 2010 to create the HM3 Frog, which brought out a bit of the anthropomorphic charm in the design, with the addition of stylized luminescent numerals and domed sapphire crystal with a magnifying effect are used to completely encapsulate the cones. 

The HM3 Frog started life with two variations (titanium and a limited edition of 10 pieces in black PVD coated zirconium with yellow gold), but it was quickly joined by a 10-piece limited edition called the Chocolate Frog, released to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of The PuristS online forum, and then an 18-piece limited edition with the HM3 Frog Zr, made of zirconium and featuring purple accents. 

In 2020, on the tenth anniversary of the HM3 Frog, MB&F revisted the design with the all-new Frog X series, featuring an upgraded caliber and a case made completely out of sapphire crystal. Three separate 10-piece batches were produced, featuring purple, blue, or turquoise accents. 

Lot 47: An MB&F HM3 Starcruiser WG ref. 30.WTL.B that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

However, that's not all there is to the HM3's story. MB&F brought the HM3 Megawind to market in 2013, which upgraded the HM3 design with a larger battle-axe rotor and a more legible design for the hour and minute cones. Three versions of the HM3 Megawind were created, in 18k red gold and titanium, 18k white gold and titanium, and a limited-production "Final Edition" with a black PVD-coated 18k white gold and titanium case.

There were various other small-batch HM3 models released over the years, including the Moonmachine in collaboration with Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva and the JwlryMachine in collaboration with Boucheron, the world-famous French jeweler.

Lot 47: An MB&F HM3 Starcruiser WG ref. 30.WTL.B that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000. Image by author.

HM3 Starcruiser WG Ref. 30.WTL.B: 18k white gold and titanium case.

HM3 Starcruiser RG Ref. 30.RTL.B: 18k red gold and titanium case.

HM3 Sidewinder WG Ref. 31.WTL.B: 18k white gold and titanium case.

HM3 Sidewinder RG Ref. 31.RTL.B: 18k red gold and titanium case.

HM3 Megawind RG Ref. 35.RTL.B: 18k red gold and titanium case.

HM3 Megawind Ref. WG 35.WTL.B: 18k white gold and titanium case.

HM3 Megawind Final Edition Ref. 35.WBTL.B: Black PVD-treated 18k white gold and titanium case, limited edition of 25 pieces.

A circa 2015 MB&F HM3 Megawind Final Edition Ref. 35.WBTL.B that sold for HKD $327,600 during the Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction: XIV, in May 2022.

HM3 Frog X Purple Ref. 36.SVL.PU: Sapphire crystal case with purple rotor, limited edition of 10 pieces.

HM3 Frog X Blue Ref. 36.SVL.BU: Sapphire crystal case with blue rotor, limited edition of 10 pieces.

HM3 Frog X Turquoise Ref. 36.SVL.GR: Sapphire crystal case with turquoise rotor, limited edition of 10 pieces.

Lot 47: An MB&F HM3 Starcruiser WG ref. 30.WTL.B that's available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions Spring 2024 Online Auction. Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000. Image by author.

HM3 Frog TI Ref. 32.TL.B: Grade 5 titanium case.

HM3 Poison Dart Frog Ref. 32.ZRBRL.B: Black PVD-coated zirconium case with yellow gold rotor, limited edition of 10 pieces.

A circa 2010 MB&F HM3 Starcruiser WG ref. 30.WTL.B is available in the Phillips Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction (lot 47). Estimate: CHF 20,000 - 30,000

2010: MB&F Horological Machine No. 4

The aviation-inspired HM4 "Thunderbolt’ took the Horological Machine series to a new level. Instead of focusing on cases that would wear relatively flat on the wrist, the HM4 was influenced by old-school drivers' and pilots' watches that had angled displays in order to be easily read while driving or flying.

Every aspect of the HM4 is influenced by Max Büsser’s childhood love for assembling model aircraft. More specifically, the overall aesthetic of the watch draws directly from the fuselage of the P47-Thunderbolt fighter plane.

An MB&F HM4 Final Edition Ref. 42.BTSL.B. Limited to eight pieces. Image courtesy, MB&F.

The manual-wind HM4 movement was the culmination of three long years of intensive development. Each of the 311 components was developed specifically for use in the HM4. Horizontally-configured dual mainspring barrels drive two vertical gear trains, transferring power to the twin pods indicating hours and minutes on the right, power reserve on the left. 

The HM4 received the prize for the Best Concept & Design Watch at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneva (GPHG) in 2010.

A 2012 MB&F HM4 Thunderbolt Ref. 40.TSL.B that sold for CHF 143,750 during the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: X, in November 2019.

The HM4 caliber was entirely designed and developed by MB&F over three years of intensive work with Laurent Besse and Beranger Reynard of Les Artisans Horlogers. Twin mainspring barrels drive two vertical gear trains, transferring power to the dial indicating hours and minutes on the right and power reserve on the left.

The watch provides a 360 degree viewing experience – while one dial displays the timekeeping hour and minute hands, the other shares the power reserve. The reverse side displays the movement in all its glory, which can be marveled through sapphire crystal windows that require up to 185 hours of delicate machining and polishing to be used in the watch.

A 2012 MB&F HM4 Thunderbolt Ref. 40.TSL.B that sold for CHF 143,750 during the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: X, in November 2019.

The HM4 engine is the culmination of three long years of intensive development. Each of the 311 components was developed specifically for this calibre. Horizontally-configured dual mainspring barrels drive two vertical gear trains, transferring power to the twin pods indicating hours and minutes on the right, power reserve on the left. With the dials perpendicular to the wearer’s wrist, HM4 might be described as the perfect pilot’s watch.

An MB&F HM4 Thunderbolt RT ref. 40.RSL.R. Limited edition of 18 pieces. Image courtesy, MB&F

Five versions of the HM4 were produced, plus the Kittyhawk Pièce Unique, with no more than 100 total watches made. 

HM4 Thunderbolt RT Ref. 40.RSL.R: 18k red gold and titanium case, limited edition of 18 pieces.

HM4 Thunderbolt TI Ref. 40.TSL.B: Sapphire crystal and titanium case.

HM4 Double Trouble Ref. 41.TSL.BDT: Sapphire crystal and titanium case, limited edition of eight pieces.

HM4 Razzle Dazzle Ref. 41.TSL.BRD: Sapphire crystal and titanium case, limited edition of eight pieces.

HM4 Final Edition Ref. 42.BTSL.B: Blackened titanium and sapphire crystal case, limited edition of eight pieces.

You can view the complete catalog for the Geneva Sessions, Spring 2024, Online Auction, right here


About Phillips In Association With Bacs & Russo

The team of specialists at PHILLIPS Watches is dedicated to an uncompromised approach to quality, transparency, and client service. Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo holds the world record for the most successful watch auction, with its Geneva Watch Auction: XIV having realized $74.5 million in 2021. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, the company sold 100% of the watches offered, a first in the industry, resulting in the highest annual total in history across all the auction houses at $227 million.

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About Logan Baker

Logan has spent the past decade reporting on every aspect of the watch business. He joined Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo at the start of 2023 as the department's Senior Editorial Manager. He splits his time between New York and Geneva.


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