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MB&F goes underwater

We’ve come to expect some crazy things from Maximilian Büsser & Friends. But none are as crazy as the UAE influence on its latest timepiece, the HM7 Aquapod

There are no boundaries to what we can do in watchmaking.

The UAE might be known more for its horological consumers than as a source of watchmaking inspiration, but the Gulf country can now boast playing an intrinsic role in one of the most spectacular watches ever created. 

“The story began four years ago in Ras Al Khaimah,” Maximilian Büsser says at the world premier presentation of MB&F latest “horological machine” — the HM7. “I was on holiday with my wife in RAK, and coming from Europe, the first thing you do when you see the sea is you run into it…” 

There are no boundaries to what we can do in watchmaking.

Here he trails off for a dramatic pause. “It was full of jellyfish! So my wife ran out of the sea very quickly, but not quickly enough.”

As a brand, we believe a creative adult is a child that survived.

But from the pain of a jellyfish sting was born the HM7, also called the Aquapod. “We spent a week sitting on the beach looking at the jellyfish, which didn’t make for a great holiday. But from there I had the idea of creating a mechanical jellyfish. I think only MB&F can go down that route.” 

The mad genius behind Maximilian Büsser & Friends might just be right. Launching the hyper-creative lab dedicated to radical concept watches in 2005 after years in the industry, he says, was a way of recapturing his youth. “I used to be a super-creative kid. Then I became a very boring adult. And then I was saved. I got my mojo back and started creating again.”

As a ’60s kid, Büsser’s fascination with space exploration saw MB&F go into outer space with the HM2, HM3 and HM6. It took to the skies with the HM4, because as a child he used to build model airplanes.

Young Max dreamt of designing cars, and MB&F has rolled out the automotive-inspired HM5, HMX and HM8 — which was actually launched before the HM7, testament to the latter’s complicated mechanism. 

“We’re a little crazy as a company,” Büsser explains. “We believe watchmaking is art, and therefore you should create a mechanical sculpture that gives time. These horological machines are mechanical sculptures, but they’re also very much my psychotherapy.

“As a brand, we believe a creative adult is a child that survived.”

With the HM7 Aquapod, the company explores the deep blue sea for the first time. “It’s 100 per cent inspired by the jellyfish,” says Büsser, “a transparent organism with a very primitive brain under this dome, and tentacles underneath it that it uses to feed. But under the Aquapod’s sapphire dome, you have an incredible brain.”

He continues, “This is not a primitive one at all — this is an insane flying tourbillon that gyrates at the centre. Underneath, not only do you have the symbolic tentacles in the bracelet, but it’s on the rotor too.

“The HM7 reinvents watchmaking in a specific way. While tourbillons and flying tourbillons have become commonplace, the Aquapod’s geometry is all vertical. Every single movement works vertically — the regulating system, winding system and barrel all speak to each other transversely.”

We’re a little insane, but we love it.

He explains that it took the company four years to develop the three-dimensional vertical movement architecture. Only 50 units will be crafted per year. 

Sticking to its source material, the watch is completely symmetrical. It even features two crowns — one to set the time and the other to wind it, although you actually don’t need to.

“We started off with one crown. After the engineers had spent six months working on the movement, I told them it’s ugly — we need a second crown. They fired back that we don’t need a second crown since it’s an automatic watch that you don’t need to wind. 

Büsser stuck to his guns, and the engineers had to redo everything to insert a second stem that works even though its sole purpose is aesthetic. “Yeah, I’ve got a great team,” he laughs. 

Looking at the finished product, you can’t but side with Büsser. From above, the completely circular system is strikingly singular. There’s the centre tourbillon movement, while the minute and hour indicators are spherical segments that turn on a ceramic ball bearing system that “was a bit of a headache to engineer”.

Since its introduction, the watch has been compared to another iconic diving vessel, the submarine. And while it is technically a diving watch, MB&F couldn’t fit screw-down crowns, so it’s only water resistant to 50m. It does, however, feature a unidirectional rotating bezel.  

Büsser was a Steve Jobs-level pain in the behind about curves, so everything is rounded, even the unique ceramic bezel that flies around the case. “I didn’t want any edges, so the numbers had to be engraved into the ceramic bezel.” 

With engraving into ceramic on a spherical path being no mean feat, the company couldn’t find any Swiss manufacturer able to do this. They eventually found a large Korean ceramics company that was up to the task. This led to multiple back-and-forth trips to Seoul to oversee the crafting of only 50 bezels. “We’re a little insane,” he concedes, “but we love it.”

In addition to being a tribute to the jellyfish’s tentacles, from below, the rotor also resembles the mouth of a lamprey. It is crafted out of a block of platinum, and each tooth or tentacle, machined out of a block of titanium that’s polished and satin finished, is then screwed on. 

The HM7 also glows in the dark, like many jellyfish. The hour and minute numerals, which were impossible to print on due to the watch's spherical nature, are hand-painted in Super-LumiNova using a microscope and a micro syringe. But it also glows where you don’t expect — around the inside of the movement, lighting up the flying tourbillon at night. The tentacle-like winding rotor underneath is also illuminated, so that its operation can be appreciated in the dark. 

The engine is made up of 303 components with 35 jewels. It has a power reserve of 72 hours, with a balance frequency of 2.5Hz or 18,000 bph. The case measures 53.8mm x 21.3mm, and launches in 33 pieces in grade-5 titanium with a blue bezel, and 66 pieces in 18K 5N+ red gold with black bezel. The bracelet is moulded in aircraft-grade rubber, with a folding buckle matching the case material.

“So you work on a movement for two years, wondering if this is actually going to wind up anything. Then you hold the prototype in your hand for the first time and it turns out like nothing you’ve ever seen!” 

The child in him is visible as Büsser is barely able to contain his elation. “We could have screwed up completely. Luckily, we didn’t.” 

Now that’s selling yourself short. 

As for what’s next, only time will tell. As Büsser says, “Crazier and crazier — there are no boundaries to what we can do in watchmaking.”

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