The Swiss horological lab MB&F has never shied away from extravagant manifestations of what a timepiece can be. First presented in 2018, the Horological Machine N°9, or HM9 ‘Flow,’ broke conventions, paying homage to the revolutionary automotive and aeronautic designs of the 1940s and 50s. Now, MB&F takes the audacious step of encasing its intricate HM9 engine in a translucent shell of sapphire crystal. The result? A transparent masterpiece coined the HM9 ‘Sapphire Vision’ or HM9-SV, which seems like an artefact from a dimension where steampunk and futurism coalesce.
One of the most compelling features of the HM9-SV is its outer hull, a sinuous form of sapphire crystal and precious metals. This isn’t merely an aesthetic feat; it’s a marvel of engineering. Maximilian Büsser, the brainchild behind MB&F, says that this new iteration houses “the most beautiful movement we’ve created to date.” The craftsmanship required to accomplish this is nothing short of staggering—each sapphire case takes about 350 hours to complete, a feat achievable only because of MB&F’s years of experience in pushing the sapphire envelope.
With two fully independent cantilevered balances, the HM9 engine works like a miniaturized, hyper-efficient factory, where time is both the raw material and the final product. The balances feed data into a differential that averages their outputs, providing one coherent time pulse, a methodology inspired by earlier designs but honed to perfection in this latest version.
What truly sets the HM9-SV apart is its thematic focus. Taking inspiration from the mysterious aura of the oceanic depths, it serves as an invitation to explore a world not entirely our own. To emphasize this, HM9-SV features propellers beneath each of the balances, twin turbines that spin freely, more as elements of an aesthetic allure than a functional necessity. These propellers stand as silent sentinels, urging you towards a new form of escapism, one where time and space become fluid constructs.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the material that allows this masterwork to exist: sapphire crystal. Rated 9 on Moh’s scale of hardness, sapphire is just a step away from diamond. Its durability allows for unparalleled legibility and longevity, setting it apart from common alternatives like silicate glass. Its hardness, however, also makes it particularly challenging to shape, especially with the precision that watchmaking requires.
In 2023, MB&F unveiled two new editions, adding a pop of colour with engines in shades of blue and green, framed in white and yellow gold. Limited to five pieces each, these watches are as exclusive as they are extravagant. The process of sealing these new sapphire components involved high-tech bonding compounds and a unique three-dimensional rubber gasket, ensuring water resistance up to 30 meters.
The HM9-SV offers more than the mere tracking of hours and minutes; it presents time as art, inviting a tactile and visual exploration of its complex innards. From its twin balance wheels to the planetary differential, every detail is purposeful, part of an intricate dance that’s mesmerizing to behold. In this sense, the HM9 ‘Sapphire Vision’ tells a story—a story of human ingenuity, aesthetic aspiration, and the unending quest to make the elusive tangible. In a world that often demands we rush, the HM9-SV serves as an eloquent reminder that time can still be a wonder to behold.