By Shane Griffin
on 3.4.14

For the last nine years, Maximilian Büsser & Friends (MB&F) have, time and again, redefined the term “horological art”. Their watches are built with more than just the intention of telling time: they are essentially pieces of micro-industrial artwork. The first few releases from MB&F, dubbed Horological Machines, had an unmistakable steampunk feel. The HM series of watches didn’t look like watches at all, at least not in any conventional sense — their themes were odd shapes, unfamiliar layouts, and utterly bizarre appearances. Despite the alien aesthetics, impeccable case and movement finishing tied the concepts together, creating highly desirable timepieces for many collectors.

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It wasn’t until the Legacy Machine 1 (LM1), released in 2011, that MB&F was able to pique the interest of most serious collectors. Finally, MB&F had created a timepiece for those intimidated by wearing a miniature car engine on their wrist. The LM1 took classic pocket watch characteristics and added 21st century — hell, even 22nd century — twists.

The backside of the watch revealed a design that could accurately be described as “vintage pocket watch”. Curved bridges, ribbed with Geneva stripes, and oversized rubies dominate as eye-catching details. The unmistakable late 19th century look instantly betrays any attempt to hide Max Büsser’s vision for this timepiece, marrying classic watchmaking with its future.

The LM1 Xia Hang maintains nearly every innovative detail of the original, with one small exception: a “comma man” acting as the power reserve indicator.

Now, about that future. Making expert use of three-dimensional space, the movement’s creator, Jean-François Mojon, managed to suspend the balance above the center of the dial. Seeing the balance and escapement wheels at work truly gives a “living and breathing” appearance to the LM1. The rest of the dial layout is equally impressive. The LM1 can track two different time zones on the 3:00 and 9:00 subdials, not just down to the hour, but down to the minute. At the traditional 6:00, Mojon placed something never before seen on a watch: a vertical power reserve indicator. The indicator lever stands tall at full power, and slowly lays itself onto the top plate of the movement over the course of the 42 hours of reserve.

That innovative indicator lever led directly to the LM1′s latest iteration, the LM1 Xia Hang, which gains its surname from Xia Hang, a Chinese artist known for his “comma men”. Hang was chosen by MB&F to collaborate on the limited edition LM1 primarily because of their shared visions. Like MB&F, Hang enjoys a certain level of playfulness in his work, and also refers to his artwork as “machines”.

The LM1 Xia Hang maintains nearly every innovative detail of the original, with one small exception: a comma man acting as the power reserve indicator. With the power reserve full, the little man sits upright, and becomes “Mr. Up”. As you can guess, when the power reserve runs down, so does the little man’s head, transforming him into “Mr. Down”.

The subtle and tasteful distinction should attract collectors of MB&F and Xia Hang alike. Released in a set of 24 limited edition pieces, 12 in red gold and 12 in white gold, each example will come with a pair of stainless steel sculptures, larger-scale interpretations of Mr. Up and Mr. Down. With the modest price increase of $92,000 to $107,000, most enthusiasts will have to admire from a distance, but that’s to be expected when high art and horology combine in such an intense way. Audible gasp-inducing prices aside, watchmakers like MB&F are pulling horology out of the past with a forward looking approach, and with some luck, it will trickle down through the industry.

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