LM101 By MB&F: Distilling The Very Essence Of Time
by Ian Skellern
I have a confession to make: I’m a lazy writer.
Not lazy in the sense that I do not work hard, but lazy in that I tend to choose the easiest watches to write about, i.e., watches that are highly complicated; watches with sensational finishing; and watches that look like nothing else on earth.
While the vast majority of the watch-buying public tends to purchase round watches displaying hours, minutes and seconds, with perhaps the odd date or power reserve indicator thrown in for good measure, I tend not to write about those more “normal” types of watches.
For me, writing about these more standard, albeit extremely popular, watches is hard work, requiring delving into the minutiae differentiating them from their near-identical − brand names aside − competitors.
Yes, I write about the watches that interest me and, yes, it is easier writing about what I find interesting. However, it’s a lot easier for me to explain what makes a watch like an MB&F HM4, for example, so special, compared to say the latest Rolex GMT Sea-Dweller.
And, as a picture is worth a thousand words, there’s often less that needs to be said.
Not only are avant-garde watches easier for me to write about, you are more likely to read about them as well. Just as you are more likely to pause at an article on the latest Ferrari or McLaren rather than the new Toyota or Hyundai.
Articles about wrist-borne intergalactic spaceships or über-complications are both easier to write (for me, anyway) and more likely to be read.
That’s win-win in my book.
Wild Horological Machines
As goes writing about watches, so goes designing watches. When you are a small boutique brand trying to be noticed within an ocean of large, established brands with massive marketing budgets, it helps to be different . . . the more different the better.
This strategy doesn’t work if your plan is to sell thousands of watches because the vast majority of collectors are conservative in what they buy and generally refrain from handing over their hard-earned cash for crazy-looking, anything-but-round creations.
But when you are a boutique brand like MB&F, you don’t need to − and, in fact, MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser has no desire to − sell thousands of watches, so making wildly unconventional, science-fiction-inspired, niche watches has paid off. And MB&F has gone from strength to strength.
Aside from its radical watches, MB&F’s success can in part be attributed to “lazy” writers like me, in addition to my more industrious colleagues, who find it easier to highlight the attractions of an in-your-face MB&F Horological Machine than the latest round Tudor with three hands (no offence to Tudor intended).
So we all got used to a steady stream of alien horology from MB&F, and lots of journalists like me happily wrote about the brand because it was easy to write about.
And everything was going hunky dory until 2012, when Büsser pulled the rug out from under our collective our feet (and not for the first time) by presenting a round watch.
A round watch from MB&F?
Why on earth would MB&F present a round watch in the form of Legacy Machine No. 1 (LM1)?
The answer is simple: Maximilian Büsser likes a challenge, and in horology there is perhaps no bigger challenge than creating something revolutionary in a traditional round case.
My first reaction wasn’t, “Wow, that’s a bold move,” but rather, “Damn, I’ll have to work harder to generate interest in a round watch.” Disclosure: I wasn’t just thinking as a journalist here, I was also responsible for writing the LM101 press release.
However, luckily for me − and unsurprisingly from MB&F − LM1 turned out to be anything but just another round watch. With an enormous balance wheel suspended over two completely independent dials plus the world’s first vertical power reserve, LM1 was not only eye-catchingly wild enough to be clearly identifiable as an MB&F Machine, it was also traditional-looking enough for those looking for a milder dose of horological adrenaline than MB&F’s more typical fare.
Which all made it easy to write about, so many did. Myself included.
Legacy Machine No. 1 was a risk for MB&F, but it turned into a gamble that paid off, with LM1 winning the hearts of a great many watch collectors, as well as quite a few prizes, including not one, but two awards at the 2012 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): the Public’s Choice and Best Men’s Watch.
When you’re on a good thing, do something completely different
Following on from Legacy Machine No. 1 was the even more complicated Legacy Machine No. 2. It showcases two suspended balance wheels whose rates are averaged by a planetary differential gear.
Just when we might next expect to see Legacy Machine No. 3 featuring some new and unusual take on another traditional complication, this being MB&F, we get the complete opposite: a pared-down version of Legacy Machine No.1 called LM101.
The designation “101” derives from the fact that this model is pared down to just the bare essentials of what is required in a mechanical wristwatch: hours, minutes and a power reserve indicator (flat, though, not vertical).
The suspended balance leaves no doubt that this is a Legacy Machine and, at 40 mm, the case diameter of LM101 is smaller than the 44 mm case of LM1, making it a much better fit for smaller wrists (like mine).
So it looks like MB&F has basically taken the easy way out in extending its range of watches by offering a smaller, simplified version of an existing model. The lazy way out.
Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s cost-effective and the majority of brands do the same thing over and over again with minor tweaks. But it’s disappointing, nevertheless, as I expect more from MB&F than I do from the majority of brands.
But wait, there’s more
Never fear, though: there’s more to LM101 than first meets the eye, much more in fact: a completely new movement!
- LM101 does have a round case like LM1.
- LM101 does have a suspended balance wheel like LM1.
- LM101 does have similar movement design, bridges, finishes and even Kari Voutilainen’s hand-engraved name on the back.
- LM0101 does not have the same movement as LM1.
- LM101 doesn’t even have a highly modified version of the LM1 movement.
- LM101 has a completely new movement, designed and developed in-house by MB&F.
- LM101 features MB&F’s first 100 percent in-house movement.
There’s nothing lazy about that, just the opposite, in fact: developing a new movement is about as difficult as watchmaking can get.
So Legacy Machine 101 has:
- A stunning suspended balance wheel that looks even larger than that on LM1 due to this watch’s smaller case diameter.
- A very high, domed crystal allowing full view of the dial’s three-dimensional elements from the sides as well as the top.
- An elegant, white, slightly domed hour and minute subdial balanced by a similar subdial for the power reserve indicator.
- Absolutely stunning hand-finishing and movement design.
- Plus a completely new in-house movement.
And here I was worried I’d have to do a bit of work writing about Legacy Machine 101, but it’s been easy.
So I have another confession to make: thanks to LM101, I’m still lazy!
For more information, please visit www.mbandf.com/machines/legacy-machines/lm101/.
Case: 40 mm, 18-karat red or white gold with high domed crystal
Movement: mechanical manually wound movement with suspended balance
Functions: hours, minutes; 45-hour power reserve indication
Price: US $59,000 (plus applicable tax)
A “Jean-Paul” left a couple of comments at the bottom of this article expressing his view that the LM101 movement, which MB&F claims to have developed in-house, was basically the Chronode LM1 movement with a few reshaped bridges.
“Jean-Paul” accuses MB&F of not really developing a new movement at all for the LM101, but simply cutting out the “middleman” (Chronode) behind the LM1 movement and banking the profits.
Let’s leave aside possible motives for the comments of “Jean-Paul” for the moment.
And let’s leave aside the fact that as the LM101 is more than 30 percent cheaper than the LM1, any cost savings generated by cutting out the “middleman” appear to have been passed to consumers rather than banked by MB&F.
Instead, let’s take a look at the two movements and see if we can work out for ourselves if LM101 basically uses the LM1 movement minus a second time zone or if we can validate MB&F’s claim to have developed a new movement.
The main thing to look for when comparing movements are the positions of the pinions and axes of the wheels. Movement plates and bridges can come in all shapes, sizes and finishes and can make two technically identical movements look substantially different.
First, let’s look at similarities and differences in the dial layouts.
Similarities: central balance wheel, power reserve indicator at 6 o’clock, position of winding stem.
Differences: position of hour and minute subdials, position of escapement.
Personally, I could not definitely state that these two dial layouts required two completely different movements. Different, yes, but from the dial layouts alone, the movement of LM101 may, in my view, have been derived from LM1.
So let’s have a look under the dial and see if the differences, or absence thereof, become clearer.
The MB&F movement constructor who developed the LM101 movement explained to me that LM101 and LM1 share the same central balance and the same mainspring barrel, but that compared to LM1, the LM101 movement has:
- Completely different movement conception and architecture
- Completely different gear train
- Different position of escapement
- All bridges and the main plate are different
- Different position of dial and hands (and only one dial, not two)
- Smaller diameter movement
- Different time setting mechanism
- Different drive train for power reserve (though sharing same differential)
- Different pawl winding mechanism
But then, of course, that’s what the MB&F movement constructor would say, wouldn’t he?
Let’s take a closer look for ourselves.
With the LM101 movement (in red) overlaid on the LM1 movement, there does not appear to be much in common except the position of the spring barrel and wheel in the center.
Well, looking at the axes of the wheels and pinions of the overlaid movements (LM101 in red) above, I think that’s game, set and match to MB&F. Apart from the barrel and that central wheel (and where else can the latter go?), the movement of Legacy Machine 101 is very different to that of Legacy Machine No. 1.
And while I’m not sure of “Jean-Paul’s” motives for expressing doubt, I am happy that he provided an opportunity to look a bit deeper into what I feel is an interesting topic.
Also published on Medium.