MB&F HM9 Sapphire Vision: MAD Machines Under Glass
In December 1964, two men sat in a diner and sketched out an idea for a race car on a napkin. George Hurst, a well-known maker of performance shifters (among other things) was talking to his friend about creating an exhibition car for the next season. The friend, Ray Brock, drew up a Plymouth Barracuda with the engine mounted in the back.
But the duo didn’t stop there: the car ended up having more than 600 horsepower with all the weight of the engine over the rear wheels, providing excellent grip.
The very first time it went down the drag strip, the ridiculous amount of torque and unique layout caused the front end to shoot into the sky; every bystander knew they were on to something special. Adding an extra layer of awesome, the engine, a 426 Chrysler Hemi, was visible under a massive tapered rear window, which gave the car its iconic nickname: the Hurst Hemi Under Glass.
In 1966, Bob Riggle, the man who would become synonymous with the Hemi Under Glass, took over construction and made one every year until 1975 with each successive year’s Plymouth Barracuda model.
The Hurst Hemi Under Glass became a famous drag exhibition car, performing wheelstands (continuous wheelies) for the entire length of the track and inspiring many muscle car fans. In 1992, Riggle brought it back by building two cars: a 1966 fuel-injected version and a 1968 supercharged version with a whopping 2,500 horsepower.
The car not only inspired multiple generations of car lovers, but it also went on to be one of the best-selling model car kits sold to kids and adults alike. Stories of its greatness were passed down between generations; I remember learning about it as a child from my father and have memories of seeing one of the 1992 rebuilds at a massive car show as a teenager. To say it made an impact on me would be an understatement.
When I saw the MB&F HM9 Sapphire Vision as it debuted in early 2021, I had an instant flashback to that incredible car. Even though HM9 was originally inspired by automotive and aeronautic advances of the 1940s and 1950s, seeing the HM9 caliber presented in the new sapphire crystal case, an incredible machine under curving “glass,” the connection was cemented in my mind and in my mind HM9 Sapphire Vision was horologically analogue to the Hemi Under Glass.
It is a well-deserved correlation to my sensibilities, but let’s dig into it and see if I can convince you of the same.
MB&F HM9 Sapphire Vision
The MB&F HM9 SV (Sapphire Vision) is the follow-up to the original HM9 Flow, which appeared in four variations. The SV also follows in its footsteps with four variations and sharing the basic movement.
However, the movement is where the two models part ways as the HM9 SV displays a lot of aesthetic changes making for an even more dramatic watch. HM9 SV is built around the HM9 caliber, which features twin balance wheels connected to the gear train via a differential to average out any deviations between the two regulators.
The twin balances are at the tips of the Y-shaped movement, which narrows down to the differential, going train, mainspring barrel, and winding mechanism, before translating horizontal rotation to vertical rotation through a set of conical gears.
The time-only display, which is oriented vertically like on other MB&F watches designed with driving in mind, is driven via a shaft running down the top of the movement. HM9 Flow was clearly designed in homage to the teardrop shapes found in planes and some car designs of the war and postwar era, but MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser also realized that the utter beauty of the movement inside could and should be highlighted: the HM9 Sapphire Vision was born.
The model no longer features teardrop tank-like enclosures around the movement; that design language has been swapped for a less rigid design built around a massive sapphire crystal bubble-like case. Due to this change, the aerodynamic shape no longer drives the aesthetic; instead the mechanical structure inside directs the almost organic sapphire crystal bubble case around it. The original HM9 Flow, as its name would suggest, had three teardrop sections that flowed past each other.
HM9 Sapphire Vision takes the rough outline of that case and makes a sapphire crystal sandwich that transitions into a straight barrel, which extends to the time display. Using three incredibly difficult-to-machine sapphire crystal sections, the case appears almost like a delicate piece of glass blowing with the main sections bulging over the balance wheels and main differential body.
The bottom of the Y-shaped caliber transitions to a cylindrical barrel sapphire crystal section held to a frame with threaded posts and a ring where the domed dial sapphire crystal is mounted.
Machine under glass
While the highly structured and flowing case of HM9 Flow is gone, the flow can still be felt with the gentle, undulating surfaces of the sapphire crystal case sections. Thanks to 350 hours of sapphire crystal machining and polishing, the sections provide a completely uninterrupted view of the caliber inside, which was the entire point of these iterations. In fact, the impressiveness of the movement is almost lost on previous HM9 Flow variations now that we can see it on full display.
If ever a movement from MB&F deserved to be on display it is that in the HM9 SV. As such, the movements are decorated and colored to create even more visual interest.
Available in PVD blue, NAC black, PVD purple, or red gold plate, the movement floats in stark contrast to the clear case surrounding it. The changes aren’t all aesthetic, however: the gentle undulations of the sapphire crystals also help eliminate any sharp corners or fracture points, making the cases structurally stronger than if the shape had matched the earlier version.
HM9 SV sees a structural change from the Flow in how the movement is secured in the case. Previously, it was mounted to the superstructure of the case like any movement, but in a bid to protect the movement as well as the chronometric performance from shocks, the movement is now supported on tiny laser-cut flattened spiral (helicoidal) springs, providing a little extra cushion to the slow-beating balance wheels.
The architecture of the movement also showcases the growth of MB&F over the years as it features elements from both the Horological Machine (HM) and Legacy Machine (LM) collections’ aesthetics such as the balance wheels with arched barrel, polished balance cocks, and wheel and plate finishing reminiscent of the LM series. And the battle axe bridge design supporting the differential that is as original MB&F as it gets.
Aesthetics are only part of the story
There is no mistaking this for anything other than an HM collection piece with its wild case shape and layout, the superfluous free-spinning spherical “turbines” underneath each balance, and the sapphire crystal dial with numerals straight from the HM1.
The strap is also very much Horological Machine territory with wide lugs with huge cutouts toward the end of the strap where it attaches to the case. This is definitely a wild watch. But bringing in details from the evolution of the LM series is a good touch and shows the softer and more traditional side of the brand.
The stated inspiration for the watch was intended to be aquatic exploration as the HM9 Flow came in “Air” and “Road” variations denoting land and sky, so the depths of the ocean make sense. And the bulbous shape definitely has notes of undersea creatures, especially less structured ones, but I still can’t see past the machine under glass.
If I hadn’t read the press release from MB&F, I would feel 100 percent safe pointing out a connection with the Hemi Under Glass from the 1960s and 1970s, even if it is only thematic in relation.
But at the end of the day, the inspiration or what we see in a watch like this matters less than the experience of the watch itself. I’ve yet to get my hands on this new iteration of HM9, but I can already tell how it will feel in my hands, how it will catch the light on a sunny day.
That is the thing about MB&F pieces: no matter how wild they get, there is a common thread of extreme quality and creativity that runs through every piece, and sometimes we find entirely new frames of reference beyond what Büsser and the designers intended to include.
Avant-garde and abstract forms like the HM9 Sapphire Vision reach out to the viewer or the wearer allowing them to generate their own reactions, and as such it can hold a completely different relation for each person. I am reminded of a fascination of my youth, and something from my father’s youth as well, combined with a passion for mechanics and horology that MB&F excites in its own way.
There is a reason that MB&F is one of my favorite brands and why many of the ideas I have for watches are inspired by the variety that MB&F puts out. Pieces like the HM9 SV showcase an ability to work both within the constraints of a movement and style and also color way outside the lines while creating something new.
I love this take on the HM9 and am excited to see other departures from established models for interpretations demonstrating the never-ending stream of ideas coming from Max Büsser and Friends.
So while I wait impatiently to get back to Geneva for some time with MB&F, let’s break this watch down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.89 I don’t know anyone that could look upon the HM9 SV and not let out an involuntary wowza!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 98.9» 969.878m/s2 The lightness of the sapphire crystal case provides energy well into the wee hours to continue lusting for this watch!
- M.G.R. * 70 It may be a time-only watch, but with twin balances, a differential, and a vertical time display all organized into such a unique layout, this movement is heavily geeky!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Time only but who even cares when it looks like this! Still, you can forgo the Gotta-HAVE-That cream this time!
- Ouch Outline * 12.1 Accidental cuts right down to the knuckle bone! Yikes is probably the easiest way to describe the result, following up with an urgency to sterilize the wound. But if you take care of it properly, it’ll heal up just fine, so I’d do it again for a chance to get one of these!
- Mermaid Moment * Instantaneous! Something like this is a love it or hate it piece and there is no denying that I absolutely love it!
- Awesome Total * 804.5 Start with the number of components in the movement (301) and multiply by the frequency in Hz (2.5), then add the number of parts in the case (52) for a transparently awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.mbandf.com/en/machines/horological-machines/hm9.
Quick Facts MB&F HM9 Sapphire Vision
Case: 57 x 47 x 23 mm, sapphire crystal with white or 5N+ red gold frame
Movement: manually wound Caliber HM9, 45 hours power reserve, twin balances beating at 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 5 pieces in each variation, 20 total pieces