When you picture the founder of a watch brand, you likely picture an old and wise tinkerer hunched over a workbench with a loupe, not a handsome rebellious Han Solo type, but that’s exactly the type of guy who founded MB&F. Max Büsser has created a totally unique brand, and like Solo, he leads a group of rebellious renegades; these renegades, however, have slightly different goals. MB&F’s primary objective is to develop “radical watches” that they call “Machines,” and they don’t call themselves a watch company but rather an “artistic concept laboratory.” MB&F “Machines” challenge any and all watchmaking traditions from a design standpoint, but they also challenge engineering traditions. Even centuries-old standards in watchmaking are not safe from the brand’s insatiable desire to innovate. With this MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual, MB&F took on and succeeded at the not-so-simple task of reinventing the Perpetual Calendar Complication, a complication that has been a mainstay in watchmaking for 250 years.
The MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual was introduced in 2015, but its origins go all the way back to the brand’s early days, just after its founding in 2005. In 2006 Max and the team found themselves in a very tight spot. A company they were working with to create a new watch ended up getting sold before they could finish, and the company that purchased them was not going to continue the partnership. This ultimately left MB&F with a lot of watch parts and no watches. After calling in some favors, Max was able to get together a small team to help assemble the watches and among this team was Irish watchmaker Stephen McDonnell who not only took the lead on assembling the timepieces but also took it upon himself to improve badly made components. This effort ultimately allowed MB&F to stay afloat, and thankfully for the watch world, they have remained in business long enough for Max and Stephen to collaborate again.
Fast forward a few years, and Stephen is looking to make a career change, while Max is excited to have the opportunity to add him back onto his team. Stephens’s first project was one he had been working on for a while and one he thought MB&F would be a great partner in. The side project in question was fixing the classic and beloved complication, the Perpetual Calendar. Despite the romantic complications’ long existence, it was and still is often plagued by a lack of durability and reliability. One simple mistake when setting the date could easily ruin even the most well-engineered Perpetual Calendars leading to expensive and lengthy visits to a watch service center. Stephen and Max decided to join forces to rectify this, and the result is the MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual. Here we have the white gold version which was produced in relatively small numbers and was released in 2016. Its unique design and ingenious engineering make it one of the most stunning and reliable perpetual calendars ever built.
A lot of MB&F timepieces come off as very futuristic looking with unique and abstract designs that can appear more like sculptures or art installations than wristwatches, but that’s not the case here. The overall ethos of the Legacy Machine collection is to illustrate a vision of what Max Büsser’s watches would be like if he were born a century earlier, and I think this watch definitely lives up to that. This Legacy Machine Perpetual combines contemporary and traditional watch design elements into a look that can’t be attributed to any specific time period.
The combination of traits leads to some design elements appearing vintage inspired while others are positively futuristic. For example, it’s large round 44mm case is classically shaped and reminiscent of a pocket watch. Additionally, the very noticeably domed crystal harkens back to the days before perfectly flat sapphire became the go-to material on wristwatches. Continuing the traditional theme on the outside of the watch, you’ll find somewhat antiquated small round pushers. They’re very function over form, and they remind me of old dress chronographs. Ironically, however, these pushers are actually one of the more innovative features on the watch as they automatically disengage when the movement is getting ready to change one of its date functions. This eliminates the ability to accidentally damage the movement by changing the date at the wrong time, usually close to midnight. This time window is typically known as the “danger zone” because it so commonly damages traditional perpetual calendar movements. Not this one, it only took a few centuries, but MB&F figured out a way to save us from ourselves and preserve its precious movement.
While the above elements appear traditional, other design choices are very modern, and once you start to visually explore the dial side of the watch, it becomes abundantly clear that this timepiece is actually quite ahead of its time. Details like the oscillating hairspring in the center of the dial and the large black polished double anchored balance bridge look positively space-aged. The power reserve and leap year indicators at 4 and 7 o’clock, respectively, also stand out as very modern elements. Additionally, the way the radial white lacquer subdials are laid out and displayed is only made possible with McDonnel’s innovative “mechanical processor,” which we’ll get into more below.
While the outside of the watch has some traditional design queues, there is almost nothing traditional about the innovative movement beating inside it. The fully integrated perpetual calendar movement was designed from the ground up to provide the user with a foolproof operating experience. The design almost completely prevents jamming of gears or skipping dates and, as stated above, actively disengages the pushers to save the operator from themselves.
Along with engineering these safety measures that make the movement more reliable, Stephen McDonnel also designed a new type of date mechanism called the “mechanical processor.” The new component defaults to a 28-day month and programmatically adds days when needed. This eliminates the movement having to “skip” days when a month ends before the 31st, which leads to a more reliable mechanism. In addition to the mechanical processor mechanism, the date also employs a flyback mechanism which prevents the operator from forcing the mechanism past its programmed date. All of this combined is also what allows for the beautifully exposed movement. Without the stacked gears and mechanical processor, a grand levier would be blocking about half of the movement preventing the wearer from seeing all of the beautiful traditionally hand-finished components. MB&F lets you simultaneously have your cake and eat it too.
Versus The Competition
Watchmaking like this doesn’t come cheap, and this particular watch is valued at around $200k. This puts it pretty damn close to the tippy top of the watch market, but that doesn’t mean it’s alone up there. Here are a couple of other extremely high-level perpetual calendar timepieces to consider.
If you’ve read any of my work before, you likely know that I’m a big F.P. Journe fan. Like Max Büsser, he marches to the beat of his own drum, and so do his watches. But Journe timepieces have a much more classical aesthetic. Consider this elegant rose gold Octa Quantieme Perpetual Calendar “Boutique Collection.” This watch, like the Legacy Machine, approaches the perpetual calendar a bit differently with its digital displays, but it’s not distractingly different. I think if you’re looking for a perpetual calendar but find the Legacy Machine’s size and design too bold, this might be a good compromise.
Now, suppose the Journe is still too different for your taste, and you really want to go the classic, old-world elegance route. In that case, I suggest this stunning Patek Philippe Grand Complications Perpetual Calendar. This gorgeous white gold timepiece has an officer’s style case that has been extravagantly decorated with engravings that were inspired by a pocket watch that is in the Patek Philippe museum. It’s the epitome of a traditional elegant timepiece.
This watch is in a league of its own in terms of innovation and sophistication, and it belongs to someone who prioritizes both of those elements in their life. It’s honestly hard to imagine this watch feeling at home on just any random wealthy watch enthusiast’s wrist. I feel like the type of person who wears this watch should fully appreciate and even understand deep the level of mechanical ingenuity and artful design that was put into this timepiece. Maybe I’m putting this watch on a pedestal, but the only person I can think of that fits is Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, a fictional superhero. However, while Iron Man is not real, this watch is, and maybe whoever owns it can employ it as motivation to strive higher and be worthy of the genius that is this MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual.
How can you not be impressed by some scrappy watchmaking rebels taking a centuries-old watch complication and improving it in ways the titans of the industry hadn’t dared to? Before having looked into this watch in-depth, I was somewhat indifferent about MB&F as a brand. I didn’t have anything against them, but their avant-garde style was perhaps too much for my taste. This watch drastically changed my opinion of the brand for the better and has cemented its place as of my all-time favorites.