2016 is coming to a close and to sum up the year we’d like to highlight the most exciting functional, mechanical art that’s been produced or, in some cases, revealed during the year. Some of the criteria we’re using is that the piece has to be functional and serve a purpose, be beautifully designed with a strong conceptual substance and be well engineered with good craftsmanship and well executed finishing. Of course, we wouldn’t mind if it’s innovative as well.
This all leads to the emotion of the piece, which is what separates a function from an experience using it. It’s the difference from being transported from one place to another to taking in the form of the automobile as you walk up to it, understand its purpose through the stance and shape, becomes one with the machine and ultimately the feel the road and the car as it reacts to your inputs.
Over the last decade there’s been a market established for $100,000 watches and $1,000,000 cars but over the last couple of years the prices has crept up further to $500,000 watches and multi-million dollar cars. This has led to a number of truly exciting pieces where no cost has been spared – but also a number of “WTF”-moments where some creators clearly has seen an opportunity to capitalize on a unsuspecting collectors by releasing feature-driven pieces with little to no cohesion of design and concept and questionable craftsmanship in exclusive editions at the top of the market prices.
One of the less fortunate trends this year has been the sapphire cased watches popping up with more and more manufacturers. Few bring anything new to the game and most look like a cheap plastic version of the original watch at stratospheric prices, but there are exceptions. Just look at the HM6-SV below.
The companies at the top of their game seems like they attract more customers than they can serve. There are hundreds of 0.1-percenters being genuinely angry and disappointed for not being able to buy the Ferrari LaFerrari Aperta and Aston Martin AM-RB 001 after the limited editions were allocated, historic timepieces and automobiles setting new price records at auctions and a company like Richard Mille growing their revenue by around 20% since last lear, mostly due to higher average prices on their production of 3,500-3,600 watches. On the other hand, the major Swiss groups has had some significant layoffs and spend billions of Swiss Francs on buybacks of unsold stock, with the Swiss watch industry seeing a 16.4% revenue drop from October 2015 to October 2016.
All in all though, there’s no shortage of exciting art and genuine technical breakthroughs, from the complete rethinking of the perpetual calendar in the MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual to the refinement of the minute repeater in the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Supersonnerie and the removal of the gearbox for the hybrid Koenigsegg Agera. Seems like the future is bright for those who dare to push the envelope and has the ability to deliver a product as strong as the concept.
1. MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual
The LM Perpetual is the clear winner for 2016, summarizing everything that gets us going when it comes to functional, mechanical art. I’m not alone thinking it should’ve won the Aiguille d’Or at the GPHG, but getting the prize for being the best calendar watch isn’t bad either.
At the heart of the watch is an entirely novel approach to the perpetual calendar complication designed by Stephen McDonnell, resulting in an integrated movement which is fail-safe to use. Traditionally, perpetual calendars has been created by adding a module with a big lever taking care of skipping dates in the months with less than 31 days. This has been placed on top of a base movement with the big drawback that they risk being seized if the date or time is changed at the wrong time.
The LM Perpetual is based around a mechanical processor and a base month length of 28 days, with pushers to adjust the date which de-activate when there’s any risk for jamming gears. As a side effect, luckily for us, the movement can be seen on the dial side. You’re drawn into the machine – and the machine is the best execution of the Legacy Machine style from MB&F so far. The raised balance wheel becomes the heart of the watch but doesn’t take over and scream “look at me” which I think it does in the more clean LM’s. The dials are just as integrated with the movement as the calendar functionality and case is, providing a clear signature and good functionality except for the fact that it’s almost overwhelming with its depth, details and finishing.
First presented in November 2015 but launched as an unlimited edition in white gold with an anthracite dial in November 2016. As a final bonus it’s really decently priced for what it is at $145k.
Unlimited edition in white gold with anthracite dial, $145,000. mbandf.com
2. Bugatti Chiron
Not a sports car, not a hypercar. Something else. I think about the presidential limo in the Fifth Element when I see the Chiron, this is a car for someone who wants the ultimate in performance but who’s beyond lap times or statistics. No deadly person has a need for the top speed, or will ever reach it on an open road, but that’s beyond the point. This is comfortably the fastest car in the world, and it does it in the most luxurious and refined way of any of the hypercars.
The Veyron looked a bit too much like a supercar and was continuously bashed for being too heavy. This made it hard for it to break free from the conventions and it was always compared to other cars on characteristics it had no way of winning. The Chiron has nailed the design perfectly, purposeful and driven by function but still far away from the notion of how a mid-engined performance car should look. The square and angular front especially makes it look less like a sports car. I would’ve wanted to see the 16C Galibier reach production, but this even better and transforms the Veyron into the ultimate two-seater limousine – and that’s exactly what it should be.
Reported to be limited to 500 cars, from €2,400,000. bugatti.com
3. Greubel-Forsey Double Balancier à Différentiel Constant White Gold
The Double Balancier in white gold is one of the strongest pieces of functional mechanical art I’ve ever seen. I’m physically moved by it and I almost feel nauseated in the same way as when you see an open wound. It reminds me of Anatomy of an Angel by Damien Hirst where you see the polished and perfected outside, but then the true inner workings are revealed as in an autopsy. I’m touched by this piece, and would’ve placed it higher if it hadn’t been for the design of the dial itself. Just like the Grönefeld watches this is just too plain and bold for me. Don’t mistake me, it needs a plain dial for the concept to work as well as it does, but I would’ve liked to see something a bit more refined than what it is.
As always, Greubel Forsey combines exceptional craftsmanship with technical innovation. The two balance wheels are inclined to improve the rate keeping in a fixed position (like sitting by a desk, just like their inclined tourbillons) while a spherical differential with a constant force device makes the amplitude more steady. Where Greubel Forsey, and De Bethune, really stands out is how they combine the architecture, engineering and finish of their pieces, where they are both clearly at the top of the pyramid. The materials, finishes and shapes are combined in a dynamic and intriguing way where each part contributes – and as anyone who’s seen a Greubel Forsey watch up close knows the actual execution of the finishing is breathtaking and beyond words. See ablogtowatch.com for a good set of live photos of the Double Balancier.
33 pieces, $350,000. greubelforsey.com
4. MB&F HM6-SV
The HM6-SV from MB&F is the best execution of a sapphire case on a timepiece so far. It’s not the most complex use of sapphire yet (Richard Mille probably wins that price). The middle part of the case sandwich is made out of red gold or platinum, but don’t think for one second that this is an easy piece to manufacture. There are eleven sapphire domes requiring some 350 hours in total over two months just to machine, polish and assemble.
While the original HM6 was inspired by biomorphic anime spaceships, this version is inspired by the greyhound buses of the 1950’s and then transformed into the unmistakable luxury steampunk design language that Max Büsser and his team excels at. I find it incredibly alluring, just nailing what mechanical art is all about.
When revealed, the HM6 was by far the most ambitious movement from MB&F, with its three-dimensional construction, rotating spherical indicators, central flying tourbillon and turbines to regulate the automatic winding speed. Now I’m not so sure if this or the LM Perpetual is the most complex, and frankly it doesn’t matter. See quillandpad.com for some nice live photos of the HM6-SV.
10 pieces in red gold (350,000 CHF), 10 pieces in platinum (380,000 CHF). mbandf.com
5. Audemars-Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie
One of the most surprising marriages of concept and execution is the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, with the Concept line being described as “Where ultra-modern technical precision meets cutting-edge micro-mechanics to create perfect harmony between case and movement” by Audemars Piguet themselves. This is normally the watch line reserved for superstar EDM DJ’s.
To perfect the minute repeater, the most arcane and romantic of the high complications where technical skill is not enough to succeed, and then launch it in this line is surprising and introduces this complication to an entirely new demographic – or vice versa, taking old-school collectors to the age of the ultra-luxury sports watch. I’m still not sure who the target group for this watch is, but just seeing that Audemars Piguet brings out the big guns and don’t hold anything back in creating what they believe in makes me happy.
Part of the difficulty in making a minute repeater lies in the skill needed to design and tune both the tone and tempo of the sound to be pleasant, clear and loud. There’s a lot of technology and multiple patents going into the Supersonnerie, AP has managed to expand on certain desirable qualities in historic pieces while minimizing background regulator noise and making the timepiece water resistant to 20 meters, something usually mutually exclusive. Tension is one of the attributes that brings a concept or a design from “that looks good” to “I can’t stop thinking about it”, and this timepiece is born out of that kind of tension. Almost as an aside it also features a tourbillon and chronograph. You know, just because. ablogtowatch.com has a YouTube video demonstrating the sound and more on the watch on hodinkee.com.
No information on the number of pieces, $597,400. audemarspiguet.com
6. BMW R nineT from Clutch Custom Motorcycles
Sometimes it doesn’t have to be so complicated. The BMW R nineT in itself is kind of bland as a motorcycle, but it seems as if it’s the perfect donor vehicle for a range of two-wheeled creations, each more elegant than the next. Best of all so far is Clutch Custom Motorcycles R nineT by Willie Knoll, a truly timeless café racer where every single detail of the base bike has been gone over to create beautiful, athletic and minimalist lines. More on the bike at bikeexif.com.
Piece unique. clutchmotorcycles.com
7. Caran D’Ache and MB&F Astrograph
I don’t know what Max Büsser put in his milk two or three years ago to come up with the range of spectacular creations that MB&F have presented during 2016. Reaching into new territory after the music machines and table clocks co-created with Reuge and L’Epée 1839 he challenged Caran D’Ache to create a pen based on his inspirations. The result is the Astrograph, and it speaks for itself. Live photos on hodinkee.com.
Four series of pens, each limited to 99 pieces, $19,900. mbandf.com
8. Richard Mille RMS05
If it’s one piece than make the Astrograph seem sensible, it’s the Richard Mille RMS05 fountain pen. If you look closely on the Richard Mille website it’s actually listed as a watch, and technically it can be considered a watch with an escapement to regulate the self-winding movement that drives the retracting nib. Built using the same materials and finished with same attention to detail as the RM watches – and featuring an appropriate mechanical complication – you’re now starting to see why it’s more than just a fancy pen. Apparently it took years to perfect the mechanism that drives the nib. This is Richard Mille at his best, going complete overboard with something that breaks the convention of the currently established luxury market. If this would’ve been a watch it had been placed in the sports category with its titanium and NTPT Carbon construction, but a mechanical machine sports luxury fountain pen? I mean, come on. Live video and interview of Richard Mille by thewatches.tv and live photos on bloomberg.com.
9. Todd Begg Mini Glimpse Fixed Blade
Nothing beats the practicality of a well-designed 3-3.5” blade locking folder knife. So what happens when you make a polished, fixed blade version of such a folder? You get something that’s next to useless, and Todd Begg knows it as well and don’t even ship it with a sheath. But at the same time it’s just as good at what it actually does. The finish and craftsmanship is impeccable with ergonomics that just begs for hard use. This knife is so full of contradictions that it almost makes your head explode – and yet it’s so practical and useful.
Limited edition of 10, $650. beggknives.com
10. Sonus Faber Sf16
Compact high-end audio can be frustrating, it’s often just a compromised glimpse into what the company could do, had you just allowed yourself to have a bigger boxes in your room and spend a little more money. The Sonus Faber Sf16 redefines the context and manifests itself as a beautiful sculpture, striking a pose by extending its two arms when it’s time to perform. The form factor sets hard limits on what it can be, but it literally takes a step outside the box it’s been given in order to maximize the spatial soundstage and using a dipole/bipole driver arrangement to increase it further. It can’t compete with its bigger siblings on audiophile qualities, but the Sf16 knows that – and in its own context it’s just as exciting and equally uncompromising. whathifi.com and wired.co.uk has hands-on impressions.
200 units per year, £9,900. sonusfaber.com
Bonus: De Bethune Dream Watch 5 Meteorite case
The DW5 always looked like something from out of this world with a distinct flair of the 50’s Men in Black – and this version actually is from another world. The watch itself is from 2013 but it hasn’t been presented to the public until SIHH 2016. Maybe De Bethune wanted it to get some experience in how it’s to live hidden to the world – just like the men in black and just like the ultra-high tech tourbillon movement inside the 4,000 year old meteorite shell? A piece unique and also from the earlier, so it’s kind of hard to place it higher on the list but we just had to show this one. Exceptional concept as well as execution. Live photos on watchesbysjx.com and hautetime.com.
A piece unique with a price reported at 450,000 CHF. debethune.ch
- Bovet 1822 Recital 18 Shooting Star: Traditional watchmaking and hand finishing is a romantic craft, and a modern watch couldn’t be more romantic than the Recital 18 Shooting star. The universal time and double moon phase complications on hemispheres just adds to this further, as does the overall architecture with retrograde minutes and jumping hours, 295,000 CHF.
- BeoLab 90: In thinking outside the box, the Beolab 90 takes the game forward from the BeoLab 5 for those that believe traditional box-based speakers are boring and way too conventional. They throw in almost inappropriate amount of technology and design at the problem and the result speaks for itself, $80,000 per pair.
- Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1: In the FB 1, the pet project of Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, there’s so much more than what the eye can see at a first glance. The movement is inpspired by marine chronometers and is truly a piece for the connoisseur, €220,000.
- Pagani Huayra BC: Pagani has taken the sensual Huayra and transformed it from a IFBB Bikini-competitor to full beast mode fit for the Physique class. It’s still the same incredible mechanical art and attention to detail everywhere, but I find that the beautiful lines have been compromised in the search for fast lap times – and the Huayra has always been beyond lap times for me, from €2,300,000.
- Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire: The constant force complication is inspired by an old church movement but brought into the modern age in the best way possible, continuing the incredible movement design of the Grönefeld brothers, €49,500 in red gold.
- Richard Mille RM 50-02 ACJ: A split-seconds chronograph tourbillon that’s both a visual and technical overload – in the best way possible, $1,050,000.
- Kharma Veyron Enigma EV-1: With the Enigma EV-1, Kharma has gone all-in in creating the ultimate traditional dynamic speaker. Not that there’s so much traditional about them, standing big and unapologetic at 2.3 meters high and weighing in at 520 kg for the pair, but given a suitably sized room I can see them looking the part in a range of settings. The EV-1’s became know as the world’s most expensive speakers during 2016 and got a lot of mainstream headlines for this, but that’s missing the point. They are what they are because that’s what’s needed to perform at that level and they are by far the most successful of this type of speaker when it comes to design, $1,500,000.