The Five Most Beautiful Machines of 2014

As it turns out, 2014 was a spectacular year for usable and beautiful machines – what I like to call Functional Mechanical Art. The last couple of years have each been pure vintage years for the future and 2014 stands on its own even though it didn’t yield the hybrid hypercars of 2013, watches such as the Van Cleef & Arpels Pont des Amoreux of 2012 or the Aston Martin V12 Zagato and Pagani Huayra of 2011.

It’s hard to define the year, but one way of seeing it is as a year of refinement. De Bethune’s Maxichrono and Greubel Forseys perpetual calendar both re-imagined what these classical, and deceptively non-complex looking, complications are all about and brought the game forward. The Ferrari 458 Speciale and Koenigsegg One:1 are both refined and exaggerated at the same time. But then we have watches such as the MB&F HM6 Space Pirate and Christophe Claret Margot which shows that there there’s still fun in the world and not everything has to be taken so seriously.

Another way of seeing the year is to recognize that De Bethune is on a tear. They still only make around 300 timepieces per year in total and to keep this level of technical innovation and progression in design is nothing short of inspirational in itself.

The Top Five

1. De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon

De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono

De Bethune DB29 Maxichrono. Photo by De Bethune.

No one combines old-school with new-school like De Bethune. On the dial side the DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon has a distinctly classic look with its red gold, blued hands and silver dial, only it’s strangely unfamiliar and exciting at the same time. The dial is slightly three-dimensional but other than that it has a very simplistic although slightly complex look with all the scales. The five central hands certainly points to the fact that there’s more to this watch than can be seen, but the lack of pushers means there’s nothing that can prepare you for the movement under the back lid. The architecture and design is nothing short of breathtaking.

A. Lange & Söhnes movements are often regarded as some of the most beautiful chronograph movements ever made, but the Maxichrono takes it to another level. The mix of large and small, symmetry and asymmetry and contrasting finishing makes it modern and avant garde at the same time as its grounded in classical roots. It goes very well with how the dial presents the watch, there’s something hidden and it uses the classic roots to bring the game forward. The chronograph is activated through a mono pusher in the crown which adds to the stealth and classic nature, just like the 10 Hz silicon and titanium tourbillon only seen when the hunter back is opened. De Bethunes proprietary clutch system reduces friction for the chronograph functions and also brings the performance of it to the next level by permitting time measurement to 1/10th of a second. It won the 2014 GPHG for best chronograph but in my view is tied for watch of the year with the Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation. Limited edition of 20.

2. MB&F HM6 Space Pirate

MB&F HM6 Space Pirate

MB&F HM6 Space Pirate. Photo by MB&F.

When it comes to watches that other companies would only dream of producing and that they would discard after the first brain storming session, Max Büsser & Friends actually creates these. Büsser has shown that his path is not only appreciated but highly successful and it was only with the added confidence this has brought that the HM6 was possible to realize. Going for a fully three-dimensional case in a biomorphic design inspired by japanese sci-fi anime of the 70’s, it’s really more of a sculpture than a watch. The movement is as unique as the case and is only the second piece from MB&F to feature a tourbillon. Not that it really matters since the movement, created by David Candaux Horlogerie Créative, is far beyond features. The entire watch manages to become sci-fi without being explicit, and that’s something I truly appreciate with Max Büssers art direction and how he guides his Friends.

The time indicators are similar to those of the HM3 Frog, which is still my favorite conceptual piece by MB&F, but the HM6 is vastly more impressive as a watch. The Space Pirate case is made from polished and satin natural Grade 5 titanium by Les Artisans Boitiers, while there’ll be other versions further down the line, no more than 100 HM6 movements will ever be made. Limited edition of 50.

3. Koenigsegg One:1

Koenigsegg One:1

Koenigsegg One:1. Photo by Koenigsegg.

Koenigsegg has gently evolved its form language over time from a sterile, CAD-driven design lacking real emotion to something that has really started to connect with me. It was with the Agera Koenigsegg got its act together for the first time but the last series of functional enhancements to the One:1 makes the shape more purposeful and brings the total package together. The One:1 has an active endurance car inspired aero setup and is lighter and even more power than previous Koenigseggs. Needless to say, it’s optimized for track use but perfectly road legal.

Its almost like the ultimate hot rodded tuner car compared to the new generation of high-tech hybrid hyper cars. The dive planes and big wing looks blunt compared to the clean lines of the Porsche 918, McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari but it goes with the approach of strapping two huge turbo chargers to a 5.0 liter V8. The One:1 has a power to weight ratio (1360 PS/1360 kg) that blows the other cars out of the water. If it’s actually faster around a track than the other cars is a different question that’s mostly irrelevant since there’s only a few people in the world who can actually use all of the performance, but I would’ve loved to see one in One Lap of America. My only gripe is that they should’ve kept that One:1 logo off the car and that Koenigsegg should stop with hyperbole such as “the world’s first Megacar” and theoretical top speeds, the car pretty much speaks for itself as it is. Limited edition of 5.

4. Ferrari 458 Speciale

Ferrari 458 Speciale

Ferrari 458 Speciale. Photo by Ferrari.

The ultimate rendition of the 458 is also the most exciting from a conceptual point of view. I’m still not sold on the interiors on modern day Ferraris but the spartan and race-inspired cockpit feels much more appropriate in the Speciale than with the clean, sensual curves of the regular 458 Italia. The Speciale still has those exterior curves but it’s just like a fitness competitor taking the step from Bikini to Figure, it just has that little bit more definition and visual purpose instead of pure beauty.

And that purpose is just what the 458 Speciale is all about; balance, response and performance makes it one of the finest drivers cars of all time. The way this echoes through every single detail makes it a future classic although it might feel as if it’s being somewhat overshadowed by the three hybrid hypercars at the moment. Although revealed in 2013, this car was not really in production and accessible to the public until 2014.

5. MCT Sequential Two (S200)

MCT Sequential Two S200

MCT Sequential Two S200. Photo by MCT.

It feels so good to see MCT back. Movement Designer and founder of MCT Denis Giguet and watch designer extraordinaire Eric Girouds Sequential One was a breeze of fresh air that managed to combine design, usability, mechanics and visual interest in a new and beautiful way. The Sequential Two is basically more of the same but taken up a notch by Fabrice Gonet who now heads design for MCT after the Giguet left the company and it went into some kind of hibernation.

Some might argue that this new watch is just a One in a round case, but I would differ. It’s a refinement on many levels that has taken the overall concept to new heights. Small details like how the raised crystal without bezel provides clean, clear look at the entire mechanical marvel of the dial. For a definition of what mechanical art is, the louver system to tell the time is one of the best examples I can think of. The dial is a seamless combination of mechanical systems with great usability design and sheer beauty.

Flipping to the rear the movement is equally beautiful to the dial and continues with the same color scheme and overall design, tying the entire watch together into one coherent machine. Adding the micro-rotor also helps in everyday usability and hopefully widens the audience to more than the purest of watch enthusiasts. As a whole, the MCT Sequential Two is just pure mechanical art.

Outside the Top 5

Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation

Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation

Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation. Photo by Greubel Forsey.

Whenever Greubel Forsey releases a new watch it’s an event and especially when it’s an entirely new take on a complication. This time they’ve gone beyond the tourbillon with their take on the perpetual calendar that also happens to include an equation of time complication and a trade mark inclined tourbillon. At the top of the priority list was user friendliness and readability for the perpetual calendar function, something that has resulted in a calendar where the day, date, month and year can be encoded individually and be stepped both forward and backward. In addition there’s an indicator for when it’s unsafe to adjust the date and the calendar indicators are grouped together instead of being scattered around the dial.

The Quantième Perpétuel à Équation is beautiful and sensational as a watch, but as a mechanical sculpture it doesn’t really bring anything more than the older Greubel Forsey watches and has actually taken a step back in terms of excitement in the design. The tourbillon hints at what’s inside, but it doesn’t connect the inside to the wearer in the same way their previous timepieces have done. There are 570 decorated parts inside the fully integrated movement and based on their previous watches, I would like to see more of them. It’s perhaps the watch of the year (in close competition with the De Bethune Maxichrono), but not the most beautiful machine of 2014.

Christophe Claret Margot

Christophe Claret Margot

Christophe Claret Margot. Photo by Christophe Claret.

When it comes to complications specifically developed for womens watches Van Cleef & Arpels have almost been by themselves in catering to that market. But with the Margot Christophe Claret has shown that he also wants to, and can, create complex feminine timepieces.

Similar in concept to Clarets Black Jack, Baccarat and Poker watches from the Gaming Collection, the Margot features a game of “loves me, loves me not”. While not much of practical value and maybe not politically correct for modern, independent women, it’s a complication right out of classic romantic novels that goes perfect with the overall theme of the watch. We desperately want to see more pieces like this from Christophe Claret and hopes that other manufacturers join as well.

Bienville Legacy

Bienville Legacy

Bienville Legacy. Photo by Bienville Studios/AMCI.

My favorite motorcycle design of all time is the Confederate Motorcycles B120 Wraith designed by J.T. Nesbitt of Bienville Studios. J.T. didn’t move with the rest of the Confederate team after Hurricane Katrina and has stayed away from designing and building motorcycles for a few years, but now he’s back and the Bienville Legacy is the spiritual successor to the B120 Wraith.

The motorcycle is the first commission out of the The American Design and Master Craft Initiative. As such it’s meant to be a beacon of American design and craftsmanship that can later be used to evolve and teach others in these areas. Now that he has the chance J.T. has certainly gone all-in and I appreciate it, but the Bienville Legacy has lost the beautiful lines and simplicity of the B120. The design is fuzzy and doesn’t really connect with me.

Details like the saddle seat is genius but doesn’t compensate for the ugly trellis frame and I don’t understand the composite backbone spring, for example. I believe it’s a result of trying to do everything at once and bring all ideas that’s been lurking in J.T’s head to life, but it loses the simple beauty of his previous designs.

De Bethune DB28 Dark Shadows

De Bethune DB28 Dark Shadows

De Bethune DB28 Dark Shadows. Photo by De Bethune.

The original DB28 is one of my favorite watches of all time, it defines the concept of a mechanical sculpture with no boundaries between idea, architecture, form and function. Like it the Dark Shadows is sleek and utterly sophisticated, but with the color scheme it transforms to be totally bad ass. This is by far the best black-out watch I’ve ever seen.

What makes it spectacular is the uncompromising transformation. One of the defining features of the DB28 was the mirror polished “dial”, in the Dark Shadows it has a matt egg shell finish. Only the hands, hour ring, hour markers and the spherical moon phase are polished to provide a little pop as the light catches these components. Other parts all have different kinds of matt finished to create an incredible amount of shades and expression even though it’s still a stealth, blacked out watch.

This DB28 version has a sandblasted zirconium case which makes it a little heavier than the titanium cased DB28’s, but it’s still a lightweight watch with a very slim profile. Like anyone who has tried a DB28 knows, they’re incredibly comfortable on the wrist and quickly disappears, until you glance at it and it hits you what an incredible machine it is that you’re wearing.

De Bethune Dream Watch 5

De Bethune Dream Watch 5

De Bethune Dream Watch 5. Photo by De Bethune.

De Bethune’s Dream Watch range is only made on order and both more sculptural and avant garde than the rest of their collection. They are even more out there than their other watches and more about exploring shapes and forms. The DW5 reminds me of the early Urwerks mixed with a little bit of HM6 and a bit of Men in Black. Not exactly my cup of tea, but impressive.

Anything else?

The custom knife scene really kicked it up a notch and the level finishing of Sebastian Larsson’s and Frank Fischer’s work is rapidly approaching that of the very finest watches. For reviews and articles some more amazing machines that made this year a treat, check out: Sebastian Larsson Overkill, Frank Fischer BattleUrwerk UR-110 Eastwood, Toyota FT-1,  and the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon.