Watch Review: The Purple Amphibian MB&F FrogX HM3

The Geneva-based watch brand MB&F is often described as avant-garde. Living up to its reputation, MB&F experimental timepieces are unusual, to say the least.

In the city of Geneva, MB&F was established in 2005. Its concept is based around one very simple and fundamental ideal –  to assemble dedicated collectives of talented horological artisans for different components of watches, to design and craft radical and original horological masterpieces. By nurturing teams of talented individuals, harnessing their passion, expertise and crediting each individual’s essential role, MB&F uses their synergy to become much greater than the sum of its parts. 

MB&F founder comes through the ranks of various watch brands before founding his eponymous brand. Maximillian Büsser worked for Jaeger-LeCoultre before moving to Harry Winston Rare Timepieces and assuming the role of Managing Director. He conceived Harry Winston’s Opus series in 2001, a range of distinctive timepieces made in collaboration with independent watchmakers.

No doubt his experience of collaborating with well known independents within the horology industry fuelled his decision to form his own company, MB&F back in 2005. Whereas large companies fixate on market research and focus groups, Max appears to rely on gut instinct, conceiving watches few other brands would have the courage to make. 

Birth of the Amphibian HM 3

In 2010, MB&F released a new, highly original amphibian-themed watch, the HM3 Frog. Two bulbous eyes indicated the hours and minutes, while the movement was endowed with a battle-axe shaped rotor, obviating the need for manual winding. The HM3 Frog was a spawn of the HM3, an iconoclastic timepiece that took watchmaking into an entirely unexplored dimension. With a 3D case inspired by the Proteus submarine from the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, the HM3 astonished the watchmaking world with its two protruding cones for the hours and minutes and its exposed 22k gold battle-axe rotor. 

In 2020, the frog marked its return with the FrogX, housed in a sapphire crystal case and sporting a vividly hued case gasket with a matching rotor. When the crown is bathed in light, it projects the brand’s battle-axe insignia onto an adjacent surface.

It’s 15 years since Mr Büsser founded his company and embarked on his journey. He has clearly lost none of his creativity with this latest variation.

Dissecting the HM3 FrogX

For the first time, the HM3 engine is showcased in all its glory, used here in its MegaWind iteration that trades the date display for an expanded rotor. Two paper-thin domes, milled out of aluminium to be as light as possible, indicate the hours and minutes, rotating under markers designed to resemble the lateral pupils of a frog’s eyes. Super-LumiNova accents, like the vivid colours that nature endows upon its feistiest creatures, reveal themselves in fluorescing segments under the rotor and on the time-display domes. 

The transparent case of FrogX is made entirely in sapphire crystal, one of the hardest known minerals, and must be milled with diamond-tipped tools or special high-tech carbide bits. Despite MB&F’s experience with the most advanced sapphire-crystal producers (as demonstrated in earlier MB&F creations such as the HM4 Thunderbolt and HM6 Alien Nation), machining the case of HM3 FrogX still provides a considerable challenge. The separate sapphire domes not only need to be uniform in size, they must also be exactly uniform and consistent in thickness and curve so as not to create any final optical distortions in the reading of the time.

Those looking at the winding and setting crown of HM3 FrogX, expecting to see the usual battle-axe insignia, will be slightly baffled to find a smooth, highly polished disc (although exceptionally observant individuals may notice a slight irregularity in its reflection of light). At just the right angle, with just the right kind of directional light and just the right receiving surface, the final secret of the fully exposed FrogX is revealed. A secret signal, created by sculpting the metal crown at microscopic levels to allow it to reflect light in highly specific ways, is the key to unlocking the MB&F battle-axe.

Glass frogs are tree frogs with translucent bellies and chests found in tropical Central and South American rainforests. Like the HM3 FrogX, glass frogs reveal their hearts, arteries and internal organs. The complex shape of the transparent sapphire crystal case of the FrogX is devilishly hard to machine and has to be milled with diamond-tipped tools.

The two sapphire domes (aka the frog eyes) not only need to be uniform in size, they must also be exactly uniform and consistent in thickness and curve so as not to create any final optical distortions in the reading of the time. To emulate the characteristic black slit (pupils of a frog’s eye), the hour and minute domes are surmounted by black markers.

The Frog’s Engine

The HM3 FrogX reveals its vital organs from countless angles. The view from the top exposes the bulging eyes and the hallmark battle-axe rotor crafted in 22k gold and titanium along with the oscillations of the balance wheel and the hand-crafted bridges. 

The movement is visible in the dark, with the rotor coated with luminescent material and winds unidirectionally, allowing it to spin freely and rapidly in the other direction, creating flashes of Super-Luminova.

The HM3 FrogX movement was conceived by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor, the Geneva-based movement maker, and built on a Girard-Perregaux base. For the winding crown, MB&F teamed with another Swiss firm, Rayform, which has developed a technology that creates light-shaping surfaces able to redirect light rays into specific images. At the right angle, the crown projects a hidden message: an image of the battle-axe rotor.

While we expect slightly more on the case back, the view from the back is less conventional due to the inverted construction. Two large ceramic bearings drive the time display domes, translating the time-telling mechanism on the back into the frontal display.

To think about it, one of the key concepts of the original HM3 design was to present most of the movement on the dial. With this FrogX transparent case, the exposition of the movement has been maximised with the transparent case. Who cares about the case back when all the goodies are shown on the front.

Tech Specs

Diameter: 48.3 mm

Thickness: 17.5mm

Case Material: Sapphire crystal

Dial Color: Purple, blue, or turquoise

Indexes: Arabic numerals

Lume: Yes

Water Resistance: 30m

Strap/Bracelet: Hand-stitched alligator strap with titanium custom-designed folding buckle

Caliber: Three-dimensional horological engine designed by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht / Agenhor, powered by a Girard-Perregaux base.

Functions: Hours and minutes transmitted via ceramic ball bearings to rotating domes

Winding: Automatic

Frequency: 4 Hz

Jewels: 36

Final Thoughts

While I may not be able to envision myself pulling one of these off, I can absolutely appreciate the forward-thinking design. In a time with so much uniformity in the market, and an excessive focus on vintage-leaning modern watches, it is nice to see MB&F so committed in its effort to continue iterating on the HM3 design. 

The crystal case gives the watch a more cohesive, organic touch, avoiding the visual breaks between different materials like crystal and metal alloy. Having the same shape and size, the Frog X shares a crucial quality with the earlier versions of the HM3: awesome wearability despite the avant-garde design. Because the case is neither excessively long nor wide, it sits well on the wrist with its tiny lugs despite its seemingly large size. This ease of wear is doubtlessly one of the factors that helped make the HM3 the bestselling MB&F by a large margin. 

With only 10 available in the world, the avant-garde HM3 FrogX will be a rare specimen that plays a huge role in the brand’s history in years to come. 

Based on historical price data from auction houses and transacted sales history in the secondary market, the projected growth per annum for the HM3 FrogX in Purple is estimated to be around 8%.

With controlled and limited supply by MB&F and tremendous demand within the watch collector community, we are seeing more horology enthusiasts acquiring commemorative models that could be extremely valuable one day. 

Read more about other MB&F such as the LM3 here:

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