Watchmaker Extraordinaire

One of the last true independent watchmakers and certainly among the most avant-garde, MB&F’s timepieces – dubbed “horological machines” – defy convention, delight collectors and demonstrate that dreams can become reality. The initials stand for Maximilian Büsser & Friends, hinting at the remarkable personality behind the risk-taking Swiss brand founded by Maximilian Busser in 2005. With a basis in traditional watchmaking of the highest quality, Busser’s designs, many of them collaborations, are wildly futuristic and fantastical, yet utterly precise. Inspired by science fiction and Büsser’s childhood, they strike a chord with everyone who’s ever dreamed of creating something completely new.

After graduating with a master’s degree in micro-technology engineering, Büsser initially spent seven years at Jaeger-LeCoultre where he was instrumental in reviving and growing the historic brand, renowned as one of the finest watchmakers in the world. He was then appointed managing director of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces in 1998, and during a seven-year tenure managed to give the iconic jewelry brand a real presence in haute horlogerie, launching the famed Opus series of watches. Working with independent watchmakers on Opus spurred him to create his own company, which went through a few rocky patches but which is now an unqualified success. Here he discusses:

Your watches are unlike any other timepieces ever produced. What inspired you to create something so unique?

MB&F was a life decision, not a business decision. When my father passed away late in 2001 I started realizing the notion of real regrets and set upon giving birth to my own creative adventure. One which would be my legacy and autobiography at the same time. I probably only have two talents, if any: having completely different ideas versus most others, and being able to surround myself with extraordinarily talented people, who transform those ideas into reality. I did not create MB&F thinking it would flourish. I created it to be proud, even if it were not to be successful.

Which other watch brands do you admire? Do you collect and wear any others besides your own?

High end watchmaking is about great artisans pouring their soul and crafts into their creations. I am lucky to be able to own a piece from practically every great watchmaker I have worked with. Kari Voutilainen, Felix Baumgartner of Urwerk, Stepan Sarpaneva, Peter Speake-Marin, etc… Each of these creators has given up everything they had, to follow their dream, and when I look at their pieces on my wrist I feel their story, their life, their soul.

You are without doubt a true visionary. Are there visionaries in other fields that you admire?

I really do not think of myself as a visionary. MB&F was created in a very selfish way to be able to see my own “crazy” ideas come to life. If indeed our creations help change our industry by inspiring more creators to take risks, then it will make me happy. I admire any creator who follows his own way, instead of thinking about pleasing the market, the clients or the shareholders.

What are your inspirations in daily life? How does your passion for endless innovation carry over into your personal world?

My passion is much more for creativity than innovation. Innovation is technically driven while creativity is humanity driven. Inspirations come from everywhere and I usually never know where they come from. Creativity is often like psychotherapy: you only understand way after the “why”.

You have described your timepieces as “fiercely unconventional”. Why is it important to go against the status quo?

If it has already been done, what is the point in doing it again? Our industry has been taken over by marketers, who keep on copying whatever they think will sell. It’s a little sad and leads to a dwindling creative spiral.

You’re dedicated to keeping your company at a certain size, and not adding any layers of management. Why is this important?

We have reached our “point of happiness”. When I created MB&F in 2005, I was hoping maybe one day to reach 280 watches a year for $15 million revenue with a team of 15 employees. We hit that goal in 2013, and realized that it was the best situation to be in. Small enough to be super-fast and flexible, and so that every member of the team is meaningful, and big enough to invest into one to two new calibers a year. Aggressive growth has never been a great incentive to take creative risks.

One of the most impressive aspects of your designs is that the novelty hasn’t worn off. How do you continually pique the interest of clients who are obsessed with the latest thing?

I love to get out of my own creative comfort zone. The worst which could happen to me is to be disappointed in my own creativity.

Describe your creative process. Are there any routines that you follow which help you in your work?

No routines. Ideas come usually when I am alone and cut off from the world. I cannot create whilst in meetings. In the past, my most creative moments were on airplanes, but now there is WiFi! I try whilst in Dubai to block 30-45 minutes every two days just to think – a complete luxury in today’s world of technological addiction.

What is the importance of collaborations?

They make me happy. It is wonderful to be able to work alongside great creative minds – mixing our DNA leads to a product none of us would have created separately. It is always a great experience as we must keep our ego in check and work in total humility and respect.

You are half Indian, were born in Milan, and grew up in Switzerland. How did that affect your outlook and your approach to watchmaking?

I’m not sure it changed anything in my approach to watchmaking but it clearly affected my life and the way I see the world. You realize quickly in life that everyone around the world is different and molded by their local culture, background or religion, but that love and passion are the greatest equalizers.

You have a strong connection to the world of automotive design. What are your favorite cars?

Cars from the past, when engineers were artists. When beauty, balance and elegance were as important as performance and driving experience. From a 1940’s Delahaye to a ‘60s Alfa Romeo 33 Straddle – form and function hand in hand.

Which luxury brands do you admire? Where do you buy your clothing?

The word “luxury” does not mean much anymore. It used to be synonymous with great artisanship and flamboyant creativity. It is now symbolic of excessive price and insane marketing budgets. I stay as far as possible from anything which labels itself as luxury.

For the few jackets I wear, I enjoy creating with a young tailor in Geneva. For the rest, I am a fan of Suitsupply and Cos.

Why did you decide to open the MB&F M.A.D. (Mechanical Art Devices) Galleries?

At MB&F we have always deconstructed traditional watchmaking to reconstruct it into pieces of kinetic art or mechanical sculptures. We realized at some point that in parallel worlds there were artists who were doing the same, and decided in 2011 to bring them all together in the first Mechanical Art Device (M.A.D.) Gallery in Geneva. With M.A.D. we are like an orphanage welcoming the few artisan creators who believe beauty and craftsmanship still trump all else.

What is the significance of art in everyday life? How does it apply to your work?

Art is the celebration of personal expression, creativity and beauty. It applies in everything one lives.

What do you like about living in Dubai?

That I work from home alongside my wife, and see my daughters grow up. Quality of life in Dubai is incredibly high compared to most other big cities, and a perfect hub to travel around the world.

What do you see as the future of watchmaking given the increasing popularity of smart watches?

Smart watches will normally leave wrists and enter our bodies as smart devices at some point. High-end mechanical watchmaking hopefully will regain more of its artistic dimension and not concentrate on the status part which marketers love.

What will you do next?

So many new projects and just not enough time and means to make them come true as fast as I would like to.