Four years ago one extraordinary man had one absolutely extraordinary vision. That man was Maximilian Büsser and his vision was, according to him, based on a very simple and fundamental idea: to assemble dedicated Collectives of talented horological artisans, artists and professionals – all friends – to design and craft each year a radical and original horological masterpiece. The rest, as they say, is history. Celebrated as one of the most innovative and creative watchmakers of modern times, MB&F’s creations are nothing short of mind blowing. Whilst they may not suit all tastes, the level of technical and artistic complexity involved in the creation of each highly unique piece is undeniable.
As such, we consider ourselves very privileged to have been given the opportunity to share with you a very insightful and candid interview with a man who is as humble and down to earth as his timepieces are out of this world! We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
TWL: In a relatively short period of time you have built MB&F into a highly desirable brand which boasts an almost cult following of enthusiasts and a well-respected reputation for creating groundbreaking new and unconventional pieces. How have you achieved this?
MB: I am the first to be shocked by the following we are gathering – and this is no fake humility. When I set out to create MB&F the main goal was very simple: to please MYSELF without caring about any commercial or marketing considerations. Which in layman terms means without being concerned about what any client would like or want – the exact opposite of my previous 14 years in horology which were dedicated to create pieces clients would love.
This selfish approach allowed me to explore territories that would never have been possible in a client-oriented environment. It seems it also triggered a strong reaction in very few but very enthusiast collectors, who clearly found appealing the door I opened. Also, when I speak with the owners of our Machines, they are as much touched by WHY we do what we do, as with what we do.
TWL: What aspect of your business are you most proud of? What has been most challenging?
MB: I am extremely proud of having delivered three Machines in the announced timeframe (one a year) with groundbreaking new concepts and engines which actually all work and have close to no technical or quality issues. That is the power of the Friends concept. By empowering all involved, they have achieved an incredible level of performance and quality.
Most challenging is, unfortunately as with most entrepreneurial small companies which start with small initial investments (in this case all my savings), cash-flow management. I have always paid every bill on time, and this demands quite a bit of juggling as we spend over 30% of our small revenue in Research & development of Machines which will only be delivered two to three years down the road.
The amazing MB&F HM No.1 created in conjunction with Eric Giroud, Laurent Besse and Peter Speake-Marin.
TWL: Looking back at the short history of MB&F are there any decisions you would change, if given the opportunity? Why?
MB: In tough economical times like this year, many people show their real personality. Some are extraordinary, others let you down without a thought. It taught me that I was often too candid, but at the end of the day, I will not change because I just don’t want to become paranoid.
TWL: You describe the concept of MB&F as a human adventure, a journey if you will. Are there places, both physical and metaphorical, that this journey has taken you that you never in your lifetime expected to go? How have those experiences changed your life outside of watchmaking?
MB: Clearly, I am not at all the same man I was four years ago. Stronger, more daring, happier to get out of my comfort zone. More importantly I am truly serene. Sometimes, when I think back at how I launched the company without even having 50% of the finances necessary, I smile at how driven and at the same time completely nuts I was. All this has had a very big impact on my personal life: refocusing on the essential, cutting back on all the unimportant frills most people compensate on, and being able to open up much more to others.
The absolutely mind-blowing HM No.3
TWL: How did you go about attracting financing for MB&F? You mentioned that you used all your savings to start this business and this wasn’t even close to enough so how did you get investors to support you?
MB: I needed my head examined… When I think about it today, it makes me shudder. I started the company with practically all my savings which amounted to approx 700’000US$. Now, the development of HM1 necessitated at least double that.
So 4 months after incorporating the company, I took the designs of HM1 and a plastic mould (stereolithography) mimicking its shape, around the world to visit my best Harry Winston retailers. 6 of them not only ordered the equivalent of 25 HM1 altogether but also accepted to prefinance 35% in advance the order, knowing that the first pieces would at the best be delivered 18 to 24 months later.
So when I talk about “Friends” in the term MB&F, you see it goes much further than a symbolic word. Knowing that I refuse any investors into my company, if the retailers had not accepted to prefinance, I would have had no idea how to make this happen!
TWL: Do you feel that you have achieved the goals you have set for MB&F so far? What new challenges lay ahead?
MB: Succeeding against all odds generates an addiction. That of wanting more. More projects, more explorations, wider horizons. I am working for example on an MB&F concept store called the “Mechanical Art Gallery”, which allows me to meet artists specialized in kinetic art. Mind-blowing…
Profile shot of the HM No.3 Starcruiser…wow!
TWL: Are you ever concerned that you might actually run out of ideas?
MB: Never. For whatever reason I have absolutely no doubt about this… They will differ from today’s as I will be evolving in life, but what makes my heart beat is creating and experimenting.
TWL: Most recently you introduced the MB&F HM No2.2 in conjunction with world renowned French designer Alain Silberstein. How difficult was it to manage the creative process and bring your design concepts into cohesion? Did any disagreements arise on how the final piece should look?
MB: I have been engineering creative joint ventures for practically ten years now (the first was Opus One at Harry Winston which we started working on in 2000). Creators’ egos are tricky animals, but I have never really had many issues, because I admire and respect the people I work with. Otherwise I would not ask them to work with me.
With Sage Vaughn (the Only Watch HM2) and now Alain Silberstein, the co-creations were the easiest to develop because on those particular projects I am seeking their input to enrich my creative world. So basically I gave them free reins, and allowed them to express themselves using our model as a base. In a way this is very similar to common practice in the music world where an artist invites another to compose or sing on one of the songs of the album.
TWL: What do you think fans will enjoy most about the new HM No 2.2?
MB: The reason why we did it
TWL: Can you give us any hints of who you would like to work with next and perhaps what we can expect next from the always incredible Maximilian Busser and his Friends?
MB: 2010 will be an incredibly creative year. We are starting to get into full steam mode!
The original HM No.2, a stunning masterpiece!
TWL: Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring watchmakers?
MB: Being a watchmaker is a calling. Too many youngsters in Geneva take on watchmaking school because they know they will get a handsome salary at the end of it. Sitting at your bench all day assembling horological mechanisms is a very tough job. Before you hit the glamorous jobs in the after sales service (where you become a sort of detective or doctor), or for the very few who one day can set up their brand, there are years of painstaking work on the same calibres, which can drive many to quit.
To become a black belt in karate you have to work your way through years of pretty ungrateful moves…
Intrigued? To find out more visit MB&F’s official website.