An Interview with MB&F Founder Maximilian Büsser

By Paul Joseph

Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 2005, MB&F is a relative newcomer to the world of luxury timepieces – certainly in comparison with many of its centuries-old counterparts.

But since its creation the brand has confidently shown that heritage isn’t everything, as it has steadily built a reputation as one of the world’s most innovative contemporary watchmakers.

As we approach the year of its 15th anniversary, we took the opportunity to sit down with MB&F Founder an Creative Director, Maximilian Büsser, and ask him about the creative process, its recent watch launches, and more.

SY: For those unfamiliar with MB&F, can you start by giving us a brief introduction to the brand, its origins and its vision?

MB: "I realised at around age 35 that the little kid who dreamt of being a creator had sold out and become a marketer. For 7 years at Jaeger-LeCoultre and then another 7 years at Harry Winston, I always created products by focusing on what the market wanted and what would sell, instead of what I would have liked to create. It did not make me proud at all.

"I also realised that the very respectful and honest values my parents had tried to pass on to me were way too often being trampled by a lot of unscrupulous people in my industry; and that for multiple reasons I had to put up with them. That clearly had to stop. Hence I called my brand MB&F (Maximilian Büsser & Friends). In 2005 I put all my savings into my own company and set upon a creative path of deconstructing traditional very high-end watchmaking to reconstruct it into three dimensional kinetic art which gives time."

Can you take us on a quick journey through the creative process for designing an MB&F watch from concept to product?

"Initially I would sketch a lot. Now, 14 years later, ideas just arrive directly into my head. From there I sit down with the engineering team and our designer to assess if this next crazy idea actually is possible to develop. If we believe it is, we will then work on honing the greatest design possible, and once happy the responsibility is transferred to the engineers to develop. This whole part of the process can take easily 18 to 36 months.

"After prototyping has been successful, we will go into crafting all the parts necessary for the first series. That will take another 12 to 18 months. All in all, it takes about 4 years between idea and delivery of the first piece. A very complex journey which makes the piece that much more worthwhile."

As quite a young brand compared to many of your industry counterparts, is the decision to use outlandish concepts part of your efforts to get yourself noticed amid so many historic watchmakers?

"I believe watchmaking is art, and as such I have chosen the creative path which makes me proud and happy. This is not a business decision."

You recently participated in the prestigious Only Watch auction – can you tell us about the one-off clock you created for the occasion and how did it do at the sale?

"Only Watch was created fourteen years ago by a father who witnessed his son live and die through muscular dystrophy. I have created over the years five unique horological machines for this charity auction – every one a story of childhood, of suffering and of dreaming.

"Our latest piece “Tom & T-Rex” is about a young boy affected by muscular dystrophy, who has therefore lost the use of his legs at the age of 6-7 years old. His best friend the T-Rex will therefore be his legs from now on, and take him wherever he wishes in his imaginary world. The piece was co-created with L’Epée 1839, the oldest and most prestigious clockmakers in Switzerland, who built a specific 8-day power reserve movement for it. T-Rex’s eye is hand crafted out of Murano glass. We were very happy to see that our piece went for close to four times the original retail price of our standard T-rex clock."

One of the stand-out moments of the year for MB&F was also the launch of your first ever women’s watch – what can you tell us about that?

"After over a decade of creating just for myself – which was the essential goal of creating MB&F – it hit me four years ago that my entire family was not only very small, but also only made up of women. My mother, my wife and my daughter. In the meantime, my mother has passed, and we have a second daughter. It was time to take one of the biggest creative risks of my life: to create a piece for them.

"It was virtually impossible at the beginning. Not only had I completely lost any reflexes as to how to create for someone else, but I had to admit that I have no idea what a woman wants. So there was no way I could create a piece trying to put myself in her shoes. I had to take another stand and decided to integrate into this creation everything I love in the women of my life. And of course it had to remain a 3D mechanical sculpture.

"I realised then that I have always admired the elegance of my mother and my wife. Elegance had to become the central idea of this creation. So I stripped it down to the mere essential and we created this incredible vertical flying tourbillon movement where there are virtually no bridges seen, to keep in sight only the most “elegant” parts of the movement. And capture a feel of whirling, of flying, like a ballerina (my elder daughter is very much in her ballerina stage).

"Of course one of the main technical issues was how to create this small elegant movement while still being automatic and have a 100 hour power reserve!"

Finally, as we approach the end of the year, what does MB&F have planned for 2020?

"Well… Before we hit 2020, let us talk about the Legacy Machine Thunderdome, which was just unveiled. The most insane 3D escapement in the history of watchmaking co-created with two of the greatest watchmakers of our time, Eric Coudray and Kari Voutilainen. The largest and fastest three-axis tourbillon, which necessitated umpteen world-premieres to come to life. The first flying cage, the first hemispherical balance wheel, combined with a cylindrical hairspring and a rare Potter escapement, and so on… A true mechanical whirlwind!"

By Paul Joseph