MB&F has just had a truly outstanding 2012, launching new additions to its family of Horological Machines as well as unveiling a brand new line entitled Legacy Machines. The driving force of the watch label from Switzerland is Maximilan Büsser, former managing director of Harry Winston Timpieces in 1998, who set out to create the notion of a collective of the horological industry's leading watchmakers, designers and engineers and forming Maximilian Busser & Friends (therein, MB&F) in 2005.
In the seven years since inception, MB&F has led the field with instant iconoclastic timepieces, drawing inspiration from aircraft, amphibians, the future, an alternate reality and more.
But to call MB&F a watch label would be to do it injustice, for it calls itself "a creative laboratory crafting three dimensional Horological Machines". Connoisseurs have taken to MB&F's Horological Machines (HM, in short) and eagerly await the unveiling each new creation, finding opportunities to speak with Max to see if he would give away any clues, reveal any detail about what's to come.
So far, loyal MB&Fers have had to wait, and the surprises have never disappointed, in fact, more than one could have asked for.
SENATUS speaks to Max on one of his frequent stopovers in Singapore and found out more about MB&F from affable, articulate and likeable maverick based in Geneva.
I see you're wearing Legacy Machine 1 today. It's been an exceptional year for this timepiece, a departure from the family of Horological Machines from MB&F. Can you tell us the highlights that made you most proud of this new addition?
Well first of all, the Legacy Machine nearly never saw light because everyone in my team thought this was a really bad idea! Some just told me they did not see the point of it, others that they did not join MB&F for that…! So looking back it already makes me proud that we made it come to life.
The Legacy Machine is amazingly in fact MB&F biggest risk to date. All our HM are virtually impossible to compare with the recognized leaders of the watch industry. You are not going to consider an HM4 better or worse than a Patek.
But with Legacy Machine all comparisons were possible, and it seems it went through its first year with flying colours!
The Geneva Grand Prix (the equivalent of our Oscars) gave it not one but two prizes this year, which must mean something. But the most important for us is of course that the waiting lists on this piece have not decreased. As we refuse to craft more than 60 pieces a year, the demand is incredibly strong.
To cap off this amazing year, you're here now in Singapore to launch the highly anticipated Horological Machine No. 5 "On the Road Again". Is it targeted for the motorheads?
Well, honestly it is only targeted to… me!
From the age of 4 to approximately 18 I dreamt of being a car designer. Life thereafter changed that aspiration, but automobiles have always remained very close to my heart. The late 60’s early 70’s brought us amongst others the Lamborghini Miura, the Lancia Stratos and the Lotus Esprit (remember “The spy who loved me"?) and I actually learned to read in car books ! So it was just normal that at some point in MB&F I would touch on that subject – and not only by making a dial which looks like a speedometer or a crown which looks like a wheel…
The HM5 has been constructed like a car with an independent steel chassis (which is also a water resistant container) on which Zirconium body panels are screwed on. To my knowledge, that has never been done in our watch world.
And of course it is the ultimate driver’s watch with a highly legible “digital” time indication on the side of the case.
HM5 On the Road Again was inspired by an era when quartz was King; the rear louvres on supercars block light, but on HM5 they let it in; HM5 has exhaust pipes, but they drain water; HM5 is “On the Road Again”, but its inspiration barely left the garage.
"On the Road Again", that phrase also describes your 'travails' around the world, doesn't it? Meeting members of the MB&F family, old and new -- friends who have bought an MB&F timepiece?
Actually On the Road Again is a reference to many parts of this project. Yes it is partly constructed like a car, but it is also tribute to a completely forgotten watch called the Amida Digitrend which came out in 1976 eighteen months before the company went bankrupt.
We were inspired by its prism mirror technology and wanted to bring it back to life (hence the “Again”).
And you are right, to make MB&F exist with virtually no communication budget I have been travelling pretty extensively over the last seven years.
It allows me to meet with many owners and fans, and share the ideas, the philosophy and the crazy enthusiasm which links us together.
From HM4 Thunderbolt, HM3 MoonMachine, Legacy Machine 1, to HM5 "On The Road Again", how do you come up with such fantastic and inspired creations?
Well… Initially I didn’t know! At the beginning I used to sketch a lot and then finally when I had an idea which I liked, would hurtle to see my friend and great designer Eric Giroud. We would spend weeks “cooking” a piece we would be proud of, and then finally realize where the inspiration came from – usually my childhood was the answer.
Now after over seven years, ideas arrive completely formed into my mind. It is sometimes a little scary – an idea or design will jump out at me without notice and usually in the weirdest moments. I created HM7 (which will come out in 2016) completely sleep-deprived and therefore dozing off and on in the airport bus from Tokyo center to Narita airport one early morning...
What is particularly interesting in the creative process is that whatever I do is not influenced by the industry’s environment.
In 2022 you will be able to put MB&F’s first fifteen Machines on a table and see the creative process I went through but not the trends of the years we went through.
MOONMACHINE by Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva is the first of the MB&F Performance Art pieces by a watchmaker – and the first to endow a Horological Machine with a new complication.
You're a huge proponent and one of the first to recognize the power of online and social media to shape your branding online. How has your digital efforts evolved over the last few years?
MB&F could not have existed without the Internet.
In a world where luxury groups blanket the media with hundreds of millions of monies on advertising, the “artisan brands” like ours have luckily one important voice left: blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc… This is particularly true with MB&F as our rebellious creative process engages people to think differently and needs to communicate differently with its community of fans – not show products on glossy advertising.
When I launched our first MB&F website in 2006, I immediately integrated my personal blog (which doesn’t talk about watches but about everything which catches my eye in the world) in it, to our external graphic designer’s dismay. He told me that was so “Not luxury” and that it was a terrible idea.
We quickly stopped working with the graphic designer but the blog “A Parallel World” is not only still going strong (with about 15’000 visitors a month) it also is one of our many tools to communicate on a different level. I initially was completely against Facebook. For me it was where exhibitionists meet voyeurs… So when we opened our MB&F page 4 years ago, I was more than a little dubious.
But after a week, we had a few hundred fans and some of them where already MB&F owners who started posting online why they loved what we did.
And there it hit me. Good grief! For a micro artisan brand like ours which did not have boutiques all over the world, this was the first real media which allowed us to initiate a two way communication with those who loved what we do.
In some way, Facebook was our first ever “boutique” even though we never sold anything through it. And even though I'm swamped with work, I still put up virtually all posts to date.
That is why I just do not understand these brands who “buy” fans. It completely defeats the purpose of a Facebook page which is to interact with people who are actually interested in what you do.
We're huge fans of what you've brought to showcase in the M.A.D. Gallery so far. Tell us about your curation process.
At MB&F we usually feel like aliens in a world of watchmaking normality, and realized that out there were many aliens like us but in their own worlds defying practicality and common sense. Artists, creators, designers who painstakingly created and crafted incredible “Machines” which were often overlooked or misunderstood by their environment.
At the M.A.D. Gallery we bring together all these “orphans” to create one jolly family! For example, by explaining the story of how German “Machine Light” creator Frank Buchwald started crafting by hand from scratch less than ten pieces a year of his incredible Machines, we are in fact in one way talking about us.
And by introducing to our MB&F fans these amazing creators and creations we are helping them build an awareness they usually would not have.
The MB&F M.A.D.Gallery is a captivating universe of kinetic art where Horological Machines and Mechanical Art Devices reign supreme. MB&F’s M.A.D.Gallery is now open in Geneva on Rue Verdaine, a stone’s throw from their offices and atelier in the heart of the city’s old town.
MB&F opened its first standalone store in Beijing late last year. Does that mark a shift in retail strategy for you?
China is a completely different market from the rest of the world.
There are virtually no multi-brand high end retailers in the country and virtually all distribution goes through mono-brand stores. Something a micro-brand like ours could not afford.
Until one day, one of our best customers (who owns 6 MB&F pieces) and lives in Beijing offered to open a stand-alone MB&F boutique for us! We were floored but of course extremely happy about it, and so the project went along and opened in December 2012.
It's been an incredible 2012 for you. How are you going to outdo yourself? What can we look forward to from MB&F in 2013?
Every year we build upon our experience and let our creativity roam further.
2013 will see the last of the HM4 pieces, Legacy Machine No2, the first MB&F Machine which is not based on horology and many more other surprises! Just stay tuned...
To find out more about MB&F and check out it's newly redesigned website, go to //mbandf.com