Creative Rebel

Maximilian Büsser on keeping his unconventional watch brand MB&F pure

Maximilian Büsser spent 22 years bound by the conventions of the traditional haute horlogerie industry. The Swiss-born entrepreneur started out with Jaeger-LeCoultre as an engineer and climbed through the ranks to become managing director for Harry Winston, where his passion for rare timepieces really took hook with him starting the Opus line, until he finally created his own unique brand in 2005: MB&F.

While it’s an unusual name for a brand, it entirely explains the concept and genius behind the manufacturing of it. The brand’s acronym stands for Max Büsser and friends because Büsser partners with various independent watchmakers, artisans and specialists to create his timepieces, which he refers to as “horological machines.”

Each of his movements celebrates a level of technical and artistic complexity that is rarely seen in modern day watchmaking, earning Büsser a reputation as an innovator and creative genius, always plotting his creations at least five to six years in advance (currently he is working on a machine that will be released in 2018 or 2019.)

Although the artistic design and complexity cannot be denied, MB&F’s outlandish pieces are not to everyone’s tastes, something the founder relishes, according to Charris Yadigaroglou, Büsser’s right hand man and chief communications officer: “Max says if everyone likes what we’re doing then we’re doing something wrong and should stop.”
Openly criticising his industry for producing “boring” products with the exception of a few small independent watchmakers such as Urwerk, it is clear Büsser saw himself as a visionary, even when he was fresh out of engineering college.

When I first got into the watch business 22 years ago, my whole industry was virtually bankrupt. All of the big brands that you see today that are making hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and profits were microscopic companies trying to survive back then. We were the creative rebels trying to save something that seemed unsalvageable.

However, for a man who claims he got into the industry more than two decades ago “to save it” from the depths of bankruptcy, Büsser is not doing much to financially support it today. MB&F has a profit margin of zero and Büsser says he has no intention of ever making money from the brand. “Every cent that is made is reinvested into the company, which allows us to be able to continually create.”

That is something Büsser considers part and parcel of MB&F’s DNA. He points out creativity has two main enemies; its number one is market research. “The minute you start asking people what they want, you never create anything,” he says over the phone from his home in Geneva.

Second is shareholder value. If you have shareholders, they will always be risk-averse and naturally they will want to maximise their profits so you can never take any creative risks and that’s why all the big companies create such boring products.

Büsser is fiercely protective over his brand’s independence, with the exception of giving his technical director 20 per cent of the company because he showed him great loyalty in the beginning and is the best in the industry, according to Büsser. But he says he steers clear of investors, adding: “MB&F will always remain completely pure.”

However, the 47-year-old innovator concedes he has plans to start a second brand that will be “purely commercial” in the near future.

Büsser may practice modesty when it comes to making money but in every other aspect of his life he makes up for it. His fanatical appreciation for technologically-advanced horological machines can at times be overwhelming. He even got himself into hot water with some of the Swiss watch industry’s heavyweights when he started to list each of the friends associated with MB&F on his website so they too would gain recognition for the brand’s bold creations, something he says was taboo in the industry until then.

“When I first decided to name our friends on our website, I got phone calls from people in the industry telling me that I couldn’t do this. They said: ‘Are you crazy? This isn’t how things are done.’ I said: ‘Why not?’”
These specialist watchmakers who Büsser refers to as friends of his brand’s name are scattered all over Switzerland and work remotely to provide specialist parts and assistance to his in-house team of just 14, which includes five master watchmakers, who assemble each of the complex watches in the MB&F factory in Geneva.

“The truth is that most big brands in Switzerland use these same specialists as well but they don’t like to publicise the fact. I have no problem with it. I believe they deserve recognition for playing a huge part in the process,” explains Büsser.

MB&F usually comes out with one new movement each year but this year they will release two— the first in May followed by another in October, which Yadigaroglou describes as “the most crazy creation” they have done to date. Yadigaroglou was in Dubai recently to showcase MB&F’s latest offering, the Legacy Machine 1 (LM1), which is a step in a more modest direction compared to previous mechanisms. However, the timepiece still has innovation at its core. In the middle of the watch is a balance wheel on top of the two dials, with a first-of-its-kind vertical power reserve (a three-dimensional movement consisting of 279 components and 23 jewels).